Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Because They Can: French Anti_Americanism

The following essay covers nicely the concept in practice of anti-Americanism, a made-up approach to politics and social relations, even interprersonal relations and self-identity concerns.

Anti-Americansim is a nonsense game made up and sustained by those who need an ideology to fill up their mental vacuums, to paper over their flawed personalities, to give them something big to hate so they have some big emotion in lives that must otherwise be plain and dull. The essay below is not profound because the subject doesn't lend itself to profundity. The best one can hope for, and it is here, is a clear and intelligent articulate explanation of the pose struck by fools who call themselves x today and y tomorrow, today the pose being anti-Americanism. Though the essay below is more sympathetic to anti-American ideologues than are we here there's always room for other opinions, and today is one, a nicely written piece that covers it's topic well.

The Last Word: The attitude problem

And now, a kind word about France.

Contrary to general perception in Israel and the United States, the French are neither wimps nor weasels when it comes to fighting Islamic extremism.

Since 1995, when an Algerian Islamist group called GIA killed eight people with a nail bomb in the Paris Metro, there has not been a single terrorist incident in France. This is not because Jacques Chirac's government takes an obsequious line toward Yasser Arafat, or because it did Saddam Hussein's bidding at the UN, or because it undermines US foreign policy at every turn.

Rather, it is because the French fight Islamic militants in ways that would make Israeli Shin Bit chief Avi Dichter proud and US Attorney General John Ashcroft envious.

"France has taken one of the hardest lines of any Western country in fighting Islamic extremism," writes reporter John Carreyrou in The Wall Street Journal. "Other democracies, including the US, have been criticized for excessive methods, such as holding prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But few have been as systematic and zealous as France in attempting to stamp out Islamic militancy."

This year, eight Muslim imams have been deported from the country under a 1945 emergency law for preaching "discrimination, hatred or violence against a certain person or groups of persons." The judicial system has staged mega-trials of terrorist suspects – 100 at a time, in one instance. Suspects can be held without trial for years. Torture is not uncommon: According to a BBC report, the British High Court has blocked France's extradition request of Rachid Ramda, wanted in connection to the 1995 bombing, on grounds that "the evidence against him had been beaten out of one of the bombers by the notoriously tough French anti-terrorist police."

So there's France, the country Left-leaning right-thinkers wish America would be more like. Of course, this isn't the France they think they know: The France of Ernest Hemingway's Movable Feast and Peter Mayle's Year in Provence; of Juliette Binoche in Les Amants du Pont-Neuf and Catherine Deneuve in Les Parapluies de Cherbourg ; of Dominique de Villepin versifying at the UN. It is not the France of postmodern Michel Foucault and poststructural Jacques Derrida. It is not the France of Liberte, Egalite, and Fraternite, or of their modern-day equivalents, Multipolarity, Sustainable Development and Social Solidarity. It is not the France that "knows how to live."

The gap between France of liberal illusion and France as it basically is – unsentimental, self-interested, aggressive when it needs to be – requires some explanation.

Usually, the explanation comes down to adjectives: cynical, hypocritical, Machiavellian, cowardly. Yet the adjectives don't capture the reality. France is not hypocritical: It simply holds contradictory positions. Or to put it more precisely, France has attitudes and it has policies. And while the two are frequently confused (often by the French themselves) they serve radically different functions: the former is psychological; the latter is political. To have an attitude is a way of saying, this is who I am. It's a matter of self-identification. To have a policy is to say, this is what I'm going to do about it. It's a matter of will and capacity.

In the United States, the gap between policies and attitudes is not often noticed. Partly, this has to do with the depth of American democracy: In the US, attitudes translate into policy far more quickly and frequently than they do elsewhere in the world. It also has to do with America's capacity to translate attitudes into meaningful policies. If, for instance, America feels strongly enough about human-rights abuses in China, it can take measures – trade sanctions, arms sales to Taiwan, etc. – which the Chinese are bound to feel keenly.

