The French-led diplomatic effort to avoid an immediate US assault on Iraq, including vetoing a US-British proposal in NATO and opposing Washington and London in the UN Security Council, has provoked an hysterical response from the gutter press and right-wing politicians in the US.
The ultra-right media now refers to France and the government of Jacques Chirac in terms that have been reserved until recently for leaders of countries targeted for immediate American military intervention, such as the former Yugoslavia under Slobodan Milosevic or Iraq under Saddam Hussein. The demonization of Chirac and France is one more indicator of the unprecedented level of tension between the Bush administration and its European “allies.”
The Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post has been one of the leaders of the anti-French pack. The front page of the Post’s February 10 issue carried a photograph of the graves of US soldiers who died in the Normandy invasion in 1944 with a headline, “They died for France but France has forgotten.”
The accompanying filthy article by Steve Dunleavy, datelined Colleville-sur-Mer, included this passage: “The air is chill, but I feel an unnatural glow of rage—I want to kick the collective butts of France. These kids died to save the French from a tyrant named Adolf Hitler. And now, as more American kids are poised to fight and die to save the world from an equally vile tyrant, Saddam Hussein, where are the French. Hiding. Chickening out. Proclaiming, Vive les wimps!”
Dunleavy noted that “91 percent” of the French “are against President Bush’s plans to make Saddam a dark mark in history. But then again, the French are against everything, including that curious American habit of showering every day.”
On February 12 Dunleavy returned to this theme, calling for a boycott of the French “ingrate ‘allies.’”
The right-wing columnist Jonah Goldberg, one of the leading anti-Clinton conspirators, writing in the National Review, borrowed a phrase from television’s The Simpsons and termed the French people “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” The front page of the National Review read “Putsch” with a sub-headline: “How to defeat the Franco-German power grab.”
Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard asked, “Do the French have the slightest idea how obnoxious they are to many Americans?” Barnes, a regular on Murdoch’s Fox News Channel, went on to tell every “anti-French joke” he could think of: “How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? No one knows, it’s never been tried. What do you call 100,000 Frenchmen with their hands up? The army,” and so on.
In the Washington Post, syndicated columnist George Will commented that France’s “oleaginous” foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, had, in a United Nations speech, begun “exercising the skill France has often honed since 1870—that of retreating, this time into incoherence.”
The British Guardian noted that “At its ugliest, the transatlantic bile is becoming increasingly personal. When France Inter radio’s correspondent in Washington, Laurence Simon, started to explain her government’s position to Fox News (owned by Murdoch) she was interrupted by the presenter. ‘With friends like you, who needs enemies,’ she was told as she was taken off air.”
The Wall Street Journal has lent its predictably venomous voice to the campaign against Chirac and the French: “Three countries—France, Germany and their mini-me minion, Belgium—have moved from opposition to US policy toward Iraq into formal, and consequential obstructionism.” The newspaper’s editors continued, “If there is a war [the Turks] will face the danger of direct attack that is not feared in the chocolate shops of Brussels.”
One of the most cynical pieces was the handiwork of former “extreme leftist” and currently ultra-right-winger Christopher Hitchens, headlined “The rat that roared.” One of Hitchens’s specialties—in fact, perhaps his only specialty—is detailing the crimes of various regimes around the world (Milosevic, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hussein)—unfailingly former allies or agents of Washington—and prescribing American imperialist military intervention as the only possible remedy.
Hitchens has now turned his attention to France and Jacques Chirac. After describing the heroic side of French history and national character, Hitchens wrote: “There is of course another France—the France of Petain and Poujade and Vichy and of the filthy colonial tactics pursued in Algeria and Indochina.” It takes someone as politically depraved as Hitchens, now a favorite of the neo-fascist right, to write this on the eve of a US assault on Iraq, as “filthy” and “colonial” as anything the French ever carried out, with a great deal more murderous fire-power at its disposal.
Hitchens proceeded to note that “French companies and the French state are owed immense sums of money by Saddam Hussein. We all very much hope that no private gifts to any French political figures have been made by the Iraqi Baath Party, even though such scruple on either side would be anomalous to say the very least.” The columnist concluded by describing Chirac as “the vain and posturing and venal man who, attempting to act the part of a balding Joan of Arc, is making France into the abject procurer of Saddam. This is the case of the rat that tried to roar.”
Republicans and Democrats in Congress chimed in with their own anti-French poison.
