Waking up in Paris last week only to find the suave Giscard suddenly aping our president caused me a momentary loss of breath. France's President Valery Giscard d'Estating has made no secret of his contempt for our great leader. He claims he cannot fathom the workings of our president's mind. He is troubled by the violent wiggles in our president's policies. Well, why did the French president scud off to Warsaw to meet with Papa Brezhnev without any prior hint of it to his allies? What could he possibly gain for France that would not be dwarfed by the damage already done to the Western alliance?
Optimists here hoped the Russians might withdraw some of the tools of their trade from Eastern Europe. Perhaps a few aging police dogs might be pulled out of East Berlin and put to sleep. Perhaps some obsolete tanks might be returned to Mother Russia and turned into monuments for the Moscow suburbs. Alas, Giscard got nothing.
His palavers with Brezhev supposedly last five hours. Keep in mind that Brezhnev never does anything for five hours at a time nowadays but sleep. Could Lenin's ancient heir have been dozing when Giscard loosed his solemn admonitions about world peace and Afghanistan? The results achieved by Giscard suggest as much. The spectacle of an earnest Giscard lecturing a somnoient Brezhnev is not all that farfetched. There has been a hint of the absurd about this fellow from the start. I only hope that Brezhnev did not burst into a barrage of snores or knock over any glassware during Giscard's more grandiloquent crescendos.
The French president's public contempt for our president ill befits him. Beneath his well-tailored facade resides a pol composed of many of the same rare alloys. Both were victims of decidedly narrow educations. Carter was trained as some sort of engineer, Giscard some sort of civil servant. Neither is possessed of anything approaching what the French call culture historique . These two test well but understand little. This they have displayed time and again. Their credulity toward the Soviets is a matter of record. Giscard believes that the average Soviet pol only wants more washing machines for his people and reassurances that the ferocious West will remain quiescent. Jimmy insists he has passed this stage.
Amazingly, both of these pols see themselves as being at least part-time intellectuals -- especially at campaign time. Our president regales us with tales of his infatuation with Dylan Thomas, Dostoyevsky, Bob Dylan and classical music. The French president talks of his penchant for lying at night in the feathers, outlining novels as he drifts off to sleep. The French still titter over his confession that he once had to choose between being a great politician and a great novelist -- he mentioned Flaubert!
Perhaps most important, both of these eggheaded pols have enjoyed their domestic political successes by practicing what the French call decrispation , relaxing the political atmosphere. If they understood the Soviets, they would understand why they have failed so ignominiously when they attempted decrispation abroad. That Giscard does not understand the nature of the Soviet system is a prominent concern here in Paris. It explains his chilly reception after Warsaw, especially among the intelligentsia.
Surprisingly, the French intellectuals are probably the most strenuously anti-communist in the Free World. As the pols have moved toward appeasement, the intellectuals have turned anti-communist. Last week in "Le Point," Georges Suffert emphasized the intellectuals' anti-communism and suspicions of socialism in reviewing two important intellectual reviews, "Commentaire" and "Le Debat." And Jean Francois of "L-Express" declares that the intellectual left is now anti-communist: "In the past two or three years, leftwing intellectuals have realized that communism is not left but right."
The change is colossal. In the 1950s one could scarcely be published if one were discourteous to the Soviets' happy land. When Kravchenko was impolite toward Stalin in "I Chose Freedom," he was duty sued by an indignant French Communist Party. Today Parisian book stores abound with books about Red atrocities around the globe. Georges Liebert of the Robert Laffont publishing house insists that communist dissidents are treated more hospitably in Paris than anywhere else, but he laments that "today it is the political class that collaborates with the totalitarian left." Apparently the pols are always a decade behind the intellectuals.
Oliver Todd, until 1973 a North Vietnamese sympathizer, views Giscard's trip as "a major betrayal of the West." Todd believes Giscard expects a grateful Brezhnev will persuade the French Communist Party to make Giscard's reelection easier. The damage done the Western alliance was already made nearly irreparable by the present American government. Giscard believes -- moreover, he thinks -- he can deal with Brezhnev; all the old fellow wants is washing machines.
Tsk tsk. Give the Soviets 10 million washing machines and Brezhnev will put guns on them. It took Jimmy Carter three years to learn this (though he remains without a prudent rejoinder); the suave Giscard has already had six. Who should be contemptuous of whom.?