The French -- any more than the Russians -- have never made public what the Iraqi Saddamite police state owes them for their petroleum technologies and investments, their pharmaceutical sales and investments, and their weapons sales, which totaled more than $25 billion before the sanctions began in 1991, and several billion ever since then. The BBC report below uses these figures, without however saying how much is still owed. Nobody knows. And since French TV and radio are state controlled and heavily censured in matters of foreign and security policies --- since, too, the entire French newspaper world from the Communists and Greens on the left to the Gaullist and conservatives on the right is full of jingoist nationalism that reflects the anti-Americanism widespread in public opinion --- nobody seems to know in France or care.
And as we'll see, all this hooks up with obsessive French anti-Americanism --- rife, all-pervasive, as French books recently published on this obsession have noted, something we clarify later here.
France's Economic Ties to Iraq
"Opinion polls show almost 80% of people in France are against a US-led war against Iraq.
Many of those see American military and economic aims in Iraq as one and the same thing.
America's critics claim that America's policy on Iraq is driven by its appetite for oil.
But could similar claims be made about France?
During the late 1970s, French companies started work on the Tamuz One nuclear reactor near Baghdad - designed to produce plutonium - and on a second reactor, Tamuz Two . . . "
A NATIONALIST PUBLIC, A NATIONALIST MEDIA AND PRESS, A WEAK PARLIAMENT
Well, if the media are shot through with jingoism, what about the French parliament? Shouldn't the National Assembly be able to dig out the facts about French economie ties to Iraq . . . and, what with pervasive corruption in French political life that stymied several years of investigations into President Chirac's machinations on this score, maybe too lots of euros for French political and administrative elites, thanks to Saddamite largesse?
Yes, it "should" do so. In practice, this never happens.
For one thing,quite apart from its being controlled by the Gaullist coalition led by President Chirac. Whether the left is in power or the right --- or power is shared as it was until last June between a leftist parliamentary majority and a Gaullist president --- the National Assembly, like all the legislatures in the parliamentary systems in the EU (only more so no doubt), is a weak body compared to the US Congress.
Specifically, legislatures are weak or strong depending on these powers vis-a-vis the executive:
They can heavily influence the legislative agenda compared to the executive.
They are able to initiate significant legislation that the executive doesn't want introduced.
They can have major control over the executive's budget, taxes, and spending initiaitives.
They can monitor and closely scrutinize the Cabinet's decisions and the behavior of the government's administrative agencies . . . including the foreign policy ministry and the defense ministry
THE UPSHOT OF ALL THIS?
- To do this, the legislature has to have numerous specialized committees of inquiry similar to our Congressional committees, with big expert staffs and a budget for carrying out their stigations.
- The specialized committees with their own expertise and staffs can also summon any minister except the chief executive -- in France, the President (not the Prime Minister) --- and any civil servant while simultaneously demanding access to all ministerial and administration documents and other information.
French public opinion is heavily swayed by a nationalist media, whether on the left or right it doesn't matter --- 80% convinced that the Bush administration is motivated mainly by oil-interests in wanting to topple Saddam Hussein. The state-controlled TV and radio do exactly what the Foreign and Defense Ministries tell them to do by way of reportage. For their part, the independent newspapers and magazines are not much better: all poll-parrot a similar nationalist line. We'd call all this politically correct dogma, save for the powerful nationalist twist that exists in France, where everybody, it seems --- from Communists and Greens to moderates and ultra-Gaullists --- all agree that the US is a danger with its existing power and French power and influence should be maximized where it can . . . not just toward the US bilaterally, but in the EU through close work with Germany (which the French have always tried to diplomatically sway since the Franco-German treaty of 1963, with less success since German reunification in 1989), and of course by exercising veto powers in the UN Security Council and NATO. Sidebar observation: NATO works by a consensus, hence even one member can stymie collective action --- and joined by Germany and Belgium, that is what France has done all this week in the teeth of resentment from the other 15 members of NATO, all of them European save for the US, Canada, and Turkey.
And the legislature in France never has serious debates on foreign and defense policies, nor tries to hold the government accountable here. The only exception I can even remember is that, to their dismay, an inquiry without precedent, some former Socialist French ministers in power when the Rawanda genoicidal massacres took place in the spring of 1994 --- the French having major influence over the Huto mass-murdering regime --- were later summoned before a National Assembly committee of inquiry four years later . . . with a slap on the hand the ultimate punishment for the French government not only doing nothing for weeks as the genocide occurred (the Clinton administration, to our shame, did nothing either), but left the Hutu government convinced it had Paris's support.
