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Gary Younge
Wimps, weasels and monkeys - the US media view of 'perfidious France'

Welcome to Europe, as viewed through the eyes of American commentators and newspapers yesterday, as Euro-bashing, and particularly anti-French sentiment, reached new heights. In a barrage of insults and invective which ranged from the basest tabloid rants to the loftiest columnists on the most respected newspapers, European-led resistance to America's war plans in Iraq was portrayed not as a diplomatic position to be negotiated as a genetic weakness in the European mindset which makes them reluctant to fight wars and incapable of winning them.

The front page of Rupert Murdoch's New York Post yesterday shows the graves of Normandy with the headline: "They died for France but France has forgotten." "Where are the French now, as Americans prepare to put their soldiers on the line to fight today's Hitler, Saddam Hussein?" asks the pugnacious columnist Steve Dunleavy. "Talking appeasement. Wimping out. How can they have forgotten?" A cartoon in the same paper shows an ostrich with its head in the sand below the words: "The national bird of France."

If such language is proving a headache for the diplomats, then spare a thought for the French translators, who have struggled for words to convey the full force of the venom. "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys" - a phrase coined by Bart Simpson but made acceptable in official diplomatic channels around the globe by Jonah Goldberg, a columnist for the rightwing weekly National Review (according to Goldberg) - was finally rendered: " Primates capitulards et toujours en quête de fromages ". And the New York Post's "axis of weasel" lost much of its venom when translated as a limp " axe de faux jetons " (literally, "axis of devious characters").

American wrath has been reserved for those nations which oppose their leadership, particularly following the decision to oppose shifting Nato resources to Turkey. "Three countries - France, Germany and their mini-me minion, Belgium - have moved from opposition to US policy toward Iraq into formal, and consequential obstructionism," argued the Wall Street Journal in an editorial yesterday. "If there is a war [the Turks] will face the danger of direct attack that is not feared in the chocolate shops of Brussels." The front page of the National Review blares "Putsch" with a sub-headline: "How to defeat the Franco-German power grab."

While the jibes may be puerile, the possibility that the Bush administration and commercial outlets might follow them up with punitive measures has struck some as pernicious. An ad, due to come out soon, shows three German-made cars, including an Audi and a BMW, driving towards the camera with a voice saying: "Do you really want to buy a German car?"

If there has been any European country that has attracted more contempt than others, it is France. In the Wall Street Journal, Christopher Hitchens described Jacques Chirac as "a positive monster of conceit _ the abject procurer for Saddam ... the rat that tried to roar". In the Washington Post, George Will opined that the "oily" foreign affairs minister, Dominique de Villepin, had launched France into "an exercise for which France has often refined its savoir-faire since 1870, which is to say retreat - this time into incoherence".

And in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman argued that France should be removed from the security council and be replaced with India: "India is just so much more serious than France these days. France is so caught up with its need to differentiate itself from America to feel important, it's become silly." The Wall Street Journal editor, Max Boot, argues: "France has been in decline since, oh, about 1815, and it isn't happy about it." What particularly galls the Gauls is that their rightful place in the world has been usurped by the gauche Americans."

At its ugliest, the transatlantic bile is becoming increasingly personal. When France Inter radio's correspondent in Washington, Laurence Simon, started to explain her government's position to Fox News (owned by Murdoch) she was interrupted by the presenter. "With friends like you, who needs enemies," she was told as she was taken off air.

The following was printed the Guardian's Corrections and Clarifications column, Thursday February 13 2002

The description of the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" was not coined by Bart Simpson. It comes from the Simpsons character Groundskeeper Willie, the Scottish immigrant who takes care of custodial matters at the elementary school.

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