Franco-American Relations

A few weeks ago at the Command Post, I briefly discussed an article about European fears that they would be mostly left out of the business of reconstructing Iraq. The article quoted a Mr. Claude-Henri Valluy, a senior manager at a French firm who expressed the belief French firms would be shut out of the lucrative oil business in Iraq. I opined a desire that Mr. Valluy's concerns would come true.

As an example of how far the Command Post reaches, Mr. Valluy read my words there and contacted me.

Dear Admiral Quixote,

I noticed your answer about some part of my declaration regarding French fears about future market in Iraq.

I regret the fact that this article did not mention also the comments I made regarding the long common history shared by France and USA and the fact that although France does not share the US administration position on the Iraqi issue, France and the USA are tight by a common share of vital values and common culture and have a common history of over 200 years.

I would like also to raise the fact that I have also declared that I was really disappointed by the fact that a lot of people these days are trying to focus on what divides us for the moment rather than focusing on what gathers us together.

I think the only winners of all this stupid turmoil are the enemies of our shared values.

With Kind Regards

Claude-Henri Valluy

I appreciate the time you took to write me. From my reading of the article and your note, I perceive that you are a rational, concerned man and I suspect we would get along quite well if we were neighbors. I also agree that the one of the casualties of the present conflict has been the relations between many western nations. It is hard to remember that these relations were much friendlier just 18 months ago. However, this distancing is why I made my earlier remarks.

Obviously, the early Iraqi reconstruction projects should all go to US firms since the US will be paying for them with US taxpayer money. However, your concern was aimed at larger projects that will presumably be paid for from Iraqi oil revenue. I do not expect that these contracts will be limited to the US and would not mind if US firms did not receive any of these contracts so long as they all go to members of the coalition to the extent possible. Special treatment should be given to those willing to sacrifice lives to liberate Iraq. I am sure the Iraqis will also remember who was content to leave them at the mercies of Saddam as well and expect this will have an impact on future interactions.

However, I go beyond this. I think my government should cancel all existing contracts with French firms. The US should refuse to give any new contracts to French firms for at least five years and then they should reevaluate the situation. I do not advocate imposing trade barriers or even closing the US market to the French as some other Americans desire. But I do believe that governmental contracts are a big carrot and that a wise government should only allow bids from friendly countries. Friendly countries can disagree. Friendly countries do not actively scheme to thwart the plans of each other. Recent actions have shown that the French -- as a whole -- no longer value friendship with the US. Let me explain.

I have an appreciation of the historic ties between France and America. These ties started when we were fighting for our own freedom. I know very well that the support of France in our Revolutionary War aided our efforts. While the cynical among my countrymen point out that France was "merely" helping those fighting France's traditional enemy the British, I disagree with their conclusion that France's efforts should then be ignored. So do most Americans -- one only needs to drive through the original thirteen states and note the number of towns named Lafayette. This historical relationship was best shown in the first World War, when Colonel Charles Stanton exclaimed "Lafayette, we are here!"

America's relationship with France was rather asymmetric from that point forward, with America coming to the aid of France in World War II, Indochina, and the Cold War. I certainly do not expect a country to be grateful forever -- in fact, I fear it is human nature to eventually resent benefactors -- but Americans are constantly perplexed why France seems to delight in attempts to thwart America, instead of just agreeing to disagree. For example, many in my government disagree with the actions of the French government in Africa. Yet we have not attempted to thwart France in doing what the French believe is the right thing to do.

Let us compare that to the recent events in Iraq. When Resolution 1441 was unanimously passed by the United Nations Security Council, there was a clear understanding by all the parties involved that Saddam had 60 days to comply or military force would be used. Blair and Bush trusted the UNSC to stand by their agreement. Instead, Chirac and a few others spent that time laying the groundwork to thwart military involvement. The French government may have even blackmailed other countries on the matter. There is no doubt France threatened eastern European nations by telling them to shut up if they wanted to get into the EU.

Americans have no problems with countries disagreeing with us. You won't find Americans upset with the Netherlands for their views on the war. However, we will not tolerate powers scheming to prevent us from doing what we believe is right. That crosses the line from disagreement to opposition. I have hopes that relations between Germany and the US will improve again after Iraq is a free country. I especially look forward to a Germany free of Schroeder. I take comfort in the fact that most Germans disapprove of how Schroeder has handled things. Compare that to the French. Because of his attempts to thwart America, Chirac is enjoying record levels of popularity at home. One in three Frenchmen hopes the Iraqis defeat the coalition. These are not the actions of a people who appreciate a close and special relationship with the United States.

For the first time in decades, France has the attention of the United States. This is not a good thing for the French. Actions have consequences and there will be negative consequences deriving from the actions of the French government. This is especially true since these actions are clearly supported by the majority of the French people.

So if you are ever in the US, I will personally be glad to take you out to dinner and have a delightful discussion with you. I believe you are part of a sensible minority in France. Unfortunately, you are in the minority. Until your government quits attempting to thwart the efforts of my country, I sincerely believe our countries will continue to grow apart. Until your government changes, I advocate the US having less and less to do with France.

With regrets and respect,

Admiral Quixote

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