The French: Rivals, but Not Enemies. (World Watcher)

By Howell, Llewellyn D. | USA TODAY, July 2003 | Go to article overview

The French: Rivals, but Not Enemies. (World Watcher)


Howell, Llewellyn D., USA TODAY


IT'S A WELL-KNOWN FACT in the scientific study of international relations that democracies do not make war on each other. France and the U.S. will not go to war. France poses no military threat to the U.S., only to its supremacy, and even there, probably not much. Both are democracies of long standing, each with deep structural roots, an extensive modern tradition, and a cultural character that will, ultimately, prevent the rise of dictatorial tendencies within.

There is a reason that the French have been supporters of the U.S. for 230 years. France is an open political democracy that wrestles with a multicultural population and even more political diversity than the U.S. has.

While American relations with Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are bonded by a common racial origin and a common language, relations with France are cemented with a common political culture. In many ways, the political and social cultures of the U.S. and France are more similar than those of the U.S. and Britain. The U.K. is, after all, still a kingdom. It doesn't have a constitution. It does have a system that enables the police to arrest and hold indefinitely, without trial, those considered to be a threat to national security. Although the Bush Administration has moved in that direction as well, the framework of American democracy is still more like that of France than that of England. Yet, these are the same French who, just a few months ago, were sticking their finger in our eye over our preparations for an invasion of Iraq.

The fact that both countries are democracies doesn't mean that they can't be rivals. In fact, the similarities make rivalry more likely. France, too, has a vision of itself as a force to be reckoned with in global politics. It is a nuclear power and has expansive economic interests. It remains an extended colonial power, even after that age has passed. French Guiana in South America is the largest colonial outpost in the modern world. It is integral to France's space program (as a launching site) and to the country's concept of itself as a nation with a global reach. France still has colonies in the Caribbean and the South Pacific.

The Bush Administration and conservative pundits have made much of French economic interests in Iraq and the billions that would have been made by French companies in Saddam Hussein's oil fields. This is true, it seems, but completely out of sight in the Administration's condemnation of these interests are the roles of U.S. counterpart economic interests, such as those of Bechtel and Halliburton.

The problem here is not with France, but in the unilateralism of the Bush Administration. The French are the opposition where the Administration doesn't want other voices. However, in the context of political, economic, and cultural systems, they are the loyal opposition. They didn't favor the despotism of Saddam any more than the U.S. did. (After all, much of the weapons technology came from the U.S. when it thought Saddam was the lesser of two evils as compared to Iran).

This isn't an issue of there being another member of the Axis of Evil. …

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