The continuing Franco-American mess

Today’s Le Monde points out the odd dichotomy in American policy towards “Old Europe.” It seems that the US has been playing nice with Germany and giving the French government the cold shoulder.

Irak: le diff?rend franco-am?ricain persiste

Le pr?sident fran?ais, Jacques Chirac, a achev? mercredi 24 septembre une visite de quatre jours ? New York qui n’a pas permis de concilier les positions de la France et des Etats-Unis, les deux pays apparaissant toujours aussi ?loign?s sur l’apr?s-guerre en Irak. L’absence de tout geste conciliant de Washington en faveur de M. Chirac a contrast? avec l’ouverture vis-?-vis du chancelier allemand, Gerhard Schr?der, qui fut l’un des opposants les plus d?termin?s ? la guerre.

Apr?s un entretien, le premier en seize mois, le pr?sident am?ricain, George W. Bush, a annonc? lui-m?me que le diff?rend am?ricano-allemand ?tait “termin?”, une d?claration qui visait manifestement ? enfoncer un coin entre Paris et Berlin. ” La premi?re chose que je lui ai dite est : ‘Nous avons eu des divergences et elles sont termin?es. Nous allons travailler ensemble’ “, a d?clar? le pr?sident am?ricain. […]

Jacques Chirac a toutefois ?cart? toute faille dans l’axe franco-allemand. ” Il n’y a pas l’ombre d’une divergence de vues entre la position allemande et la position fran?aise. C’est clair et incontestable “, a-t-il affirm?.

Iraq: Franco-American differences persist

On Wednesday, 24 September, the French president, Jacques Chirac, ended a four-day visit to New York which proved unable to reconcile French and American positions, leaving both countries apparently as far apart as ever on the post-war fate of Iraq. The lack of any conciliatory gesture towards Mr Chirac stands out in comparison to overtures towards the German chancellor Gerhard Schr?der, who was one of the most determined opponents of the war.

After an interview – his first in 16 months – the American president George W. Bush announced that German-American differences had been “ended”, a declaration that was clearly intended to drive a wedge between Paris and Berlin. The American president declared that, “The first thing I said to him was that ‘We have had our differences and they are now finished. We will work together.'” […]

Jacques Chirac, however, ruled out any break in the Franco-German alliance. He maintained that,”There isn’t even the shadow of a difference between the German and French positions.”

I have seen some of the European press entertain the idea that the reason the Bush administration is targeting France rather than Germany is because of the demographic importance of German-Americans. There is no way that this is true. Although a large part of the American population – a fifth to a third – has some German ancestry, very, very few Americans identify with Germany in any way. The only real difference is that France has a UN veto and a fairly strong diplomatic presence, and since the Bush administration is trying to get more diplomatic and UN support, dissing France really seems dumb. It would have made more sense to be conciliatory towards France and rotten towards Germany.

The German press also seems unimpressed with Bush’s advances. I suppose the Bush administration may be hoping the Social-Democrats will lose their next election and be replaced by a more pro-American government. I doubt that the German opposition – the CDU – would suddenly change the country’s policy on Iraq even if they won the next election, since the party leader’s position on Iraq has put her under fire from her own side. Besides, a few months ago American officials were meeting with Angela Merkel, the CDU leader, an act which is the diplomatic equivalent of a slap in the face. To start talking up the current German leader makes little sense if your hope is to be rid of him.

Or is there some other point here that I’m missing? Is it possible that the Bush administration really does determine policy on the basis of something as crass as simple ethnic prejudice?

29 thoughts on “The continuing Franco-American mess

  1. Attributing any rationale to decisions of the Bush administration is dangerous, but part of the comparatively warmer attitude towards Germany may be economic. Germany is a bigger economy, more important trading partner and there are more US investments in Germany than France.

    And Schr?der has taken himself out of the firing line in anti-administration statements in a way that Chirac has not.

  2. Yep, but maybe they’re just playing ‘divide and rule’.ATST obviously traditional attitudes in the two countries vis-a-vis the US are very different.

    OTOH maybe the decision to change the contracting rules for Iraq was aimed at France.

  3. By reported polls, most European electorates opposed the Iraq war even in countries, like Spain, Italy and Poland, where the respective prime ministers anounced political support. But Bush could hardly go around damning most of Europe without serious downstream consequences for America’s international relations. Two special factors apply in the case of France which seldom get mention despite their significance.

