Politics & Policy

Rice Pudding

Playing sweet isn't very appetizing.

Remember Face-Off, the John Travolta-Nicolas Cage thriller about two guys whose mugs get switched by mad science? I was thinking about the movie as Condoleezza Rice, the Iron Lady of the first Bush term, timidly served up crème brulée to a crowd of jaded French pinheads in Paris last week. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if she turned aside for a moment, peeled off her face, and when she turned back to the audience she had become Richard Perle? That would soil a few carpets, mes amigos.

But no such luck. Voice shaking slightly, lips quivering–unless that was the French TV camera shaking–she stood in the front of a crowded amphi filled with more than 500 leftwing Frenchies at Sciences Po and, as Le Monde chirpily reported, made nice.

Granted, nice is not terribly difficult when you’re shilling a foreign policy based on a lofty platitude like “democracy cures all,” especially in front of a crowd that will fawn lovingly on the sentiment of the idea and thoughtfully explore its airier philosophical implications, as a research from Sciences Po does in Libération–if only because it’s so easy to dismiss the reality of it with contempt. Sciences Po after all is a sort of elitist vo-tech for bureaucrats and one of France’s grandes écoles, like the ENA. So everyone there loved the soft language and the nervous smile of the new U.S. secretary of State. The European press especially liked the part about everybody writing a “new chapter” together because it took the difficult, sometimes-ugly art of diplomacy and turned it into a cynical craft project suitable for large groups, and that’s nice, too.

Rice is a diplomat these days, not a national-security boss, so producing copious amounts of nice is part of the job description. But the problem with the Rice visit, a preamble to Bush’s potential mortification at EU headquarters in Brussels later this month, is that it’s predicated on a goal that will yield nothing at all of benefit for the U.S.–unless you think it’s a diplomatic coup to get NATO to send a few troops to western Afghanistan or, as Libération reports, to get the alliance maybe to live up to its agreement to train some Iraqi cops. Instead, the Rice line embraces the premise of an argument that the U.S. cannot possibly win because the premise–that the policies of the Americans government are wrong–is one set by those opposed to American policies. The vehemence of anti-Americanism in Europe could not be reversed if Bush ran naked through the streets of Brussels and apologized for being born–always a possibility–when he makes his appearance at EU headquarters.

Like Rice, Bush grew in popularity during his first term because of his apparent willingness to ditch the shuck and jive of political cynicism and say and do the things that needed to be said and done. That’s why the last election was won by the straightforward guy, the man who told the country that in a war on terror those who were not for us were against us and whose national-security adviser said confidently that U.S. policy in the face of those who were against us at the U.N. would be punishment (for France), forgiveness (for Russia) and indifference (toward Germany).

He won the election because people thought he meant what he said, plain and very simple. So to have Rice go from punishing France to doing creative writing with France seems a bit of a climb-down, non? If Bush does a Condi-style sweetness tour when he arrives week after next and starts mush-mouthing garbage about writing “new chapters” with “traditional allies,” it’ll make words like “To the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you” sound like Hawaiian noises, and make the man speaking them look like somebody banging on a bongo like a chimpanzee.

The European Left caricatures Americans as naïve yahoos who just want to be liked and are too stupid to know when they’re being shafted. No wonder to the European press, the Rice visit was seen as a success. After all, the French foreign minister, Michel Barnier, welcomed the new chapter stuff, explaining to Le Monde, that France wanted its relationship with America to be based on multipolarity–an “alliance” but, he added, certainly not one that included “allegiance.”

To Reuters, to the European and American dailies–and even to Matt Drudge–Barnier’s drivel was a sign that France wanted to turn over a “new leaf” in its relationship with the US. Maybe it should be noted that “allegiance” means “loyalty” so the French-style “alliance” Barnier has in mind is not only allegiance-free but also seeks to undermine U.S. power in order to give more power to France. That’s what we call turning over an old leaf. When it comes to chapter writing, France is sticking with what it knows.

The European press liked the fact that Rice seemed well-behaved and respectful, and even though she didn’t quite apologize for the U.S. war in Iraq, her Paris appearance was seen as properly contrite. In the Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash explained that Rice’s “conciliatory speech” was Muzak to European ears. “There’s no doubt,” he wrote, “that the new US secretary of state has conducted an impressive charm offensive during her lightning tour of Europe. She has presented a more elegant face, spoken a more nuanced language and played a sweeter mood music than those whom most Europeans have come to associate with the Bush administration over the past four years.”

That’s fine, but as Rice was doing her lullaby gig–followed by even more wussified obsequiousness from Rumsfeld, reported in the EU Observer–the rest of the world was being uncooperative.

