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French boycott produces questions of impartiality

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This piece is going to be in two parts, and I ask your indulgence. This kind of thing will occur from time to time. The “local angle” (and I assure you there is one) will not be apparent until the end of Part II.

I am assuming that in...

Boycotts (Part I)

This piece is going to be in two parts, and I ask your indulgence. This kind of thing will occur from time to time. The “local angle” (and I assure you there is one) will not be apparent until the end of Part II.

I am assuming that in some places and in some minds, there continues to be a sort of boycott against things French, based on that country’s attitude toward the conflict in Iraq.

Let’s begin with some comments President George W. Bush made on April 20 when he was asked about anti-American protests in Iraq. I'm quoting from The New York Times report of April 21:

“I’ve always said democracy is going to be hard. ... And so, sure, there’s going to be people expressing their opinions, and we welcome that, just like here in America people can express their opinion.”

Whether you like W. or not or always or never agree with him, you may wish to concede that while not the height of rhetorical splendor, what he says is in keeping with what most of us like to believe is a true American attitude.

The French boycott began, I think, when a representative in Congress (does anyone remember his name?) decided that french fries sold in the congressional dining area should be called “liberty fries.” That seemed to strike a hearty blow for democracy.

Then some restaurants, believing photo ops should not be confined to D.C., decided publicly to remove French wines from their menus. How far this has all extended, I have no idea. Did anyone notice if these patriots broke bottles or cases of French wine or just put them away somewhere? Perhaps they saved them for a better time, n'est-ce pas?

Please remember that Germany, Russia and China were at least as strenuous in their objections to military action in Iraq as France. Indeed, the German chancellor, as early as last summer and well before the U.N. debates, staked his re-election campaign on it.

But notice we have not boycotted anything German, to my knowledge (is that because, according to my recollection of the 1990 census, well over 40 percent of the population of the United States is descended, in some way, from German immigrants? Lots of votes there). Nor have we given up on the Russians (they have lots of oil) or the Chinese (we might go naked in a few days, considering how much of everything is made in China these days!).

But the French, ah, the French! As Colin Powell has said, it has been a marriage that has been in counseling for 200 years. The secretary of state said nothing about a divorce or even a separation.

Now, let’s be clear that none of this nonsense is anything new. More of that — including sauerkraut, the House of Hanover, Madama Butterfly and the local angle — in Part II. I hope you’ll come back.

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