- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

Oo-la-la. The french-fries war must be over. And woe to those who utter the phrase “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”

The Congressional French Caucus has come to town, the brainchild of Rep. Amo Houghton, who announced its existence Wednesday during a luncheon with French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte and former French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur.

Over the salmon, beef and fancy sorbet at the ambassador’s residence, the New York Republican explained that it was time to make nice.

“It’s no secret that relations between the United States and France have been less than ideal,” Mr. Houghton told his lunch mates, who included New York Times writer Thomas Friedman and the National Review’s Michael Ledeen.

“The purpose here is to bring people together. Both countries need to clear up misunderstandings between our two great nations,” Mr. Houghton said.

And what misunderstandings.

Back in February, France resolutely opposed American use of military force in Iraq. Many Americans said they would boycott French products, and there were accusations of French ingratitude toward the Americans, who saved France from Germany in two world wars.

The French government counterattacked, accusing the Bush administration of an “organized campaign of disinformation” that accused France of aiding Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican and chairman of the Committee on House Administration, ordered Capitol dining facilities to rename their french fries “freedom fries” and their French toast “freedom toast,” calling the change “a small but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France.”

He was acting on a suggestion by Rep. Walter B. Jones, a North Carolina Republican vexed by France’s “self-serving politics of passive aggression.”

Ill will continued. The New York Post declared the French members of an “axis of weasels,” and for many Americans, the French became “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” a phrase borrowed from Fox television’s “The Simpsons.”

But the lawmakers are bidding adieu to all that. As of yesterday, 26 House and Senate members — 16 Republicans and 10 Democrats — had signed on for Mr. Houghton’s French-friendly caucus, including Mr. Ney.

Mr. Houghton says he just wants a return of civility between France and America. The informal caucus will work closely with the “U.S. Friendship Committee,” a counterpart in the French National Assembly and Senate.

He has some background in the delicate dance between the countries. Mr. Houghton’s father was U.S. ambassador to France from 1957 to 1961 under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“Sentiment goes up and down on this issue. It’s also too early to tell what the reaction is going to be,” Bob Van Wicklin, Mr. Houghton’s spokesman, said yesterday. “This is an effort to make progress. It’s a forward-looking thing.”

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