Commentary: Lafayette, we are so embarrassed
Thirty-six American cities and towns are named after the Marquis de Lafayette -- the best-known being Fayetteville, N.C., and Lafayette, La. Countless streets, parks and counties also honor the French aristocrat who left his country at age 19 to enlist with George Washington in the American Revolution. (There's also Lafayette College in Easton, Penn.) Many other American locales bear the name of La Grange, Lafayette's chateau in France. LaGrange, Ga., comes to mind. Fighting for the democratic ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, Lafayette became an American general and hero. At Lafayette's funeral in Paris, soil from Bunker Hill was dropped on the coffin. When U.S. Col. Charles Stanton arrived in Paris with American troops in 1917, he visited the gravesite, saluted the American flag beside it and famously announced, "Lafayette, we are here!"
U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. and NATO allies in Afghanistan, shared no such grace or generosity toward his French comrades in arms. The Rolling Stone article that ended his career opens with McChrystal making a gruesome scene in Paris. He's throwing a tantrum over having to attend a fancy dinner aimed at persuading the French to keep their forces in Afghanistan. "The dinner comes with the position, Sir," his chief of staff tells him. To which McChrystal responds, "Hey, Charlie, does this come with the position?" and extends a middle finger.
The following night in Paris, the McChrystal entourage goes to an Irish pub. There they drunkenly make fun of the allied soldiers and break into an Afghani wedding dance while singing their "Afghanistan song." Mercifully, none of this ended up on YouTube -- although it could have.
The list of McChrystal's vulgar attacks on the administration was long and appalling. But President Obama was reportedly even more incensed by the contempt shown America's allies, above all the French.
Unlike most Europeans in Afghanistan, the French have done serious fighting -- at the cost of more than 40 soldiers' lives. (The biggest French unit, located in Kapisa Province, is named Brigade La Fayette.)
Just last October, Stars and Stripes reported that "the French military is going toe-to-toe with the Taliban, shedding blood and proving a worthy partner in Afghanistan," according to U.S. officers. French marines were tasked with calming the Tagab Valley, a place the Soviets couldn't pacify in the 1980s. The article quotes one American solider saying that he liked patrolling with the French because "they roll out heavy." The first French soldier landed in Afghanistan within three months of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America. A poll taken right after the terrorist outrage showed 96 percent of the French public "in solidarity" with the United States.
Nonetheless, when France refused to go along with the Iraq War, yahoos in Congress forced the House of Representatives cafeteria to change the name of French fries to freedom fries. (Three years ago, the old name was restored.) Dimwits in the U.S. media ridiculed the French as cowards.
When it comes to facing down terrorism, the French have been tougher than most. And so why do American leaders become so deranged on those occasions when the French see their national interests as other than ours? An outbreak of American buffoonery toward the French seems never far below surface. McChrystal, the Rolling Stone piece said, resented playing the diplomat, though that's part of the job. He also hated going to posh Parisian restaurants with candles on the table. Well, suck it up, general. Lafayette had his differences with Gen. Washington, but in his public comments, he never offered anything other than the highest praise for the founding father. Lafayette, we are embarrassed.
Froma Harrop's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.