Politics & Policy

Absolute Enemies

In France and elsewhere, John Le Kerré is already a winner.

After pummeling George W. Bush for four years or so, a bunch of mostly left-wing newspapers in France, Spain, the UK, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Russia, Israel, Australia, and Japan all got together last week and published the results of a multinational poll–summarized here by the UK’s participating paper, the Guardian–to see whether their readers have been paying attention.

The survey, which enjoyed thick and heavy coverage when the results were unveiled in Europe and the U.K., provided no startling insights. It seems that except in Israel and Russia, where responding to terrorism means more than just stammering a scared apology in Spanish, George W. Bush is not very well liked. That is not exactly a scoop. In France, the revelation was made with smug, take-that satisfaction by Le Monde, which wanted to make sure we all understood that it isn’t America the French hate, it’s the American president. This is of course patently absurd–like saying you love bears but hate what they do in the woods. The French don’t like America any more than they like Bush, and they never have, as I suspect John J. Miller and Mark Molesky point out in their new book, Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France (which has just been published and which I’m anxious to read).

The editors of Le Monde, like most American Democrats and most European leftists, are convinced that Americans should be swayed by what liberal European elites think. As it happens, the Times Literary Supplement has a review online this week of Richard Overy’s The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia. Just reading the review of Overy’s survey of Europe’s two most salient contributions to the 20th century should be enough to make most of us happy that we spent the lives and money needed to buy ourselves the Atlantic Ocean.

The poll details aren’t very remarkable at first glance. Only 16 percent of all responding Frenchies like Bush. Since the press and TV coverage are relentlessly shrill in their coverage of W., this is the same as saying 16 percent of the French are deaf illiterates. Maybe the French are just miffed because while we have Bush, they’re stuck with this. In fact, Chirac’s not that much more popular in France.

But there are several other interesting notes to be made in the margins of this global poll.

They never asked. In terms of French-smacking, Americans haven’t quite reached the artful level of British Yank-bashers, like those who revile and assault Americans going about their lives. One victim, Carol Gould, gives her police report in the form of a Guardian comment. We should perhaps think of trying to make our rudeness meet a global test. As it is, even those French who bother to visit the U.S. don’t yet know how thoroughly they are held in contempt by most Americans.

That could be changed with a just little effort on our part. We should do what we can to make our French friends feel more at home when they come to see that big statue they gave us after we paid for them to give it to us. Clip ‘n’ save this handy phrase-card, all you French tourists:

———–cut ici sur le dotted line————

En françaisEn anglais

Bonjour! In my country we urinate on walls and eat donkeys!

Au revoir! But my friends and I call you Americans pigs!

Merci beaucoup! Because your country is controlled by Jews!

Je suis français! Please take my wallet/car/woman!


What a fun and educational way to open a frank discussion of our friendship. If W. had been quick-witted enough in the first debate to make Kerry look into a camera and say, “My ‘plan’ means begging France and the U.N. Security Council to bail us out of Iraq,” today’s harried pollsters would already be on unemployment. Even today, with only minutes to go before the polls close, the GOP could slap up posters everywhere of Kerry under the slogan, “50 million Frenchmen (and 10 million Muslim immigrants) can’t be wrong!” and the election would be in le sac, since having the French back your guy is like having the Klan endorse your line of fine bed-linens.

American journalists smell oddly French. I suppose it should be pointed out that Bush’s support among the benighted French is almost exactly the same as his support among the packsters who cover the White House. In fact, at 20 percent, Bush’s favorable rating is probably higher in France than it is in most U.S. newsrooms. This will explain why neither the New York Times nor its Devil’s Island, the International Herald Tribune joined in the polling fun. It’s a terrible admission of failure on the part of the Times to have to report that Bush is actually supported by at least half the American public, while, according to the Pew Center, most Americans don’t trust journalists at all. Absent any plausible plan by John Kerry to do anything other than defeat Bush, the U.S. election is as much about the credibility of American journalism as it is about anything else.

You don’t have to ask the Germans. No German newspapers participated in the poll, because having only convinced nearly 60 percent of Germans that Americans are “bloodthirsty,” they felt their work was still undone. As one German reader, Thomas Schröder, kindly pointed out to me, Spiegel Online has launched an international website to spread its anti-American bile. “I really think this [website] should be read by as many Americans as possible,” Schröder writes, “because I think it’s very telling that this is Germany’s largest news web site and absolutely trusted by most of its readers.” The Schröder government is more balanced than France in its hatemongering: As John Vinocur made clear several weeks ago in the IHT, Germany will still be a faithless ally no matter who wins the election.

The good news. The poll does contain more than one happy-news item on the immigration front: Almost half of all Mexicans have an unfavorable view of Americans–and better yet, nearly four in ten are “afraid to visit the United States.” Still low, but definitely headed the right way. (South Koreans are even more frightened, so we should see what we’re doing right there.)

