I’m eat up in metaphors. They’re everywhere, part of a life built on a solid bedrock of clutter and confusion. For example, consider a map of I-70. It starts, with great promise, in a parking lot at the Social Security Administration in Baltimore, runs for many, many miles–then ends, without fanfare, near a tiny hamlet in a remote corner of Utah called Sulphurdale, a destination I have yet to reach. I-70 is my “career.”
At one of the rest stops along that great thoroughfare of woe, I worked as advice columnist for a popular men’s magazine. There I discovered that guys really only have two questions: Is it okay to cheat on my wife/girlfriend/cellmate? The answer was always no, of course. The second question: My girlfriend left me. What can I do? The answer to that one was always, “Nothing.”
Seems like hopeless advice, but actually it isn’t bad. In fact, I wish George Bush had asked me for it before he decided to go back to the U.N. to ask for help in Iraq. I would have told him that the U.N. doesn’t love us any more, and that once the breakup happens, nothing you do or say–no amount of passionate rhetoric, clear-headed logic, bended-knee pleading–will ever make a difference. Yes, you might think, “If I only told her this, it would change her mind.” But it wouldn’t–and if it did, you’d only be sorry. You do, however, have one very slim chance to turn it all around if you can just make yourself remember this: The only way to get your ex-sweetheart to walk toward you is by walking away from her. That’s it. Your only shot. Just pick yourself up and go about your business. Because nothing else is going to work.
France and her allied cynics at the U.N. have broken up with us. It’s sad but true. And so President Bush’s speech, however reasonable and clever and bravely unapologetic, was bound to fail. Instead of convincing anybody, all it did was give France another chance to say, “Get out of my life. And please stop calling.”
Chirac’s response to Bush shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anybody. Usually, after a breakup, you get the “let’s be friends” speech. That’s sort of what Gerhard Schroeder insincerely mumbled when he met with Bush earlier this week, according this report in Stern. But Jacques Chirac doesn’t miss us at all, and he said so in his own speech to an appreciative U.N., captured by an appreciative Le Monde. In it, Chirac once again laid out the French doctrine of multilateralism. “No one has the right to act alone,” said the man who sends the French army off to Africa whenever French interests are at risk. Although it’s unlikely that France will veto the resolution Bush seeks, they will strive to make it as meaningless as possible.
“Multilateralism,” at least in the Chirac playbook, isn’t likely to include America as a participant; the word is actually a euphemism for France’s cherished ideal of shaping an anti-American alliance out of countries where anti-Americanism can give shelter to politicians facing cranky electorates and lousy economies. And Americans are ingrates anyway: Earlier this week, Nouvel Observateur, in an editorial headlined “Our American ‘Enemies’,” reminded readers that after all, for “three to five months” after September 11, France was reasonably pro-American–or at least it wasn’t vehemently anti-American.
Those days are long gone, of course. In German newspapers, Bush is not infrequently portrayed as a buffoon–see, for instance, this report in the Suddeutsche Zeitung–while in the French press, the attacks of September 11 are now routinely trivialized. In Le Monde last week, for example, a front-page cartoon showed Allende’s Chile in 1973 as the WTC and the U.S. military as an incoming airliner.
Meanwhile, this week in Le Figaro the paper editorialized that in the global community, it is “George W. Bush who is alone.” Jacques Chirac? He’s surrounded by “a large circle of sympathizers.” The paper compared Chirac’s speech with Charles de Gaulle’s 1966 warning that the U.S. would never prevail in southeast Asia. “In the UN, France continues to coordinate its position with Germany and Russia,” the editorial continued, while in the European Union, those loyal to Washington are laying low, especially after the ongoing setbacks to American GIs in Iraq. Meanwhile, “The Third World, Arab and otherwise, applauds Paris.”
Applause, of course, is what counts in this war for hearts and minds. And those ongoing setbacks Le Figaro was talking about? They are part of the drone of U.S. military and social defeats in Iraq. Quagmire and failure in Iraq are a constant buzz in the Euro-press. In both moderate and liberal newspapers all over the continent, the headlined message is being repeated over and over again: America is losing in Iraq. The sub-head: Because it defied the U.N.–and especially France. “The slowly rotting situation in Iraq, the Mideast and Afghanistan has destroyed the myth of American omnipotence,” proclaimed a triumphant Le Monde.
American failure in Iraq is the common wisdom among journalists, even when they know the reverse is true, because it’s not only a story easy to report to audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, but also one that few journalists would refute, for fear of violating the law of the pack. Ultimately, the story of quagmire and failure costs lives, because it is heard not only in Paris and Berlin and London, but in Iraq, as well. Only hours after Bush’s U.N. speech, ITV and BBC both broadcast special reports disparaging the American role in Iraq. On the BBC, it was Rageh Omaar, a familiar face and one of Andrew Gilligan’s hopelessly inept Baghdad colleagues, wondering why America wanted to kill journalists in Iraq. ITV provided a plausible answer by broadcasting a well-financed Fisking by the infamous John Pilger, who apparently is already a combatant in the war against the US. “If we remain silent [in the face of American policies], victory over us is assured,” he darkly warned.
