The Coming Revival in French-American Relations

France's presidential election will not erase the country's longstanding ambivalence about the United States. But regardless of which of the three main candidates wins, bilateral relations are likely to improve.

With the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, French-American relations reached a low point. The Bush Administration felt betrayed by French diplomatic tactics at the United Nations, while French President Jacques Chirac felt confirmed in his mistrust of the sole superpower and his call for a multipolar world. Today, on the eve of the French presidential elections, opinion polls show that three-quarters of French voters believe that France should distance itself from the United States.

Despite a long history of alliance dating back to the American Revolution and including two world wars, France has always had a somewhat ambivalent attitude toward the US, and the Iraq War was not the first time that a controversial security policy undercut America’s attractiveness in France. Polls show similar reactions after the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Vietnam War in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and the deployment of intermediate range missiles in Europe in the early 1980’s.

In addition, France has long had a strand of cultural anti-Americanism. Some conservatives disliked the crude egalitarianism of American culture, while some on the left saw America’s faith in markets as a symbol of capitalist exploitation of the working class. After World War II, France banned Coca-Cola for a time, and, more recently, the farmer José Bové became a folk hero by destroying a McDonald’s restaurant. But the French still flock to McDonald’s and to theatres playing American movies, despite limits on their import.

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