Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Our allies the French?

In two or three discussion groups over the last several years, I have been extremely critical of the French. I’m not ready to withdraw my criticisms totally, but I’ll at least hold them in abeyance while Sarkozy is president – probably. I like Sarkozy, and he hasn’t exhibited any signs of that unpleasant French disease, Gaulism.

French troops in Afghanistan??? Joined to an operation lead by the U.S.???? Horrors! De Gaulle will be rolling over in his grave. What do all the anti-American Frenchmen think of that? A Guardian article, implies not much: “Calls for pullout have so far come only from the extremes of the political spectrum – the Communist party and the leader of the far-right National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen. . . .”

Charles de Gaulle didn’t at all like the situation after World War II. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were the only two powers left standing (if we don’t count the British). De Gaulle was ambitious for France. He wanted to regain the colonies lost during the war. He didn’t like the American umbrella over Western Europe during the Cold War, he wanted France to be in charge of or at least consulted about all European matters. He wanted France to be a counterbalance to the U.S. in the West. Later the Gaulist, Chirac , sought to make the EU a counterbalance to the U.S. in the West. All such attempts failed. Not only could the French not afford de Gaulle’s and Chirac’s grandiose schemes, their anti-American stance wasn’t universally popular in France itself. Many in France appreciated American help during World War II. There are many Americans in well-kept graves in France.

Chirac continued the De Gaulle enterprise. Perhaps his last gasp was his opposition to the U.S. in regard to Iraq. He had a brief victory and prevented U.N. approval of the resumption of the Iraq war, but by fighting against the Islamists in the Middle East, the U.S. was once again fighting France’s battles for them. I criticized France in a number of notes in various discussion groups over the years. I said things that were consistent with what Sarkozy now says: “Sarkozy said he had no regrets about sending more troops to Afghanistan earlier this year, a decision which was deeply controversial in France. The news of the deaths provoked uproar at home with Socialist opposition politicians calling for a ‘review’ of the French presence in the country, though they stopped short of demanding withdrawal. In Kabul, Sarkozy said French troops were in Afghanistan to ‘play a part in the freedom of the world’ and ‘because it was here that the fight for terrorism is being fought.”

I am not quite ready to say “long live France” quite yet. But I am ready to say “long live Sarkozy.”

Lawrence Helm

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