French fried in the US
Anti-French sentiment is suddenly apparent across the United States — the latest swing of the love-hate pendulum between the US and France. Jean-Michel Stoullig reports from Washington.
The wave of anti-French commentary sweeping the US is mainly media-led, and apparently sparked by outspoken French criticism of US unilateralism and reactions to the visible surge in anti-Jewish activity in France.
The theme of "French arrogance" is a popular topic on the Internet, where one US-originated site listed reasons to loathe the French, calling them: capricious, dirty, jealous of US power, ingrates and language snobs.
The New York Times sounded the alarm in an article titled, "An old amour more off than on: French-bashing time again."
The article alluded to "positive clichés" popular with Americans, lauding French food, fashion and style, before then turning to examine the latest ideological and political rifts between the two countries, noting the relative success of Jean-Marie Le Pen in recent French elections; divergent approaches to the crisis in the Middle East; and the popularity in France of a book proposing the US government as the true mastermind of the September 11 attacks.
Members of a prominent Jewish-American group have embarked on a travel boycott of France, in protest of the less-than-ardent official and public response to a string of attacks on Jewish people, schools and cemeteries which has been largely attributed to young French Muslims.
France's ambassador to the United States, François Bujon de l'Estang, recently denounced these attacks in the Washington Post, but he also criticised the coverage of the violence by US media as "at times insulting," and at best "misleading."
When Hubert Védrine, de Villepin's predecessor, said US President George W. Bush's foreign policy was "simplistic," a chorus of protest was heard in the US capital.
Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly even drew parallels between Védrine and Henri-Philippe Pétain, who led the Vichy government that collaborated with the Nazis after France was invaded during World War II.
"It is very difficult for US government officials to take seriously criticism coming from the French, because they view it as reflexive," said Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institution Center on the United States and France. He says there is a knee jerk reaction against US policies by both the French left and right, a sentiment that has existed since the notoriously anti-American Charles de Gaulle governed France.
But of late, France is not alone in criticising US policies - from the "axis of evil", the death penalty, the US withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, and the US threat to withdraw from the new International Criminal Courts.
"Criticism from dependable allies such as the British and the Germans is seen as more credible," said Shapiro.
"The US and France are partners who love to hate each other. Francophobia comes in waves, historically... but this doesn't materially affect a solid relationship," Shapiro adds.
"A better explanation for the current wave of French bashing is that the US government and civil society is much less tolerant of criticism in the wake of the terrorist attacks. They feel like the injured party."
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers noted the US friendship with France earlier this week when he was awarded with France's Legion of Honour.
"Our relationship today is as important as ever because of the war on terrorism," Myers said. "As we were struggling for our liberty, it was France, our closest ally, that was there." That was not sure to have gone down well with the British.