Why do they hate us?

This article (subscription only) in today’s WSJ sheds some light on the motives of France’s ruling elite, who seem to be engaged in a political crusade–using Iraq as a weapon–to weaken the United States. The gist of the article’s explanation for the French leadership’s anti-Americanism is that the French believe that they will get away with it.

PARIS — Having done their best to block America’s plans to wage war on Iraq, French leaders are assessing the cost of angering their mighty ally, and are coming up with a surprising figure: virtually nothing.

French political leaders and businessmen, ignoring warnings from Washington, express confidence France can veto U.S. plans in the United Nations without paying a heavy price in its commercial, political or diplomatic interests. President Jacques Chirac, in declaring his determination Monday to reject a U.S.- and United Kingdom-backed Security Council resolution that would lead to war in Iraq, refuted the idea that France would suffer for snubbing its allies.

“There is no risk that the U.S. and France, or the American and French people, will quarrel or get angry with each other,” he said.

Mr. Chirac’s belief in a virtually cost-free veto is shared by many in France, across the political spectrum. “There’s some talk of boycott in the air, but that’s a human reaction, and we can understand that,” says Jacques Barrot, chairman of the parliamentary delegation of the center-right Popular Movement Union. “It’d be wrong for the U.S. to put on trial a country that is standing beside them in the fight against terrorism,” he adds.

(Note the last sentence. The quote about “standing beside them in the fight against terrorism” does not seem to be intended as a joke.)

The article goes on to state that French leaders are not particularly concerned about American trade reprisals, but that French political interests are indeed vulnerable. Again, the French leadership sees it differently:

Many French politicians appear to be in denial about the possibility of a chilled Franco-American relationship. President Chirac said Monday he was confident France would have a role in rebuilding peace in the Middle East after a war.
Colin Powell, in warning about the political cost to France for its screwing of the U.S., may have inadvertently strengthened French anti-U.S. resolve when he implied that France’s hostile actions would have mainly short-term consequences:
“Even though France has been a friend of ours for many years, will be a friend in the future, I think [a French veto] will have a serious effect on bilateral relations, at least in the short term

[emphasis added]

I don’t think that the French leaders are, pace Lex, our enemies–at least not in the sense that the Iraqi and North Korean leaders are. We do not consider attacking France. However, the French government sees itself as our competitor and is doing its cynical best to undermine us in ways which are likely to get a lot of Americans killed. This is not how allies behave, and Powell and other U.S. officials should be careful to stop referring to France, even in diplomatic euphemisms, as our “friend.” We should also stop suggesting that our relationship with France will return to normal shortly after the current unpleasantness is over. We do not seem to realize that we are sending mixed messages.

Our problem with France is similar to our problem with the Arabs: they don’t think we’re serious. Neither the Arabs nor the French think that we have the resolve, the bloody mindedness needed to see this war through to victory and to punish countries that impede us. After all, we quit without finishing the job in 1991 and, with the minor exception of Afghanistan, we’ve been bluffing and pulling punches ever since. If we want to deal successfully with the Arabs now, we are going to have to defeat Saddam Hussein and remove him from power–and preferably kill him or put him in a cell with Manuel Noriega. And if we want to deal successfully with the French, we should embark on a long-term effort to marginalize France politically until it changes its anti-American tune. We should also make a point to retaliate personally against Chirac and his political associates. (I’m not sure how much we can do in this regard, but both Bush’s father and Clinton interfered, with some success, in Israeli elections, and we’ve done similar things in other countries, so maybe we should do the same in France. I doubt that Chirac would have any compunction about aiding Bush’s opponent in 2004 if he could do so.)

I am not convinced that we are ready to take any of these measures. The problems with Americans, as Lex suggests, are that we are nice and have short memories. These are good qualities when dealing with your in-laws but handicaps in international politics. We ought to realize that we cannot buy other nations’ love, but that we can gain political leverage by consistently rewarding our friends and punishing our enemies. Obviously our leaders understand these principles, but sometimes they seem to forget them in practice–it’s usually easier and more pleasant, in the short run, to be generous and hope that everything works out. But we can’t afford that now, and it may benefit us to make a particularly harsh example of France so that everyone will understand that it’s costly to oppose us.