Noblesse oblige

Posted: Apr 09, 2003 12:00 AM

A recent poll found a quarter of the French are rooting for Saddam Hussein to win the war. A pox on all their maisons, but it's the majority of the French who still want the United States to win -- after months of Americans lampooning French military history -- who interest me.

Some among that majority are vintners, cheesemakers and waiters who are likely to suffer because of American boycotts of France and French products. Why alienate these people further?

Yes, Americans have a right to boycott France. What's more, the rhetoric of President Jacques Chirac and Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin were and are bound to dampen even a Francophile's enthusiasm for les choses francaises. To the extent that Americans just don't feel like visiting France, I understand.

(I also understand boycotting the Dixie Chicks, but then again, I've been boycotting them for years without even knowing it.)

The fact remains: An organized boycott against France is counter-productive.

It has the potential to hurt people who support the United States as equally as it hurts snooty French ingrates. It's buckshot, where precision is needed. Better to hate the French politician and love the French.

In this day and age, an anti-French boycott also stands to hurt American jobs as well as corporations headquartered in the many European countries that support the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Besides, a boycott on the French only helps Chirac. Despite rising unemployment, he is enjoying high approval ratings -- with 90 percent of the French supporting Chirac on Iraq.

I don't like that number. Chirac did more than announce that France would not participate in the war effort, as some have mischaracterized his actions. Chirac and de Villepin gave Saddam Hussein hope -- and thereby encouraged him not to surrender when this war might have been avoided.

When the war is won, and Hussein's atrocities are exposed anew, even Europeans will wake up. Chirac's punishment will be the eventual global understanding that M. le President chose to shield a butcher, and in his zeal to defend Hussein, he nudged France down another step in its descent into -- I want to be gentle here -- existentialism.

America is a superpower. France is the Blanche DuBois of power -- declining and forever dreaming of a glory that exists mainly in her past. It is not gallant to treat Blanche DuBois for what she is.

Besides, Americans do themselves no favor in making it known we think we don't need the help of Europe's little countries. Those little countries (France aussi) have vital intelligence needed to stop terrorism. Some of those countries -- Great Britain and Australia -- have sent their precious troops to Iraq. Some leaders -- like Spain's Jose Maria Aznar -- have taken great risks to defend a country that is strong without them.

Instead of being spiteful, Americans should take the high road. Forget minor enemies. Instead, embrace those friends who have sacrificed and risked to help America rid the world of menace.

Don't boycott the French. Buy British. Walk about Australia. Visit Spain and let the Spaniards know that Aznar's friendship is valued. Dice grazie in Italiano.

To boycott France is to say America doesn't need France. Or countries like France. That's worse, far worse, than pouring vintage French wine down the drain.