Thomas Friedman, the eminent foreign affairs columnist, has proposed what sounds like a commonsense rule. He says democracies should not go to war unless their leaders can reduce the reason to a message that fits on a bumper sticker.
“Remember the Maine!” would have been a good fit, assuming there had been any bumpers to stick it on back in 1898. “Make the world safe for democracy” inspires. “Hoch den Kaiser” is good too—punchy, to the point, and you don’t even have to understand German to get the drift.
Not to get too political here, but you can already see how the whole Iraq business violates Friedman’s Law and, not coincidentally, isn’t too popular anymore among the citizens of our democracy. “Plant democracy in the Arab world/Saddam supports terror/He might have WMD/And he’s bad” is about as succinct as you can make the administration’s most commonly cited rationales for war in 2003. Not even Dick Cheney’s Hummer has enough bumper for that one.
From a policy and sloganeering perspective, I always thought invading France was a better idea than invading Iraq.
One, it might have been the most popular war in our history. In world history. Everyone who has ever endured ill-mannered treatment at the hands of Parisians would have wanted in. Like my friend Craig, who was met with stone silence when he tried to ask directions in more than passable French. When he repeated his request, the haughty citoyen walked away, then turned and said in accentless English, “Learn to speak French, you pig.” Or my friend Gorum, who had the misfortune to break an old radio in his Paris hotel room. The radio might have been worth three bucks at a yard sale, maybe. The Frog hoteliers demanded $125. They were going to confiscate the luggage of everyone in his group, until the tour organizer literally made an international incident out of it.
This is why a Gallic campaign would have been a much easier sell than the invasion of Iraq. In this case, the Coalition of the Willing would have included just about everyone who wasn’t French. Countries would have had to take a number and wait their turn. Even Switzerland might have given up its neutrality for the chance to hit a few licks on the truffle-eating snobs next door.
The idea made strategic sense, too. France is on the way to Iraq. The logistics are simpler. You know Les Surrender Monkeys would have capitulated faster than Saddam’s Republican Guard.
Besides, after we had re-Vichyfied France, Saddam, the Syrians and Iranians probably would have done pretty much anything we asked. They’d have figured, “If the Americans are crazy-cowboy enough to do this to one of their allies, imagine the hammer they’re going to drop on us.”
Imagine the bumper sticker: “Liberate France from the French.” It says everything you need to know. France would be a great country—wine, cuisine, chateaux, Provence, Catherine Deneuve, the Riviera, Alps, Paris—if you could just get around the French. One brief, splendid little war and, voila!
We didn’t get the war (yet), but at least last weekend we got the next best thing. Part of the reason why Floyd Landis’ rousing comeback victory in the Tour de France is so exciting to us Americans, who otherwise wouldn’t give two red hoots about some month-long bicycle race, is that one of ours has yet again displaced the Frenchies from their own native competition.
To grasp how confounding this must seem to the hosts, imagine the French thrashing our national team in basketball for eight straight years, on our own hardwood. It messed with their heads so bad, they were left to scrape for reasons other than the athletic superiority of Landis and Lance Armstrong.
Last year, their leading sports magazine scraped together an accusation (since debunked) that Armstrong took banned performance-enhancing substances before his first Tour victory, in 1999. Now, they can whine that Landis won because this year’s top two contenders—neither of them French, we note—were banned from the race after they were implicated in using performance enhancers.
Here’s the reply to the French. First, a cancer survivor who’s no longer operating with a full supply of testosterone owns them for seven straight years. Then, after they finally get to stop chasing Lance, we send over a guy who needs hip replacement surgery—and just to make it interesting, he spots the field an almost insurmountable 10-minute lead with less than four days to go.
The French have to be wondering what would happen if we ever started sending healthy racers over there to smack them around.
Taking one for the team
If you’re looking for footballers who play purely for the love of the game, you’re more likely to find them on the field this weekend—when the D.C. Divas and the Oklahoma City Lightning play for the championship of the National Women’s Football Association—than around the NFL. That point came home last week after Chris Brown’s agent asked the Titans to trade their starting running back.
To which GM Floyd Reese might well ask, “Why in Pete Rozelle’s name would I want to do that?”
Behind Brown, Reese has Travis Henry, a sturdy backup but probably no longer an every-down back, plus an unproven rookie in LenDale White. They’re good insurance in case Brown once again proves unable to make it through a whole season. Besides, when healthy, Brown is more than capable of averaging four yards per carry.
From an agent’s point of view, however, Brown needs all the carries he can get—not to split them with others. His contract expires after this season, and the Titans, ever waiting and seeing, have not yet offered to renew. Less carries this fall make Brown less marketable next spring.
Wouldn’t it be great to see a player think of team loyalty instead of business and individual gain? Well, no, because that would be a league we didn’t recognize. Playing for love of the game is for women. And as Steve McNair can testify, loyalty will buy you a one-way ticket to Baltimore.