In a stirring, “patriotic” gesture to show support for President Bush’s pending invasion of Iraq and disdain for French opposition to it, two conservative Congressmen — Bob Ney of Ohio and Walter Jones from North Carolina--have seen to it that the cafeterias in congressional office buildings cease serving French fries and French toast. From this day forward, those same dishes will be labeled “freedom fries” and “freedom toast.” The Congressmen’s disdain for France was concisely expressed by Ney: “Over the years, France has enjoyed all of the benefits of an alliance with the United States, and all our nation has received in return is a trade deficit and a cry for help when their appeasement efforts fail. This action today is a small, but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France.” Ney also implied that France should be more grateful for its liberation by U.S. forces during World War II.

Well, Congressman Ney is at least right about one thing — their effort is small. Their recall of history is pretty thin too. For starters, we’d all be saluting the Union Jack even today if the French army and navy hadn’t won our war of independence for us at the battle of Yorktown. We might forgive the Congressmen a bit here because this fact is glossed over in most American history books. But the Congressmen can be forgiven less for not remembering that the beneficiaries of that French aid — the nation’s founders — were leery of the kind of flag-waving overseas military interventionism that they trumpet. James Madison perhaps said it best:

    Of all the enemies of liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies. From these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, debts and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. . . No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

In short, the founders believed that staying out of other countries’ business prevented needless bloodshed and safeguarded liberties at home. That line of reasoning makes as much sense now as it did then — especially when a president is about to launch an attack on another Islamic nation, which will most likely result in more retaliatory terrorism and, as a consequence, a further constriction of civil liberties at home. What makes America unique and different from authoritarian nations, such as Iraq, is the liberties — for example, the right to disagree with government policy — of which Madison speaks.

So the moniker for “freedom fries” turns out to be . . . well, rather Orwellian. The Congressmen are also hazy on the history of those fries. Turns out, they originated in Belgium. So maybe we should instead eat “freedom pastries” or “freedom bread” or pucker up for “freedom kissing.”

And why are the Congressmen picking on France anyway? U.S. plans to conduct an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation are roundly unpopular all over the world. Eighty percent of Turks oppose a U.S. attack on Iraq, and Turkey’s parliament is reluctant to authorize a U.S. attack from Turkish soil. So I guess we’ll need to be drying ourselves with “freedom towels.” What about China and Russia? They too are unhappy with the bellicose U.S. policy and could also, like the French, veto a U.N. resolution authorizing war. Looks like we’ll need to play “freedom checkers” and eat “freedom dressing.” The United States is already playing “freedom roulette” by starting a war with unpredictable and potentially destabilizing effects throughout the Middle East.

And let’s not forget about those Germans. After all, they are conspirators with the French and Belgians in the “Axis of Old Europe.” The German Chancellor has been the first, the loudest, and the most firm critic of U.S. war plans. It’s “freedom potato salad” and “freedom chocolate cake” for dinner tonight. And, of course, if we didn’t get the Belgians’ goat with the “freedom fries,” we can simply eat "freedom waffles."

It’s beginning to look like we are faced with the unpalatable alternative of eating only English food. After all, with the rest of the world hostile to U.S. Iraqi policy, this seems to be the only politically correct alternative. And we may even have to speak “freedom” (now this is really Orwellian) if the unpopularity of the war in England forces Tony Blair to order British forces not to participate in the assault.

I, for one, readily admit that Saddam is a tyrant, and I would stop using something with “Iraq” (or even “Mesopotamia”) in the label if it would defuse the rush to an absurd, unneeded, and dangerous war. But I can’t think of anything. Unfortunately for us all, President Bush apparently can’t either.