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Friday, August 29, 2003

French Foreign Policy: No Fundamental Changes, the One Constant Remaing Anti-Americanism

Originally published April 25th, 2003, this article has been lost with its siblings between mid-April and July 1st after a hacker did what hackers do: hacked his way into a downstream Internet Service Provider and killed the buggy prof site for a couple of weeks in the upshot. Little by little, these articles are being published here again. Observe that a good if anecdotal New Yorker article on French anti-Americanism --- an ideology that unites almost all the political and cultural elites from the extreme left to the extreme right: in fact, just about the only political passion left in French life that excites people --- has just appeared: by Adam Gopnik, a regular essayist in that fine magazine, a mainstay of American cultural life for 80 years now. Gopnik has lived off and on in France for years, and if he's weak on certain historical and analytical insights, he's got a keen journalist eye and a nose for interviews. See the anti-anti Americans

You'll observe if you look at the Gopnik article on the handful of centrist pro-American French writers and intellectuals that Jean-Francois Revel is featured. Recall here the buggy prof article on his recent book assaulting French anti-Americanism that appeared in February 2002: it includes a buggy translation of the review of the book in Le Monde, the most influential French daily . . . and a mainstay of French anti-American sentiment for the educated and half-educated.

For other buggy articles on French anti-Americanism --- remember, the buggy prof ran a UC exchange program at Bordeaux University and taught there back in the 1970s --- "French Oil"; and "Nutbin French Anti-Americanism Run Wild: Or Who Killed JR of Dallas Fame?" There are others, but these two earlier articles, together with the updated appearance of this article, should give you a good feel for just how tenaciously rooted anti-American sentiment is among the French elite class . . . political, administrative, journalistic, and intellectual. Whether the average Frenchman is that anti-American is another matter. Public opinion attitudes toward the US wax and wane, depending on events; but generally, anti-Americanism isn't a nationalist ideology that seems to run deep among average Frenchmen . . . however much the French media poll-parrots the envies and resentments of the US --- its power, wealth, dynamism, and global impact --- mixed with chronic nostalgic longing for a France that makes a bigger splash on the international scene, politically and intellectually.

Note carefully the title of this article. It's actually not just the buggy prof's own claim regarding French anti-American ideology that is set forth there, but one shared by two political and intellectual figures in French life who know Chirac well personally. One of them, Guy Sorman --- after being invited to the Presidential palace for a discussion with Chirac about French relations with the US that had a group of French intellectuals present --- noted that he's the "most anti-American of us all." (For this and other quotes, see John Vincour's article in the International Herald Tribune, Vincour a long-time reporter stationed in Paris, and an excellent observer of the French scene.) Note too that this wasn't a discussion held in the midst of the recent French-American tussles over Iraq. It was in November 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks by Arab terrorists in New York and Washington.

Sorman continued afterwards to maintain contact with Chirac, in fact accompanying him on his March whirlwind jaunt to Algeria --- extolled in the French nationalist media (meaning virtually all of it) as one more French triumph Ever since, Sorman says: "Chirac is persuaded he's right on America. I persist and confirm what I said about his anti-Americanism. A year and a half later, I realized I was more right than I had imagined at first." Not only that. "Pay no attention to what he might say about his affection for the United States from his student days. This is not the question. His view is something deep, deep within him. For Chirac, the Americans understand nothing."


Nothing New

Note further, as the buggy prof's earlier articles on France and its policies observed, that anti-Americanism isn't something new in French life, provoked by alleged unilateral haughtiness in the Bush-Jr. era. The recent intensification in Paris of active opposition to the US, diplomatically and militarily --- with hopes for an independent EU military force --- began during the Bill Clinton era, something Vincour reported on at length in the IHT in those days and that he stresses again in his current article. In particular, he cites Bernard Kouchner, a French UN administrator of postwar Kosovo, who "described anti-Americanism as the motor of French foreign policy. Kouchner, whose approval rating leaped to 66 percent last week after months of criticizing the French position on Iraq, said more recently that while French opposition to the Americans was often justified, 'our manner of being opposed, making it a basis for everything, without any thought, is just stupid.' "


