BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. French obstructionism on the American war march to Baghdad has had predictable reactions in the U.S. press -- the term "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" has been invoked, for instance. And with the future of the NATO alliance perhaps hanging in the balance, says Martin Walker of United Press International. Some European editorialists have also succumbed to French-bashing.
MARTIN WALKER: I was particularly struck by a long column in the Daily Telegraph this week by Boris Johnson who's a British member of Parliament and also editor of the weekly The Spectator. The way he puts it is "If I were Tony Blair, I'd be feeling really rather grateful to the French this week, because the British press has dropped its concerns in favor of that time-honored staple of the British journalist --the orgy of 'Frog-bashing.' You know the kind of articles. They involve references to Vichy, tanks with reverse gears, garlic-guzzling peasants, women of loose morals cozying up to German occupiers, and they usually end with the cry 'and those Frenchmen eat our children's ponies!'" That is pretty much the blizzard of abuse that the French have been getting in the British press, and the French have been really, I think, really quite mature about, about it. Liberation, the left-wing French daily, said "What we are witnessing now is simply the old American cocktail of missionary zeal and crude realpolitik. We've been there before, and we'll be there again."
BOB GARFIELD:I want to turn to the Arab world for a moment. Much of the editorial commotion in the last two weeks has been in the wake of Secretary Powell's dramatic presentation to the United Nations in which he attempted to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein is flouting the UN resolution on disarmament. And the attention in the press in, in the West has been well -did the secretary make his case? - but not so in the Arab press.
MARTIN WALKER: Absolutely not. The Arab press has been focusing upon another speech of Colin Powell's altogether and that was the one which he delivered to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he said that the invasion of Iraq is aimed, I quote, "at re-shaping the Middle East region in a positive way that will enhance American interests." Now the Arab press has gone absolutely crazy over this. They see it as a return to that moment in 1918 when the British and French carved up the Middle East between them with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. In Beirut's As-Safir, an editorial by the publisher Atal Al Salman [sp?] who is a very, very respected figure cites the speech by Colin Powell. "The tragedy is our leaders are now reduced to appeasing Washington at any cost. Therefore they deferred in a discussion of Iraq until they had reassured themselves that they had regained Washington's approval. It is extraordinary that no Arab leader has even considered visiting Baghdad to mediate in the crisis. They are becoming servile to Washington to an extraordinary degree."
BOB GARFIELD:Do you get any sense from reading these editorials that they are reacting to the threat of American imperialism per se, or maybe the fundamentalist threat should the democracy at the ballot box overturn existing regimes and open the Pandora's box of Islamism?
MARTIN WALKER: Well I, I think it's a bit of both. I think certainly there is genuine alarm throughout the, the more liberal Arab press of the implications of, of democracy and, and the extraordinary popularity of people like Osama bin Laden in much of the Arab world. But there's also this, this traditional Arab rejection of being told what to do by the outsiders from the West.
WOMAN: One last thing, Martin. I want to ask you about the Osama bin Laden tape. Some in the West and in the Western press have interpreted his remarks as the final evidence that there is some sort of connection between Al Qaeda and the Saddam Hussein regime. In Europe I gather they've drawn different conclusions?
MARTIN WALKER: Well they have, except for one or two conservative newspapers like the Daily Telegraph in, in Britain which does see it as pretty conclusive. In Russia the Nezavisimaja Gazeta thought it was as bit of a conspiracy theory. "After a 3 month silence, Terrorist Number One has once again spoken to the world. Observers note a number of curious coincidences. This unfortunate cassette appeared at the height of the trans-Atlantic arguments over Iraq. Colin Powell appeared to have it even before Al Jazeera." In Austria's Der Standard: "Nobody in Europe, not even the closest ally, Britain, is following America's reasoning that Iraq is planning to arm Al Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction. It's frivolous to exploit this fear, and thus to define the Iraq crisis in populist fashion as a showdown between the Western and Islamic cultures."
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Martin, once again -- thanks very much!
MARTIN WALKER: Thank you!
BOB GARFIELD: Martin Walker is the chief correspondent for United Press International. [MUSIC]