FRENCH EVIDENCE FOR THESE SPECULATIONS OF OURS
Yes, the impact that two recently published books on the French manical obsession with America and the rife anti-Americanism of the public and the elites has had.
One is by the well-known journalist and intellectual, Jean-Francois Revel --- just about the only one friendly to the US in thesse circles --- who has for decades defended the US and the Atlantic Alliance and denounced French rife, systematic anti-Americanism as a projection of French decline and French fears about their own economic, military, diplomatic, and cultural failures. Philippe Roger's book, "L'Ennemi americain" is more scholarly. Here's the full article from the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, when it was published last October, taken from www.iht.com --- a web site highly recommended. I apologize to the International Herald Tribune
editors for republishing this article without permission, and hope they see it as a useful plug for their site;
"Why France disdains America "
John Vinocur International Herald Tribune
Wednesday, October 9, 2002
PARIS Two new books by French authors, one at the top of the best-seller
list, the other described as a work of exceptional scholarship, are
confronting the French with the proposition that their anti-Americanism
is a self-inflicted national illness.
For one of the authors, the anti-Americanism of the French is a willful
delusion, an attempt by a dominant political and intellectual caste to
mask its own failures and insignificance.
For the other, French anti-Americanism is a centuries-old tradition - a
layered accumulation of condescension and fear, vastly more significant
than the French gift of a Statue of Liberty to the United States or the
assistance of a Marquis de Lafayette - and a rare terrain in French
national life where conflicting political and intellectual forces can
find common ground.
The books' novelty is two-fold. One is in their premises and the other
in their success.
The academic work essentially subordinates the official idea of a
history of good relations between the two societies to focus on the
evolving genealogy of French revulsion from and opposition to the United
Both books distinguish French anti-Americanism from normal criticism of
the United States as pushing criticism beyond the rational to a level of
virulence where it essentially defines French problems and inadequacies
while undermining France's capacity to make its way in the world.
For a study that insists on what the author calls a profoundly French
malaise inherent in French anti-Americanism - an essentially contrarian
concept here - Philippe Roger's book, "L'Ennemi americain," has been
received with exceptional praise. Le Monde described it as "a chef
d'oeuvre of semantic history" and Le Nouvel Observateur said it was a
"masterly" analysis of a French tradition that reflects a combination of
stupidity, ignorance, and paranoia.
Jean-Francois Revel's "L'Obsession anti-americaine" has been rewarded
with the number 1 place on the nonfiction best-seller list. The writer,
the single right-of-center pillar of French intellectual life known
outside the country, argues that anti-Americanism in Europe and
particularly in France is so reflexive, even when the United States is
right, that it has resulted in the Americans' no longer paying any
attention to criticism even when it is reasonable.
In a commentary last week, Thierry de Montbrial, director of the French
Institute of International Relations, an establishment think tank,
acknowledged that resentment about France's historical decline was
reflected in French anti-Americanism. But while calling "L'Ennemi
americain" a work of "great erudition," he refused to accept either of
the books' most obvious common message.
"No serious study allows crossing the line to conclude the existence of
deep, chronic and active anti-Americanism in France or any other
European country for that matter," de Montbrial wrote.
Criticism of President George W. Bush's foreign policy, said de
Montbrial, was hardly anti-Americanism. But neither Revel or Roger would
In contrast, Revel describes anti-Americanism as a constant alibi - "a
consolation," he says - for European failure. France, he argues, is the
"advanced laboratory where the most extreme and pointed ideas on the
United States come together to be spread in a form that's milder and
less polemical in Europe and elsewhere."
Revel is clearly singling out a kind of argumentation that developed in
France about the real causes of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the
United States. The explanation centered, he suggests, on resentment
against America, its emergence as the sole superpower and its role as
guardian of Israel. This viewpoint, he says, was elevated "in certain
European capitals" - read, Paris - "to the rank of obsession and virtual
lone principal in foreign policy."
Roger's book is the more remarkable of the two for its factual density,
unique scholarship and bold vision. The title, "The American Enemy," is
not a mere verbal challenge. Parallel to the official history of
friendship and compatibility, Roger finds accusations of American
coarseness, ingratitude, degeneration, violence and anti-democratic
instincts constant themes across centuries of French commentary on
Roger points to the period of 1750 to 1770, that of the gestation of the
United States, as creating a philosophical and "scientific" foundation
for the development of French anti-Americanism.
