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The Other “Special” Relationship

Just what precisely is it that sometimes makes U.S.-French relations so special?

February 26, 2001

Just what precisely is it that sometimes makes U.S.-French relations so special?

The U.S.-French relationship has never been an easy one. France’s politicians are among the world’s most outspoken in criticizing America’s ways. Yet both nations have far more in common than meets the eye — not the least of which is a mutual revolutionary background. The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France, and much of the U.S. constitution incorporated 18th century French political theory. This Read My Lips feature looks at this “special” relationship.

What about the role of the United States?

“We see a certain tendency toward hegemony, which is not necessarily identical with exercising the global responsibilities of a great power, even if it is a friend.” (Lionel Jospin, French Prime Minister, December 1997)

What is the French foreign ministry’s view of the United States?

“I believe that since 1992 the word ‘superpower’ is no longer sufficient to describe the United States. That’s why I use the term ‘hyperpower’, which American media think is aggressive.” (Hubert Vedrine, French Foreign Minister, October 1999)

How does the United States yield its power?

“Today, in all the world’s governments you find people who were shaped by U.S. universities. It is an instrument of power.” (Hubert Vedrine, November 1998)

And how do U.S. diplomats feel about the French bashing of the United States?

“It’s as if the United States were some kind of computer virus that, once let in the door, would cause a complete meltdown of the EU’s ability to take decisions.” (Alexander Vershbow, U.S. ambassador to NATO, March 2000)

How can the euro help France to position itself vis-à-vis the United States?

“The day we have a strong European currency is the day we can finally stand up as equals to the United States.” (French economist, June 1995)

And where does Europe itself come in?

“Let us defend together the interests of France and Europe as we know it, a free and democratic community based on an equal footing with other political economic blocs.” (Edouard Balladur, then-French Prime Minister, October 1993)

What does France think about U.S. style capitalism?

“I do not want that model.” (Jacques Chirac, French President, June 1998)

Still, aren’t the French sometimes mistaken about the United Sates?

“Contrary to what we in France have claimed, and indeed believed, the jobs being created in the United States are not only, or even mainly, low-paid, dead-end jobs, but skilled ones in the service and high-tech industries.” (Lionel Jospin, June 1998)

Does the United States acknowledge French achievements?

“Where did rationalism begin in the 17th and 18th century? Here! Who was the first food-safety expert of the world? Louis Pasteur. Here! My goodness gracious, at some point in civilized society you have got to rely on systems working themselves out.” (Daniel Glickman, then-U.S. Agriculture Secretary, speaking on the biotechnology trade dispute, June 1999)

Is the United States aware of its French roots?

“In this glorious new age, a key question is this: Just how American is entrepreneurship? The word, of course, is French.” (Michael Schrage, former Los Angeles Times technology columnist, August 1995)

Is France?

“The U.S. Presidency is caught between the principles set out by 18th century French philosophers and the technology of the late 20th century, namely the Internet.” (Dominique Moisi, deputy director of Institut Français des Relations Internationales, September 1998)

A final word …

“Viva la France — and long live the United States of America.” (George Bush, then-U.S. President, on receiving an honorary doctorate from Boston University together with French President Mitterrand, May 1989)