French president François Hollande’s visit to the US is preceded by the publication of an op-ed in both the Washington Post and Le Monde written jointly by Obama and the French leader. François Heisbourg gets to publish his two cents in the New York Times and his title is an involuntary release of the proverbial cat out of the bag: “Hollande’s Martial Prowess.” What Heisbourg praises is precisely what should be criticized and the achievements the two presidents are proud of need to be questioned.
In typical neocon style, Heisbourg writes: “Conversely, France worries deeply — as do other European and Middle Eastern allies — about America’s foreign policy shift after Iraq and Afghanistan, its reluctance to put American forces in the front line in the world’s trouble spots.” Thus France is now more neoconservative than the US and would like to enlist other Europeans in its plunge toward interventionism.
The small still timid step Obama has taken away from war in Syria and Iran is thus condemned by Heisbourg, a so-called geopolitical expert and what Heisbourg calls “a constructive spirit rather than with traditional Gallic petulance” is exactly backwards: “Gallic petulance” would have been a critique of war mongering and for Heibourg the “constructive spirit” means preparing further interventions.
Libya is mentioned only as a success story for propagandists who managed to shift public opinion from opposition to support, but nothing is said about the reasons for the war (which probably included a feud between former French president Sarkozy and the dictator Kaddafi who is said to have financed his election campaign). Nothing is said about the terrible chaos this intervention, jointly pushed by France, Britain and liberal hawks in the Obama administration, led to. Obama, however, knows that the US ambassador was killed as a result of the 2011 intervention and in military circles it is known that the al Qaeda or other jihadist rebels in Libya are thriving because of the West’s neocolonial intervention. The French intervention in Mali was in part prompted by the events in Libya in 2011.
Using an expression like “Gallic petulance” is an effort by Heisbourg to tap into common prejudices about the French in the US to legitimize a neocon position. In effect, he is saying, “Look, I’m not one of those petulant frogs and neither is Hollande.” Here, unfortunately, a bit more “petulance” – “Gallic ‘ or not – would be in order when it comes to opposing senseless wars launched by either the US or France. Hollande is criticized by the radical left for being the US’s new poodle and thus replacing Britain in this inglorious position. At times, the French poodle wants to bark louder than its master or to drive its master into fiercer biting. All English speakers can easily guess, as the saying goes, that his bark is worse than his bite and thus that France cannot push the US in a direction the US does not want to go. Still, American neocons and their French acolytes are trying to use Hollande’s martial disposition as an incitement for the US to travel down that road. There is no “prowess” involved here. Sending troops to Africa is much easier for embattled Hollande than standing up to various groups of reactionaries at home challenging his domestic decisions on the family or the environment.
In typical neocon fashion and wanting to ingratiate himself with American rightists, Heisbourg praises France’s tougher stand on Iran and chides the US for not adopting as tough a stance as the new military interventionist on the block. What is needed is, of course, once again, exactly the opposite: a rational engagement with Iran and all the other powers in the Middle East to avoid the possibility of a war. So, not sanctions, but diplomacy with one’s eyes open which means recognizing openings when they are there. Obama is one small step ahead of Hollande on this.
Obama and Hollande refer to the free trade agreement being negotiated between the US and the EU, precisely the kind of neoliberal agreement that the left opposes both in the US and in Europe. This area of agreement between the two presidents is evidence of their betrayal of the progressive ideas they hypocritically expressed in their campaign speeches. Hollande follows in the footsteps of Clinton and Obama, selling a free trade agreement that the business class applauds against the objections of labor and the left. Here Hollande and Obama are in the same class of pseudo-progressives aligned with the right. No wonder neocons and business elites applaud or approve in silence.
Declarations of friendship between visiting heads of state are as common as they are empty, but here the renewed alliance vaunted by Obama and Hollande might not be based on the best of friendly intentions. On Iran and Saudi Arabia, France and the US are more at odds than partners. France wants to benefit economically from the tiff between the US and Saudi Arabia – and in Iran, US companies want to sideline European ones when the Iranian market reopens trade with the West.
I’m all for friendship between the US and France, of course, though not a friendship based on “martial prowess,” but rather one based on peace, diplomacy and prosperity for all. So no friendship with the neocons or the plutocratic 1% whether they be French, American, Russian or Chinese.