    There is a long history of mutual antipathy between American administrations and the Gaullist wing of politics in France which Chirac currently represents. Within the last year or so, previously secret correspondence during WW2 between Roosevelt and Churchill surfaced in which Roosevelt mooted the possibility of assassinating General De Gaulle, the established head of “Free French” forces in Europe, after he had been even more annoying than usual. Churchill, who had is own particular reasons for also wanting him out of the picture, nevertheless urged caution and that advice prevailed. De Gaulle lived to personally liberate Paris in 1944. This has not been forgotten by the Gaullists and it helps to explain why De Gaulle personally vetoed successive applications in the 1960s by Britain to sign up to the Rome Treaty (1957) which created the EEC. To understand where we are we need to know how we got here.

    France has a potentially huge internal security problem from disaffected muslim youth so doubtless welcomes being painted as leading the anti-American cause in Europe. Recall that France’s muslim population is estimated at 5m+ in a total population of 60m and that the average unemployment rate among the under 25s is about 25% and higher in the housing estates around the big cities where many of the settlers from N Africa live. The technical reasons for France’s worrying and persistently high youth unemployment relate to a high statutory minimum wage in France and the familiar round of European-style employment protection legislation which together combine to make businesses understandably cautious about offering permanent jobs to young people. Put it down to the usual case of unintended if predictable consequences of market interventions by governments motivated, naturally, by the best of all possible reasons.

  4. Rice’s deliberately stark formulation – forgive Russia, ignore Germany, punish France – is probably still playing a role, with Germany moving more into the forgive column.

    Second, German foreign minister Fischer was not the one flying to capitals to round up ‘no’ votes in the Security Council on the 18th Iraq resolution. The French government’s opposition had a much more active component than the German. That’s not likely to have been forgotten.

    Third, there are still significant US bases in Germany; US European headquarters is in Stuttgart. While American forces will be reconfigured over the course of this decade, and Taszar will gain in importance compared with Ramstein, it will be a long time before Ramstein loses its importance. And for all of the friction of having many tens of thousands of military personnel, it means that there is a deep reservoir of cooperation at the working level; upper-level officials are also likely to have long experience with each other. This means that the bosses can have a spat without it necessarily hurting working relationships.

    Fourth, joint German-Dutch command of Isaf signaled Berlin’s willingness to work with Washington on other fronts of the war on terror. I’m told that the Bush people had been ready to accept a certain amount of campaign rhetoric, but that Schroeder went much further than the US side thought had been signalled, and that is part of why the frost lasted as long as it did. I also suspect that people around Schroeder were surprised about how vitriolic the anti-Americanism turned out to be (even in their own ranks) and have looked for ways to dampen the outburst.

    Fifth, the Schroeder government is not pursuing a ‘multi-polar’ world with the same ideological fervor that the Chirac administration appears to be doing. Chirac also makes no secret of that this project is aimed at taking the US down a notch or two. That’s why the ‘France is an enemy’ meme has been able to move in from the flaky fringe. When the Schroeder government does look into multipolarity, its rhetoric is different, and it seems more careful to stress the need for continued partnership with Washington. The speeches that Schroeder and Chirac made in New York showed differences. When the French president says there’s not a shadow of a difference between Paris and Berlin, that’s not a fact, it’s a political attempt to make it so.

    All of these seem sensible reasons for pursuing different approaches with the German and French governments.

    Best from Munich,


    ps I wouldn’t read too much into the meeting with Merkel. When Powell was in Berlin in May, Bush met with Roland Koch (CDU), governor of Hesse. There are lots of these signals going back and forth.

  5. Bush is now negotiating with Good Cop Germany while snarling at Bad Cop France.

    At this point, it doesn’t really matter; The judge (Kofi Annan) has spoken:

    The U.S. violated the charter and mission of the U.N. by launching an unjustified,unprovoked war against Iraq; The U.N. must recompose the security council (without the U.S. as a veto-holder was the unspoken implication) or it shall be judged harshly by history for its failure to render justice.

  6. As long as there are vetoes on the Security Council, the US will have one, for better or for worse. Kofi is the judge? I think he’s more like the Warden at an asylum. The only problem is that he’s let the inmates run it.

    There’s two sides to the UN problem right now. One is that the Security Council may need to be re-examined, but also, what good are resolutions if you are not going to back them up? 17 resolutions and 12 years seems like more than enough for anyone to have a fair chance to comply with them. It showed plenty of moral fortitude there, didn’t it? History will judge that, as well, as a failure to render justice.

    And whether the war was justified or not is a very debatable topic. I guess that one depends on which side of the pond you are on.


    T A W M

  7. TAWM,
    “As long as there are vetoes on the Security Council, the US will have one, for better or for worse.”

    That’s nothing more than an assumption.
    There is precedent for kicking out a permanent security council member, and that was for less cause than the U.N. now has with Bush.

