The Magazine

FRENCH RESISTANCE

Apr 26, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 30 • By JAMES W. CEASER
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PERHAPS THE ONLY HAPPY SURPRISE so far in the NATO campaign against Serbia is that our major allies, Britain, Germany, and France, have for once proved as tough as Washington. Indeed, as the bombing campaign entered its fourth week, popular support in Europe was increasing. Far from being pressured by peace movements, the "third way" politicians Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroder and the cohabiting French team of Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin are all moving up in the polls.


Like many aspects of the war, the absence of popular opposition to the bombing campaign has clearly caught these governments off guard, and understandably so. Many of today's top officials in NATO countries spent significant parts of their careers opposing military campaigns led by the United States; these are people who know something about peace movements. What they seem not to have anticipated is that, now that they themselves are making policy, they are unavailable to lead an opposition against it. And of course they are fortunate in their adversary: Slobodan Milosevic is a man with whom no one on the left could even begin to identify. As for those on the moderate right, they have either encouraged firm action against the Serbs or, where they have expressed doubts, have done so generally on prudential grounds.


This benign political climate has no doubt encouraged President Clinton to believe that time is on his side. Kosovo may lie in ruins, with much of its population exiled or killed, but the war strategy appears to be safe from the only thing that could derail it: a crack in the alliance. The president has so far done a much better job in routing any likely sources of mass popular opposition than he has in waging an effective war policy against Milosevic.


Still, there are rumblings, primarily in France, of a nascent anti-war movement. A close reading of the press there reveals a curious alliance of thinkers of the right and left, which stretches far enough into the respectable center to provide eventual cover for a much larger group. Any such movement in France -- still the country on which many intellectuals focus -- is sure to echo across the rest of the continent. What unites these thinkers is not so much an old-style appeal for peace, as a polemic against America and the "Fun-Military-Industrial complex" it represents. The events in Kosovo, they say, cannot be seen in isolation from -- indeed they are closely tied to -- the great issue of our times: America's hegemony over Europe and its accompanying claim that universal norms might play an active role in the conduct of world affairs.


Opposition to NATO's policy was pronounced first by Jean-Francois Kahn, a leading intellectual of the far right. As the bombing began, Kahn wrote, "For the first time since 1945, our country finds itself engaged, where no vital interests are at stake, in a destructive conflict that has been sought and determined by the United States." The ground for this policy, Kahn went on, had been systematically prepared by the great media outlets of the West, among which CNN figures prominently. Kahn's arguments were followed up last week in a front-page article in the prestigious left-of-center daily Le Monde, where the Parisian philosopher Daniel Bensaid evoked the Cold War shibboleth of moral equivalence -- this time between an American-led NATO and Milosevic: "The barbarism of ethnic cleansing is not a barbarism of 'another age,' opposed by the unified force of the absolute good of 'civilization.' Milosevic and NATO are twin contemporary forms of modern barbarism."


The views of these intellectual outsiders have found echoes among those much closer to governing parties. Max Gallo, a leading intellectual of the left, joined with Charles Pasqua, a former Gaullist minister of the interior, to make the following appeal: "In contrast to a B-52 diplomacy, which had no better results in Vietnam than it is likely to have elsewhere, the correct path is clear: France must make her European partners understand that there can be no solution to the Balkan problem, nor to problems elsewhere in Europe, except that made by a European Europe." In other words, America out (and Russia in). Observers of France may recall that it was Gallo who took the lead earlier in this decade in trying to stop Euro Disney, which he depicted as a Trojan mouse infiltrating the citadel of European civilization and threatening to "bombard France with uprooted creations that are to culture what fast food is to gastronomy."