‐The EU, which has taken the responsibility of solving the Iranian nuclear-arms issue with its elegant, nuanced, delightfully musical diplomacy, announced it was going to ignore U.S. policy and lift the arms embargo hated by the French and Germans and start shipping arms to China. For a while, the U.S. stridently opposed this, pointing to China’s threats against Taiwan and its abysmal human-rights record, including the widespread cases of genuine torture of Christians, such as some of those itemized here by China Aid. Now arms for China appears to be an issue on which Rice seems willing to surrender, according to a report in the International Herald Tribune. The crazy thing about selling weapons to China is that, despite U.S. protests, China is selling weapons to–where else?–Iran.

‐Meanwhile in Germany, according to a round-up in Davids Medienkritik anti-Americanism has reached such a feverish pitch that the leader of the opposition is portrayed on a carnival float in Mainz, which will host Bush when he visits Germany, showing her enjoying Bush’s “opening” to Germany by climbing into his butt. Actually, click on that link and check out the whole story. German anti-Americanism is hatred in a style only the Germans can fully master.

‐In France, according to a poll reported in Le Monde, nearly nine out of ten French citizens dislike U.S. policies–about the same amount of non-support the U.S. gets from Germans. Americans who bother to think about it seem a little better disposed toward the Europeans, but really most of us just don’t give a damn.

‐In Pyongyang, the North Koreans announced they have nukes and are willing to use them. Rice’s response, as Hadelsblatt reported, was to issue a warning. That’s where international diplomacy got us in Asia.

It’s exactly where it’ll get us in Iran as well, since the Europeans have no intention of playing hardball with the mullahs. And why should they? The French can’t even be made to play it tough with the Sudan, for pity’s sake, because their oil deals are more important to them than genocide or near-genocide or quasi-genocide or whatever fecal euphemism the U.N. is using this week. (The BBC reports that the U.N. now thinks what’s happening in Darfur is something that has “genocidal intent.”) If they did, we’d already have a U.N. Security Council resolution with sharp dentures built-in to get the Muslims in the northern part of the country to please stop slaughtering the natives in Darfur.

The mess in Darfur, like the charade in Iran, is the result of letting those who are defenseless and frightened play at diplomacy while leaving the hard business of enforcement up to the global adult. To the European press, and to the EU governments, the world is somebody else’s problem, as this report in Le Monde suggests. Nukes in North Korea? Not our concern, monsieur. The job of the Europeans is to quibble and kibbitz, obstruct and exploit.

That’s what happened in the U.N. before Iraq. And it’s what’s happening now: France and Germany will sell their weapons to China and China will sell weapons to Iran and when the Grand Wazoo of Tehran finally stands up like a crazy North Korean and announces his country is atomically loaded and cocked, the rest of the planet will go ballistic and ask Americans what we intend to do about it–but whatever it is, to please make it nice.

Who knows, maybe Bush will trick typing fools like me once again and skip Brussels and Berlin altogether and head straight for France–to visit the family of U.S. Marine Captain Patrick Marc M. Rapicault, the Frenchman who liked the U.S. so much that he moved to America, joined the Marines, fought in Iraq–and was killed last November. His page in the Arlington National Cemetery site is here.

That chap, M. Barnier, is what Americans call an ally, allegiance and all.


More like France every day 1. In Germany, reports Eursoc, unemployment has reached a level not seen since the 1930s. More than 12 percent of Germans are now jobless. In France the press (including Libération) is angry and the streets are crammed with demonstrators, many of them public-sector workers no doubt, indignant that the government wants to strike down the insipid law that limits workers to 35 hours a week–a policy only a Socialist civil servant could love and that only a Socialist prime minister could have conceived. The plan was to increase employment. It didn’t and French unemployment now stands at just under 10 percent.

More like France every day 2. Anti-Semitism is Britain has reached an all-time high, according to this BBC report. Ten incidents a week! Hien!

More like France every day 3. In France, as I reported here last year, journalists have the freedom to choose to either toe the line or get fired for reporting news unflattering to their bosses. Now, in the spirit of EU equality, British journalists can enjoy the same treatment. Boris Johnson, the editor of The Spectator has censored his very excellent media columnist, Stephen Glover. According to the Guardian, Glover has resigned. “[His] position as a media commentator was untenable,” the paper reports, “because he could not write about the biggest story of the week in the newspaper sector…The Spectator is owned by the Telegraph group, which announced a week ago that it would be making 90 journalists and about 200 other staff redundant in order to fund a £150m investment in new presses.” Johnson was apparently worried that the story may have offended his new bosses, the Barclay Brothers, who purchased the Telegraph group last May.

I dislike France every day. I have a new book coming out called Vile France. It’s about France, and in it I discuss its vileness in detail, so regular readers will be familiar with it. I think the book will be published in April, but there are already uncorrected proofs floating about, one of which landed on the desk of former Time magazine editor Stefan Kanfer, who is the author of Groucho, The Last Empire and a number of other excellent books, and is the first person I know of to review the book on his new blogsite, Gadflights.

Apologies to those who have written to me lately. My computer devoured a huge number of e-mails. If you wrote and received no reply, that’s why.

Denis Boyles is author of the upcoming Vile France: Fear, Duplicity, Cowardice and Cheese.

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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