How Anti-American Are the French?

Letter From Paris

It is an old truism, so ancient that it can probably be traced as far back as Aristotle, that politics is not an exact science.  Indeed, we could say of it what Napoleon, who knew a thing or two about politics, once said with admirable concision of the Art of War: that it is “tout d’exécution”—entirely a matter of execution.  What counts, decisively, is not what politicians say but what they do.  But, not being free agents—a truly free human being has never existed—they must, to be successful, adapt themselves to circumstances; and circumstances  have a stubborn way of not obeying the whims of those who assume the right to command them.

The recent tiff between bicentenary allies France and the United States over the attitude that each should adopt toward the Iraq of Saddam Hussein offers—or, perhaps I should say, will one day offer—a classic example of how politicians make things more difficult for themselves and others by pursuing a preset course of action on the assumption that, no matter what the outcome might be, they are in the right and those who dare to disagree with them are in the wrong.  Being persuaded that one is right is, of course, something absolutely visceral, subintellectual, in every human being—the search for certainty being, as Nietzsche so penetratingly understood, the very essence of the human condition.  But the...

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