A Preemptive Capitulation ?

Professor Françoise Thom underscores how anti-Americanism brings out the basest instincts within French politics and leads to a coalescing of destructive forces threatening my country’s future. To sum up, my main argument is that anti-Americanism is bad for France…

By Françoise Thom [*] — 2 juin 2003 —

This article was written with a French audience in mind, and therefore focused on the more pernicious effects of anti-Americanism in France. I sought to underscore how anti-Americanism brings out the basest instincts within French politics and leads to a coalescing of destructive forces threatening my country’s future. To sum up, my main argument is that anti-Americanism is bad for France.

The emergence of Euro- and Franco-bashing

But the same can be said regarding Euro-phobia and Franco-phobia in the U.S. More precisely, the emergence of Euro- and Franco-bashing is symptomatic of a worrying evolution in the US. To insult a political adversity, to compare a whole people with various disgusting animals — rather than to discuss rationally the merits of an opponent’s arguments — is indicative of an alarming drift towards ideology unprecedented in America. The tenor or recent articles and editorials in the U.S. press regarding France reminds me of the way Germany was treated in the French press at the outbreak of World War I.

The bitter European experience of the last century shows that empires were destroyed by enemies only after they were thoroughly undermined by unchecked nationalist passions. This lesson should not be lost on Americans. In 1914, European states slipped into war, having lost sight of common links to a shared civilization. Today, Americans and Europeans drift apart for many of the same reason, or maybe for reasons even more alarming: indifference to civilization. Françoise Thom. Paris, June 2, 2003.


France has taken being the land of the consensus too far. In no area is this consensus more visible than that of foreign policy. Yet, in no area should the choices made by French officials be subjected to greater scrutiny and debate, given their implications and probable consequences for the evolution of the country and for that of Europe.

Unfortunately, this debate is entirely impossible, for the French are daily under fire from a press cemented together by Gaullism blended with leftism. They instinctively feel the dangers to which they are exposed by the attitudes that the Chirac-Villepin duo has imposed on French diplomacy.

Dr Françoise Thom in Paris – Portrait © European-Security

They are ill at ease before the recent upheavals in international order and by France’s internal evolution but their elected officials, intimidated by the monolithic thinking percolated through television and press articles, only rarely express the unvoiced anxieties experienced by France’s society.

Of what has been done, nothing can be repaired. But this is no reason to persist in our forward flight. The page is turning on the Iraq crisis. The moment has come to pause and take stock of our recent actions.

To evaluate a foreign policy, one must ask oneself two questions.

– The first is whether this policy favors the realization of the desired objectives.

– The second is whether those objectives correspond to the real interest of the nation.

– The prime objective of French diplomacy is the unconditional containment of the United States.

Whatever the Americans do, France feels it is absolutely necessary to put a spanner in the works. The neo-Gaullists think that France will attain a role worthy of itself in the international scene if it takes the lead in opposition to the American « hyperpower. » Chirac’s France considers itself European because it views Europe as a rival pillar to the United States and it easily imagines itself in an hegemonic position in this anti-American Europe. Chirac’s France champions the UN, which general de Gaulle once called a « contraption, » because it thinks its seat on the Security Council is a privileged instrument for the containment of the United States while bestowing a certain weight upon France in the international community, to which neither its economic successes nor its cultural importance permit it to lay claim.

And therefore the goals that Chirac’s foreign policy has set for itself are the struggle against American unilateralism, the transformation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy from a statement of intentions to an institutional reality and the elevation of France to the status of a power whose voice is heard on the global stage.

In every one of these aims, France has obtained results that are the opposite of those it had been pursuing.

French obstructionism in the United Nations, the tour of 14 capitals taken by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the hope of preventing the use of force against Saddam, taken together with less recent snubs, such as Libya’s election to the presidency of the Human Rights Commission, further accentuated the already pronounced penchant of the American administration for unilateralism. More than ever, the United States is losing interest in the UN. Yet past experience shows that without American power, the UN is only a formal entity. So the French attitude has sabotaged the United Nations, which Paris claimed to be strengthening.

Furthermore, stalwart French efforts to undermine NATO seem to have borne fruit after the Franco-German refusal to allow it to provide military assistance to Turkey. Yet again, French behavior did not diminish but only heightened the Bush administration’s already marked tendency toward unilateralism.

