The French Virus
by Gilles d'Aymery

October 5, 1997

Allons bon, the French are being naughty again. From Boutros Boutros-Ghali last year to the Internet to NATO Southern command and, now, dealing with "rogue" states... They always want what we do not. In short, they have taken the lead of the blame-America-first crowd, never missing an opportunity to stick an aggravating thumb in our eye. Now, we are good guys, we do like our "friends and allies", but really, "they do not get it". Patience is running out and Washington is gearing itself up to give a lesson of its own to those little French bugs.

Assuredly we understand and compassionate; to be French is rather tough these days. They see their own world being turned upside down. They know they are correct (or they think they know), yet each time they fall on the wrong side of the issue. Logic does not seem to prevail anymore. Not only do they hate our Hollywood-made movies--which they love to watch, but they are so bad that they even wear our Levi's, eat our hamburgers, buy our Jeeps and learn to speak English. Their language, once revered by the world as the language of diplomacy and culture, is on the verge of becoming irrelevant under the onslaught of Anglo-Saxon scientific and technological lexicography. Their folk music plays to the tune of Rap. They look at American racism and anti-immigrant policies with horror and disdain but confront their own extremists in perhaps larger numbers. They look down upon the American TV shows but they broadcast "Nash Bridges", "Dallas", "Touched by an Angel" and others in prime time on their TV channels. They consider they are better educated than us--not such a hard achievement, we reckon--but their economy is in shambles with twice the unemployment rate, especially because many of their best and brightest young minds come to America. Worse still, one of the most enduring cultural traits of French society, the famous bistros where one could drink a glass of red wine over a ham sandwich on baguette, is increasingly being replaced by McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

Okay, as said, we understand and compassionate. After all, their sad state of affairs is good for business! But it's about time they became serious, don't you think?

Take Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former General Secretary of the United Nations. The entire world was satisfied with his stewardship at the UN but Washington decided the French speaking Egyptian-born diplomat was not good enough--read, he did not want to let us use the UN as our own self-serving agency and he was considered to be too unfriendly to our Middle-East ally, Israel. The French were undoubtedly correct. And so were all the other members of the UN Security Council who wanted to keep the General Secretary. But to be correct does not mean that one is right, does it? Hence we sent Madeleine Albright, the US representative at that time, armed with her famous diplomatic skills--"politics, she once said, is part principles and part pragmatism"--to convince her opponents of our righteous views. Simply put, if the world wanted us to pay the billion dollars in unpaid dues we owe the UN, Bou Bou had to go (we Americans, in the person of Bob Dole and Jesse Helms, do not have time to pronounce such long names anyway). Bou Bou had to go since he was a poor manager and a dismal organizer and, of course, we could not pay our debts to an organization with such an abysmal record of mismanagement and corruption, could we? As expected our argumentation carried the day and out went Bou Bou. To this day the billion dollars owed remain unpaid but this is just a detail not worth considering here. Now, for Heaven's sake why would the French get a fit out of that one? Beats us. Can't they understand pragmatism?

Take the Information Super Highway. Fifteen years ago, at a time when no one had ever heard of the Internet (beside the military and a few major universities and laboratories involved in our Holy War against the communist empire), the French put into place the most far-reaching text-based computer network in the world, the Minitel. It was an encompassing electronic white and yellow pages system, covering all of France and a good part of Europe, a full reservation system from travel to entertainment. Everything was consumer and information oriented. But it had no multimedia capabilities--which was not conducive to good advertising, hence good business--and it was, like everything the French do, much too centralized for the free global market that we champion. So we did not buy their technology and invested instead in the Internet, letting the creative forces of the market carry that particular day. Obviously, the Internet is taking over the world and the Minitel is slowly riding into oblivion. So now the French see the Internet as a commercial enterprise and a conspiratorial tool to advance our hegemony over the world. Come on, will they ever fathom that while they may be correct in their assessment, we are right in the name of our principles under a unified God? And we do not require the Internet in order to control the world anyway. We have the armed forces of the United States of America for that, the finest men and women the world has ever known, always ready to defend the freedom of our national interests, which happen to coincide with those of the world, wherever they may be at risk.