Ostensibly in response to a European refusal to import genetically modified American food, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (Rep.-Ill.) suggested that he might urge a boycott of French wines and bottled waters.
Rep. Tom Lantos (Dem.-Calif.) added his own anticommunist witch-hunting touch, commenting: “I am particularly disgusted by the blind intransigence and utter ingratitude of France, Germany and Belgium, countries which blocked our efforts to even engage in contingency planning if our ally Turkey were attacked by Iraq. Had it not been for our military commitment, France, Germany and Belgium today would be Soviet socialist republics. The failure of these states to honor their commitments is beneath contempt.”
Rep. Peter King (Rep.-N.Y.), writing in the New York Post, observed that “While many might be comfortable ignoring and even allowing France’s anti-American rants and maneuvers to continue, the reality is that this is a time of survival—and quite frankly I am tired of the United States being a punching bag to a second-rate country.”
In the face of this torrent of filth, it is possible to lose sight of a number of elementary facts: the Chirac administration is a conservative, free-market regime that has never objected to the right of the US and the other great powers to intervene in Iraq and overthrow its government. Paris has merely argued for a delay and for UN sanction of such a course; it wants essentially to share in the colonial spoils. The American media response expresses not merely arrogance, stupidity and shortsightedness, but a considerable degree of paranoia and insecurity. How will such forces respond to a popular movement against imperialism that genuinely threatens US plans for global domination?
The wave of anti-French hysteria in the US media has not been lost on the French press.
“Francophobia” was the headline of Tuesday’s lead editorial in Le Monde. The influential French daily first took note of the media-led charge against France. “We, Frenchmen, are cowards ... particularly venal, rather anti-Semitic and of course ferociously anti-American.... This is how a certain section of the American press sees the French people.”
The editorial went on to cite some of the comments referred to above. “All this for what crime?” asked the editorial. “Paris dares not join the Iraqi policy of the Bush administration.” It then made the point: “The tone of the media on the other side of the Atlantic often reflects what is said in private about France (and Germany) in some official circles in Washington.”
Indeed, complaints about US “contempt” and “brutality” towards its “old” European allies have filled the columns of French newspapers and magazines. “The crisis between the Americans and us will leave scars,” wrote Le Monde on Saturday. “This is made clear by the degree of violence of the newspapers on the other side of the Atlantic, America’s evident exasperation, her incomprehension in the face of any reservation.”
The conservative daily Le Figaro noted for its part that “Mr. Rumsfeld is exasperated whenever all Europeans do not act as vassals.” It saw this week’s NATO crisis as another US provocation. “The demand made to NATO is a flagrant means to put pressure on the allies, to dictate to them decisions corresponding to the pre-made war plan of the Pentagon.”
Oil is one of the issues which have made headlines in France. “The widely-held if not dominant view ... this side of the Atlantic,” wrote French economist Pierre Noël last week in the Figaro, is that behind the diplomatic charade on the Security Council, “America wants to secure control of Iraqi oil for a long period.”
But the overriding theme of the French media’s coverage of the Iraqi war crisis has been the damage done to the so-called “transatlantic” alliance and what this means for the future of Europe’s relationship with America.
Le Monde’s editor Jean-Marie Colombani penned a column last week under the title “The American challenge.” “The main reason for the rift between America and a large portion of opinion in the ‘rest of the word,’” it explained, is that Iraq is “the first implementation of today’s American doctrine ... to make sure that the United States cannot be threatened or even challenged, to keep at bay any potential rival through a gigantic defense and research effort.”
Yet, continued Colombani, “one must go beyond a mere negative reaction to the US attitude.... What is the strategic doctrine that the Europeans would counterpose to that of preventive war wanted by America?”
His answer? “The century expects that from the Old Continent emerges a power, pacific but not pacifist, a full partner and not a satellite of the United States.”
What Le Monde’s editor is contemplating here is the emergence of Europe—with France playing a leading role in it—as a counterweight to America’s hegemony.
Such a position, whatever the present intentions of Colombani, leads to political consequences that are not in the least progressive. Any “strategic doctrine” that emanated from the European bourgeoisie would be of an imperialist character. The Chirac government’s present opposition to America’s drive to war is dictated not by an abstract love of peace but by its calculation of the interests of French capitalism. Opposing a particular war today, the French bourgeoisie is perfectly capable of launching its own predatory wars tomorrow.
To recognize this fact is an essential prerequisite for the development of a genuinely independent and principled movement of the French and European working class against imperialism as a world system.