French Imperialism

The French Empire, which runs through much of Africa and extends to various other parts of the world, has been rather active lately. It’s remarkable how little attention French imperialism garners. I guess it’s Chirac’s accent vs. Bush’s. That must be it.

7 Responses to “French Imperialism”

  1. Tobias Heinrich

    I am actually unsure if Chirac has ever publically spoken of the USA in the context of imperialism (or vice versa). Hegemony, yes. Unipolarity, yes. But imperialism? I don’t think so.
    Rather conservative authors (most prominently, Niall Ferguson) would argue however that some country taking “responibility” for a failed African state can be considered a good thing. The example he gives in “Colossus” is, that the best thing that could happen to Liberia is for the USA to “take responsibility” for it.
    Since I am not entirely sure how libertarian ideas translate into international politics – what’s the libertarian approach towards failed states? “Unleashing” the forces of markets is surely an element of it, but how do you erect the necessary institutions or rid the areas of warlords, mobs, and other thugs? How do you deal – if so – with the somewhat arbitrarily drawn borders? Etc.
    A phrase whose author I forgot comes to mind, “Democracy in order to succeed needs conditions that it itself cannot create”.
    – Toby

  2. Brian Radzinsky

    As much as my angry and frequently silenced neo-conservative inner child hates me to say it, freedom is one of those things that can’t be easily exported, nor should it be. When the President proclaims that “freedom is on the march,” I really can’t help but cringe. And while it seems advantageous for the US to have a strategic foothold in the Middle East, it is not our place, like it isn’t France’s, to decide the fate of nations who don’t ask for our help. We can show them the way, but they must take the steps to get there.

  3. Tom G. Palmer

    Interesting comments. In response to Tobias, I didn’t mean to imply that Jacques Chirac had accused George Bush of being an imperialist. It’s just that the same people who become so upset about U.S. foreign policy are usually remarkably quiet about French military adventurism and imperialism in Africa. I find the silence odd. As to what to do with regard to “failed states,” we might ask several questions: Why did they fail? Is great power (or even medium power) intervention likely to make things better? Are there alternatives to intervention? Overall, I’d have to say that the history of French imperialism in Africa has been remarkably malignant and that French interventionsim in Africa continues to be malign. The case of Ivory Coast presents a strong case of how the French military has — overall — made things worse. Private security firms, such as Global Security, could have done a better job of producing security in the country than has the French government, as I have been told by Ivoirian exiles.

    I agree with the thrust of Mr. Radzinsky’s remarks, but I think that I would put it a bit differently. I do hope that “freedom is on the march” and I’m quite unapologetic about saying that equal rights for women, for example, is a good thing and that regimes and systems that oppress women should be changed or eliminated. It does not follow, however, that the goodness of such changes warrants military intervention from outside, nor that the citizens/taxpayers of the U.S. (or of other countries) have an obligation to devote their treasure or lives to liberating the oppressed in other countries. I remind myself, however, that questioning military intervention is compatible with (and may even be implied by) the goodness or rightness of equal liberty and the rule of law.

  4. Tom:

    On this point, I had a long conversation during the 1980s about French imperialism of this type with a French leftist at the University of Wisconsin. He was very support of our efforts against U.S. imperialism but suddenly became very defensive and jingoistic when I criticized France for doing the same thing in Africa. At the time, of course, the Socialists were in power in France.

  5. Vota Nointe

    The French in Cote d’Ivoire act under the mandate of the UN and also under a unanimous mandate of the African Union. This and the case of America being in Iraq are quite distinct and have nothing whatever to do with each other.

  6. Tom G. Palmer

    Vota Nointe has pointed to important differences between French military intervention into Africa and U.S. military intervention into Iraq. There are others, as well, such as that no one argued that Cote d’Ivoire was a threat to France, while many argued (incorrectly, in my opinion, or at least in a way that greatly exaggerated the threat) that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a threat to the U.S.

    What is striking is that the French government has troops and its fingers all over Africa, without a peep from the “anti-imperialists” in Europe. Not one peep, even though it is widely believed that the French government was deeply involved in provoking and encouraging the genocide in Rwanda that killed some 800,000 people. (See the charge by Rwandan president Kagame in and the information from Philip Gourevitch in his book “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families” at .)

    I repeat my question: Why is French iperialism, which has arguably led to the killings of millions of Africans just over the past decade, immune to criticism? I’m not interested in justifying American military intervention on the grounds that “the French do it, too,” but I am led to believe that the “anti-imperilists” who march against the U.S. at the drop of a hat are not at all anti-war or anti-imperialism; they are simply anti-American. No doubt some will assume that if you’re not “anti-American,” then you must be “pro-American,” and that that must mean supporting U.S. military intervention. Of course, none of that follows. I’m generally against military intervention (except to track down and capture or kill the people who attacked the World Trade Center, for example), but that doesn’t make me anti-American. I think that Jacques Chirac is a completely corrupt and arrogant disgrace who should be in jail (his record as Mayor of Paris is less than, shall we say, one of honesty), but that doesn’t make me anti-French. (In fact, I’m rather a francophile.) The French government is one of the most malevolent forces on the planet, but the French people, French culture, and the French language are wonderful. It’s their government that has, in general, managed to do evil while deflecting attention from itself by being stridently anti-American. From murdering the crew of the Rainbow Warrior to doing a great deal of business with Saddam Hussein, including covering up the diversion of money from the “Oil for Food” program into the “Oil for Palaces and Secret Police” program, to looking the other way to sales of French arms to Saddam’s regime, to arming and encouraging the racist Hutu killers in Rwanda, the French government has shown itself to be arrogant, murderous, and … immune to criticism. Where is Michel Moore where he is truly needed?