Mon Dieu, the French are at it again

March 16, 2003|By G. Jefferson Price III | G. Jefferson Price III,PERSPECTIVE EDITOR

It's so much fun to hate the French.

Their fries, their toast, which they don't call French, by the way. Their food, their wine, their culture, their history, their perfume, their beautiful women, their chic, their literature, their art, their museums and cathedrals.

Paris. Ugh. It's almost April. Don't you just hate the place?

And their politicians. Quel swine! Jacques Chirac? Dead meat, Mack. He won't do war against Eye-Rack. The French must be punished.

Americans are dumping their french fries and toast - well, not really; just renaming them. How could America survive without fries?

Patriots are emptying bottles of French wine into the gutter. Their loss, the French might say. The wine's paid for.

No one will buy brie and Camembert. Actually, the version we get here is so pasteurized, so dull, the French wouldn't feed it to their poodles.

American tourists will stay away from France, but will the French miss them? Plenty of very wealthy Arabs to take their place.

All this because President Chirac says France will veto a United States-advanced U.N. resolution that sets an almost certain course for war against Iraq. The French are unimpressed by the argument that more inspections will not work. They were among the first to support America whole-heartedly in the war against terrorism after Sept. 11. But they are unimpressed by the feeble linkage that the Bush administration has tried to make between al-Qaida and the Saddam Hussein regime.

These French. Mon Dieu, they sold bad stuff to the Iraqis. Who, including the United States, didn't? They want the money Iraq owes them. Who doesn't? They want to do business. Extraordinary!

The French are so ungrateful. They have done nothing for us. Lafayette must have been a Spaniard. America saved France in World War I and World War II, while the French just sat around drinking their cafe au lait and sucking up to the Germans. (Well, except for the 1.3 million French who died in World War I.)

Never mind, they're at it again. The Germans don't want a war against Iraq either. What do these French and Germans know of war? Ghastly old Europeans.

Yes, I like the French. I have no illusions about their leaders, but I like the people. It's hard to say where Jacques Chirac will stand in the pantheon of Gallic greats. Chirac is not a great Frenchman. He is no Napoleon, nor even a DeGaulle. He is, actually, acting very much like an American, attentive to his constituents' wishes, rather than those of the president of the United States.

Recent polls have shown that a majority of the French people do not approve of a U.S.-led war against Iraq without the full endorsement of the United Nations. Even more of them believe that France should veto such a resolution. Still more of them have a bad impression of President Bush.

Note, too, that about 7 percent of the French population is Muslim. Chirac is French, but he is not a lunatic. Why should he resist the will of his people? One could argue that the mood of the French has been manipulated by Chirac and his flamboyant foreign minister Dominique de Villepin. But that's a bit American, too.

George Bush has his economy to think about, and Chirac has his. The Bush administration seems to be ready to hurl a huge part of the American fortune into the war against Iraq and the occupation afterward on the bet that both will work quickly and effectively. If they do, the French will be in a bad position, for a while at least.

But in the meantime, the European market that dreams of competing with the American economy is strengthening. France and Germany are the most important partners in that market, and people in both countries oppose a war against Iraq without a U.N. mandate. The euro, fully implemented last year, is up against the dollar. French businessmen, according to The Economist, are beginning to worry about the loss of American tourism and investment. But how long would that last?

Then there is Great Britain, where Prime Minister Tony Blair has thrown practically all of his marbles into Washington's bag and drawn the wrath of many Britons, including some in his party leadership.

Blair is furious with the French for not going along with him. But when it comes to Franco-British adventures in the Middle East, the French should remember their last joint venture in the region, along with the Israelis.

This was the trio's ill-fated invasion of Egypt in 1956 to retake the Suez Canal from the despot du jour, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser. It was a terrible failure. Israel effectively was told by the Eisenhower administration to go home and behave itself; the British and the French withdrew, having gained nothing and lost much.

History will tell which of them came to their senses 47 years later.

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