Writing at the Washington Post, Dana Milbank mocks Republicans who are criticizing President Obama’s absence from the Paris unity rally, noting that “A decade ago, Republicans in Congress were renaming French fries ‘freedom fries’ and French toast ‘freedom toast’ because of that country’s refusal to support the Iraq war.”
Jonah Goldberg takes issue with the premise that only Republicans are upset by the no show, and he has a point. But I think the larger problem is the suggestion that rallying to France today somehow constitutes hypocrisy.
First, of course, things change. A decade ago, when France had backed out of supporting the war in Iraq, it made a certain amount of sense to resent that. Today, in the wake of a terrorist attack, it makes a certain amount of sense to embrace them. As situations on the ground change, our reaction changes. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” This is called nuance, not hypocrisy.
But that’s even if you assume the narrative that Bush-era Republicans universally hated France — and mocked all things French.
Consider this from Carl Cannon:
No matter what Obama says now, 2004 was a watershed year for French-American cooperation in every area of mutual interest other than Iraq. Acting bilaterally, the two governments worked together to liberate Lebanon from the yoke of Syrian occupation. Moreover, as Bush would remind his aides, there was Afghanistan, where the French did, indeed, send troops. Try telling the families of the 86 French soldiers who lost their lives there alongside American fighting men and women that the two countries weren’t cooperating.
Cannon continues, adding this terrific recollection (which was largely overshadowed by the death of Ronald Reagan):
In June 2004, at the 60th anniversary of D-Day, he presented 99 such medals to Americans and three Australians at a ceremony in Paris. The next day, on a sun-kissed afternoon on the bluffs above the beach, Bush gave one of the more eloquent speeches of his presidency.
It ended with this passage:
“When the invasion was finally over, and the guns were silent, this coast, we are told, was lined for miles with the belongings of the thousands who fell. There were lifebelts and canteens and socks and K-rations and helmets and diaries and snapshots. And there were Bibles, many Bibles, mixed with the wreckage of war. Our boys had carried in their pockets the book that brought into the world this message: ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’
“America honors all the liberators who fought here in the noblest of causes,” he added, “and America would do it again for our friends. May God bless you.”
At the words “America would do it again for our friends,” Bush looked at Chirac. The day before, the tension between them at a joint press conference was palpable. Now it was gone. Chirac approach Bush and took both of Bush’s hands in his own and held them tightly.
The right thing to do, it seems to me, would have been to send a high-ranking administration official to stand with our friends and allies at this important, if symbolic, moment. Woody Allen famously said 80 percent of life is just showing up. Somebody tell Obama.