Published on Tuesday, February 25, 2003 by the Los Angeles Times
A Tip on Iraq From Those Who Walked That Road
The French paid dearly for imperial and military hubris. Listen up, U.S.
by Robert Scheer
The alliances on "Survivor" have more stability and logic than those currently held by the United States. We need a weekly two-hour special to keep us in the know.
Did we buy off Turkey yet? Hey, what's $15 billion for a mercenary in need? And is Syria, the sworn enemy of our enemy, Saddam Hussein, our new friend?
Oh, and if Pakistan is the dictatorship that backed the Taliban, why are we covering our ears and humming the theme to "Friends" whenever anyone talks about its nukes and scary collaboration with North Korea?
We suddenly like those U.S. flag-burners in Tehran -- possessors of a nuclear weapons program Hussein can only dream of -- so much that we have given their boys in the Northern Alliance the keys to Kabul, and now we might open the back door for them to take over Shiite southern Iraq.
On the other hand, old ally Germany and new ally Russia have both been downgraded to a status below lap dog Bulgaria for daring to suggest that Emperor Bush is without clothes; while uppity China is getting a reprieve because, as our second-largest trading partner, it keeps Wal-Mart stocked with patriotic animatronic toys. If we weren't worried about burning the waffles, we'd probably have lobbed a few cruise missiles into antiwar Belgium by now.
Nutty Pyongyang is receiving a mix of strained patience and physical restraints, while we apparently think another round of electroshock therapy is the cure for troubled Iraq.
And while we like Iraq's Kurds and Shiites now, they'd best be advised to cash in before the next immunity challenge, when they could be on the short end of the stick of whatever malleable Iraqi general we handpick to run our new oil fields.
Is all this shuffling of friends and foes just realpolitik, similar to how we ignore the mayhem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an inconvenient sideshow? Like when President Reagan was cutting secret arms deals with Tehran's fundamentalists, even as he sent Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad in 1984 to reaffirm our support for Iraq after the U.N. documented its use of poison gas on Iranian troops?
Despite this confusing picture then and now, thanks to our enlightened talk-show hosts we all know that there is one nation of pure evil, one nasty country threatening to undermine the world's security with its lies, double-dealing and stubborn defiance, one state that Earth would simply be better off without.
We're talking, of course, about France. Brie eaters. Surly waiters. WWII collaborators. And now, cowardly traitors in the crusade against the New Hitler.
This idiocy is based on a highly selective historical memory, including the fact that the U.S. refused to enter the war against Hitler until after France fell. It also keeps us from being able to listen to a nation that has already been down the road we are traveling.
Imperialism has always been pitched at home as a win-win way to help the world's stricken peoples while helping oneself, and in Paris it was no different. France's colonial wars were waged under the rival banners of Catholicism and the French Revolution; the goal was to civilize the natives. A million Frenchmen gave up the joys of life at the center of Europe to colonize Algeria alone, building schools, churches, hospitals and civic bureaucracies.
Ultimately, however, the price of France's hubris was writ large in the blood of its sons and daughters over painful decades, from the fall of Dien Bien Phu to the Battle of Algiers, from the student protests of '68 to the bombs that terrorized Paris.
One of the fallen was a French soldier-cum-journalist named Bernard Fall. He died when he stepped on a Viet Cong land mine while accompanying a U.S. patrol, but not before he had written compellingly about the inevitable stench of imperial ambition turning rancid. But let's let Colin Powell explain.
"I recently read Bernard Fall's book on Vietnam, 'Street Without Joy,' " the secretary of State and Vietnam vet wrote in his 1995 autobiography. "Fall makes painfully clear that we had almost no understanding of what we had gotten ourselves into. I cannot help thinking that if President Kennedy or President Johnson had spent a quiet weekend at Camp David reading that perceptive book, they would have returned to the White House Monday morning and immediately started to figure out a way to extricate us from the quicksand of Vietnam."
Many believe that the U.S. is simply incapable of imperialism or even of being wrong, that we are the divinely designated agent of democracy, that gleaming City on the Hill so frequently mentioned by Reagan. But the lesson of France is that merely riding in under the banner of liberty is no guarantee that you or those you "liberate" won't regret you ever left home.
Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times