In this time of giving thanks, I find myself filled with gratitude for having been born American. And not French. (For me, a close call: My parents were French citizens at the time of my birth, and French was my first language.) Why not French?
We Americans could easily compare ourselves to, say, Argentina, another New World republic blessed with extraordinary natural and cultural resources, but which through colossal political mismanagement squandered its wealth and opportunity.
Or to Canada, endowed like us with a vibrant democracy, a British political heritage, and a piece of this blessedly isolated and fruitful continent, but which has never been able to throw off its inferiority complex regarding the giant next door.
No, the real comparison that we ought to make is to France. Partly because we began our experiments in republican government -- models for the rest of the world -- at almost precisely the same time (the year of our Constitution was the year of their Revolution). But mainly because the French seem to insist upon measuring themselves against us.
For the past 50 years they have insisted on making themselves the great Western dissenter to American greatness, the counterpoint to American dominance. The would-be East-West triangulator during the Cold War has now metamorphosed into a rallier of those disgruntled at the prospect of yet another American century.
I wouldn't be picking on the French if they didn't take such delight in zinging the United States. Just three weeks ago, President Chirac delivered an address with a dozen subtle and not-so-subtle pokes at the United States, practically defining human progress as "moving toward a more balanced . . . distribution of power" in the world -- meaning, diminishing America's.
A day earlier, Chirac's foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, delivered a speech lamenting with equal subtlety American hegemony: "We cannot accept either a politically unipolar world, nor a culturally uniform world, nor the unilateralism of a single hyperpower." Note: Not superpower but "hyperpower," a typically barbed neologism that conjures up the image of some cartoonishly muscle-bound Schwarzenegger nation set to implode from its own gigantism. (In France's popular satirical TV puppet show, "Les Guignols de l'Info," the United States is represented by Rambo.)
In the holiday spirit, however, I might have given my Francophobia a rest if the French Embassy had not faxed me a copy of an article in the current World Policy Journal, "Life After Pax Americana," by Professor Charles Kupchan. It came heavily underlined and starred. Highlighted were such passages as "the waning of unipolarity" and "new power centers are emerging" and "America's protective umbrella will slowly retract" and "a global landscape in which power and influence are more equally distributed looms ahead" and "The key challenge . . . [is] weaning Europe and East Asia of their excessive dependence on the current hegemon."
And who might that be? "The United States."
I might note that Kupchan's argument -- i.e., the part in between the highlighted and starred passages to which the ever-helpful French wanted to draw my attention -- is quite substantial and subtle. But the French Embassy (aware that, since my 1990 Foreign Affairs article on the subject, I have long advanced the notion of a "unipolar" world) wanted to put me on notice that my cherished "unipolar moment" was about to draw to a close.
Typically wishful thinking for a country that has spent the last half-century living on fantasies of its lost "grandeur." One can feel for the French. After all, their decline has not been pretty, with their empire, their power, even their language (once the second tongue of the world's educated elites) all in rapid retreat. And even worse, with the Anglo-Saxon barbarian in ascent.
But to understand is not to forgive, helas. Thus provoked, I continue:
Oh, to have been born to a nation that at the time of its great revolution produced a Madison instead of a Robespierre.
To have been born to a republic that amid its great mid-19th century crisis produced Lincoln instead of the comical Napoleon III.
To have been born to a people that in the first invasion of Nazi-held territory -- Operation Torch, the 1942 allied invasion of North Africa -- were firing in on the Nazis rather than out on the allies. One can almost see "Casablanca's" Captain Renault half-heartedly ordering a cannon or two fired on allied ships in order to please Major Strasser, and then welcoming the Americans and the British ashore when the unpleasantness was over.
Praise the Lord. Pass the turkey. Vive l'Amerique.