Petraeus and Paris

The Joys of Spring in Paris

by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis


PARIS — Ah, Paris in the springtime! Winter arrived last week, dropping a cold, wet blanket on the City of Light’s fabled "month of love."

On Monday, Paris was thrown into chaos by anti-Chinese demonstrations against the Olympic torch ceremony which brought newspaper headlines of "Le Fiasco!" and "Chaos."

Traffic was paralyzed. Three thousand short-tempered French police struggled to protect busloads of frightened Chinese athletes and the Olympic flame bearer from angry supporters of free Tibet. Meanwhile, hail and cold rain pelted Paris.

What was to be a giant commercial for the Olympics turned into a disaster for the Chinese and French governments, both of whom lost much face and suffered international embarrassment.

I have little sympathy. I’m not a sports fan. I’ve always considered the Olympics a grotesque orgy of commercialism and totalitarian kitsch, closer to Soviet and Nazi rallies than ancient Greece’s simple athletic games.

I’m writing this column from my apartment which overlooks the Eiffel Tower in the Champs de Mars. It was here, during the French Revolution, that a big political public spectacle put on by the bloodthirsty dictator Robespierre turned into a fiasco that led to his downfall and execution.

This, in turn, reminds me of his famous bon mot, "all the world hates armed missionaries," which brings me to Iraq. From Paris, I watched the Bush administration’s latest efforts to deceive Americans about its "crusade for freedom" in Iraq.

The US commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus and US ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, testified to Congress they needed to keep at least 140,000 US troops in Iraq. At the same time, the UK Guardian, published a leaked US plan to keep bases in Iraq "indefinitely."

President George W. Bush, who commands infinite unpopularity here in Europe, keeps saying, "I will listen to my general’s advice over Iraq." Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney then appoint yes-men like Petraeus and Crocker who tell the public what the White House orders them to say.

Patriotic generals, admirals, and diplomats who violate the party line are fired. Last year, Petraeus helped the White House fool war-weary Americans by insinuating a US troop withdrawal was months away. Now, it’s back to, "we can’t afford to leave."

As Baghdad and Basra burned, Crocker echoed Petraeus’ claims things were getting better in Iraq. While ambassador to Pakistan, Crocker made a notable contribution to American diplomacy by insisting Musharraf’s squalid dictatorship was a "fully democratic government." This whopper recalls the 19th century American writer Ambrose Bierce’s pithy definition of diplomats as "patriots ready to lie for their country."

Iraq remains chaotic, with half of all US ground forces stuck there. US efforts to create an Iraqi government army failed miserably, as seen by its recent rout in Basra. But John McCain and fellow Republicans are determined to keep Iraq a permanent US colony.

President Bush went on national TV to repeat his mantra of "staying the course" in Iraq. But almost 70% of Americans now oppose the war in Iraq. At the same time, the Pentagon, CIA and State Department are in almost open revolt against continuing the war in Iraq and launching a new one against Iran. Senior generals are warning the army and marines cannot keep waging intense military operations and are facing "meltdown."

I am struck by Vietnam War déjà vu. Republican politicians have too much of their careers invested in the Iraq War to risk accepting defeat. Bush and Cheney, like President Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara, are keeping US troops at war rather than admit they made a horrible mistake. Lost wars mean the ruin of political careers.

Senior French officials here despair over US policy in Iraq, though they won’t say so in public. The British and Germans are equally glum. There is growing alarm in NATO over Pakistan and even hints of military operations by the western alliance in its tribal territories.

Adding to the unease, an Israeli cabinet minister just threatened to attack Iran with nuclear weapons with absolutely no negative reaction from the US or its NATO allies.

Gloom, yes, but the sun just made a brief celebrity appearance, and spring is slowly coming to the world’s most beautiful and enchanting city.

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