French Revive a Pastime: Fretting About U.S. ‘Imperialism’ : Reaction: Talk of ‘secret agendas’ surfaces on the left and the right. Some chafe at their country’s secondary role in the Gulf. Others worry about diminished European influence.


The United States desperately wanted military bases in the Persian Gulf region. And it wanted control of the world’s richest oil fields.

Washington, according to this theory, was also worried about the budding friendship between Arab states and the European Community, an alliance that could threaten American dominance in the post-Cold War world.

To gain its secret objectives, the United States provoked a war with Iraq by giving Saddam Hussein the green light to invade Kuwait. When Iraqi troops massed on the Kuwaiti border, America’s sophisticated satellite intelligence system pretended it didn’t see them.

After letting the Iraqi army into Kuwait, the theory goes, the Americans sounded the alarm. Using the United Nations as a front, they enlisted the aid of European and Arab countries in a coalition to legitimize the effort and at the same time to break up the growing Europe-Arab ties.


The result: The war in the Gulf is “America’s war,” with European and other nations in the international coalition following along like mere appendages to American policy.

Although such a scenario might be considered absurd by many Americans, it is perfectly acceptable dinner conversation in France, where subscribers to various versions of an American “secret agenda” theory range from the son of the late French President Charles de Gaulle to leaders in the Communist Party.

One of the principal consequences of the Gulf War has been a resurgence of anti-Americanism in France and elsewhere in Europe.

U.S. leadership in the Gulf War has resurrected cries of “American imperialism.” Recent issues of several French magazines feature long articles examining the revival of that old French pastime.


In one, L’Express columnist Alain Schifres deals humorously with the subject, citing such petty French concerns as why American troops, in recapturing a small Kuwaiti island in the Gulf, put up the Stars and Stripes but not the flags of France and the 27 other countries in the international coalition.

Schifres proudly notes the presence of the French Foreign Legion in the Gulf and the coalition’s only working French bakery in the Saudi desert. He expresses irritation over Pentagon spokesmen and Cable News Network: “It’s war on tap. (They) . . . inform like they bomb, without looking at what’s below.”

Underlying his tongue-in-cheek writing, Schifres reflects a growing discomfort with the United States and its dominating role in the Gulf. Although the wave of anti-Americanism is not likely to divide the coalition, it is likely to surface in postwar negotiations, when Washington’s partners try to put their mark on a settlement.

“From what I hear,” wrote Schifres, “anti-Americanism is going to take over the country in two cases: (a) if the war ends badly or (b) if the war ends well.”

Part of the phenomenon stems from the end of the Cold War. “From the moment there is no more Communist peril, then the peril of American imperialism becomes the No. 1 enemy,” said Rene Remond, a historian with the Institute of Political Sciences in Paris.

But President Bush’s talk about a new world order also has spawned fears of what Europeans call “Pax Americana” that would diminish the importance of European countries and their hard-won European Community.

The most virulent anti-Americans, such as French writer Alain de Benoist, leader of the so-called New Right movement here, describe supporters of the war as “collaborators of the American order.”

Milder critics, such as Adm. Philippe de Gaulle, son of the late French president, object mainly to the secondary, subordinate role played in the war by France and other European states. On the eve of the outbreak of war in mid-January, De Gaulle joined Communists and other dissident members of the French Senate in voting against French military involvement in the Gulf.


“What bothers Adm. De Gaulle,” said Remond, a specialist on Franco-American relations, “is that France follows as a subordinate--that the French contingent is only a secondary element in a strategy entirely conceived and driven by the United States.”

The new wave of anti-Americanism appears stronger in other European countries than it is in France. Germany, Italy and Spain have had much larger anti-war demonstrations. In Germany in particular, today’s anti-Americanism appears to be a continuation of the pacifist-neutralist movement of the 1980s, when the German Greens and other protesters opposed installation of nuclear missiles on German soil.

