The French Have Their Own Program

The French have a special talent for driving Americans crazy. In 1992, the United States gave the French their own Disneyland. And what did the French do? Protest. In 1999, a Frenchman went to jail for attacking a McDonald's. And what did his countrymen do? Protest. Now the Bush administration is trying to build a coalition to take away Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. And what do the French do? Protest—100,000 strong in Paris on February 15.

Two days earlier, the French foreign minister had denounced the Bush administration for threatening war with Iraq. "Would not such action worsen the divisions between societies, cultures, and peoples, divisions that nurture terrorism?" Dominique de Villepin asked at the United Nations Security Council. His remarks drew a rare response from the gallery—applause.

Last week, French President Jacques Chirac pledged to veto a new U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. "There is no need for a second resolution today, which France would have no choice but to oppose," he said at the European Union summit in Brussels.

This time, Americans had had enough. No more French wine! Talk of a boycott spread across the country—more precisely, across the country clubs. No more French fries! A restaurant in North Carolina changed the item on its menu to "freedom fries." No more French business deals! A county commissioner in Florida threatened to block a subsidiary of a French company from getting a local government contract to build a sludge-treatment plant.

Of course, the Germans oppose U.S. policy in Iraq just as much as the French do, but there aren't many anti-German jokes making the rounds. Instead, Jay Leno said on NBC's Tonight Show, "I think President Bush is handling the situation all wrong. What Bush should do is send someone the French really respect, like Jerry Lewis." And the host of CNN's Crossfire read a viewer e-mail that said, "I think it's useful to remember the words of a great American philosopher, Frank Zappa: 'There is no hell. There is only France.' "

What is it with the French? Why can't they get with the program? Maybe it's because they have their own program. Americans may not like this pushy independence, but it works for the French.

France wants to be the leading power in the new united Europe—a Europe united not by anti-fascism or anti-communism, but by anti-Americanism, a force now rampant in Western Europe. "This is a moment of glory for France," Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, observed recently. "They are right now the center of attention in Europe and around the world. They're the center of a peace movement."

In Brussels, Chirac admonished the new democracies of Eastern Europe that are being considered for European Union membership to mind their pro-U.S. ways. "The candidate countries, honestly, I feel they behaved with a certain thoughtlessness," the French president said. "If people start giving their points of view independently of all dialogue with the unit one is seeking to join, it is not very responsible behavior."

The countries of what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would call the "new Europe" do have their own point of view. It is that, on matters of security, the United States is a far more reliable ally than France. "As long as the United States is a functioning reality and a united Europe is a dream, we will always choose the reality over the dream," Janusz Reiter, Poland's former ambassador to Germany, told The New York Times.

Could it be that the French are up to something? Naturellement. Richardson, a Democrat who is now New Mexico's governor, went on to say, "We have to watch the domestic politics here, too. I'm sure President Chirac is getting enormous poll numbers favorable to him by taking these positions. I think domestic politics is taking a very important role in this Iraq debate."

Richardson is right. A recent Ipsos-France poll found that 87 percent of the French public oppose war with Iraq and 85 percent approve of Chirac's handling of the issue. Moreover, 87 percent think that U.S. economic and political interests, rather than a desire to defend liberty and democracy in the world, are driving U.S. foreign policy.

Chirac's message is, if you want to be part of the new Europe, you'd better get with the anti-American program. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is definitely not getting with the anti-American program. And he is paying a price for his stance. Nearly 1 million anti-war protesters turned out in London, a British record. A Guardian-ICM poll shows that a majority of the British oppose war with Iraq (52 percent against war; 29 percent in favor).

At a news conference last week, Blair said he was eager to avoid war in Iraq and determined to work through the United Nations. "Let me make one thing plain," he said. "We do not want war. No one wants war." But he felt compelled to add, "I can't avoid it unless Saddam chooses the route of peaceful disarmament."

In Europe today, being pro-Bush appears to be political poison. Blair's job-approval rating has fallen to 35 percent, according to the Guardian-ICM poll. Chirac's job rating in France (Ipsos-Le Point) was 62 percent.