I am not a French hater – and there is no “but” to that clause. The Wall Street Journal, however, frequently engages in French bashing. The WSJ has also, unintentionally and unknowingly, suggested that the French may act in a manner that would provide a new humorous answer to the old joke that begins: “What is chutzpah?” The context is that the U.S. and New York state authorities are negotiating with BNP Paribas (a very large French bank) to settle a series of felonies involving primarily sanction-busting – and covering up those crimes.
A political movement has arisen in France opposing any U.S. criminal actions against Paribas. Americans will have no difficulty understanding this political dynamic, particularly because our Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to give a total pass to the U.S. officers who led the accounting control frauds that drove the crisis and prosecutes only foreign financial operations. What is remarkable is the WSJ’s suggestion of how the French Prime Minister Hollande might bring French objections personally to the attention of President Obama.
“[A]ny hefty penalty imposed on BNP Paribas could revive trans-Atlantic tensions….”
“Mr. Hollande will meet with President Barack Obama next week during ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day….”
So, let me see whether I have this right. The French goal is to avoid “reviv[ing] trans-Atlantic tensions” and the means of doing so would be for Hollande to complain to Obama about Paribas – on “the 70th anniversary of D-Day.” I’m a strong critic of Hollande, but I don’t think he would display the chutzpah of using the anniversary of the death and grievous wounding of thousands of Americans who stormed the beaches of France to liberate that Nation from Nazi occupation as the time to complain about holding Paribas (mildly) accountable for the crimes of its officers.
If the WSJ’s current staff doesn’t recall these matters they could read what Herbert London wrote in the paper published five years ago: “The Meaning of Bloody Omaha.”
If I am wrong about Hollande and he does have the chutzpah to raise Paribas’ case with Obama I suggest that our President say not a word in response and instead have the Secret Service drive Hollande and Obama to the cemetery above Omaha beach and hand him this excerpt from London’s column.
“There is simply no way to describe the sacrifice Americans made on the D-Day invasion to reclaim Europe from the grip of totalitarianism. Even the notoriously dispassionate Europeans realize that this is consecrated ground, a place where angels spread their wings to honor the deeds of youthful warriors. No St. Crispin speeches were necessary here, for this Band of Brothers knew what need not be stated: They were saving Europe from enslavement.
As a local Normandy resident wrote during the occupation, ‘A German lieutenant said ‘we are your masters.’ Well they were, until the Americans arrived.’”
I don’t think Hollande has forgotten what D-Day was all about, but it appears that the WSJ journalists need a remedial history course if they think Hollande would be so gauche and déclassé as to use the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day to lobby for Paribas. We need to keep in mind that Paribas’ officers have admitted to having collaborated with “totalitarianism” – for the sole, pathetic purpose of maximizing their wealth. Even Vichy did not ally itself with the Nazis for the primary purpose of making its officials wealthy.