The Guardian saw both broadcasts and expressed its love in a glowing review, calling Pilger’s program “an astonishing piece of television that should be required viewing in every home, school, and office and forced labor camp” (I added that last bit) and obsessed on the “facts bristling from [Pilger’s] fingertips” like a worried manicurist. A friend of mine, a writer named B. J. Balkovec, huddled on the French shore near enough to Kent to watch ITV’s Pilgeration, saw it all a little differently. She wrote:
The program purported to be about the conspiracy of silence about the ‘real’ reasons for the war in Iraq, i.e. right wing extremists in the Administration, out-of control American imperialism and oil. It also said that we should be more afraid of America than Al Qaeda and that America has killed more innocent civilians than the terrorists have ever done, specifically 3,000 in Afghanistan and 10,000 in Iraq. (His proof for the Iraq figure was: “Some sources …”). He then showed scene after scene of crying women, wounded children and the dead folks killed by American bombing, which is terrible, of course. But he also didn’t bother mentioning how many people the Taliban or Saddam killed each month. He never sourced his material and some of his statements were simply outrageous. This really took the cake.
Leftwing Brits, like the French, love their cake, of course. And Bush’s U.N. speech, trying to win hearts and minds, provided the perfect occasion for serving it up, not only in France and the U.K., but also in papers and on TV in Spain, Italy and elsewhere in Europe.
The European media just aren’t going to love us, no matter how much we beg them to. Despite the evidence of American successes in Iraq, in the EuroPress, the U.S. must lose in Iraq (Friday’s Guardian headline: “Iraq Slips Further into Turmoil”) because America is wrong, even evil. This hearts-and-minds war, where the media determine not only the rules of engagement, but also who is the victor, is one the U.S. will never, ever win, no matter how nicely we ask for help. It’s hard to do, but if we really want to fight terrorism and all that, maybe it would be better to just walk away from the U.N. and get about the business of doing it.
But if we walk, who wins the hearts-and-minds sweepstakes? Hans Blix, of course! He just got a million bucks for a book deal. How? Search me.
While Jacques Chirac was delivering moral instruction to the United States, his prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, was delivering bad news to Brussels, according to Le Monde.
France, of course, is the heart and mind of the Eurozone, sending messages to places like Germany, where the heavy lifting is done, or to Belgium, where they make excellent chocolate and bizarre laws. But the message sent by France on Thursday, as reported in Liberation, was that the Growth and Stability Pact–the agreement that member states won’t inflict their budgetary misbehavior on others–was going to be ignored for the third year running. The EU knew this was coming; it had been hinted at last week and for months before that. Besides, Chirac had already warned that the French budget isn’t likely to conform to EU rules until at least 2006 or so. But the French announcement came after warnings by the European Central Bank, reported by the BBC, that Germany and other EU nations are also disregarding the Eurozone’s deficit limits, causing economists to worry and Swedes to vote “no” to joining the EU currency circus.
Here’s a suggestion: Maybe France and Germany could think of their budgets as just so much greenhouse gas and treat the Growth and Stability Pact with the same reverence they lavish on the Kyoto treaty. That agreement also imposes some pretty strict limits. Then we could see if the France is as good at protecting ozone as it is at protecting the Eurozone.
Dead and dying: In Liberation, yet another story on the devastating heat wave. According to the health ministry, the number of dead is now hovering at 15,000. Meanwhile, in Le Monde, an editorial calling for acceptance of euthanasia. Maybe if the editorialists at Le Monde hadn’t taken the month of August off to go on holiday with all those French doctors, they would have been on time with this one. As it is, too late!
Two guys from Italy: Romano Prodi, the sanctimonious president of the European Commission, has looked at the problem of fraud in the EU’s statistical agency, where millions of euros have gone missing, and, according, he’s staying, no matter what anybody says. Meanwhile, Silvio Berlusconi, our man in the Italian premiership, has urged business leaders to invest in Italy because the country has “beautiful secretaries” and “fewer communists.” That makes Italy a better bet than Berkeley, for sure.
On your own: For years, the IHT has carried advertising on its back pages for “escorts,” the polite word for hookers. But last week, a change in policy was announced, with a barb embedded: “…the decision, which had been under consideration for some time, was made because the advertising was inconsistent with the standards and values of the company. The IHT, which is distributed in more than 185 countries, has been solely owned by the New York Times Co. since January.” What’s that last sentence doing there? Before January, the IHT was published in partnership with the Washington Post Company. Maybe now that that crowd has gone, it’s safe to clean up around the place?
–Denis Boyles, a freelance journalist who has lived in Paris, is an NRO contributor.