February 17, 2003
A friend suggested that I -- a Frenchman in the U.S. -- should write an article about the present rift between the U.S. and its European 'allies,' and the Euro-bashing, particularly the hysteric francophobia in the main media and the corridors of power. How does this latest uproar strike me? It makes no difference. We are all a bunch of assassins.
What can I say? A French national, I am by birth; but I've lived most of my adult life away from France and for the last 20+ years I've resided in the USA, either on the East Coast (Manhattan, which I love) or the West Coast (Los Angeles and the Bay Area). I've considered myself "un citoyen du monde," a world citizen, for a long, long time, and have deep aversion for flags and other nationalistic totems. In other words, call me a Martian!
France and America have had a dog and cat relationship for over 200 years -- nothing new here. So, I found the insults quite amusing of sort. Particularly, the description of President Jacques Chirac by Christopher Hitchens in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, "a positive monster of conceit - the abject procurer for Saddam ... the rat that tried to roar." The "rat that tried to roar..." I mean, please, coming from that despicable turncoat, I'd carry the appellation like a badge of honor! As to the series of invectives read in the US press, such as, "axis of weasels," "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," "chorus of cowards," "wimps," "mini-me minion," "petulant prima donna of realpolitik," "vote France off the island," etc., I'd suggest to the American punditry that they grab a copy of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac... They'll get a lesson in truly creative insult writing!
This is silly.
Then again, silliness is the order of the day. The high alert (threat level orange), based on fabricated evidence, 'led' the Department of Homeland Security to issue an instruction to the American people to go out, buy water and canned food, and duct tape and plastic sheeting to seal a room in their houses in protection of a possible chemical or biological attack. The advice had the expected result: people went out, emptied the stores, and began to sheet their houses! As a New York Times' reader sardonically noted, "If a room is sealed well enough to be airtight, then eventually the oxygen in the room will become depleted and the occupants will suffocate. Or, if the room is not airtight, airborne germs or chemicals will be able to enter the room with the fresh air and the plastic sheeting and duct tape work will have been futile." (NYT, Letters, Feb. 14, 2002) Remember the "take cover" drills in American schools during the Cold War? As another reader noted wryly, "In hindsight, how ridiculous was that, hiding under a desk during a nuclear attack? Now duct tape and plastic sheeting are our new 'take cover.' How ridiculous is this?" (ibid.)
Yes, futile and ridiculous, yet masterly handled and organized to instill fear and paranoia into the general population so that people feel besieged, scared to death, see enemies everywhere, including in their neighborhoods, and friendly allies (no, Virginia, the French people do not hate you...) -- today the Muslims and Arabs, tomorrow the French. Who's next? It makes no difference, so long as it brings relief to a psychologically besieged country. As Janice Gewirtz of Mountain Lakes, N.J., wrote in a letter to the NYT (Feb. 12, 2003), "Why is all attention focused on Iraq, a possible future threat, instead of on Al Qaeda, which is sworn to destroy us and is already here, promising untold horror? I would rather see our troops protecting the bridges, tunnels, borders, streets, movies and malls, of America. Wouldn't you?"
Note that Ms. Gewirtz, through a Freudian lapse of sorts, is identifying her well-being with bridges, tunnels, borders, streets, movies, and malls, which is quite representative of where main-street America stands... She should feel reassured. Her wish list will come to pass sooner than she thinks (did anyone notice the show of military force in Manhattan and Washington D.C. in the past week or so?).
As objectionable as it may look, I would recommend people to read about Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil."
Euro-bashing notwithstanding, this is where we silently stand.
Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals
"There are no permanent alliances -- only permanent interests," said Lord Palmerston, the 19th century British statesman. Interests, very powerful interests, are at play in this acute rift between the U.S. and 'old' Europe.
The current crisis finds its origins in the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and in the eat-or-be-eaten resource-based neo-liberalism ethos.
The issue is not who loves whom or who hates whom. It's about the long-term future of the various competing systems. Energy is the foundation of our economic paradigm. No energy and our entire way of life becomes history. Energy means fossil fuels, of which oil is king. In addition, the cost of energy and the currency used to pay for it are of utmost importance.
I have suggested in the past, with hopefully solid evidence, that the world was heading into the end of the oil era, that the Asian nations (read China) were going to increase their energy needs at an exponential rate -- what we like to call unsustainable...though they will only tend toward our own rates of consumption...which we deem...sustainable...
