American French-Bashing (December 12, 2005)
Corresponent Christophe Coindy speculated rather reasonably whether the Iraq war-inspired "French-bashing" by Americans is actually more intense than the anti-Americanism to be found in France. Christophe pointed to websites such as f***france.com as evidence that the greater venom may well be found in America.
As an observer of the American scene, I see the following issues in play regarding "French-bashing": (please note these are observations, not my personal beliefs)
The "DeGaulle" rather famously took 11 years to build and cost more than the much larger and more capable U.S. carriers. As other pretenders to the "great power" throne have found ( to wit, India and China), an aircraft carrier makes a dandy "symbol" of military prestige--but if you don't have the battle group and complex communications network required to protect your carrier, then it is no more than a large, invitingly vulnerable target in a shooting war.
The Chinese, for instance, are known to be counting on their large submarine fleet to sink U.S. carriers should war break out in the Taiwan Straights. Hopefully we will never have to find out if the U.S. has sufficient anti-submarine capabilities to counter this threat, but we can predict that the aspiring "great powers" (France, India and China) will be forced to keep their carriers safely in port should they actually engage in a naval shooting war; a few million-dollar torpedos or anti-ship missiles could disable their $4 billion "symbol" of power in short order.
For the record, the U.S. Navy maintains 12 carrier groups; its chief aircraft carrier is the Nimitz class, 102,000 tons (the "DeGaulle" is 38,000 tons) with 72 aircraft of five types (strike, fighter, communications, suppression, anti-submarine); the "DeGaulle" carries 40 aircraft of three types.
Not to belabor the point too much, but it is widely known in NATO circles that the E.U. nations are simply too poorly equipped to actually collaborate with the U.S. military on anything but routine "exercises." They lack the comm-links necessary to access the satellite, E-2, AWACS etc. network the U.S. depends on for battlefield intelligence and communication, and they do not own the transport needed to bring the vast "logistical tail" of a modern military to bear on any battle farther than their own shores. The EU nations have to hire Russian transport planes just to project their military forces beyond their own borders.
Bottom line: if you can't actually project any military power beyond the horizon, then what good are all the expensive symbols of "military might"? Imagine, if you will, the U.S deciding not to respond when Saddam took Kuwait, and the E.U. saying, "This will not stand." Oh really? And what leverage would the E.U. have wielded against Saddam? Waving their fingers very sternly?
As for the French seat on the U.N. Security Council, virtually the entire world views this as a Cold War anachronism; objective observers agree that the E.U. as a whole should have one seat, and the other members should be the other large powers: India, China, Russia and the U.S.
In other words, the French have gone out of their way to not just decline support, but to actively counter U.S. policy, even when the impact on the French nation was minimal. That is, they had no pony in the show, but they tried to run the show nonetheless. Needless to say, this did not endear them to Americans.
Such blatant hypocrisy is rarely endearing, no matter what the source.
On these same lines, the huge contracts French and German companies had with Saddam's regime were not lost on Americans; indeed, it seemed rather obvious that French and German tolerance of Saddam's regime had a decidely commercial benefit. If that isn't hypocrisy, what is?
France is also famously protective of its home markets and farm subsidies, yet it seeks at every turn to export its goods and services in a "free trade" setting. If that isn't mercantile hypocrisy, then what is?
Americans are rather used to self-criticism; few Americans defend the injustices and imbalances so glaringly present in American society. They disagree only on the solutions. Thus, Americans quickly run out of patience with nations who appear to lack the same capacity for self-critique that we do, and for those who prefer to lecture us rather than themselves.
Perhaps Americans view France as an especially prideful part of a Europe whose power and influence is in decline, a Europe which defines itself less by what it is for than by what it is against. Is this fair? Perhaps not, but the perception may have some truth in it nonetheless.
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copyright © 2005 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.
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