    Bush lied to the U.N. and got a U.N. resolution against Iraq on the strength of his word, and then broke the promise that his ambassador made to the U.N. to get that resolution; that there would be a second resolution to judge if Iraq was indeed in violation of the resolutions against it.

    Bush taunted and slandered the U.N., as he attacked Iraq anyway.

    Now his war isn’t going so well anymore, and he he’s been forced to go back to the ‘irrelevant’ U.N. to ask them half-heartedly for money and troops to continue his war against Iraqi resistance fighters.

    And you think that the U.N. is going to give it to Bush without demanding their pound of flesh ?

    The only other pound of flesh that he can offer them would be to march himself and his war cabinet right up to a War crimes Tribunal. And that’s not going to happen.

    He’s toast.

  8. “Bush lied to the U.N. and got a U.N. resolution against Iraq on the strength of his word, and then broke the promise that his ambassador made to the U.N. to get that resolution; that there would be a second resolution to judge if Iraq was indeed in violation of the resolutions against it.”

    I’m not sure that you’re living in the same world I’m in. “Bush lied to the U.N?” Faulty and overplayed intelligence notwithstanding, it would pay to remember that Iraq was already in violation of several UN resolutions, that it had been in violation of them for several years, and that it was France that torpedoed the attempt to obtain a stronger, final resolution that might well have precluded the war occurring altogether. For you to lay the blame on Bush for Saddam’s recalcitrance and Chirac’s grandstanding says a great deal about your lack of objectivity.

    In any case, I’m glad, for the sake of the Iraqi people, that the war did end up happening. Better the chaos they’re dealing with at present than however many more years under the heel of Saddam and his merry sons. It’s going to take a tremendous amount of botching up for the American troops in Iraq to do as much damage to the lives and property of that country’s citizens as Saddam ever did while he remained in power.

  9. Let me also add that to hear you speak about the U.N, one would think it to be some irreproachable dispenser of moral certainties, rather than the motley collection of mostly brutal, corrupt and ineffectual states that it actually is. An organization which permits countries like barbaric countries like Libya to chair human rights committees is hardly the place to go looking for any sort of moral guidance.

  10. The U.S. is the world’s largest economy, it has the most powerful military, and it pays about a quarter of the U.N.’s operating budget. No way is it going to be ejected from the Security Council. Besides, who would provide the adult supervision?

  11. Abiola,
    re: U.N. as a source of Moral certainties.
    Not hardly, I consider the U.N. a Medieval Parliament, and the U.S. the first among its equals.

    Re: living in a different world from you.
    Apparently. Notwithstanding nothing, Bush presented unsupported intelligence and called it hard evidence in an effort to mislead the U.N. (and Congress) into conveying legitimacy to what is otherwise an illegal invasion.

    France did *NOT* torpedo the second resolution, the U.S. scuttled the vote when it became clear it wouldn’t even have a simple majority of the full security council.

    As far as being glad for the Iraqis, I dunno. I read River Bend’s blog, and I get the impression that Iraqis are distinctly unhappy with the mess that we’ve made and our incompetence in cleaning it up.

    you’ve got a good point, but I wonder how long the U.S. will be able to afford to pay its U.N. dues ? (when even the IMF is unhappy with the U.S.’s deficit budget, something has got to be drastically wrong)
    Plus, I seem to recall that the U.S. hasn’t always paid its dues on a timely basis in the past…

    I don’t think that Kofi Annan is fighting for next year’s budget, I think he’s going for the pivotal stuff: the U.N.’s credibility, relevance, and independence.

  12. “one would think it to be some irreproachable dispenser of moral certainties”

    No Abiola, it is not that. But, for better or worse, it is what we have. Pragmatism suggests that it is better working from what may well be a ‘sad’ reality, than throwing the whole thing overboard in a fit of rage and frustration.

    If we look at a whole range of issues, population, SARS etc, these multilateral institutions can offer a perspective that no nation state can. The UN is no-better than its members, and it is unrealistic that it could be.

    Blair and Bush wounded the UN using the argument of urgency due to the threat of WMD. I happen to believe that now we are going to need the UN to help find a structure that can move us beyond what could otherwise become a very unpleasant mess in Iraq.

    Which seems to suggest that it might have been better to show more respect for the institution in the first place. We may not like the ‘laws’, but they are all we have.

  13. Bob, Just read your comment (#3).

    Couldn’t get any further than the ‘De Gaulle lived to personally liberate Paris in 1944.’ bit.

    The tears were rolling down my cheeks –
    You do have such a wicked sense of humour…..

