France is the only major European power that the United States has not opposed in a war. The United States was born with the indespensable help of the French, and in return we have rushed (eventually, that is--they were invaded in '40, and our fire brigade landed in '44) (likewise the first world war went on about four years before the U.S. showed up to take the credit for winning) to their rescue a couple of times. Their revolution and ours claimed the same democratic values. Yet we have this uncomfortable relationship, like an old marriage that is too spiteful to continue, yet too comfortable to end. They are disdainful of our culture, and I think I've got it figured out.
American culture is poisonous to French culture. In France, a dairy on one side of town will manufacture a kind of cheese that tastes different from cheese made on the other side of town. America is a carpet of Velveeta from sea to shining sea. Velveeta is a pretty good example of what Americans see as our chief contributions to civilization. We have given the world universal distribution and economy of scale. The ineffeciencies of the boutique style of French manufacture smacks of elitism. Instead of spending ten bucks on that little bitty gouda, you could get yourself a suitcase full of Velveeta and have enough left over for a box of wine.
To Americans, that's democracy in action. If everybody from Baja to Bangor and the Aleutians to the Keys has the same cheese and all of it they can eat, isn't that the essence of equality? Isn't that a chicken in every pot?
The French see that it's the cheapness that is so insidious. If Big Brand Cheese is half the price of Boutique Cheese, the temptation is to go with the cheaper brand and tell yourself that nothing is lost in the pursuit of efficiency. The Boutiques can't compete, and local character gradually bleeds away from the landscape as this principle is applied to every aspect of civilization from manufactured homes to cotton underpants.
So now that they've decided not to throw in with the "Coalition of the Willing," there's a round of French bashing concentrating on the fact that the French military has been bailed out by the U.S. in World Wars One and Two and in Indochina.
Yes, they had an inauspicious century; but I think we're making a big mistake when we sneer disdainfully at their assumed cowardice and promise to award French oil contracts in Iraq to companies in the Czech Republic.
The French, in addition to tasty cheeses, make the Exocet anti-ship missile (remember the Falklands?), which turns up in China as the Silkworm missile. The Chinese were just caught shipping missiles to Yemen. Point Two. We've got four carrier groups crowded into the restricted waters of the Persian Gulf, which is mostly surrounded by hostile territory. If Turkey votes not to let us fly over their territory to attack Iraq, we'll have to move two carriers into the restricted and surrounded waters of the Red Sea. So why are we going to such lengths to piss off the people who make and sell those dandy missiles? I'll admit I can't name one French oil man, but of the American oil men I can name I can't think of one who wouldn't pull a nasty trick on an ally if there were billions in oil contracts at stake.
Iran is next on Richard Perle's hit list. The Iranians (whose military is supplied by the French) have to be dumb not to have figured it out. The cheerleading media is already talking about the necessity of attacking Iran. When the shooting starts they can either wait for the U.S. to conquer Iraq and regroup to turn inevitably on Iran, or they can attempt to blindside us with anti-ship missiles air-launced from deep inland.
Of course we've got adequate electronic countermeasures, unless somebody has somehow acquired the most advanced software and counter-countermeasures from the French. You remember the French. We've just promised to take billions from them. We've been calling them pussies, and we berate them as disloyal when they do not obediently support the war that's going to deprive them of their main source of oil.
If somebody treated us that way, what would our intelligence services do?
Our allies view us as smug and arrogant, the Unilateral States of Amnesia, smirking as we break the ABM treaty and sneering as we ignore any international agreement that displeases us. I think the French, the British and the Germans would be glad to see Saddam out of power, but I think they'd be just as pleased to see the U.S. get its nose good and bloodied in the process.
In case you missed my point, here it is again. The French-bashing is not helping us.
LET'S CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF
Even at this late date I entertain the hope that this is the mother of all bluffs. A quick no-confidence vote in the UK could take Tony Blair out of office, deprive us of a key ally and cause a change of policy, leaving the weapons inspectors in place. Many of our goals would be accomplished without invading, even if the administration loses face. We could always later maintain that this was the plan all along. If such a vote occurs after the fighting starts, well, that could suck.
Every TV pundit must go to the same class where he learns hand gestures. Apparently they learn to punctuate their views with jabbing fingers and brandished fists. I guess some expert decided that these gestures conveyed strength, dynamism and confidence. Well, maybe. I think it looks a little feminine because these guys have to keep their gestures very tight and mincing and up close to their faces so that the hands stay in frame. Also, the speaker looks rehearsed, phony and robotic. Don't stop. It helps us to spot you.
Around the world they see these wagging fingers and hammering fists and chopping motions as expressions of aggression. This just confirms their worst opinions of us.
COWBOY GEORGE'S PLAN TO DEMOCRATIZE IRAQ
Step one: Out with the Tyrant.
Step two: Occupation and rule by an American military governor. Duration, at least two to three years.
Step three: A dictatorship installed by the U.S. The purpose of this dictatorship is to establish democratic institutions. Duration uncertain.
Well, that's the plan that will take us at least through the end of W's second term. They saw no sense in planning beyond that. Their plan for democratization doesn't include actual democracy, but friends of liberty rejoice! We can still install a monarchy, a junta, and a sole proprietorship before we have to get around to the untidy business of tolerating dissent. Duration uncertain.
THE 2004 ELECTION
I'm planning to vote for George W. I think he's about as smart as a chimp, but I'm planning to vote for him.
If I thought the cook was pissing in the soup, I'd make sure he stayed for dinner and ate all he could hold. I'd like W to be in the White House when his policies bear fruit.
GEORGE W. PRESS CONFERENCE
These press conferences are shamefully choreographed. The president has a list of reporters on whom he calls in order. They serve him softballs, he responds with his canned answers, and apparently follow up questions are not allowed.
He's been asked many times about the cost of the war and the annual cost of occupation. He always says the cost of inaction is higher. No follow up. Why not? It's ridiculous to think they haven't or can't estimate at least some of the costs. He dissembles because he knows we wouldn't like the truth. Why does the press stand for this childish evasion?
RTJ--3/17/03Arkansas Travelogue home page | Matters Literary | Short Rants I | Short Rants II | Short Rants III |Short Rants IV | Short Rants V