a game in which everyone loses,

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    Sep. 19, 2003
    A game in which everyone loses,
    By Amir Taheri

    The sea is as blue as ever, the weather as fine, and, in this Provencal restaurant in a narrow alley in Cannes, the food tastier than ever. So why is Stephane, le patron, despondent?

    "We have had a bad season," Stephane says, "the worst in memory."

    The reason? "The Americans didn't come this year," explains Stephan. "That means a 30% fall in our revenue."

    The Tourist Office for the region of which Cannes is part estimates the loss of revenue due to an undeclared American "boycott" at around 18% enough to make the difference between a good season and a bad one.

    The assumption here is that Americans are staying away because they perceive France as a hostile power that opposed the war in both Afghanistan and Iraq. (In Afghanistan, France changed sides after the Taliban were ejected from Kabul).

    The bad season on the French Riviera is just one example of the nefarious effects real or imagined anti-Americanism could have on ordinary life. Many French businesses are likely to suffer, while thousands of Americans have been deprived of holidaying in their favorite destination.

    Using the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks as a peg, the French media are full of editorials, columns and comments dealing with what is perceived as "unreasonable sulking" by the Americans. Many commentators remind their readers and audiences of the headline in the Parisian Le Monde daily on September 12, 2001: "We are all Americans!"

    The argument is that the Americans, being ungrateful brats, have forgotten that "generous" show of solidarity.

    "We were on their side when they were attacked," notes an editorialist on the state-owned radio France Inter. "They must understand that we cannot be on their side when they are attacking others."

    The logical conclusion of such a premise is that we love the Americans only when they die, especially in large numbers, but dislike them when they fight back against those who, incidentally, happen to be our enemies as well.

    A French nursery rhyme runs like this:

    Cet animal est trop mechant
    Quand on l'attacque il se defend!
    (This beast is quite mischievous
    For, when attacked, it defends itself!)

    The issue of whether or not military action should be taken against Saddam Hussein was never properly debated in France. In fact, France is the only major democracy where the parliament did not devote a single debate to Iraq. All decisions were taken by the president and a couple of advisors at the Elysee Palace, with Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin acting as point-man.

    The strategy was to make life as difficult for the Americans as possible.

    Lacking was an alternative vision of how to deal with an Iraqi regime that had defied the UN for 12 years and, in the words of President Chirac himself, remained "an abiding threat to world peace."

    Chirac wanted to play a version of le poker mentuer (liar's poker). He never said he would veto a Security Council resolution to authorize military action against Saddam. But he indicated, through diplomatic gesticulations, that he would do precisely that. The rest, as we know, is history.

    The result of that exercise in futile ambiguity is that France never developed a sober analysis of the events that led to the war and, worse still, is unable to understand the post-Saddam situation in Iraq.

    France had no Iraq policy then and has none now. The gap was and still is filled with anti-American gestures in the United Nations and elsewhere. The formula is simple: "Say merde to the Americans and you have a policy!"

    Anti-Americanism as a substitute for policy is sustained thanks to a number of myths and outright lies.

    One myth is that current anti-Americanism is not directed at the American people but at the Bush administration's "neo-con" strategists. One routine claim of French pundits is that Bush and "his gang" have "hijacked the American ship of state" and are using it in the interests of the Likud party in Israel.

    Such an excuse is worse than the insult. For it shows disdain for American democracy.

    Another myth is that the US has lost in Iraq, and is looking for a way out. The daily Liberation jubilates that "Bush is rushing headlong for the exit!"

    That may provide a dose of schadenfreude, but it is no basis for a serious understanding of the situation in Iraq. In fact, things in Iraq are going better than those who know that country expected. Provided there is no loss of nerve in Washington, Iraq could become as much of a success as were West Germany and Japan after World War II.
    One lie is that the US toppled Saddam in violation of international law. That lie is supported by a number of irresponsible statements, including one from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In an interview with Le Monde last week Annan had this to say: "We have to accept that the war [in Iraq] was waged against the view of the Security Council."

    This, of course, is disingenuous to say the least. The Security Council never opposed the war. Nor did any of its members make the slightest move to prevent the war, or, once it had started, to stop it. On the contrary, the war enjoyed the support of no fewer than 18 mandatory resolutions passed, often unanimously, by the same Security Council.
    Incidentally, Annan forgets that the liberation of Kosovo also took place without the formal approval of the Security Council.

    Yet another lie circulated to justify anti-Americanism is that the US, interested only in Iraq's oil, deliberately ignores the need to repair public services there. That lie ignores the fact that Iraq's public services were in a state of decay before the war.

    Some Iraqis, especially in Baghdad, may have had excessive expectations with regard to the US. That has fostered what one could call a "room service" mentality in Baghdad, where the US is expected to organize a cordon bleu feast just four months after the end of a half-century of brutal dictatorship.

    On the occasion of the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, French commentators are unanimous in asserting that the US is more unpopular today than it was before.

    The problem is that they never ask why this may be the case. Nor do they ask whether it is wise to hurt a friend, even if he is wrong, to please a common enemy. Mark Twain said the chief office of a friend is to support you, even when you are wrong!

    Anti-Americanism may look attractive in the short run as a means of covering the Chirac government's failure to develop a coherent and principled foreign policy. In the medium and long runs, however, anti-Americanism is a disease that harms France as well.

    Ask Stephane.

    The writer, an Iranian author and journalist, is editor of the Paris-based Politique Internationale.

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