  14. Patrick (G),

    How long do you think the UN would continue without the US?

    The credibility of the UN is at an all time low, after the massacres in the Balkans and Africa. In both instances the UN ‘peacekeepers just stood by and watched. Is such a corrupt organisation really worth preserving?

    The old League of Nations lasted approximately fifty years before the internecine wrangling reduced it to a farce, the same fate appears to have happened to the UN. Is it time to burn the old stubble and plant afresh?

    Perhaps a smaller, more decisive, nimble footed organisation, run by Statesmen and not politicians, might be the answer.

  15. Ernest,
    With regards De Gaulle liberating Paris,
    Bob seems to be entirely correct.

    Whereas you seem to be mistaken about the League of Nations which lasted not 50 years, but 28.

    I don’t see the distinction you make between statesmen and politicians. If you are arguing that the former may be more high-minded than the latter, I suppose, but I can’t characterize that as a structural reform.

    As far as how long the U.N. lasts, I think that depends entirely on how it handles the present situation, but I think that Kofi Annan will outlast Bush as a statesman.

  16. Patrick (G),

    Re De Gaulle and the liberation of Paris, yes I suppose you could say he was the first to enter Paris, which he was allowed to do as a matter of courtesy by the Allies, but to say that he ‘personally liberated Paris’, is rather gilding the lily, even then we were pandering to French sophistry. De Gaulle, by his grandstanding and tantrums cost many lives. He was tolerated as it was thought that he had some control over the communist factions that were in control of the Partisans in Paris. He even made a mess of that. He was certainly full of vinegar and rhetorical bravery and managed to terrify most of the Allies that he came in contact with. An excellent Colonel of Hussars, a Leader of men, but not of a nation, just too rigid.

    Yes I did credit The League of Nations with a longer period of credibility, but that really emphasised my point that at fifty years or so, the UN may well have outgrown its own prospectus.

    The difference between statesmen and politicians, should be obvious, the former are granted their status by a consensus of mutual respect, the latter are mere tradesmen, and lack many of the skills of diplomacy. Kofi Annan and Bush are both politicians, neither are what I would consider to be statesmen, as neither has the respect of the majority of the International community. The same might be said of the EU leadership, no-one stands out as being an icon of integrity and respect.

    I take it that you do not think that Bush will be re-elected, I feel that you may be wrong, but time will tell.

    I notice that you made no response to my remark re the UN’s lack of credibility, or I might add, of their collective usefulness. Nor did you comment on the idea of a smaller less bureucratic organisation.

  17. Scott Martens: “Or is there some other point here that I’m missing? Is it possible that the Bush administration really does determine policy on the basis of something as crass as simple ethnic prejudice?”

    No. American attitudes towards France can be explained by French anti-American words and deeds. French enmity towards America runs deep through their society and culture. What has changed, since the end of the Cold War, is American reluctance to tolerate it.

    Sept. 11th truly did change the world in many ways. America now realizes that the kind of bigotry the French have exercized over the years cannot go unchallenged. And that is to be applauded, and encouraged. If the French persist in their bigoted policies, then they deserve to be confronted in return.

  18. Doug: “Rice’s deliberately stark formulation – forgive Russia, ignore Germany, punish France – is probably still playing a role, with Germany moving more into the forgive column.”

    I’ve actually seen the formulation put as “buy the Russians, reason with the Germans and isolate the French”. Either way, it seems to be the trend.

  19. Joking?? As report of this exhibition demonstrates beyond any lingering doubts of the sceptical, De Gaulle personally liberated Paris on 26 August 1944:

    It’s quite easy for foreigners to get entirely deluded notions about epoch-making events in French history but that is all part of the great conspiracy France has had to endure. I mean, ever since 1815 we have been under a curious delusion that Napoleon’s Grande Arm?e was defeated at Waterloo but not so as a recent book by France’s present foreign minister recalls:

    “In a best-selling account of Napoleon’s final days published two years ago, France’s multi-talented foreign minister, Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin, argues that, yes, even today, Napoleon’s defeat ‘shines with an aura worthy of victory.'” – from:

    Downing St apparatchiks are probably looking into this right now for the coming d?tente with mainland Europe. Leaks from the usual unreliable sources have it that the Waterloo railway terminus in London is up for renaming as part of Tony Blair’s relentless Modernisation programme. Planning proposals for refashioning Trafalgar Square are already out for public consultation and I’m wondering how long it will be before Nelson’s Column – with much regret, naturally – has to be demolished because of the maintenance cost and to move forward to the New Europe etc. Besides, only the benighted few nowadays can remember when the Battle of Trafalgar was or what the consequences were. We must move on with the times.

