One thing about international relations that we have learned since 9/11: a mutual terrorist threat is not a strong enough foundation for two countries to establish a brad strategic partnership. In my blog post following the Boston bombing, I highlighted the fact that mistrust between Russia and the US hindered cooperation on a very real threat. The France-US relationship, while generally good, has not always been smooth. Perhaps my fears are misplaced, but I wonder if the US may not cooperate as much as we should with France because of fractures in our relations. I write this today to make an appeal against this possibility.
The France-US relationship is unique among America's bilateral relations. It is not nearly as smooth as the Canada-US or UK-US relationship, nor is it as antagonistic as the current state of Russia-US ties. But neither is it complicated in the same way that the so-called Pakistan-US alliance is (I personally consider Pakistan to be an outright enemy, but that is neither here nor there). The France-US relationship is peerless in the level and nature of it complication. Some authors, such as John J. Miller and Mark Molesky have gone as far as to call France "our oldest enemy", and I have also written on this blog about French intelligence operations against the US.
The most recent wave of Francophobia in the US came around the time of the invasion of Iraq. Of course there were general expressions of it such as the famous "freedom fries", and it even took on political undertones in the bitter presidential election of 2004 (I distinctly remember driving home from school one afternoon and seeing a bumper sticker that said "John Kerry for president of France", implying that Kerry was weak, as the French supposedly were). It seems that we quickly forgot how, shortly after 9/11, the prominent French newspaper Le Monde published a headline stating "Nous sommes tous Américains (We are all Americans)".
I'd like to take a moment and make an appeal, one that is partly based on the emotion of anguish I feel at the loss of life and shaken sense of security in France, on the security imperative of combating terrorism, and also on the basis of history. As an American, while pondering the deeper meaning of the attacks yesterday, I was struck by the fact that France played a major role in helping the United States to secure our own right to free speech. During the American Revolutionary War, French commanders such as La Fayette and Rochambeau played critical roles in securing the US victory, culminating in the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. With this, the US was able to enact its First Amendment guaranteeing free speech. For better or worse, this means that we have to suffer the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Don Imus, but we are also able to openly criticize our government and not have to worry about repercussions.
Later, Alexis de Toqueville traveled the nascent American nation and wrote his famous Democracy in America in which he extolled America's dedication to liberty. The work had a major impact on the political development of modern France. So in some way, we managed to return the favor, but not by a longshot.
The France-US relationship has deep roots, and what's more important, it is grounded in the preservation of liberty, the very fabric of our civilization. The US may not always see eye-to-eye with France, and we may often feel that the French are intransigent or difficult. Many on online discussion threads have even implied the French "had it coming" with its policy of allowing so many Muslims into the country. All that aside, I implore my fellow Americans to look back at the common bonds of history and the values we hold with France, and to support and assist our friends the French. This may be on a governmental level, or it may be on more of a people-to-people level. This is a moment when we must put aside our differences, and recognize that, at the end of the day, France really is our friend.
If I may take a leaf from Le Monde's book, I'd like to say "Nous sommes tous français."