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On Point

"French Hiss"


by Austin Bay

Call it the "French Hiss," that tiresome Parisian diplo-twitter bewailing the American "hyper-power."

We heard the French hiss before and after the Persian Gulf War. (Only during the Persian Gulf War, when the bullets flew, did the petty sniffle subside.)

Mention McDonalds, and the hiss decibels spike, though the McDonalds website says there are over 700 Golden Arches in the land of pate de foie gros. Someone Gallic is munching les hamburgers.

The latest French hiss fit is, of course, over George W. Bush's "axis of evil" speech, which fingered Iran, Iraq and North Korea as Earth's most threatening proliferators of weapons of mass destruction.

"Simplistic!" huffed Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine. "Today we are threatened by a new simplistic approach that reduces all the problems in the world to the struggle against terrorism." The United States is acting "unilaterally, without consulting others," Vedrine added.

Ah, those stupid Americans. Simple-minded lot, so narrow, no flair for complexity. And when this obvious lack of mental acuity and imagination combine with U.S. economic and military power (Mon Dieu, how can such idiots have such power?), America becomes a "threat" to the globe.

All that's missing from Vedrine's predictable string of push words is "cowboy," but bet your Stetson against a stack of ratty berets the French foreign minister has that schtick in his verbal repertoire.

Other European anti-American polemicists chime in with similar rant. One British academic told The (London) Observer, "The war on terrorism is simply a euphemism for extending U.S. control in the world, whether it is by projecting force through its (aircraft) carriers or building new military bases in central Asia."

What utter anti-American pish.

I used to greet the French hiss with laughter. Jealousy is, after all, a pathetic attribute. I also understood European "distance" from America often served a useful diplomatic purpose in pursuing common Western goals, particularly during the Cold War. America could play "tough cop," and Europe "nice cop" -- and if playing "nice cop" meant the French sold a few Citroens in the process, so be it.

Sept. 11, however, has diminished the entertainment value of false, foolish and hypocritical anti-American critique.

Another "au courant" French hiss describes America as suffering from "gigantisme militaire." In this pop formulation, American military might becomes a pathology, a threatening condition where the American cowboy's colossally overactive glands have inflated his height, width and six-guns.

Pathological more aptly describes the Taliban regime, which specialized in blowing up buddhas and jailing women. American military might dumped the Taliban in a brisk campaign marked by shrewd use of force and multifaceted, multilateral diplomacy. American military power was appropriate and responsible, not monstrous.

Yes, America spends as much on defense as the planet's next nine nations combined. But consider the 50-year-long trend in Western Europe to push the harshest burdens of mutual defense onto the backs of the Yanks. America's Euro critics can't have it both ways.

Which leads back to the pathology behind the French hiss. Arrogance and anger masking a deep-seated sense of inferiority is a behavioral gimmick as old as our species. Unfortunately, at this moment in history, this is the connective tissue of anti-Americanism, the psychological baling wire that loosely but rhetorically binds the hodgepodge of anarchists, anti-globalists, French statists, Marxist academics, and Osama bin Laden-type religious terrorists who blame America for their own failures and inadequacies.

Unilateralist? The United States is the most actively engaged, multilateralist nation on the planet. It takes two to tango and at least two to trade, and no nation is more eager to open trade, information and cultural links than the United States. No, this wasn't always the case, but the flip side of engagement -- American withdrawal and isolation -- has a sad legacy. American isolation left the field open to Hitler (which French diplomacy and the Maginot Line failed to thwart).

Bush's "axis of evil" is clarifying, not simplistic. Europe's policy of constructive engagement with Iran has failed, and even M. Vedrine must know it. Iran continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. In the short run, French, Russian and German unilateralists may benefit from weapons and technology sales to Iran, but in the long run, rogue states and terror syndicates with nukes and bio weapons are a terrifying threat. It's time to hush the French hiss and forge a cooperative, unified front to stop the proliferators ... and the terrorists.

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