Now let’s examine the fruits of Chirac’s diplomacy in Europe

In reading an account of the numerous debates that animated the the European convention, one gets the impression that Europeans are united on one point only: the necessity to contain France’s ambitions.

The rebirth of the Franco-German duo

Paris has harbored the illusion that it is resurrecting the Franco-German duo. One has only to read the German press to realize that on the other side of the Rhine we are much despised for having exploited a difficult moment for Germany, the isolation in which Berlin found itself following an electoral campaign that resorted to anti-Americanism. Germany is frightened by French extravagance. « No one really knows what is pushing Chirac to oppose the United States to such a degree. This can only worry us. It is a frightening situation, » Michael Glos said recently. He is a member of parliament from the CSU. (For the German attitude, see the article by Thibaut de Champris in Le Figaro of 28 March 2003). Germany is struggling to persuade Washington that it does not share the French vision of a Europe opposed to the United States. When the CDU returns to power, France will pay the bill for the concessions it exacted last autumn.

The rebirth of the Franco-German duo has also aroused grave doubts among the nations of central and eastern Europe who are candidate nations for European enlargement and who, since the Nice summit, had been counting on Germany to counterbalance Paris’ hegemonic tendencies. These apprehensions were aggravated yet again by the rude diatribes of the French president, leaving it to be understood that the price of admission to the EU was total submission to the French view of an anti-American Europe.

Since the Paris-Berlin axis was completed by an understanding with Moscow, we can understand why the nations of the former Communist bloc wondered if it were really worth the trouble of joining a Europe where all the slogans of the bygone Soviet era (the  » struggle for peace « , the  » struggle against Zionism « , against  » imperialism « ,  » social benefits « ) have returned in force.

The dust-up with London compromises the second project which is dear to French officials: the construction of a European army. Without Franco-British collaboration there can be no European army worthy of the name. There again, Paris’ anti-Atlanticist orientation has not only nipped in the bud the attempt to put European defense on its feet, but it considerably weakened Tony Blair, the most pro-European of British leaders. Nothing better serves the aims of the Europhobes on the other side of the Channel than the fracas of French diplomacy.

In brief, wherever it turned, France got the opposite of what it sought. It wanted a united, anti-American Europe and succeeded in dividing the continent more seriously than it had ever been before. It had hoped to be the leader of Europe and found itself isolated opposite an organized coalition of European states. Its relations with Britain are moribund, and it has quarrelled with its Latin sisters, with the dubious support of a hesitant Germany and a Russia that is more than ever given to double-gaming.

In sum, it has earned the dangerous enmity of America without having covered its rear-guard. Strictly from the point of the goals France claimed to be attaining, Chirac’s diplomacy is an overwhelming fiasco.

— Now for the fundamental point, namely: to what degree does the attitude of French diplomacy correspond to the real interests of our country.

In its foreign policy, France has managed to put on the boots of the defunct Soviet Union:

  • Same obstructionist policy at the UN,
  • Same third world-ist demagoguery,
  • Same alliance with the Arab world,
  • Same ambition to take the lead in a coalition of « anti-imperialist » states against Washington.

France has resurrected Primakov’s old Eurasian master plan, which consisted in creating a Paris-Berlin-Moscow-Beijing axis against the Anglo-Saxons, a goal in which Putin’s Russia no longer believes but in which it encourages Paris because Russia sees it as a way of improving its position in negotiating with Washington.

The anti-American obsession means that France is less than inquisitive as to the nature of regimes to which it lends its support in the name of multipolarity. Iraq, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Sudan- in truth, France seems to get on better with the rogue states and failed states than with the United States whose civilization it shares. It claims to defend international law by supporting states that defy all laws.

The comparison to the Soviet Union goes further than it may seem. Indeed, French diplomacy is less inspired by a cynical Realpolitik (whence the failures mentioned above) than by an ideological view of the world. Its anti-Americanism is the projection of its internal Jacobinism onto the global stage. The unhealthy French communion in anti-Americanism signifies the start of a drift towards totalitarianism in our country, which was already noticeable by the second round of the elections: Bush has replaced Le Pen in the role of enemy of the people. « Anti-Bushism » can be compared to the « anti-fascism » of the ‘30s and ‘40s. It conceals an obligatory communist-type consensus.

Like the Soviets at the time of Brezhnev, French leaders pursue a ruinous foreign activism as compensation for their inability to begin crucial internal reforms, which are impossible because they would call into question the socialist dogma at the heart of the French state. In both cases, foreign activism both accelerates and accentuates the internal crisis. We saw what became of the Soviet Union.

