Jewish World Review Sept. 23, 2003 / 26 Elul, 5763

Peter A. Brown

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France's time to decide: Friend or foe


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Dear Jacques:

Don't overplay your hand.

The opening of the U.N. session gives you leverage for concessions from President Bush in exchange for a resolution blessing international help in Iraq.

Given the toll - in money and men - that the postwar period there is taking on the United States, he has asked for help from those who were unwilling to help topple Saddam Hussein.

As the leader of the pre-war effort to deny U.N. certification for that war, you can be forgiven for smirking. You did predict a messier postwar cleanup than Bush expected.

But understand that any short-term vindication you get from sticking it to Uncle Sam is counterproductive to your long-term interests.

Simply put, this is where you rehabilitate France's lousy reputation with the American people.

Don't screw it up.

Call Bush a cowboy all you want, but don't kid yourself that he's out of step here. He won't be president forever, but the Main Street view he embodies will set future U.S. foreign policy.

It is no coincidence that some Americans are bypassing visiting your country and buying your wine. The New York Times even reports that French exchange students are having difficulty finding host U.S. families.

Americans don't like you guys and trust you even less. Keep it up and you'll make our enemies list. Recent data put you pretty close already.

A Harris poll last month found that France has slipped from eighth to 19th on the list of countries Americans consider close allies - below the Russians. Only 13 percent considered France a "close ally," down from 41 percent in 2001. By only a 46-43 percent margin do Americans even consider France a friend.

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Yes, I know that your people think we are arrogant, trigger-happy capitalists. There are even some Americans who agree with you, but they don't think much of France, either.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but you need us a lot more than we need you most of the time.

This may be one of the exceptions, but it won't last long.

Your future is - to be polite - much more challenging.

I wouldn't be cashing in your chips with Washington just yet. You'll be needing them.

The U.S. antagonism is not just resentment of your lack of gratitude for twice rescuing France from having to adopt sauerbraten as its national dish, and rebuilding your country after World War II.

Or for the U.S. defense umbrella that stopped the Red Army from rolling through the streets of Paris during the Cold War.

You don't need to help us because we saved your bacon.

You need to convince us that our stereotypes - the French lack backbone, moral principles and now seem to want the United States to fail - are inaccurate.

You need to make things right if you want to get back on our good side in case you ever need us.

And you will.

Hopefully, you aren't believing your own hype. Forget the rhetoric about how European unification will return the continent to the pre-eminent economic position in world affairs it held until the 20th century.

The real question is whether you want to cooperate, or compete, with the United States. Pursuing an independent course, and trying to become a major force in world affairs, might satisfy your bruised egos, but it is a very risky path.

As they say in Las Vegas, check your hole card.

Economically, the hope that Europe can rival the United States is wildly optimistic. Union and government rules that provide disincentives to hire cook double-digit unemployment into your economies. You can't even get everyone in Europe to adopt the same currency.

Moreover, you have an aging problem that makes the retirement of our baby-boom generation look tame. It threatens your economies' long-term viability.

You guys aren't even having enough babies to replace your population. Who is going to work to pay those pensions?

Decades of xenophobic immigration policies have put you even deeper in demographic doo-doo. That's why the average age in Europe will top 52 years by 2050, when the comparable U.S. figure is 35.

Lots of luck.

Your armed forces are a joke. The social benefits you dole out will further deplete an already under-funded military.

Yes, I know you believe war is an anachronism. I hope you're right, but betting your future on it is a foolish wager.

Better pray that no nations pick a fight with you, or that the many millions of Islamic immigrants who will replace your elderly in the work force don't take a cue from their co-religionists in Afghanistan and push a Taliban-like political agenda.

All in all, Jacques, you might want to think real seriously about this one.



Peter A. Brown is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Comment by clicking here.

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