For the better part of past 50 years, neither the French nor Europeans generally have had this luxury. The average Belgian may feel quite strongly about human-rights abuses in China. But the chances that his attitude will translate into some kind of meaningful policy are effectively zero.

The result is what one might call attitude inflation, which in turn arises from the de-linking of attitude from policy. That is, if you don't actually have to do something about your attitudes you're likelier to have more of them, and they are bound to be both more extravagant and more unrealistic. People who are in no position to end world hunger and bring about peace in the Middle East can endlessly carry on about ending world hunger and bringing peace to the Middle East. Doing so means only that they're declaring themselves the sorts of folk who deplore hunger and war. But statesmen who must actually wrestle with issues of cost, capacity, local difficulties and unintended consequences tend to have more realistic, and therefore restrained, attitudes.

Even today, even as it pools its resources to become the largest economic bloc in the world, Europe resembles the first sort. A few weeks ago, I received a copy of the "Conclusions of the European Council" – the European Council being the highest decision-making body in the EU – which summarized the work that had been done during the six months of the Irish presidency. The document ran to nearly 10,000 words and contained 82 points, including:

  • "The European Council reaffirms its conviction that a just and durable solution in the peace process can only be achieved through negotiations between the parties and the support of the international community."

  • "The European Council expresses its deep concern at the recent events in the Eastern Congo, which could jeopardize the transition process."

  • "The European Council... welcomes recent progress in the EU-Africa dialogue, including the productive outcome of the Ministerial Troika in Dublin."

  • "The European Council welcomes the Commission's proposals for a European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) and endorses the GAERC Conclusions of 14 June.

    And so on and on. The effect of reading the entire document (I tried) is literally mind-blasting; it would be interesting to know if anyone has actually done so. The only other thing that's interesting is that nearly all these points are statements of attitude, not policy. Concern over events in Eastern Congo? It's not as if the EU is going to airlift 50,000 troops if things get totally out of hand in the Kivu district. But as item No. 80 in the Council's conclusions, why not?

    Here again, the contrast with the US is instructive. The Clinton State Department wrestled mightily with the question of whether genocide was taking place in Rwanda in 1994 because to call it genocide (as opposed to "acts of genocide") meant triggering treaty obligations that would, in turn, require some kind of intervention. This ended up entailing some ignominious evasions by the US. But the relevant point was the assumption that to have an attitude meant having a policy – a serious policy.

    That assumption simply doesn't exist in Europe today, for reasons that are at least somewhat forgivable. If, for example, events in the Darfur region were to take a turn for the even worse, Europe would have neither the troops nor the airlift capacity to get them to the region. So it issues statements of concern because that's about all it can do. Not only is its capacity dwarfed by its attitude, its capacity for policy is diminishing at the same time its attitudes are expanding. (Of course Europe could expand capacity by investing in military resources, but that's another story.)

    Problems, however, arise when policy and attitude are contradictory. It's one thing to "care" about Darfur and do nothing about it because you can't. It's another thing to have, as France does, a no-holds-barred policy toward Islamic radicals in your midst, while condemning another country – say, Israel – for taking a similar approach in much more dire circumstances.

    This smacks of hypocrisy. Indeed, it would be hypocrisy, if it could be said that France actually had a policy toward Israel – a lever with which it could realistically and meaningfully affect events here. But France has no such lever, and the EU doesn't either. What it has is attitude masquerading as policy. Thus the votes at the UN, the menace of a Belgian court, the hortatory threats of sanction in the European Parliament. The attitude is as hostile as the threat is hollow. If France or the EU actually had to conduct a policy, as they did in 1956, they would eventually detect a certain commonality of interests.

    This is why the world does not have much to fear from a European super-state (though Europeans might), should it ever come about. Power usually means responsibility. And as the example of France shows, when it comes to the things over which they have power, they exercise it responsibly. In the meantime, we'll have to put up with attitude. We've survived worse.


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