On Point: "French Hiss"

by Austin Bay

Call it the "French Hiss," that tiresome Parisian diplo-twitterbewailing 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 pettysniffle subside.)

Mention McDonalds, and the hiss decibels spike, though theMcDonalds website says there are over 700 Golden Arches in the land of patede 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'smost threatening proliferators of weapons of mass destruction.

"Simplistic!" huffed Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine. "Today weare threatened by a new simplistic approach that reduces all the problems inthe 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, noflair for complexity. And when this obvious lack of mental acuity andimagination combine with U.S. economic and military power (Mon Dieu, how cansuch idiots have such power?), America becomes a "threat" to the globe.

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

Other European anti-American polemicists chime in with similarrant. One British academic told The (London) Observer, "The war on terrorismis simply a euphemism for extending U.S. control in the world, whether it isby projecting force through its (aircraft) carriers or building new militarybases 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" fromAmerica often served a useful diplomatic purpose in pursuing common Westerngoals, particularly during the Cold War. America could play "tough cop," andEurope "nice cop" -- and if playing "nice cop" meant the French sold a fewCitroens in the process, so be it.

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

Another "au courant" French hiss describes America as sufferingfrom "gigantisme militaire." In this pop formulation, American militarymight becomes a pathology, a threatening condition where the Americancowboy's colossally overactive glands have inflated his height, width andsix-guns.

Pathological more aptly describes the Taliban regime, whichspecialized in blowing up buddhas and jailing women. American military mightdumped the Taliban in a brisk campaign marked by shrewd use of force andmultifaceted, multilateral diplomacy. American military power wasappropriate and responsible, not monstrous.

Yes, America spends as much on defense as the planet's next ninenations combined. But consider the 50-year-long trend in Western Europe topush 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 abehavioral gimmick as old as our species. Unfortunately, at this moment inhistory, this is the connective tissue of anti-Americanism, thepsychological baling wire that loosely but rhetorically binds the hodgepodgeof anarchists, anti-globalists, French statists, Marxist academics, andOsama bin Laden-type religious terrorists who blame America for their ownfailures and inadequacies.

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

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

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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