This could be twice as good and ten times as linky, and yes it's late. But I'm trying to do this and write a column with a whiny kid, and I am ready to drive long nails into my eye sockets. Anyway.

I had four hours to myself yesterday afternoon. What to do? Arrange, store, organize, order my life down to the subatomic level, of course. God forbid I should sit down with a book and some lemonade when there were still seventeen loose items not yet filed in labeled plastic bags. I waded into the storage room and finished the project, albeit with some shortcuts; I have debated whether to store the archived magazines by title or date, and today I reached a sensible conclusion: ah, to hell with that, just put them them in the bins!

(By date.)

Tuesday was a day of great accomplishments. I finished most of both columns last night, so I woke with a spry merry step knowing I wouldn’t have to sweat out gruesome revisions while pacifying Gnat. She had a playdate at noon, and her friend’s Mom would take both to ballerina class, so I had a nice slab of time to myself. Lunch: reheated meatballs. Or, given the inscrutable composition of the spheres, remeated heatballs. Picked up Gnat at 4 PM, did grocery shopping, headed home to make tacos. While making dinner, I listened to Hugh broadcasting from the Dem convention, he was interviewing Regis Le Sommier, the American bureau chief for Paris Match, and a man whose name appears to mean King Bedspring. I don’t know if King Bedspring knew how he was being played; I don’t think so. Mr. Hewitt’s objective was simple: explore and amplify French support for John Kerry. It was like a cat playing with a mouse he intended to eat, and the mouse thought they were having dancing lessons. Amusing.

“Do you think Chirac’s opposition to the war,” Hugh asked, “was motivated by his connections to Saddam, by kickbacks for oil for food?”

“I don’t think so! You should clean up your own backyard, you know, you helped Saddam get in power with the CIA in 1968. Some French politicians had some connection, some of them had been in Chirac’s party, must admit that, but Donald Rumsfeld went to meet Saddam in 1983 and he gave him killing weapons.”

Said the American bureau chief for Paris Match. He went on to note how the United States armed Saddam. French military assistance? Hardly any.

Regis left but promised to come back at the top of the next hour. I called the family to dinner, served everyone tacos, walked the dog and had the 6 PM cigar. Googled Regis. Ah, of course. I remember him. Go read; I’ll wait.

Regis returned. More of the same. The subject of American anti-French sentiment came up; he was surprised to hear about it, didn’t think there was much of it. Americans are shunning French wines? He had never heard about this. No, no, he doubted it was true. Anyway, any assertions that Chirac was unduly tied to Saddam were baseless, and besides, America armed Saddam.

If I understood the pith of his gist: Anti-Americanism was understandable, given that George Boosh was bent on ruining the world (pauvre Irakis, deprived of pere Saddam). Anti-French sentiment - if such a curious thing existed – would be an irrational response to legitimate criticism. You Americans are so - what's your word? - chauvinistic.

That’s what I inferred, anyway. I got out the super-secret studio hotline number. I had one objective: get this guy to admit that the relationship betweeen France and Saddam was stronger, and much more current and lucrative, then the relationship between the US and Iraq. Then we could move on to really hard problems, such as whether water flows uphill or down.

had two web pages before me: this one and this one. His response: my facts were wrong. My assertions were contradictory. The oil-for-food money went through the Chase Manhattan bank! (Therefore . . . I don’t know; maybe Chase is the new HALLIBURTON. Or maybe it’s a French talking point.) The British set up Iraq in the first place. Nasser. Balfour. Ergo there was no special relationship between Chirac and Saddam.

It’s like saying they couldn’t have been in bed knocking boots last night because they were married in the 70s, and besides the English invaded India in the 19th century.

On it went. The Iraqi nuclear reactor that France sold to Saddam? Couldn’t have made bombs, oh no. The special artillery pieces France designed for Saddam to use in the Iran-Iraq war? Change the subject to put them in the context of Nasser’s Pan-Arab movement and the courting of the Soviet Axis. (At that point I truly wished that God would break His silence and shout NON SEQUITUR! in a voice that shattered windows across the continent.) And so on. Either Regis Bedspring doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he’s lying. And that’s the American bureau chief for Paris Match.

Hugh concluded the second segment by suggesting I walk the dog, collect my thoughts, and write about it here on the Bleat.

“You are a journalist?” said Regis. “I would hope you look at all sides, not one side. What kind of journalist are you? Fox news?”

Better a renard than a chanticleer, monsieur. Better a crafty canine than a braying rooster who thinks he’s responsible for the dawn.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a clear-headed account of the last 20 years of French-American relations, and the ties between Chirac, French oil and defense-industry interests, and Saddam. The book doesn’t attempt to paint the French as some malign force for eeeevil determined to bend the world to its needs – it has more to do with how national self-interests compete and clash, and why the French claim to some sort of moral purpose in their international affairs is a rather vain and foolish boast.

I’m not a French-hater; I love much of their culture. Ravel. Debussy. The great gauzy painters, the stern neo-classical work of Jacques-Louis David. Even Piaf, although after a while you want Patsy Cline to show up and teach her a lesson in getting over it, for God’s sake. I love the architecture, even though it’s the one style that never seemed comfortable when imported to America. The Beaux-Art classical style, sure. But some of the more egregious Second Empire overly puffy stuff always looks like the mansard roofs are having an allergic reaction to shellfish. I’m fascinated by the French Revolution; I just wish they’d taken a page from our experience and hadn’t tumbled into bloodshed, regicide, collectivism and imperial militarism, but hey, to each his own. They have a nice democracy now, a relatively new one, and I hope it works out for them.

In any case, I’ll end this like I ended the exchange with King Bedspring: If Iraq in five years resembles France in 1950 – still rebuilding, but securely on its way to being a free and prosperous society, do you think the Iraqi people will thank? The French, or the Americans?

“I do not understand the analogy,” he said. No, I imagine not. “World War Two was a global war to defeat the Nazis, who had conquered all of Europe. I do not think that al Qaeda had conquered all of Irak.”

Which is what you say when can't answer the question. But I understand; there was something special about World War Two. The allies had the honor of liberating France. How lucky they must have felt; how special.


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