One other bright item: Canadians love us the way the French do! Plus, they think we’re a declining superpower that contributes little to world peace. But they are worried nonetheless that American culture will “threaten” Canadian culture. Chirac said something similar in Hanoi not long ago, according to Libération, telling some artsy Vietnamese that if American culture isn’t stopped, the result will be a “catastrophe.” It’s hard to imagine the Americanization of Canadian culture. I guess you’d have to say so long to all those cheap flannel shirts, toss the bottles of Molson, and get rid of the Barenaked Ladies CDs, hey?


Now it makes sense. Jacques Derrida, who died in Paris about ten days ago and who is now deconstructing in a way we can all understand, is (I think) defended in the Guardian by Terry Eagleton: “The man was regarded by the stuffed shirts as a subversive nihilist who believed that words could mean anything you liked, that truth was a fiction, and that there was nothing in the world but writing. In their eyes, he was a dangerous mixture of anarchist, poet, and jester.” And, of course, the ultimate stuffed shirt.

So many scandals, so few pages. Many French scandals go unreported in the daily press. But after a while, news about how awful Bush is starts to read like agricultural production reports in the old Pravda. To an American observer, Chirac should be a journo’s best friend: He spreads corruption the way farmers spread manure and knows he has to stay in office or face jail. The news in this item, from the Daily Telegraph, about Chirac and Nicholas Sarkozy’s successful effort to help Charles Pasqua escape jail by securing him a senatorial seat (not an elected position, by the way; you get appointed by other local politicians) barely saw French ink. Pasqua is an uneducated former cigarette salesman, a rabid anti-American, and a political conman who became France’s top cop as interior minister, helped catapult Chirac into the presidency, brokered weapons deals to rogue nations, and has capped his career by being fingered by the Duelfer Report as one of the Oil-for-Food profiteers. Pasqua is often called the “Godfather” in the French media, but in fact, he’s more in the Gotti mold and one of the few non-énarques to wield such power. Libération did manage to find room to report on former prime minister Alain Juppé, the man Chirac once described as “the best of us all”–probably correctly. Juppé is trying to avoid more fraud charges. There’s good news for Jews in this item, though: Juppé has agreed “to shoulder the sins of Israel,” but not to admit guilt.

A nation of one. Let me pause for just a moment in my Herculean task of besmirching an entire nation and say something kind about a very good French writer. His name is Armand Laferrère. He is perhaps the only gentile in all of France to defend Israel in writing. And the smart but nameless chaps at EURSOC have picked him up and turned him loose on Arte, the Pacifica of French-German broadcasting (but without the sense of humor). Laferrère’s target? “[A] very bad French-Egyptian movie by Yousri Nasrallah called Les portes du soleil. The fact that it was very bad was actually a blessing, for the main purpose of the movie was to show the founders of the state of Israel as moral equivalent to the Nazis.” The film is apparently a kind of cinematic Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the kind of thing you see more and more frequently these days in France. Laferrère’s conclusion: “Since no one with authority will apparently do it, and because only a Frenchman can, I have this to add. I apologise to the Jewish people. I feel hurt in my flesh by the despicable Jerome Clement, by the French ministries of Culture and of Foreign Affairs who made me pay for this cloaca of a movie, and for the general apathy that surrounded this scandal. I am deeply sorry about the behaviour of my country, France–my only country, which I have always loved dearly and cannot support today.” If you knew who employs M. Laferrère, you would toast him with French champagne. There are a handful of other angry, honest, and brave French writers, but their number is tiny. They are a veritable resistance. You could (and should!) buy them all a drink and still have enough left over for supper.

True believer: This week, Melanie Phillips field-dresses the Times’s gaseous Simon Jenkins in her incredible Diary. Jenkins has figured out that the whole Iraq thing was a plot by those clever neocons to discredit Islam, as if that weren’t the world’s most obvious do-it-yourself project. Writes Phillips: “[Today] he goes further in this truly asinine thinking by claiming that Al Qaeda has never existed. A programme is being screened tonight by the BBC (of course) which from all accounts appears to be a farrago of lies of Michael Moore-esqe proportions. Its thesis is apparently ‘the paranoia of fundamentalism’–that is to say we, not the fundamentalists, are paranoid. And that’s because there is apparently no threat from Islamic fundamentalism at all. Sinister politicians have conjured up a nightmare fantasy so that they can gain power by pretending to protect us. Al Qaeda is thus merely a figment of the imagination of crazed neo-cons. Now this is staggeringly off-the-wall stuff. But so great is the madness now that Jenkins–who, let us pinch ourselves, is the leading commentator on the house journal of the British establishment–believes it all.” When you live in a land without religion, of course, a guy’s gotta believe something. Jenkins wasn’t even the first to jump on this jolly bandwagon. The Guardian recently ran its own pitch in support of the BBC’s tripe.

Denis Boyles is a journalist based in Europe.

Denis BoylesDennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...


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