July 07, 2003

Schadenfreude a la Francaise John

Schadenfreude a la Francaise

John Vinocur writing in the IHT:

"Still, perhaps the clearest marker of the hastiness of the rapprochement talk was the clammy undertone of rejoicing in French press and political commentary about the Americans' difficulty in establishing order in postwar Iraq. It was complemented by the equally clear but silent French distance from open satisfaction with American-generated progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A warning about the real attitudes in play in France came from an unexpected quarter. Jean Daniel, the 82-year-old editor of Le Nouvel Observateur, the leftist weekly, and a relentless critic of the United States' intervention in Iraq, wrote that the pleasure in the Americans' troubles that he currently saw served French interests only "if you're an old-fashioned anti-American" - no rarity, of course, within his readership or beyond.

Daniel said it was essential to stop the glee, take the measure of the spread of the "common enemy" of Islamic terrorism, and help the Americans. The unstated address for the unusual message was the French government and President Jacques Chirac.

The United States, in fact, is providing a test that carries a cold gauge of French helpfulness. When American generals said last week that they wanted to counter the threat of Islamic terrorism in North Africa by enhancing existing military relationships with Morocco and Tunisia, and getting long-term access to non-permanent bases in Algeria and Mali, they implicitly raised issues of French support in a traditional zone of French influence.

Sincerity is surely not the most essential of diplomatic attributes. But its presence or absence in light of the silly season's "absolutely exceptional" relations talk will be unmistakable when the issue for France becomes, as the U.S. generals have said, an American presence in the Sahara and U.S trainers working with troops from the four countries, all former French colonies or protectorates.

As for Villepin, the French official closest to Chirac, a review last week of his newest collection of verse by the poet Phillipe Beck called the foreign minister's massive use of quotations from other poets an "orgy of insincerity," a kind of failed attempt at "lyricism by association."

Posted by Gregory at July 7, 2003 04:32 AM
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