C'est la Vie; the Future of U.S.-French Relations

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 16, 2003 | Go to article overview

C'est la Vie; the Future of U.S.-French Relations


Byline: Tod Lindberg, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Some of my fellow American panelists at a conference here, sponsored by the French Center on the United States, were expecting to get an earful from French panelists and members of the audience on the subject of the prime-contractor restrictions against France, Germany and Russia for Iraq reconstruction. I was, too. Wrong. The subject was barely touched upon.

Why was that? Well, I think the simplest explanation is that on this subject, the French by and large think we are right. They had no great expectations about being invited to reap the profits of reconstruction when they opposed the war in the first place.

True, President Bush could have magnanimously invited the three most important naysayers to join more fully in the reconstruction effort, in the interest of improving strained relations. But it would have been precisely a gesture of magnanimity, and the French would have seen it as such. They are accordingly not especially bothered that the gesture was not forthcoming.

The hardcore anti-U.S. crowd in Paris would not have wanted French President Jacques Chirac to be in a position of accepting a magnanimous gesture from the American president anyway. They prefer continued confrontation in anticipation of the 2004 defeat of Mr. Bush - the prerequisite, in their view, for any improvement in French-U.S. relations.

Some of them perhaps harbor the delusional view that ongoing bad relations with France will contribute to Mr. Bush's defeat. And indeed, Mr. Bush can expect an attack from the Democratic nominee on grounds of his excessive unilateralism and insufficient multilateralism. They will blame him for losing support for the United States. But this attack will be mitigated, not assisted, by conspicuous anti-U.S. sentiment from Paris.

In fact, at bottom, the hardcore's is a rather primitive position by the standard of sophisticated French opinion itself, which is fully cognizant of the fact that Mr. Chirac and his foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, are full partners in the breakdown in relations. (I would venture that the only people in Paris who are certain the conduct of Messrs. Chirac and Villepin was above reproach are Mr. Chirac and Mr. Villepin.)

Now, mind you, this more nuanced view would insist as well on blaming Mr. Bush and other officials of his administration for their part in the breakdown, and that is more than some Bush partisans will concede. And the party line in Paris is still that something happened in relation to U.S. intentions toward Iraq last January to which French policy was obliged to respond with opposition to war, as opposed to what I think is the far more accurate interpretation that Mr. …

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C'est la Vie; the Future of U.S.-French Relations
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