But now, the French are pushing the envelope of our patience, our love for tolerance and diversity, to the limit by dealing with "rogue" states in total defiance of our laws, thus endangering our national security. They first tested our forbearance by dealing with Cuba, a country well known as a huge threat to our security that keeps exporting international communism. The French, like the Canadians who have French blood anyway, continue to do business with Cuba in spite of our law, the Helms-Burton Act, that explicitly prohibits them from dealing with such a "rogue" and rotten place. Can you believe that the Cubans, once upon a time, dared to confiscate American properties on Cuban soil without any compensation? We Americans would never do that, never did, never will. Never, ever! Private property represents the very root of our free-loving family of nations which favor free-loving markets, the epitome of our freedom-loving principles. In ridiculing our deepest principles the French are showing their hypocritical dirty hand.

More dangerous to our national security still, a French oil company just finalized a $2 billion natural gas-field development deal with Iran, another "rogue" state that exports terrorism to our shores and those of our allies, the French included (which demonstrates their short-sightedness), in total violation of our law. You see, Congress, in its wisdom, and under the sponsorship of Senator D'Amato who is famous for his knowledge of international affairs, passed the Iran-Lybia Sanctions Act that prohibits any company, whether foreign or domestic, to invest more than $40 million in either country. Yet, the French went ahead, dismissing both our very legal prohibitions and our repeated attempts to explain to them the fine tuning of our position. The French, being excellent debater, have been arguing for many moons that Washington had some seriously flawed and inconsistent policies. For example, they would say to our newly appointed ambassador to the City of Lights, Felix Rohatin, a former partner in the investment firm Lazard frères and who, consequently, understands the intricacies of business and politics better than any other living diplomat, that a Cartesian mind (a.k.a. a French) was experiencing some difficulties apprehending the underlying reasoning behind the US decision to trade with China, under a so-called policy of engagement, and the decision to boycott Iran under a loosely articulated policy of no-tread-with-a-rogue-state (or would it be no-trade), when China was a documented seller of nuclear and missile technologies to the same Iranian "rogue" state.

The French predicament boils down to their conceptual inability to perceive the subtle distinction between principles and pragmatism. With Iran, like Cuba, our policy is principled; with China it is pragmatic. In other words, Cuba has only sugar and cigars to offer. We have plenty of government-subsidized sugar in Hawaii, and cigars can easily pass Customs incognito. The only commodity of some interest in Iran is oil. We can easily ban theirs because, on the one hand there is plenty of oil elsewhere and, on the other hand, we get their oil anyway through off-shore traders who transship the oil in international waters and issue new bills of lading at will. As long as we do not read a headline in The New York Times or see coverage of the matter on the evening news, the oil reaches the refineries on our shores with impunity. So we can be highly principled. In China however, we are talking $100 billion and more. This calls for pragmatism.

Still, the French do not get it and that very fact creates a legitimate concern for us as to their national IQ. They might be well educated but they are totally obtuse to the realities of the day. Inasmuch as we love them, just as we love all loving-freedom market countries of the world, which excludes the "rogue" states with the exception of the engaged-roguing- trade partners, we wish they would accept, if not apprehend, our principled pragmatism. We are right. And if we happen to not be right--America is never wrong and we have our armed forces to prove our point, we will issue a convoluted apology 100 years from now as we did with the Indians ("Native Americans" in PC speak) for confiscating their land (we never did)!

So, what to do with those French bugs? What kind of pesticide could we use? The problem with their Iranian deal is that they ingeniously and deceptively brought a Russian and a Malaysian company with them. We cannot slap the Russians as we need them for our ongoing efforts to contain Iraq, Iran and... China (in the near future). So we cannot seriously sanction the French.

Yet, the French Prime Minister was arrogant enough to be pleased by the Iranian deal, rebuffing us with aplomb and sarcasm. And he is a socialist if you can believe this. George Bush would have said: "This cannot, this will not stand! Period." We have to find an appropriate answer to let the French know who is in charge. We must remind them the old Roman adage: Dura lex, sed lex. The law is hard, but it's the law.

To the rescue comes NATO. The French have just refused to rejoin NATO which they left 30 years ago for some foolishly nationalistic reasons, at a time when NATO's existence was unquestionable, on the pretext that we do not want them to get the Southern Command in Naples, Italy; that is, our very Sixth Fleet. Well, why don't we send the fleet up the river Seine, all the way to Paris? Like that, when we go and save the French in the next forthcoming war with "rogue" states, we'll already be there! And, who knows, perhaps could we take that opportunity to confine the French to some Indian reservation in the middle of the Gobi desert!

Published October 5, 1997
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