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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

France: America’s Abysmal Ally

Of all the countries opposed to the war in Iraq, France has earned the most enmity from the Bush administration. In the weeks before the start of the war, France vowed to veto any United Nations Security Council resolutions authorizing the use of force against Iraq. It also opposed setting deadlines on weapons inspections. Thus, the French made it clear that they were unwilling to threaten Saddam Hussein with force, thereby allowing him to continue ignoring U.N. resolutions as he had done for twelve years.

France’s power play at the U.N. caused the biggest rift in Franco-American relations in the last fifty years. Failure to appreciate past American help and the Muslim population in France led to French defiance of the United States. In issuing its veto threat, the French government not only undermined but also abandoned Washington in its hour of need. Instead of giving support, or at least not standing in the way, France chose to oppose the Bush administration?s top foreign policy priority. It disregarded the administration?s grave concerns about Saddam Hussein and refused to accord Washington the benefit of the doubt. In their zeal to block an invasion of Iraq, the French seemed to have forgotten what the United States has done for their country, namely that the U.S. intervened twice to save France from German aggression in the 20th century.

Without America, the French would have been under Nazi tutelage for perhaps 1,000 years (or at least until Hitler?s death). History has shown that France was a nation of Nazi collaborators. After the smashing German victory, true French patriots like Charles de Gaulle and Paul Reynaud were scarce. In their place, defeatists and traitors like Henri Pétain and Pierre Laval dominated. By slavishly cooperating with the Nazis, the Vichy collaborators placed their fascist sympathies and anti-Semitism above France’s honneur. Given their not-too-distant experience with a tyrant like Hitler, one would have expected the French not to stand in the way of the U.S. effort to remove Saddam Hussein.

In addition to freeing France from the yoke of Nazi tyranny, the United States helped to rebuild it and put it back on its feet. Throughout the Cold War, the American nuclear umbrella shielded France from Soviet encroachment. U.S. military might, through high defense spending shouldered by American taxpayers, allowed France to concentrate on its domestic affairs and economy. In light of all that America has done for France, the French should not be surprised by the anger emanating from Washington these days. The Bush administration would have accepted French opposition to the war if France had not been so adamant about blocking any war. But by actively trying to thwart U.S. efforts, Paris went too far.

Several reasons have been advanced to explain French intransigence vis-à-vis Iraq. Since the presidency of Charles de Gaulle, it seems that France?s raison d?être is to annoy the United States. The diplomatic gamesmanship over Iraq fits this annoyance pattern. Behind the French need to irritate the U.S. lies jealousy. Many Frenchmen, the elite in particular, still suffer from delusions of grandeur Unlike the British, they have yet to come to terms with the fact that France no longer is a truly Great Power. It is hard for them to accept that the United States, merely two hundred years old, has so spectacularly surpassed them in power and prestige.

The most interesting reason given for the French opposition to the war involves the five million Muslims living in France, most of whom are Arab. Political observers suggest the French president, Jacques Chirac, felt compelled to oppose the war partly because of France?s Muslims. Chirac feared that French support for the United States would trigger violence by the Muslim population living in the banlieues difficiles (the equivalent of the American inner city but located in the suburbs). According to a recent poll by a French newspaper, 72 percent of Muslims in France wanted the United States to lose the war in Iraq. Chirac?s apparent appeasement of France?s Muslims is distressing. The French president seems content with being le roi des Beurs instead of aspiring to be le Roi-Soleil.

Every French citizen must recoil at the thought that le Président de la République allowed French foreign policy to be held hostage by people who do not consider themselves French, do not hold French republican values, and do not want to be French. The aforementioned poll found that 79 percent of France?s Muslims favor the establishment of Islamic schools, paid for by French taxpayers, while 59 percent oppose the government ban on headscarves in French schools. Clearly, many Muslims do not share the republican values that most of the French people hold dear. Separation of church and state is one of these republican values. Rightly viewing the headscarf as a subversive religious symbol that promotes Islamic fundamentalism and violates the separation of church and state, the French government banned it in 1994. Considering the anti-Western hostility of the Islam widely practiced today, it is not in the interest of France to take actions, such as the creation of Koranic schools or lifting of the headscarf ban, that would encourage the proliferation of Islam.

Thuong (Ben) Tran-Thuong