Read My Lips

France on the United States: No Esprit Left?

Our best quotes on the Franco-American relationship from a Parisian perspective.

Is the U.S.-France relationship too fractured to mend?

Takeaways


The Franco-American relationship is no longer as cosy as it once was. It deteriorated when the United States defied its once-staunch European ally by acting unilaterally in Iraq. Now, five months after the Bush Administration declared victory there, the French continue to call for a multinational force to help rebuild Iraq. The U.S. determination to retain power is seen as another example of American selfishness. Our Read My Lips explores the French viewpoint.

How do the French really view the United States?

“Leading rogue state.”

(Jacques Derrida, professor of Philosophy at the Institut d’études politiques de Paris, February 2003)

Why do the French feel this way?

“Puritan America is hostage to a sacred morality. It regards itself as the predestined repository of Good, with a mission to strike down evil.”

(Régis Debray, advisor to former French President François Mitterrand, March 2003)

Isn’t that a worthy cause, to strike down evil?

“If America could end terrorism, stop proliferation, make peace in the Middle East and solve the AIDS problem on its own — then I’ll sign on the bottom line.”

(French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, March 2003)

Why are the French so skeptical?

“Young countries have the tendency to underestimate the history of old countries.”

(French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, October 2002)

It seems the French have been proven right.

“We are certainly not pleased to see the Americans having problems — because winning the peace is in the interest of everyone.”

(Jean-Marc de la Sablière, French ambassador to the UN, July 2003)

Was keeping the peace the reason why France rejected the second United Nations resolution on Iraq?

“It (was) a means of refusing a legal cover for an illegitimate intervention — and not to support in the name of the United Nations a cause which (was) only the Bush Administration’s.”

(François Hollande, leader of France’s opposition party, March 2003)

Yet, wasn’t France’s decision seen by the Bush Administration as a personal spite?

“It is not Schröder and me on the one side and Bush and Blair on the other. It is Bush and Blair on the one side — and all others on the other side.”

(French President Jacques Chirac, September 2002)

Couldn’t the UN be better served than using it to take sides?

“For many countries, the primary function of the United Nations is to balance — if not to resist — the United States.”

(Dominique Moisi, deputy director of Paris-based Institut Français des Relations Internationales, November 1999)

Why is there such enmity toward the United States?

“The United States is no longer interested in having allies. It is just interested in having vassals.”

(François Heisbourg, director at Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, February 2003)

Is that why the French were so outraged with anti-French U.S. comments?

“The U.S. President, out of frustration, and the UK Prime Minister, out of a pathetic need to justify himself, are stirring up latent francophobia.”

(Libération editorial, March 2003)

What did the French think of the United States’ push to boycott French products?

“We don’t feel our cheeses are that much of a weapon of mass destruction.”

(Christian Berger, French agricultural attaché to the United States, June 2003)

Have previous French presidents had difficulty relating to the United States?

“The United States is the greatest danger to peace in the world today.”

(Former French President Gen. Charles de Gaulle, 1965)

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