But durn it, turns out we guessed wrong. At the beginning of the second paragraph, they give you the surprise answer: "We are talking about France."
Uh...France? Look, nobody enjoys giving the Frogs a good kicking more than the eXile, but an American newspaper claiming that "[France's] intellectual class is now dominated by think-alikes who rarely challenge officialdom" is like a cocker spaniel calling a pack of timber wolves "wimps." French intellectuals are a pain in the ass, but docile they are not. In fact, they say "no" instinctively to any assertion at all, and will not hesitate to deny that we even exist if the proposition is put forth. That's their whole schtick. You can't call them official stooges. The stooges are all under contract to American newspapers and TV. This is so obvious, such a bizarre flip-flop on reality, that the purveyor would be straighjacketed if he tried to get away with it in front of a professionally trained doctor, rather than a WSJ editor.
And what did the WSJ mean by that bit about Chirac "brook[ing] no dissent"? Compared to Bush and Ashcroft, Chirac is a bland, tolerant Quaker.
It just gets crazier and crazier. The WSJ says that Chirac "...enjoys popularity in direct proportion to his outspokenness against America." In other words: everybody in France thought the Iraq invasion was a crazy idea and were pleased that their President said what they were thinking. How exactly does that prove that France is going to les chiens? Isn't that how the whole "representative democracy" thing is supposed to work? And, er--not to say anything unpatriotic, but um, haven't the French been proved absolutely right about Iraq?
The WSJ follows up its revelation about France with an even funnier, crazier description of Russia. Yup, it seems that Russia might one day become just as messed-up as France: "We are talking about France. But one day soon this could easily be Russia...." Yeah, that's what makes Russians wake up screaming: the nightmare that unless they're careful, Russia might someday end up just like France, a first world nation with good food, 35 hour workweeks and real beaches. That's why you hear a lot about Russians trying to sneak into France and get citizenship, while you almost never hear about French people hiding in the trunks of Zhigulis, trying to sneak into Russia.
Only one of the WSJ's claims about Russia and France is true: that their leaders get more popular the more anti-American they become. However, that applies to nearly every country in the world, from Canada to Malaysia, these days. Only one leader has stood by Bush - Tony Blair - and his ratings have accordingly plunged from 60-something approvals to the low 30s, and falling.
The WSJ, apparently worried that its fulltimers might not be barking mad enough, has taken to using hired psychos willing to rant freelance on the pages of the Journal. And none of these crazies is more utterly deranged than our friend Vladimir Socor. Socor's an old favorite of Moscow expat press-watchers, and was featured in an eXile press review last year. His one gimmick is Russophobia. But that's like saying that Andy Roddick's one gimmick is his serve. Socor is the incarnation of Russophobia, its avatar, the supreme expression of it.
Socor's latest work, an essay published in the WSJ a few days before the France/Russia editorial, may be his best and craziest ever. Even the title makes your jaw drop in sheer wonder: "Standing up to Putin's Imperial Ambitions." The thesis is that a too-trusting, too-gentle America is in danger of being overwhelmed by an aggressive, imperialistic Russia.
No, seriously. That's Socor's thesis.
Socor's evidence is that Russia is actually negotiating with several former Soviet states on its borders: "In a vast stretch of the former Soviet Union, from Belarus and Ukraine to Central Asia, Mr. Putin is now setting up a trading and monetary bloc of six countries under leadership from Moscow."