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The U.S. and France:

The Unspoken Message Behind "Different Visions"

French President Jacques Chirac refers to friction between France and America as merely "frank" discussions between friends, adding nonchalantly that "we have different visions of the world".

As a journalist and writer who has lived in and out of Paris for the past 15 years, I can say without hesitation: this (early June 2003 statement) is partly disingenious and partly self-delusion. What the message hides is a rather extreme disdain for Americans and the United States. Time and again, the "frank" message given by the French is that their vision of the world amounts to telling Americans that

We are naturally wiser than you, we are more generous than you, we are more peace-loving than you, we are more visionary than you, we are more in tune with the world than you, and if only we were in charge, or if only you were smart enough to adopt our idea(l)s, the whole world could, and would, come together as one.

American leaders who regularly proffer peace offerings to Europeans suspicious of the American hyperpower fail to take into account that the "views" and the countries' "public opinion" will never change, being as they are, extremely self-serving. In fact, often one gets the impression that the French are less interested in the facts at hand on a certain subject than in asserting their natural superiority in all matters.

Note, for instance, how Washington's support for an autocratic régime is always presented as being evidence of duplicity, hypocrisy, stubbornness, greed, dominance, arrogance, and the pursuit of short-sighted policies promising a bleak future for all involved. Meanwhile, French (and EU) support for an autocratic régime is invariably presented as evidence of wisdom, reason, level-headedness, a stirring love of peace, a desire for reconciliation, and a noble desire for peace and brotherhood among all men and nations. (The French may use more subtle language, but they are echoing, in effect, that old White House description of allied dictators that has so often been used to castigate America: "He may be a son of a bitch, but he is our fils de pute.")

And what happens when Washington tries to topple a dictator? Whatever the means employed, the exact same charges are leveled at Uncle Sam! Or think of the way any person who allies himself or his country with Washington is automatically regarded as a poodle, a messenger boy, a traitor, an imbecile, or a greedy capitalist (who "would do better to keep quiet"), while anyone who allies himself against America (behind the leadership of France, for instance) is viewed as wise, intelligent, tolerant, courageous, and a forward-looking progressive.

In everything the US does (or conversely, doesn't do), it is branded at best as incompetent and at worst villainous. And any evidence to the contrary, no matter how large, is belittled (often with sneers or rolling eyes) while no detail, no matter how small, that seems to support this view is mushroomed into a mountain.

The viewpoint, then, seems to be that fundamentally, there is nothing that is right with America and its system, while there is nothing fundamentally wrong with France and the system it has chosen. And nothing Washington will do — or, conversely, refrain from doing — will ever change this.

As the French writer Pascal Bruckner has written, not only about France, but about Europe in general: there exist lots of knee-jerk critics for whom

the worst crime [committed by a dictator such as Slobodan Milosevic] can never equal the fundamental crime of America: simply existing.

© Erik Svane