Sunday, November 14, 2004

 

Those Eloquently Disingenuous French

Friday's Wall Street Journal had the best set of Letters To The Editor I'd seen in a long time. There are five of them and each one tweaks the nose of The French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier who wrote "A Letter To America" on the Nov. 8th WSJ editorial page. I remember reading Mr. Barnier's hollow and patronizing blather last week and thinking to myself that his petite letter would certainly draw some good responses from the Journal audience. I wasn't let down. First Mr. Barnier's eloquently disingenuous article, then the five great letters carving it and him to pieces. My favorite is the second letter. Enjoy. -Wb

A Letter to America
By MICHEL BARNIERNovember 8, 2004; Page A14
I am writing to you as a friend of America. When I think of your great nation, the words "peace," "freedom" and "prosperity" come to mind. Together we have tirelessly promoted these ideals, which underpin our democracies, and -- particularly in the dark hours since September 11 -- we have relentlessly fought the terrorist threat that jeopardizes them.
I am writing to you as the citizen of a country that helped your country secure its own independence and later received your help, as faithful allies and liberators. The ceremonies of the 60th anniversary of D-Day were a stunning tribute to the American soldiers who fell in Normandy to win our freedom and that of Europe. Our destinies are intertwined. History demonstrates this, and economics proves it: two-thirds of your direct investment abroad are made in Europe, and Europe accounts for 75% of foreign direct investment in the U.S. In 2003, our exchange of goods and services approached $400 billion. France is the largest investor in U.S. stocks after the U.K. These investments represent about 650,000 U.S. jobs.
Because of all the things that connect us, I'm concerned about the campaigns against my country, and the recent surge of "French-bashing." There's a paradox here, since France is actually among your best friends in the fight against terrorism. Our intelligence experts work hand in hand and French special forces fight by your side in Afghanistan. Likewise, France is one of your most solid partners within the Atlantic Alliance. It heads NATO's operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan. It is the second-largest contributor to the NATO Reaction Force. In the end, the most inaccurate clich├ęs are obscuring the most obvious truths. It is time to put a stop to it.
More generally, I'm concerned to see both Americans and Europeans expressing doubts over the future of transatlantic relations, and I'm troubled to see that Europe is misunderstood, if not scorned, in the U.S. The European Union is changing. It has opened to the East. Soon, I hope, it will have a Constitution that will make its institutions more effective and legitimate. It is in America's interest that Europe asserts itself as a powerful, reliable partner. As President Kennedy once said, the U.S. should see "in such a Europe a partner with whom we could deal on a basis of full equality."
Indeed, we have so much to do together to promote democracy, security and development. In the Middle East, first of all, where Europeans have long been involved. Let us recognize without animosity that the war in Iraq deeply divided us. The facts have been established and History will decide. But the important thing now is to turn Iraq into a real success story. France has no other aim. It will not send troops there but it is ready to help train Iraqi security forces and resolve the debt problem, and more broadly, to help prepare Iraq for elections in January.
We must also break the deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is the matrix of a number of other conflicts, and serves as the pretext for numerous acts of terrorism. Let us not leave this situation unresolved and the Middle East without a future. Let us revive the Road Map and reactivate the Quartet. We must be ready to accompany any effort in this direction with financial support, but also with an international presence on the ground.
Iran is another priority. Out of concern for developments in the Iranian nuclear program, the Europeans have launched an initiative to obtain all the necessary guarantees from Tehran. This balanced proposal will have a greater chance of success if it enjoys firm American support. Alone, we run the risk of failure. Together we can succeed.
Elsewhere, we must continue working side by side: in Afghanistan, to consolidate that nascent democracy; in Africa, which brings together so many of the challenges of today's world; in the Balkans, so that its countries can complete their transition toward European-Atlantic institutions; and in Haiti, to put an end to the infernal cycle of poverty and instability.
Because we have common interests everywhere, we should have common ambitions. This is why I believe we must give a new impetus to our political relations. When it comes to defense and trade, instruments of cooperation already exist and work well. There's no need to invent new ones. The political dialogue between the EU and the U.S., on the other hand, is insufficient. The time has come to give it more substance. The U.S. election and the signing of the first European Constitution, now in the process of ratification, offer an opportunity to give new momentum to our political partnership. The Europeans, and the French first among them, are waiting for this. Why not convene a high-level group right now, consisting of independent, respected figures from both sides of the Atlantic to explore ways in which we can deepen our political cooperation?
America needs a capable, responsible Europe. And Europe needs a strong America, engaged in world affairs. Transatlantic cooperation has always been an essential condition for peace. Today, in a world that has become more unstable and more dangerous, our alliance is more necessary than ever. Let us make sure that it is able to meet the challenges that await us.
Mr. Barnier is foreign minister of France