The rekindling of anti-American sentiments in France, mostly dormant during the decline of the Communist Bloc, is interesting because it has a different cast from that of the Vietnam era, when it reached a zenith here.

For example, many of the leaders of the 1968 student movement and radical left political parties of that time are now established members of the Socialist government under President Francois Mitterrand. Except for a minority faction headed by former Minister of Defense Jean-Pierre Chevenement, who quit his post in January because of his opposition to the war, the Socialists support the allied war effort.

Thus former radicals such as Henri Weber, founder of the fiercely anti-American Revolutionary Communist League, are on the other side in the current conflict.

“The United States is no longer the leader of the camp of predators,” Weber said. “It has a function that is certainly imperial but not imperialiste. " Weber, a prominent member of the Socialist Party, is an adviser to National Assembly leader Laurent Fabius.

The new wave of anti-Americanism, in fact, has little support among the intellectual class that was its foundation 20 years ago. There are no renowned philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre passing out anti-American petitions on the Left Bank.

The Paris newspaper Le Monde, strongly anti-American under its late editor Hubert Beuve-Mery, has taken a decidedly pro-coalition, pro-American stance during this conflict. To a lesser extent, so has Liberation, a lively daily tabloid that was founded by Maoist student radicals.


“There has been an evolution in the anti-American movement,” said Prof. Remond. “There are few intellectuals, just a small fraction of the left and a certain number of intellectuals from the right. But the great majority either doesn’t say anything or does not disapprove of what is happening.”

Instead, the main anti-American thrust comes from the right wing or the remnants of the once-powerful French Communist Party, which has broken strongly with Moscow on the Gulf issue.

Communist leader Georges Marchais set the tone for his party when he announced in September that the Gulf crisis was a U.S. plot. “It’s clear that the United States jumped at the chance to put their hand on the Middle East, controlling in this way an important part of the world production of oil,” Marchais said.

Anti-Americanism from the right wing is more complicated.

There is opposition to the war from the ultra-rightist National Front Party under the leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Le Pen, who portrayed himself as pro-American during the Reagan years, has strongly opposed the U.S. presence in the Gulf from the beginning.

Le Pen’s motives appear rooted in an isolationist strain characteristic of the traditional European right. And there are anti-Semitic elements in Le Pen’s party that also come to play.

“It is a minor element,” Remond said, “but there is an anti-Americanism by way of anti-Semitism that comes from the solidarity between the United States and Israel. In this case, they denounce the ‘Jewish Lobby’ (that) they claim makes law and dictates policy and (assert) that the United States entered the conflict to aid Israel.”

On the left, this takes the form, not necessarily of anti-Semitism, but of support for Palestinians and their struggle for a homeland. “The Palestinians have replaced the Vietnamese in the collective imagination,” said Remond. " . . . Because the United States is strongly allied with Israel, anyone who is pro-Palestinian is by extension, anti-American.”

Among the disciples of the late Charles de Gaulle, fears of losing France’s independence is the main factor motivating anti-Americanism.

“Our foreign policy in Europe, Africa and the Middle East is null,” said Philippe de Gaulle, explaining his opposition to France’s participation in the war. We are the sauce around the roast. . . . Our credibility in Arab countries is very compromised.”

Current anti-Americanism gets its strongest expression from the so-called New Right, embodied in the writings of Benoist.

Benoist, 48, and his followers are anti-American because of a strong aversion to American culture they feel has invaded France and exercised a strong, negative influence on French culture.

In a recent interview, Benoist said he has been a frequent visitor to the United States but has found little there that he liked.

His fight, he said, is against the homogenization of culture under the American model.

“There are things in the American model of civilization that I detest,” he said, “such as the omnipresence of the Bible, the Constitution, the belief in the marketplace, the way of thinking, the adoration of the dollar and of the car and of fast food, the absurd television serials.”

A victory by the U.S.-led coalition over Hussein, in his mind, would increase the power of American culture.