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As Nation On Brink Of War, Congress Stops To Bash Frenc

by Jim Lobe

on French bashing
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- You can't get "French Fries" in the congressional cafeterias anymore; you have to order "Freedom Fries."

"French toast" is becoming hard to find, too; "freedom toast" is catching on.

Some wags and cartoonists are even suggesting that the "French kiss" may also have to be renamed.

Bashing the French, a favorite pastime for generations of red-blooded U.S. citizens, is back, and with a vengeance, provoked by France's opposition to the President George W. Bush's eagerness to invade Iraq as the second step (Afghanistan was first) toward establishing a uni-polar world dominated by a Lone Ranger Washington and his Anglo sidekicks, Britain and Australia.

This French-flogging is not a new fad by any means. Despite the fact that the country provided crucial military backing for the American colonists in their war against Britain for independence and then even emulated the new country with a revolution of its own in 1789, the relationship has always been a testy one.

Now it appears just about as ornery as it has ever been, and while there are amusing elements to the outrage of U.S. right-wingers, there is also growing concern that the conflict between France and the Bush administration over Iraq is doing permanent damage to the North Atlantic-dominated multilateral system created after WWII.

Right-wingers in Congress are already preparing legislation designed to handicap favored French wines in the U.S. market, while Republican lawmakers sputter about French arrogance and perfidy in the face of good old American humility and honesty.

"They remind me of an aging movie actress in the 1940s who's still trying to dine out on her looks," Sen. John McCain, a national hero as the leader of U.S. prisoners-of-war in Vietnam, said recently.

"The cynical role France is playing proves that you cannot be a great nation unless you have great purpose, and they've lost their purpose."

Meanwhile, the editorial and opinion pages of U.S. newspapers, especially the neo-conservative 'Wall Street Journal' and increasingly the 'Washington Post,' fairly bristle with contempt for the French with almost daily reminders of French failures of the past, notably its appeasement of Nazi Germany over Czechoslovakia in 1938 and its subsequent surrender to and cooperation with the Nazis under the Vichy government.

"France pretends to great-power status but hasn't had it in 50 years," wrote Charles Krauthammer, the Post's nationally syndicated neo-conservative-in-chief, whose views generally reflect those of the Pentagon hawks led by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

"It was given its permanent seat on the Security Council to preserve the fiction that heroic France was part of the great anti-Nazi alliance rather than a country that surrendered and collaborated," Krauthammer noted in a Feb. 28 column that called for Washington not only to create a new UN Security Council that would marginalize the French, but also to bar Paris from any role in a post-war Iraq.

"We need to demonstrate that there is a price to be paid for undermining the United States on a matter of supreme national interest," declared the columnist in a typical assertion of anti-Gallic self-righteousness.

The themes of lost glory and Nazi collaboration, which actually began last spring when U.S. commentators began accusing Paris of anti-Semitism due to mainly Muslim attacks on Jewish targets in France and President Jacques Chirac's criticism of the re-occupation of the West Bank by Israeli Defence Forces - have become a staple of the right, as has the theme of French hypocrisy, another favorite topic of the Francophobes.

"Before we move on to the war, let's pause to honor the grandeur of French hypocrisy on the 'unilateral' use of military force," the Journal urged in an editorial last week entitled 'Those Unilateral French.'

"The French, after all, don't worry much about international opinion when they want to dispatch their own troops to quell violence in one of their colonies," another Journal editorial noted about France's intervention in Cote d'Ivoire (in part to evacuate stranded U.S. citizens). "Or when they want to sink a Greenpeace ship, as (former President) Francois Mitterand did in the early 1980s." Ouch.

Needless to say, Chirac's visit last week to Algeria was treated as a timely opportunity for the U.S. press to revisit French brutality in its colonial past.

Popular culture has also embraced the latest fad with gusto, and not just with respect to everyday items like French fries. "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys" was a little mysterious when first given voice on 'The Simpsons' cartoon show on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox TV network but is now an universally understood moniker for you know who.

None of this is particularly new, and many of the same themes were voiced during the reign of former president Charles de Gaulle, especially after he withdrew France form the military arm of NATO and shut down U.S. bases on French territory.

Both moves, as well as his annoying but ultimately wise advice to U.S. presidents in the 1960s to withdraw from Indochina, infuriated policy-makers in Washington who considered it the height of arrogance, cynicism, impudence and impertinence, coming from what was even then called in the U.S. press a fading colonial power.

The notion of decadence, cynicism, and arrogance as typically French dates back to the U.S.'s own birth despite France's role as midwife. "On the whole, the French appear in no favorable light," found a 1964 study of the worldview conveyed in U.S. grammar school texts during the 19th century.

"Where sobriety (in the texts) is admired, the French are gay; where stability is admired, the French are fickle; where Protestantism is admired, the French are Catholic; where religion is a prime virtue, the French are infidels," said the study.

"Their accomplishments in the arts, the intellectual life, and in military exploits are great (a reference to Napoleon's achievements), but devoid of moral meaning," it concluded.

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Albion Monitor March 11, 2003 (

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