— In France, the evidence of the decay of the state has been mounting for two years and the controversy over Iraq has now revealed this.

French leaders have sought to justify their position on the question of Iraq by emphasizing that France rejected the « clash of civilizations » and consequently favored the integration of French Muslims.

True, president Chirac was hailed in the Arab suburbs. But the official anti-Americanism has favored the explosive mixture of a virulent Trotskyite movement, an Islamist movement, an anti-Globalization movement and a third-world-ist movement. This poisonous cocktail feeds not only the youths of the Arab neighborhoods but the high school students sent out to demonstrate for peace by their leftist teachers in the name of « activism. » In this sense, the orientations of French diplomacy only reflect the strident third worldization of France, starting with the third worldization of minds. President Chirac defies Bush but gives in before to the ghettos.

In a telling way, Dominique de Villepin told parliament that the French position was to bring about the failure of « Anglo-Saxon liberalism. » Like most of their Arab interlocutors, French leaders feel the need is more urgent to stand up to the United States even when the US is right, than to start down the path of serious reforms which could save the state from bankruptcy.

The most serious part of all this is that anti-American passion has numbed the French to the consequences of this deliberate break with the Western camp.

Consequences which were already perceptible in the excesses of the peace demonstrations, in the fact that the French state is less and less able to guarantee the security of goods and persons, starting with that of our Jewish citizens. In the media, the view presented during the first days of the war in Iraq was often indistinguishable from overtly pro-Saddam propaganda. This was so irresponsible that it alarmed officials of the Ministry of the Interior. According to one of them:

« The depiction of the coalition’s shambles in Iraq is in some areas feeding a form of arrogance which the police on the ground are now witnessing… Just a spark and the anti-Americanism of the ghettos will feed uncontrollable violence » (Le Figaro 3 April, 2003).

Foreign observers wonder at the causes of French madness

At the moment when the fragility of the French state and the absence of any credible European defense is becoming visible to all, is it really wise to break with our American ally, to the point that it now views us as an enemy? Even Russia has understood that it has an interest in not stirring things up with America, precisely because it is conscious of its own internal weaknesses. Russia remains anti-American at heart but it is keeping a low profile, happy to see France be the lightning rod for Washington. And this strategy is paying off. The American media, for which no word is too harsh in condemning France, find every excuse for Putin.

The first explanation for the behavior of our leaders is irresponsibility. They believe that they will not have to answer to anyone.

This irresponsibility is so driven that they seem to be surprised at the consequences of their actions. Thus, they were not expecting the flare-up of Francophobia in the United States, convinced they could persist in antagonising Washington without risking retaliation. The habits of impunity acquired in internal politics have given rise to a disastrous foreign policy, exactly as they did in the late USSR.

Futility and vanity, permanent factors in our diplomacy

But in the case of France, one must add futility and vanity, permanent factors in our diplomacy.

Chirac’s foreign policy is due in part to the anxiety of the political class before the increasingly obvious failure of « republican integration. » Rather than face the danger, we take refuge in denial. We declare that France does not believe in the « clash of civilizations, » as if denial were enough to erase it. To be sure, we go as far as to abolish the idea of civilization. This is why we seek to deny at all costs the fact that France shares the same civilization as the United States by cultivating with much fanfare our relations with  » francophone  » Arab and African states. Anti-Americanism plays a central role in this mechanism.

Our foreign policy thus expresses a sort of preemptive capitulation. France takes the initiative of breaking with the Western camp in the hope of avoiding a confrontation with its wild and fanatical youth after having failed to civilize it. This profound cowardice is hidden behind the theatrical panache of a little country opposing a big one. The myth of Asterix hides a decidedly more sordid reality. Anti-Americanism makes this fraud possible. The continuation of this policy risks making us ill beyond repair and dragging Europe down with us.

© Françoise Thom & European-Security

[*] Professor Dr. Françoise Thom teaches History of International Relations and Cold War at the Sorbonne University in Paris. Famous Sovietologist, writer and lecturer, she first published « Communism: Newspeak » in French « La langue de bois » in 1987 (Julliard); « Le moment Gorbatchev » (Hachette) in 1991 and « Les fins du Communisme » in 1994 (Criterion) among other books. A shorter version of this article was first published in French by Le Figaro on May 6, 2003.