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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 French are always trying to fill the size 12 shoes of a "great power" with a size 5 foot. That is to say, the French maintain the symbols of a great power: a seat on the U.N. Security Council, nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines, Special Forces, and even that ultimate symbol of "superpower" status, a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. Alas, the aircraft carrier "DeGaulle" is perhaps the perfect symbol not of French military might but of a hollowed-out "image-rich military" incapable of combat on a scale larger than intrusions into third-world airspace.

    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.

  • Disagreement is one thing, but active obstruction is another. The French, along with the Germans, did not just let it be known that they disagreed with U.S. policy--in the 80s, it was over the Pershing missiles (which were just a counter to an existing class of Soviet missile), in the 90s, over the genocide in Bosnia and more recently over the second Iraq War--they have actively sought to obstruct both U.S. self-interest and, in the case of Serbian aggression, the "righteous use" of force against a brutal aggressor.

    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.

  • The French, along with the British, are widely viewed as nations obsessed with retaining some meager shreds of their former Imperial glories; and as such, their pride is easily wounded if they're not "consulted." The American perspective is, understandably, at least from the U.S. point of view, "get over it:" you guys are small nations with relatively diminishing bases of population, force projection and therefore influence; go ahead and live in the past if you want, but please don't burden those of us living in the present with your fragile egos.

  • The French are rather conspicuously hypocritical when it comes to decrying "Corporate America," cheering when a French farmer torches a McDonalds but entirely quiet when their own multinationals (Carrafour, Canal+, etc.) pillage the globe just as effectively as any American firm. In a similar vein, the French are only too happy to decry American militarism, but they suddenly become reticient when their own vast weapons sales to Third-World nations are mentioned.

    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?

  • The French have long possessed a predilection for lecturing the U.S. on the injustices of the American system, but they are circumspect about the injustices of their own system. Thus the French should understand the American schadenfreude as they begin to reap in their banlieus what they have sown: an array of injustices and discrimination which will bear fruit for decades to come.

    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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