Jewish World Review Nov. 29, 1999 /20 Kislev, 5760
Not for Moi, Thanks
IN THIS TIME OF GIVING THANKS, I find myself filled with gratitude for having
been born American. And not French. (For me, a close call: My parents
were French citizens at the time of my birth, and French was my first
language.) Why not French?
We Americans could easily compare ourselves to, say, Argentina, another
New World republic blessed with extraordinary natural and cultural
resources, but which through colossal political mismanagement
squandered its wealth and opportunity.
Or to Canada, endowed like us with a vibrant democracy, a British
political heritage, and a piece of this blessedly isolated and fruitful
continent, but which has never been able to throw off its inferiority
complex regarding the giant next door.
No, the real comparison that we ought to make is to France. Partly
because we began our experiments in republican government -- models
for the rest of the world -- at almost precisely the same time (the year of
our Constitution was the year of their Revolution). But mainly because the
French seem to insist upon measuring themselves against us.
For the past 50 years they have insisted on making themselves the great
Western dissenter to American greatness, the counterpoint to American
dominance. The would-be East-West triangulator during the Cold War
has now metamorphosed into a rallier of those disgruntled at the prospect
of yet another American century.
I wouldn't be picking on the French if they didn't take such delight in
zinging the United States. Just three weeks ago, President Chirac
delivered an address with a dozen subtle and not-so-subtle pokes at the
United States, practically defining human progress as "moving toward a
more balanced . . . distribution of power" in the world -- meaning,
A day earlier, Chirac's foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, delivered a
speech lamenting with equal subtlety American hegemony: "We cannot
accept either a politically unipolar world, nor a culturally uniform world,
nor the unilateralism of a single hyperpower." Note: Not superpower but
"hyperpower," a typically barbed neologism that conjures up the image of
some cartoonishly muscle-bound Schwarzenegger nation set to implode
from its own gigantism. (In France's popular satirical TV puppet show,
"Les Guignols de l'Info," the United States is represented by Rambo.)
In the holiday spirit, however, I might have given my Francophobia a rest
if the French Embassy had not faxed me a copy of an article in the current
World Policy Journal, "Life After Pax Americana," by Professor Charles
Kupchan. It came heavily underlined and starred. Highlighted were such
passages as "the waning of unipolarity" and "new power centers are
emerging" and "America's protective umbrella will slowly retract" and "a
global landscape in which power and influence are more equally
distributed looms ahead" and "The key challenge . . . [is] weaning Europe
and East Asia of their excessive dependence on the current hegemon."
And who might that be? "The United States."
I might note that Kupchan's argument -- i.e., the part in between the
highlighted and starred passages to which the ever-helpful French wanted
to draw my attention -- is quite substantial and subtle. But the French
Embassy (aware that, since my 1990 Foreign Affairs article on the
subject, I have long advanced the notion of a "unipolar" world) wanted to
put me on notice that my cherished "unipolar moment" was about to draw
to a close.
Typically wishful thinking for a country that has spent the last half-century
living on fantasies of its lost "grandeur." One can feel for the French. After
all, their decline has not been pretty, with their empire, their power, even
their language (once the second tongue of the world's educated elites) all
in rapid retreat. And even worse, with the Anglo-Saxon barbarian in
But to understand is not to forgive, helas. Thus provoked, I continue:
Oh, to have been born to a nation that at the time of its great revolution
produced a Madison instead of a Robespierre.
To have been born to a republic that amid its great mid-19th century crisis
produced Lincoln instead of the comical Napoleon III.
To have been born to a people that in the first invasion of Nazi-held
territory -- Operation Torch, the 1942 allied invasion of North Africa --
were firing in on the Nazis rather than out on the allies. One can almost
see "Casablanca's" Captain Renault half-heartedly ordering a cannon or
two fired on allied ships in order to please Major Strasser, and then
welcoming the Americans and the British ashore when the unpleasantness
Praise the L-rd. Pass the turkey.
Comment on Charles Krauthammer's column by clicking here.
11/19/99: Where's the 2000 Buzz?
11/12/99: Reluctant Cold Warriors
11/08/99: Federalism's New Friends
10/29/99: The Phony Battle Against 'Isolationism'
10/25/99: Still With the Soul Of a Candidate
10/18/99: Nixon On the Couch
10/11/99: Slouching Toward The Center
©1999, Washington Post Co.