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France Bashing, Again!
By Robert Parry
October 4, 2004
an ex-high school football star who flopped as an adult, George W. Bush
is flashing back on his glory days of winter 2002-2003 when bashing the
French was a sure-fire way to get the crowd cheering.
Battered from his first presidential debate with
John Kerry, Bush returned to a favorite golden oldie of baiting anyone
-- in this case, Kerry -- who suggests that Washington should care what
the rest of the world thinks. Bush apparently wants to make “France” the
new political f-word.
On Oct. 1, the day after the debate, Bush told an
audience in Allentown, Pa., that Kerry was demanding “that America has
to pass some sort of ‘global test’ before we can use American troops to
defend ourselves.” Bush then added: “The use of troops to defend America
must never be subject to a veto by countries like France.”
Bush’s remark took his partisan listeners back to
those halcyon days before March 2003, when invading Iraq was going to be
a “cakewalk” and the French were “surrender monkeys” for wanting more
time to let U.N. weapons inspectors search for weapons of mass
destruction. In those good ol’ days, Bush backers poured French wine
into gutters and renamed French Fries as Freedom Fries. Even the White
House got into the fun by changing the Air Force One menu to read
“Freedom Toast,” not French toast.
Now, almost two years later, with an Iraqi
insurgency growing in intensity and more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers dead,
Bush is slipping back, rhetorically, to that happier time, possibly for
psychological as well as political reasons. With his polls dropping
after his shaky debate performance, Bush is trying to steady himself and
his followers with a trip down memory lane where the French are again
the cowardly villains.
On the campaign trail, Bush also has reverted to an
outdated narrative of his confrontation with Saddam Hussein. In Bush’s
version, Hussein refused to disarm as hapless U.N. inspectors failed to
find Iraq’s hidden WMD stockpiles and the United Nations lacked the
courage to enforce its resolutions on Iraqi disarmament. Faced with the
"gathering" threat of Iraqi WMD, Bush had no choice but to take action.
The problem with this pleasing tale is that it
clashes with the reality on the ground. In recent months, Bush’s own
inspection team has confirmed that Hussein had disarmed before
the U.S.-led invasion and that the reason the U.N. inspectors didn’t
find WMD was because it wasn’t there, not because they were
incompetent. The U.N. resolutions, imposing sanctions on Iraq, did
work in disarming Hussein and containing his ambitions. In other words,
Bush's invasion was not needed to achieve any of these goals. [For
details, see Consortiumnews.com
Deceptive or Delusional?”]
In a similar fashion, Bush now is reprising his
disdainful treatment of traditional allies, particularly the French.
While sure to solidify his conservative white male base, this line of
counter-attack against Kerry may be riskier than Bush understands.
First, Bush’s “global test” charge represents
another example of Bush distorting Kerry’s clear meaning through
selective quotation. Bush may be counting on his built-in cheering
section – of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, the Washington Times,
the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Robert Novak’s column, etc.,
etc. – to transform Kerry’s meaning into its opposite. But the strategy
might remind some voters of how the Bush team has a long history of
twisting its opponents’ words. [See Robert Parry's
Secrecy & Privilege.]
Here’s what Kerry actually said in response to a
question about whether he would use preemptive military force, which is
defined as an attack on an enemy that is preparing to attack but has yet
to launch an attack: “No president, through all of American history, has
ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary
to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it, …
you’ve got to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the
global test, where your countrymen, your people understand fully why
you’re doing what you’re doing and you can prove to the world that you
did it for legitimate reasons.”
All Kerry meant was that before preemptively
striking an enemy, the U.S. government must be able to explain its
reasoning in a convincing way to the American people and to the world.
That would seem like a minimal standard.
But it has been transformed by Bush into Kerry
saying that the United States would have to pass a "test" before it
could do anything, with France presumably acting as exam monitor. Vice
President Dick Cheney has claimed that Kerry’s words mean that the
United States would need a “permission slip” from foreign governments
before taking action.
But that’s clearly not Kerry’s meaning. Indeed,
Kerry’s point should be self-evident. Given the potential disruption to
international order that comes from preemptive war, the country that
strikes first always must have an exceedingly strong case that the
preemptive attack was necessary.
'Opinions of Mankind'
Indeed, the notion of American leaders justifying
their actions to the world is not a new one. It goes back to the birth
of the Republic and to the Declaration of Independence, when the
Founders wrote that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind”
required them to explain the reasons for their war with Great Britain.
Another political risk for Bush is that by mocking
the idea that the United States should accept -- if not welcome -- the
challenge of explaining its actions to the world, he may end up
reinforcing his image as someone who acts rashly and disdains the
give-and-take that is part of healthy alliances.
Bush’s anti-France rhetoric also might remind some
voters that in late 2002 and early 2003, France was among America’s
traditional allies urging Bush to proceed more cautiously in his
confrontation with Iraq. Given the horrendous death toll and the absence
of Iraqi WMD, that is a position that many Americans now share.
Like a friend trying to take the car keys from an
inebriated driver, the French were not the enemy that Bush tried to make
them out to be before the invasion. Indeed, one could argue that
America’s oldest ally – dating back to the Revolutionary War – was still
looking out for America’s best interests.
Award-winning investigative reporter Robert Parry's
latest book is Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq. It can be purchased at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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