  20. Bob,

    It would seem that your link verifies my contention that De Gaulle was allowed to enter Paris as a courtesy by the Allies, and that he was tolerated for his supposed control over the Communist French faction. To credit the man with anything more is to do history a disjustice. I was around at that time and actually heard De Gaulle’s speech – the consensus was that he was ‘posturing for position’. The man was a French Don Quixote, and little respected outside of his own small clique.

    Re history’s recording of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. The quote by De Villepin; ” yes, even today, Napoleon’s defeat ‘shines with an aura worthy of victory.'” just about sums up the French attitude to honesty, integrity and reality.

    To be wrong, and to lose gloriously, would seem to be the French way of doing things…

  21. “It would seem that your link verifies my contention that De Gaulle was allowed to enter Paris as a courtesy by the Allies”

    Are you certain about that? Surely it was the other way round.

  22. Bob,

    I suppose it depends on your personal point of view. I remember that at that time. even the so-called ‘sniper fire’, was suspected of being just so-much theatrics. De Gaulle was particularly good at that type of ‘window dressing’.

    As I have grown older, I read about historic events that I have lived through, and I frequently wonder whether the writer(s) were reporting the same events that I recalled. This re-writing of history has happened so much that I now take a large pinch of salt when reading about these so-called events. Of course, much of this re-writing is done for the benefit of the ‘players’ in these events, and of course for the politics of it.

    Thanks for the reply.

  23. Markku,
    you’re full of it. Most Americans don’t follow their own politics, much less anybody else’s…what would they know of French anti-American-ism ?

    Are you then nearly 80 years old or older ? Were you a G.I. that served in France ?

    But to address the points you directed towards me;
    If I understand your distinction between statesmen and politicians; Statesmen are good politicians, but mere politicians are bad and should be gotten rid of. That does not seem to me to be a basis for structural reform.

    A good, well-structured political body should be able to function even when its leading politicians leave something to be desired. That’s the whole point of the U.S. constitution’s system of checks and balances.

    In a sense, I think that we are both in agreement with Kofi Annan that the U.N. needs structural reform. However, I fail to see what exactly you think shrinking the U.N. will accomplish.

    As far as Bush goes, his approval is at 50%, per a number of polls, and trending lower. The economy has lost more jobs under his watch than under any president since Hoover.

    Congress is almost in revolt due to his $87Billion request on top of his unprecedented $500Billion budget deficit. A request which is simultaneously seen as being a lowball estimate of what will be needed, and as being full of pork for Halliburton/Bechtel and their ilk.

    I don’t believe that Bush would be able to win the election in 2004. And if he can’t turn this mess around and soon, I’m not even sure that the Republicans will even give him their nomination, $170Million re-election campaign fund or no.

  24. Quoth Patrick (G)

    “Most [people in country X] don’t follow their own politics, much less anybody else’s…what would they know of [country Y’s] anti-[X]-ism?”

    Quite true, quite nearly universally true.

  25. Patrick,

    No I was not a G.I. I was a young teenager in London, I thought you might have deduced that I was English. At that time even children took an interest in, and were encouraged to do so at school, in ‘current affairs’. As WWII was the main, and only feature at that time, and there was no such thing as TV, we were all avid listeners of the radio. De Gaulle’s speech was broadcast live…..with translations, of course!.

    You are quite correct re the American Constitution, and the checks and balances therein, but my remarks were re the EU, and the proposed new constitution, which is remarkably short of any checks or balances. My point was that the European politicians have little honesty or integrity, and I took trouble to point out that this referred to the British contingent also. This week’s news on the subject of fraud etc. within the EU bears out my opinion of them.

    I have said in many comments, that this distrust of the present crew of politicians is really at the root of the Anglo reluctance to fully join the EU. Most people are in favour of the EU, but with severe reservations concerning Chirac and Shroeder, not to mention Prodi or the current EU President. And we all know about Kinnock.

    The UN has become just another self-serving bureacracy, and should be abolished for this reason alone.

    Statesmen are the ones’ with the ideas, foresight and integrity to be potential to be great leaders. Politicians are the hired help, they tend to be ‘for sale’, and very self serving, they generally, just aren’t smart enough to visualise the big long term picture. To call them the car-salesmen of the bureacratic world would be doing them a kindness.

  26. Ernest Young: I must say I’m in agreement with you on all of your comments.

    But please don’t hold it against me.

  27. Markku,

    Hold it against you!… I admire your good sense and perspicasity!..:-)

    Unfortunatly, I fear we are whistling in the wind..

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