Condoleezza Rice, now Mr. Bush's nominee for secretary of state, was quoted in 2003 as telling colleagues that the United States should "punish France." This is a tempting tactic, for it holds out the promise of vengeful satisfaction. It was also the motive behind the recent campaigns to boycott French products. Unbeknownst to most of the participants, however, the consumer strategy was tried without much success in the 1960's. In truth, Paris isn't worth a boycott.If only we could get the nation's media and politicians to go along.
Thinking otherwise only buys into the Gaullist claim that France should occupy a place of reverence in the community of nations. But why should its views matter any more than, say, Italy, whose population and economy are nearly the same size? The United States may choose to work with France on a few areas of mutual diplomatic interest - Haiti and perhaps Iran - but in general, the marginal amounts of aid and peacekeeping help Paris can offer hardly merit concessions on our part. And if France threatens to undermine American interests with its Security Council veto, we should call its bluff, pointing out that such behavior merely weakens the institution that is the prime source of France's undeserved prestige. (Despite all the bluster, France has not used its veto power unilaterally since 1976.)
Moreover, making an example of the French is precisely the wrong approach because it elevates France in the eyes of the world's anti-Americans, who will always be with us. The one thing France and the neo-Gaullists can't possibly abide is being ignored. Perhaps that's punishment enough.
I can report at least one level of success - today's teens. When I'm teaching American history and France comes up, whether it's the "Quasi War" of 1798, the Louisiana Purchase, or World War II, the kids start snickering. Do you remember this great SNL skit from 2002 that showed beautiful tourist pictures of France and then had this great narration?
In a spoof of a French tourism commercial that was broadcast on the show in April, a series of iconic images — the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, a little girl toting a load of baguettes — flashed by on the screen while a female voice recited the pitch in a dulcet murmur: "The French: cowardly yet opinionated, arrogant yet foul-smelling. Anti-Israel, anti-American and, of course, as always, Jew-hating. With all that's going on in the world, isn't it time we got back to hating the French?"The kids thought that was the funniest thing that they had seen in a long time. (It used to be online, but I couldn't find it in a quick search - if anyone has the link, please let me know). My point is that we've started on the first step of John J. Miller's recommendation. We're laughing at the French. Ignoring them will come.
UPDATE: Reader, Jon W. sent in this link to an organization that chronicles and protests French-bashing in the media. In their letter of complaint about the SNL skit, they include the full script of the skit.
UPDATE II: John Hawkins gave the URL of the video of the SNL skit. If you don't mind some rather vicious, yet funny French-bashing, you should watch it.