- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003

Forty years ago on Nov. 22, a series of shots rang out in Dallas that sent countless millions into mourning around the world — including throngs of people in Paris, where I was working at the time.

The shots left President Kennedy dead and Texas Gov. John Connally seriously wounded. With all the myths and legends that now surround John F. Kennedy and the Camelot that some saw being created in Washington, Kennedy was facing a very tough campaign for re-election and had traveled to Texas to try forge some unity in a bitterly divided state Democratic Party.

In fact, Kennedy was much more popular overseas than he was in the United States, much as Tony Blair is seen as a hero here but is barely surviving politically back home in England.

And nowhere was Kennedy more popular than in France, where he and his wife Jacqueline had charmed Parisians from President Charles de Gaulle to the corner butcher.

Kennedy had so impressed the French that when he sent an envoy to Paris to seek support during the Cuban missile crisis that de Gaulle, when asked if he wanted to see photographic evidence, responded: “The word of the American president is sufficient.”

It is inconceivable that any European leader would now answer in the same fashion to the current resident of the White House.

On the day after the assassination, as the only Americans many of our neighbors knew, we were overwhelmed by the expressions of sympathy, pain and loss voiced by the French folk around us as well as expatriates from other nations around the world.

More recently, on September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were hit by airliners used as weapons by terrorists, the television shots from Paris showed as many people crying and stunned into shock on the streets of Paris as in Washington.

From time to time, I compare that response to the blase attitude in most American newsrooms when Paris was rocked by a lethal wave of terrorist bombings in the 1980s and again the 1990s. That coolness in newspapers and news broadcasts meant few Americans realized how badly the French had been wounded.

Still, the French cared about our suffering, as did most Europeans immediately after September 11. It is the defining achievement of President Bush and his administration that they have turned this sympathy into complete antipathy — a feeling that may endure for decades and plague future U.S. presidents.

The history of U.S.-French relations shows the French have liked and admired Americans on a continuing basis.

American presidents from Texas, however, are now viewed with abiding suspicion. They see Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam, the first President Bush and the Persian Gulf war, and the second President Bush and Afghanistan and Iraq.

Three for three to them adds up to a certain mind-set on how to deal with other nations.

There seems to be a debate going on as to whether this President Bush is uneducated or merely undereducated, but both sides agree he shows a dig-in-his-heels stubbornness against doing anything to rectify the situation. The fear is that, however nice a man he may be, his lack of curiosity about the world around him and his lack of knowledge in general make him an easy target for manipulation by persons with their own agendas to pursue, agendas that may not be good for Mr. Bush personally or for the United States as a nation.

I have heard his foreign policy described as merely a war policy that best serves to enrich a circle of cronies in the petroleum and related industries, and his domestic policies as tax cuts that further enrich the same people — with a few bells and whistles added to entice the emerging “investing class” into voting for him.

The tariff on steel in defiance of the World Trade Organization along with the series of withdrawals from and rejections of treaty obligations are seen as part and parcel of an unwillingness to be a responsible player on the world stage but rather an ambition to turn the United States into a rogue country in the international community.

One can only hope the bitterness now on display on both sides of the Atlantic can somehow be eased and then overcome, and that the long trail of strong and amicable ties binding the United States and France can again be reached; that the word of an American president will again be trusted.

A first step would be to get rid of the disdain and arrogance now displayed in both nations and a mutual recognition we all would be better off with each other as friends than as antagonists at each others’ throats.

Stroube Smith is a copy editor for The Washington Times and a free-lance writer.


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