Scholars of the French Enlightenment considered American plant and
animal life degenerate, inferior to that in Europe. Children born in the
New World were incapable of prolonged thought. Venereal disease had its
home there. At the same time as the creation of the United States, and
while a part of fashionable Paris was titillated by the Yankee
insurgents, Roger writes, by 1778 in France a "a globally negative image
of America was anchored in the literate public."
For Roger, the North's victory in the Civil War, with France on the side
of the South, and "dreaming of the dismemberment" of the United States,
was for the French an imagined prologue to American wars in the world
beyond. In the author's view, emphasis on the pro-Union sentiment of a
Victor Hugo or a Jules Verne is an "ideological painting over" that
obscures the Civil War as a "crystallization of French
The American peril turned into an ominous certainty for the French in
1898, when the Americans defeated the Spanish colonial forces in Havana
and Manila and became an "imperial" nation. For Roger, more than 100
years of anti-American sedimentation in France take shape at this point
and harden. Conservatives and monarchists in France joined forces with
their sworn domestic enemies, the Republicans and anti-clerical
factions, in damning the Americans - now seen as a Yankee race apart,
"hard and vindictive," and far less compatible than the English or
It is here that Roger comes to one of his central theses:
"At the highest point of discord in a divided France (in 1898),
anti-Americanism is the only 'French passion' that calms the other
passions, effaces antagonisms and reconciles the harshest adversaries.
Patching things up at the expense of the United States or, at the least,
halting hostilities between French factions in the face of a supposed
common enemy will remain a constant of political and intellectual life.
"It is impossible to understand French anti-Americanism or its
timelessness if you don't see the social-national benefits it represents
in manufacturing a tissue of consensus."
The presence of anti-Americanism is central to the author's reading of
the periods following World Wars I and II. By 1930, Georges Clemenceau,
the French war hero, tells the Americans "your intervention was easy on
you, costing 56,000 lives instead of our 1,364,000 killed."
The United States, which demanded payment by France of its war debts in
the 1920s, was soon "Uncle Shylock," the title, tinged with
anti-Semitism, of a popular book of the period. After 1945, Roger
writes, the French Communist Party's theme of a new "Hitler Made in
U.S.A." was taken over, albeit with greater subtlety, by a vast number
of French anti-American intellectuals.
Why the Americans and not the Germans, after three wars fought between
the neighbors on the Rhine from 1870 to 1945?
"Because since 1945," Roger said in an interview, "there is an enormous
effort not to demonize the Germans. The Communists said Eisenhower was
the heir of Hitler, and in a sense this succeeded in passing the hatred
from the Germans to the Americans. In spite of the wars, among French
intellectuals there's been admiration for German scholarship and
culture. At the same time, for these people, Picasso or Sartre, and so
many others, the United States was the expression of the
nonintellectual, the anti-spiritual."
Without the immigrant waves of the Germans, Italians or British to the
United States, Roger believes, the French, among the Europeans, uniquely
lacked individual, family or warmly personal links to the Americans.
This meant that French intellectuals, virtually all suspicious or
contemptuous, give or take a Tocqueville, in historical terms had the
making of the tone of the relationship all to themselves.
Now, he discounts the idea that French animosity toward the United
States is linked to some kind of rivalry between two countries,
believing they have universal cultures. Indeed, Roger argues, the idea
never existed until very recently, with the French, who see their
exceptionalism as linked to their revolution, always believing there
never was a real, legitimizing revolution in America.
To the researchers who thought anti-Americanism would depart with the
French taste for American films, clothes and consumerism, Roger replies
that watching American movies represents no commitment to their values.
The Sept. 11 attacks resulted in a moment of emotion, he found, but no
change in an anti-American mind-set.
The United States of French anti-Americanism, Roger said, was an
"imaginary Franco-French construction."
By reflex, Roger suggests, France characterizes certain domestic
failings as American, and therefore tends to excuse or remove itself
from the issues it has let get out of hand, like violence, racial
tensions or the failed integration of immigrant groups.
"We keep creating a mythological America in order to avoid asking
ourselves questions about our real problems," he told a reporter. "And
they're problems that the Americans don't have much to do with."
Copyright C 2002 The International Herald Tribune