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George W. Bush took America to war with Iraq. When France, and most of the rest of Europe, said “do as you like, but we’re not going with you,” Bush and his political allies in the media (this means Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Weekly Standard and the usual talk radio suspects) launched a major campaign of vilification against the French. Bill O’Reilly and a troop of radio commentators—the same ones who beat the drums of war for an invasion of Iraq—urged a boycott of French goods. What impact did this have? In the U.S., public opinion about France plummeted, and in France, public opinion about the U.S. plummeted. And how did it affect business? The British Centre for Economic Policy Research reports:
From February 2002 to March 2003, France’s favourability rating in US public opinion polls fell from 83 percent to 35 percent. Very negative attitudes towards France became common even among college educated Americans with high levels of income, so they were likely prevalent among managers. Using data from 1999-2005, we find that the worsening relations reduced US imports from France by about 15 percent and US exports to France by about 8 percent, compared to other Eurozone or OECD countries.
Of course, this behavior on the side of American opinion leaders was juvenile or worse—it reflected primitive demagoguery. The French position was that U.S. intelligence did not sustain its case about WMDs in Iraq (which, by the way, is now established as the inescapable truth). But the French had also had their fill of colonial adventurism in the Middle East and had no interest in any more. Notwithstanding these considerations, however, France was actually very close to the U.S. position in the war on terror—eager to cooperate with the U.S. and accepting of U.S. tactics employed. In fact, among the continental European powers, none has proved quite so close to Bush and his approach in waging a war on terror.
What was gained by the cries of “Freedom Fries” and the taunts of “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”? Nothing. And much was lost.
America marks its revolution on July 4, and France does the same ten days later. This proximity on the calendar is important for many reasons, because these two revolutions and the messages they brought to the world were dependent, one upon the other. The Founding Fathers fully appreciated that America’s independence was won with the protection and support of France. And after it was won, the generation-long military struggle between France and Britain allowed America to consolidate its independence and make it not ephemeral but permanent.
So for this week, it’s time for Americans to forget O’Reilly and his friends and to remember Lafayette. And Beaumarchais, who took time out from working on Figaro to raise funds, guns and recruits for his friends, the American insurgents (see Quote for the Day). For as the barber of Seville says, “One should mind one’s own business… unless one has anxiety that one’s neighbors will bring him harm.”
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.
Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.
Average amount of time a child spends in Santa Claus’s lap at Macy’s (in seconds):
Beer does not cause beer bellies.
Following the arrest of at least 10 clowns in Kentucky and Alabama, Tennesseans were warned that clowns could be “predators” and Pennsylvanians were advised not to interact with what one police chief described as “knuckleheads with clown-like clothes on.”
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”