France and the United States

By Ramsay, Allan | Contemporary Review, June 2002 | Go to article overview

France and the United States


Ramsay, Allan, Contemporary Review


'THE USA and Britain stood alone in three World Wars, two hot, one cold, and triumphed; there's no reason why they shouldn't do the same in a fourth'. Thus a former Director of the CIA when asked on BBC Radio 4, in the context of the 'War against Terrorism', whether the USA would be prepared to go it alone against Saddam Hussein. It is the sort of remark that worries the French. The US interventions in both World Wars were unquestionably decisive, in the First because of the immense reserves of enthusiastic manpower on which it could draw in 1917 when the main combatants were exhausted; in the Second because of its vast economic and technical resources. The French would concede that much. But in neither case would they be prepared to acknowledge that victory was due to the Christianised West, still less to the Anglo-Saxons alone. On the Allied side in both World Wars there were many hundreds of thousands of Muslims of both major sects and of many races, including Iraqis, fighting for France and Great Britain in the name of freedom and democracy. Among the four million French dead in 1914-18 there are hundreds and thousands of Africans and others. In the Second World War, without her North African colonies it is unlikely that there would have been a viable Free French Army and possibly no viable French government in exile. Without her Algerian and Moroccan troops the French contribution to the war effort eg. in the campaign in Italy would have been negligible. In the German invasion of 1940 French Senegalese units fought with tenacity and discipline when many French units had become demoralised. As for the British, without the 2.5 million volunteers (who included a large proportion of Muslims) for the Indian Army (which never resorted to conscription), where would we have been, I wonder, in the early fighting on the Western Front in 1914, and in Mesopotamia, and in North Africa, Italy and Burma in the Second World War? None of the British Dominions 'opted out' but the Indian Government did not have that option, ev en theoretically. They were in it from the start, notwithstanding the opposition of the Congress Party and the subversive campaign of Subhas Chandra Bose. So 'standing alone' needs to be qualified.

This may seem to give disproportionate attention to a single off the cuff remark. The 'War against Terrorism' is of vital importance for France. It is important that the US should succeed in its objectives and no less important that France should be seen to be actively engaged in helping it to achieve them. They are, after all, French objectives too. This is a matter of the deepest conviction, not theatre or opportunism. President Chirac was the first foreign leader to visit the US after 11 September. The French press stated that: 'We are all Americans now'. A significant part of the French fleet, including the flagship carrier Charles de Gaulle, is deployed in the Arabian Sea and adjacent waters. French ground and air forces have been in action from the beginning and play their part in the Security Assistance Force deployed in Kabul as well as with the Americans fighting al-Qa'ida. The French have cooperated actively in the harmonisation of measures to improve governments' capacity to deal with the increasin gly subtle cross border activities of international terrorism and the sophisticated network of cooperation between individual groups; and to identify and confiscate their financial and other assets. No reasonable person could accuse the French of holding back in any of these areas. But an element of disquiet persists and President Bush's apparent determination to carry the 'War' to Iraq has served to make it increasingly vocal. To the French our own part in all this seems designed to encourage rather than restrain the US. To that extent the value of the 'special relationship' remains unproven.

I have to explain here that I have no access to French government thinking on the consequences of 11 September. …

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