A Historical Thread Running Back to 1815

Far from being a creation in the Bush-Jr years, anti-Americanism has been a constant that runs through French foreign policy ever since 1945 . . . essentially, as the buggy prof noted earlier, a continuation of the French quest to return to the front ranks of the great powers ever since its marked comedown after Napoleon's defeat in 1815 and a subsequent marked hostility to the "Anglo-Saxons". In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, that meant Great Britain as the biggest threat --- its power and empire towering above the French equivalents. And though anti-Anglo/Saxon views and policies were conditioned by surges of Germanic menaces --- as in 1871 when the Prussian army destroyed the French army in only weeks, then moved quickly to the outskirts of Paris and watched as the grandiose pretentions of Louis Napoleon's regime crumbled, then between 1914 and 1918, and then in the late 1930s and on into WWII --- they resurfaced immediately in 1945 when de Gaulle (then briefly in power as a weak Prime Minister in the 4th Republic) actively sought to build a Continental European bloc freed of British and American influence. De Gaulle even flirted with overtures to the Stalinist Russians, only to decide by 1948 that the Soviet threat was more immediate. It was at that point (really, the year before) that the French agreed to merge their occupation zone in Germany with the British and Americans, who earlier had fused theirs in an attempt to create a West German democratic state, and joined NATO in 1949.

In short, as all this indicates, French hostility to the US --- reinforced by fears of French culture being ovewhelmed by American cultural influences, on both the elite intellectual and artistic level as well as in popular culture --- has been an ongoing thrust in French foreign policy, its "motor" force as Bernard Kouchner rightly describes it. Or, to vary the metaphor, it's the other side of the two-faced coin that describes abiding French ambitions: the quest for prestige, influence, and power. As de Villepin, the French Foreign Minister who Chirac partly defers to because of his aristocratic heritage, noted in a New York Times interview this February, daily --- whatever the obstacles --- he never ceases to think of Napoleon I whom he wrote a book about and his example as a guide to French policies: daily, he examines whether he has managed to increase French glory and prestige globally.

De Gaulle Sets the Anti-American Thrust with a New Political System, the 5th Republic (1959 On), with a Powerful Presidency

In the mid-1960s, Charles de Gaulle took French opposition to the point that France withdrew from the integrated military structure of NATO, ordered US forces off French soil, and declared that the French nuclear force was not just independent, but had no predisposed enemy to deter. Simultaneously, the French government vetoed two British applications to join the European Economic Community as it was called in those days, while developing a bilateral relationship with West Germany . . . the aim here, clear to everyone, to leverage German influence to enhance French power and influence within the EEC and turn it into a French-led anti-American bloc.

Anti-Russian too? Up to a point only. De Gaulle actually courted the Soviet Union, hoping to turn it into a friendly half-ally in opposing American power and influence, diplomatic, economic, and cultural. He wasn't successful here: Moscow essentially saw NATO and the American presence as stablizing in West Europe (the last thing it wanted was to see a resurgent West Germany, which Moscow perceived as potentially far more powerful than France itself), and the German government refused to choose Paris over NATO as long as Germany was divided and the Soviet military threat existed right on its borders. Nonetheless a pattern within NATO was established: France would cooperate with NATO and the US only when French interests dictated this, otherwise France would remain aloof and independent or, oppositely, oppose US policies. The end of the cold war in 1990 restored French hopes for isolating Britain within the EU and again bringing united Germany into a partnership with France to turn the EU into an independent foreign and security bloc, with France the senior partner and the intellectual and dipomatic leader of the other smaller EU countries.

  A similar pattern in the Middle East

Originally, French foreign policy in the Middle East was dominated by the futile struggle to remain an imperial ruler in North Africa over Algeria, Morroco, and Tunisia. To that end, French support for Israel was a mainstay right down until the mid-1960s --- France even helped the Israelis build their first nuclear weapons --- after which the Algerian war ended, North Africa was freed of European imperial rule, and French policy shifted to the track on which it has adhered ever since: France would be the natural intermediary between the rich industrial countries and the oil-rich Arab countries (as well as tropical Africa and others in Asia). It's a policy, as you can see, that Chirac himself still firmly pushes: hence the recent trip to Algeria, intended to exploit what the French government thought would be its new prestige among the Arabs given its active opposition to the US and UK in the UN Security Council over Iraq. In the meantime, French policy did a somersault --- practiced by almost all the rest of the EU eventually --- in its relations with Israel. Can't court the Arab despots --- the kings, the princes, the sheiks, the Presidents-for-Life --- and do lots of business with them while building up French prestige and influence, and simultaneously be seen as allied with Israel.

