MIAMI -- Watching American TV can be a surreal experience. Sandwiched between ads for instant weight loss products, predigested fast food, and incontinence panties, cable TV commentators bay like rabid dogs for war against Iraq, and subject nations daring to oppose President Bush's crusade to venomous abuse or sneering disdain.
France, which speaks with the strongest, most logical voice of those opposing war, has become the special target of vituperation and hatred in America's leading neo-conservative media - Fox TV, the Wall Street Journal, New York Post - and the Bush administration's bete noire. Particularly so, now that France, Germany, and Russia vow to veto U.S. attempts to ram a war-enabling resolution through the UN Security Council.
France, many Americans claim, should do whatever Washington orders out of gratitude for the U.S. "saving" it in two world wars. U.S. television features angry veterans standing in American military cemeteries in Normandy, denouncing France for "stabbing America in the back" - as if invading Iraq to grab its oil and crushing Israel's enemies had anything to do with World War II.
Few flag-waving pundits mention America sat out almost 40% of WWII until attacked by Japan. In 1940, the German armed forces were the equivalent of the U.S. armed forces today - a full military generation ahead of other nations. France's entire army was destroyed in battle by the invincible Germans; had the U.S. fought Germany in 1940, it too would have been routed. The Soviet Union, not the U.S., defeated Germany, destroying over 100 Nazi divisions.
So enough with all the bombast about Word War II. In the eyes of Europeans and most of the world, George Bush's administration looks dangerously aggressive, dominated as it is by petrohawks and neo-conservative ideologues linked to Israel's far right. These little Mussolinis have no time for diplomacy or multi-nationalism. No wonder a recent Pew Research poll found that formerly favorable ratings of the U.S. have plummeted in 19 of 27 nations surveyed.
It seems at times that President Bush is even more eager to bomb Paris than Baghdad. In fact, the administration has been treating France like an enemy, rather than America's oldest ally and intimate friend. Neo-conservatives even accuse France of anti-Semitism, a disgusting slander.
Doing the right thing
Far from being an enemy, France has been doing what a true good friend should do: telling Washington its policy is wrong and dangerous, unlike the handkissing leaders of Britain, Spain and Italy, who crave Bush's political support, or the East European coalition of the shilling, ex-communist politicians pandering to Washington for cash. Seventy percent of British, and 90% of Italians and Spaniards oppose Bush's crusade.
France's President Jacques Chirac speaks for an overwhelming majority of Europeans and, indeed, the world's people, in urging the U.S. to opt for diplomacy and UN inspections over a war that will not be worth the loss of a single American soldier, not to mention tens of thousands of Iraqis and chaos across Mesopotamia. So, too, warns the great and wise Pope John Paul II.
The contrast between France's reasoned diplomatic response and Bush's belligerent behavior could not be more stark. As is the dignified, logical tone set by President Chirac and Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin compared to the bullying, low-brow, locker-room talk issuing from the White House that has seriously damaged America's reputation and image around the globe.
Last week Turkey's new parliament, chosen in the first truly democratic election in memory, followed Europe, courageously rejecting Washington's bribes and demands that U.S. ground forces be allowed to attack Iraq from Turkish territory. Washington's churlish response - withdrawing its bribes, threatening punishment - contrasted curiously to Bush's claims his goal in Iraq is bringing democracy to the Mideast. Democracy, its seems, is fine so long as it does U.S. bidding. Inconveniently, Turkey's people and democratic government voted a resounding no to war. How long the Turks can resist intense pressure from the U.S. and its friends, Turkey's hard right generals, remains to be seen.
Bush's crusade against Iraq will go on with or without Turkey. The war will be akin to throwing a grenade into a huge hornet's nest. France, which lives next to the Arab world and has 5 million Muslim citizens, warns an invasion and occupation of Iraq will roil the entire region, spark more terrorism, and hit Europe with a dangerous backblast. But Bush couldn't care less, as he would say.
While Bush prepares war against demolished Iraq, he is ducking the surging nuclear confrontation with North Korea, which, unlike Iraq, truly threatens North America. Outrageous dereliction of duty over Korea, obsessive warmongering against Iraq, crude, aggressive behavior worthy of Leonid Brezhnev's Soviet Union, threats against the UN, a $400-billion deficit that will infect the world with inflation, and damage to America's reputation - such are Bush's "accomplishments" to date. Who needs enemies with world-class blunderers like this in charge?
America's friends and neighbors, led by France, the mother of diplomacy, rightly warn the steroidal Bush administration to halt its rush to war. President Chirac and Foreign Minister de Villepin deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Americans owe France an apology, and a hearty "merci mon ami."
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