President Obama people off-guard Monday when he said "[w]e don't have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people." Hasn't America been in a relationship--and a special one at that--with Britain these past 150 years?
Not anymore. The Telegraph's Nile Gardiner, for one, is apoplectic, and not just because he danced at America and Britain's wedding. Finding comfort in the arms of a country that "knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq" only eight years ago shows just how "contemptuous of traditional friends and alliances" President Obama really is. "Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the US president is difficult to fathom," he grumbles.
The Guardian's Agnes Poirier disagrees. Why shouldn't America burst into song over Catherine Deneuve, Belon oysters, and Beaux-Arts architecture? The course of history makes it clear the two countries are kind of in love with each other. Real love, too. Not that tweedy British love that's rooted in sharing a common language. Poirier explains:
It is factually and emotionally right for the American president to describe France as the US's greatest ally. 3 September 1783, anyone? Lord Cornwallis? General Rochambeau? French may have narrowly missed out on being chosen as the language of the United States, but without France, there'd be no American independence.
In general, France and the French have a more straightforward relationship to America than their neighbours across the Channel. The idea is that love doesn't have to be servile. A fair amount of criticism is even expected and welcome, it is the sign of an equal and healthy relationship. If the leftist intelligentsia felt it needed to deride America just after the second world war, a majority of the French people embraced American culture. Many American artists and film directors, from Nicholas Ray to the Coen brothers, owe a large part of their world reputation to French film critics.
To be a good friend, one has to be independent. That was always the point of view of French presidents from de Gaulle to Chirac. Nicolas Sarkozy is a unique figure in French politics, one who resorts to obsequiousness rather than healthy esprit critique. The truth is that Nicolas Sarkozy wishes he was American. But that's another story...
Be careful--that's our new boyfriend you're talking about.
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