The turning point was the Six Day War in June 1967 --- started when the pan-Arab Egyptian dictator Nasser unilaterally ordered UN peacekeepers off the Sinai, reiterated that the Arabs were still at war with Israel, and blockaded the Israeli access to the Red Sea. While the Israelis then pre-empted and set about destroying Egyptian military power, they were attacked from the East by the Jordanians and Syrians: that's how the Israelis came to occupy after quickly destroying their military power the West Bank and the Gaza . . . just as earlier in the 1948 Arab invasions of the new state of Israel, after they and the local Palestinian leaders rejected the UN partition plan (60% of all arable land to the Palestinians, 40% to the Jews), led to the defeat of the 5 invading countries and the expansion of Israeli territory. De Gaulle erupted with fury . . . a French speciality, apparently, witness the latest tantrum at a EU conclave with the 10 new East European candidates in Brussels this February, when Chirac upbraided their representatives for being "badly reared" and "not knowing when to shut up" (they had been supporting vigorously the US and the UK over Iraq). De Gaulle went further. He not only denounced the Israelis for not listening to his advice to appease the Egyptians, he opened the Pandora's box of long-standing French anti-Semitism: the Israelis were Jews, he told the French and Arabs in a public discourse, and Jews were "an elite people, sure of themselves and domineering." Etc, Etc.

That was 22 years after the Nazi collaborating Vichy French regime had spent WWII sending off foreign and French Jews to the death camps.

Since then, the whole lock-stock-and-barrel of penny-ante as well as elitist European anti-Semitic prejudice has spread throughout much of the EU again: the Anti-Defamation league, for instance, carried out a survey with European pollsters that found several European peoples, the French included, expressing high levels of noticeable anti-Semitism: around 30-40% for Germany, France, and Belgium --- France coming out on top --- but dropping noticeably in Britain and sharply in a small country with an impressive human rights record like Denmark. That was in June 2002. A later poll in October found similarly high responses in Spain, around 34% of the population, tapering off to around 20% in Italy and Austria and Switzerland, and very low in Holland (7.0%) See ADL By contrast, the ADL finds that about 17% of Americans express clear prejudice against Jews --- a rise of about 4% since the early and mid-1990s (compared to around 40-45% at the end of WWII). Strikingly, Americans of Asian and European descent are by far the least prejudiced here. Contrariwise, as the head of the ADL observed,the most recent survey showed that " 35% of our Hispanic neighbors…44% foreign born and 20% American born…were strongly anti-Semitic, together with 35% of African Americans." For the entire survey, see the ADL 2002

Interestingly, French survey data carried out earlier in 2001 and early 2002 --- when a wave of anti-Jewish violence erupted all over the carried, the main perpetrators young alienated Arab immigrant thugs --- showed that about 24% of the French were clearly anti-Semitic. Around 35% of those who claimed to be Muslim expressed hostility to Jews of a racist sort (again, mainly in the younger generations, the older Arab immigrants and French Jews having always had good relations), whereas such racism dropped to 12% among practicing Catholics --- the latter a fairly small minority in France. A point to mull over here. Those who know the strengths and drawbacks of survey data won't be surprised by the discrepancies here. Survey questions probe attitudes, not necessarily deeply held beliefs; and attitudes can vary with circumstances. Similarly, the attitudes reflected in responses can vary with the questions asked, even closely resembling questions but worded differently. Still, the gap between French findings and those of the ADL French pollsters is narrow enough to indicate a serious problem in French life --- and also in other EU countries. Those who know the history of Italy, Denmark, Holland, and Britain, by contrast, won't be surprised that their populations come off less prejudiced against Jews.