PARIS, France -- France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg announced in Brussels last week that they intend to set up a "multinational deployable force headquarters." But 4 x O is still O. These countries spend embarrassingly little money on defense. What resources do they have to pool together?
In moments of candor, some French will admit that the incessant talk from Chirac and others about peace through diplomacy is a logical consequence of their porous defense: What other card can the French play besides the diplomatic one? And at least one Frenchmen has said to me that "he was glad America was dealing with the terrorists so we don't have to."
The Brussels announcement was Chirac's clumsy attempt to get back into the game. The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, recently said: "The logic of peace is being tested today by America's determination. It is hard to imagine what could stop this machine." Does he think an amateur-hour defense headquarters will do the trick?
Even as the French stick their finger in the eye of America -- the Brussels announcement was the latest flick at the eye -- they scratch their heads over the anti-French backlash in America. The French are "shocked" at it, says one paper. Sophisticated Parisians say mature people should separate "criticism of the American government" from criticism of the American people. You see, Americans have that funny notion that democratic governments are associated with the people. Enlightened Europeans know better, and will tell you not to take offense if they call your president a jackass and thug repeatedly.
They are consistent, though. If an American says Chirac is a hypocrite and phony, they will readily concede the point. You can point to photos of Chirac grinning with Saddam Hussein, and they will say, "yes, he is corrupt." But they prefer corruption to "fascism." (Chirac backers helped him hold his position against the French right in the last election on the unofficial platform, choose a crook over a fascist.)
But Chirac's popularity is on the wane, according to the London Telegraph. "The political benefits of President Jacques Chirac's diplomatic war with America appear to have reached their expiry date as the latest polls show his domestic popularity dropping sharply from a month ago," it reports.
"At their highest, the polls showed that Chirac had the confidence of 75 per cent of French voters and more than 85 per cent backed his opposition to war in Iraq. Not since Georges Pompidou had a president received such support. But with the memories of the war fading and social and economic problems returning to the fore, Chirac's 'Baghdad bounce' is history. Polls to be released today show his support back down to 53 per cent, around its pre-war level.'"
After May Day, says the Telegraph, the French crank up the economic protests, and "the recent economic news has been unremittingly bleak. Unemployment is rising, growth is at its lowest in 10 years and Brussels wants to punish Paris for breaching the public deficit limits set for countries in the euro zone."
His business-damaging diplomacy with the U.S. hasn't helped matters. But the protesters won't hold that against him.
Perhaps the Paris-based International Herald Tribune -- a more obnoxious American export than McDonald's -- will editorialize in favor of American economic aid for France. The Howell Raines stamp is all over the paper. Its coverage about Senator Santorum's comments was comically unfair.
In an editorial that actually appeared on the editorial page, IHT turned its attention to Iraq. It's terribly worried about a country it didn't want liberated. When millions of Iraqis were under the thumb of a tyrant, its anxiety wasn't so great. But now that Iraqis have lost their electricity and cable access, it's in a panic. IHT won't rest until George Bush brings the New Deal and the Great Society to Baghdad. "The question was, and still is, whether the administration has the patience to rebuild Iraq and set it on a course toward stable, enlightened governance," it says. "The chaotic situation in Afghanistan is no billboard for American talent at nation-building."
Tyrants create chaos, then liberals blame the ensuing chaos on American liberators. IHT is a billboard for a bogus liberalism that only rediscovers human rights after conservatives have fought for them.