The letters. Fire at will!
Ah, France, Ma Cherie . . . C'est FiniNovember 12, 2004; Page A13
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier wrote "A Letter to America1" on your Nov. 8 editorial page; in it he sounds sincerely perplexed by American reluctance to take France seriously. He suggested that America and the EU "have so much to do together to promote democracy, security and development." It's hard to imagine a more disingenuous statement -- no nation has done more than France to discredit, subvert and attack American foreign policy at every turn over the past two years, in the media, in the U.N. and at virtually every multilateral summit.
Americans are waking up to the true nature of this "faux ally": The current anti-Semitism in Europe is at its most virulent in France, even as a Palestinian celebrity terrorist on his death bed in a French hospital received tearful accolades from the French elite, and visits by the French president and other officials.
In such a context, can anyone take French protestations of concern over the Atlantic Alliance seriously?
Stephen CarterTaichung, Taiwan

France, my love, though I have missed you, I have not missed you much. Your language once lightened my spirit, but now, laden with vitriol, it is burdensome and saps my joie de vivre. Your behavior, once coquettish in its charms, now seems only venal, self-serving and, well, provincial. The occasion of a rendezvous, or as you suggested, a "high level" meeting, would have one day aroused my anticipation, but now, after so many false promises and such unfaithfulness, enlists only ennui in doing that which we have done so dispassionately so many times before. Though it is true we must remain together for the sake of those who rely upon us, I feel I must be honest and confess that you have, to me, grown old, and that I no longer find you attractive.
You can expect, of course, that I will remain discreet in my (d)alliances.
John WightPleasant Grove, Utah

In his letter, Michel Barnier poses a series of challenges to both the United States and France, urging that several "deadlocks" be broken to establish a more promising future for Franco-American relations. While his eloquence in stressing broad common goals and recalling past days of glory and amity is most welcome, he conveniently glosses over the very real issues that have created the wedge and the animosity in the relationship: France's failure to stand tall, to "be there" with an ally who has sacrificed much on behalf of the inheritors of Lafayette. As for bashing France, about which Mr. Barnier complains and demands that it stop, how should the average American assess recent French behavior?
France's interests are defined by President Chirac, whom I have known for more than a quarter-century, and implemented by members of his cabinet, such as Mr. Barnier. So long as Mr. Chirac believes that a strong America, assertive in the war on terror and determined to prosecute the war on global terror, is a presence inimical to the interests of France, one that needs to be restrained, there will be no effective dialogue.
Instead of sending indirect messages to newly re-elected President Bush, Mr. Chirac might profitably extend a hand, while interpreting French interests within the prism of shared interests. And Mr. Barnier might better advise his president to seize the opportunity to improve relations promptly, while the window of opportunity remains open.
Richard V. AllenWashington and Denver
(Mr. Allen was national security adviser to President Reagan and is currently a member of the Defense Policy Board).

Mr. Barnier finally got to the heart of the matter in his last paragraph with the statement, "America needs a capable, responsible Europe." Absolutely correct! When Europe becomes capable and responsible, please feel free to call. We had been waiting impatiently. And in case you might not have noticed during your prolonged fits of contemplating your navels and placating terrorists, we have decided to move on.
R. Douglas Hume, Ph.D.Kalamazoo, Mich.

Three cheers for Mr. Barnier's encouraging and supportive Letter. Given the post-election timing of its publication, one wonders if Mr. Barnier perhaps wrote two letters? One for an America with President-elect Kerry and the one published in the Journal. Notably, Mr. Barnier's message was equally as valid on Nov. 1 as it was on Nov. 9. However, his expression of support and cooperation for the U.S., while welcome, would have been more symbolically meaningful and politically powerful had he made it when the outcome of the U.S. presidential election was still undetermined.
Chris ScibelliLos Angeles

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