'Old' Europe -- that would be France and Germany (and whoever defies 'young' America) -- is struggling with the same deflationary trends that we do in the U.S. (though it is possibly worse in Europe). Unemployment is rampant, standards of living are down, racism is on the rise -- all phenomena that are also occurring in the U.S. -- and the European elites are struggling, as much as their American counterparts do, to keep the boat afloat, so to speak.
To do so, Europe is desperately searching to control its own destiny, not become satellites of the US behemoth.
There are two ways to achieve this. 1) reach out to Russia; 2) get away from the dollar dominated world-financial system.
Number one is obvious. Once the fabricated "red scare" was over with the fall of the Soviet Union (I say 'fabricated' for I do not think for a second that the French were ever scared by the Soviet Union, after WW II), the 'natural,' geographical, and historical alliances were bound to resurface (think Russia and France). Furthermore, the extraordinary efforts of the "old" enemies of yesteryear to forge a future together (France-Germany) have led these countries toward multilateralism in contrast to an ever-growing unilateral and imperial America.
Number two is as evident, though I must admit I've missed it altogether. Yet, it was there in plain sight for as long as I can remember. When General de Gaulle expelled NATO -- that is, and still remains, the U.S. -- from France in 1966, he was talking about a Europe "from the Atlantic to the Urals." Though Dean Rusk, the US Secretary of State, asked, "Does that include the dead Americans in military cemeteries, too?", he failed to understand two fundamental points. First, de Gaulle was talking about independence from the U.S. (as deep a nationalist he was) and, second, as much as Americans 'feel' that they defeated Nazism, Europeans 'know' that in actuality the Soviets' Red Army and the Russian people bore the brunt of the war, at a cost in life and destruction Americans can barely fathom (this in no way undermines the immense gratitude felt in Europe for the US intervention, but it's an inescapable reality that has been largely obfuscated by the Cold War). In addition, France was the first country to ever call the US monetary bluff and ask to exchange their dollar reserves into gold, which resulted in the eventual floating of the dollar in 1971.
With the advent of the Euro (another extraordinary example of multilateralism and 'loss' of sovereignty) Europe has quickly moved toward displacing, or at least competing with the dollar in international trade. Iran, Russia, Iraq, even Saudi Arabia, have been moving toward abandoning the dollar and espousing the Euro. In doing so, they are posing a direct, imminent and ominous threat to the U.S., which depends entirely on the dollar to finance its humongous trade and financial deficits. See http://www.rupe-india.org/34/homefront.html for an excellent analysis of the dollar hegemony and the implications of the Euro (scroll down on the page).
'Old' alliances are crumbling. Class interests predominate the landscape. Latin America is increasingly looking toward a different road, far away from the neo-liberalist model; South Korea is becoming a part of the Chinese sphere of influence and adamantly wants reunification with North Korea, not another nuclear holocaust; Japan is in a quagmire, fearing the Chinese relentless expansion and no longer in sync with US strategic interests that have moved toward India and Central Asia; no wonder, US GI's will be out of Germany in a relatively short order (why do you think the U.S. is quietly negotiating 99-year leases for military bases in the Balkans?) and the present US Administration is playing the 'old-new' Europe card. These terms of endearment hide profound realignments worldwide.
Thomas Friedman may postulate that power rests upon or is a result of military superiority. To stay within a Rumsfeldian taxonomy, this is 'old' thinking. Stalin too used to muse about tank divisions... We are in desperate need of 'new' thinking.
Meantime the African continent's dire situation is essentially ignored. The Palestinian's ecocide continues unabated. Hunger and poverty roam through ever-expanding swaths of wrecked humanity. The destruction of the earth's ecosystem is relegated to the back pages of the media -- totally, utterly ignored. AND WE KILL IRAQIS... so long as the duct tape and plastic sheeting hold...
In this big chess game the Iraqis are mere pawns. They are, indeed, just....
What to say of the combined French-German-Russian-Chinese approach compared to that of the U.S.? Well, they both are ready and willing to shoot and kill. The disagreement is about the time and the conditions of the killing and, after the kill, who gets what. Within this 'game' Iraqi lives matter little or not at all.
Then again, have Iraqi lives ever mattered? Slow kill or quick kill, what a choice!
French or Americans, we are all a bunch of assassins. That pretty much sums it up.
· · · · · ·
Understanding the U.S.-Iraq Crisis, a Primer by Phyllis Bennis
Iraq on Swans
Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.
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