Despite recent French overtures, the United States appears unwilling to forgive Paris for its refusal to back the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Some fear the rift could have long-term repercussions for transatlantic relations.
French President Jacques Chirac no longer has the ear of U.S. President George Bush.
U.S. President George Bush is known for making politics personal. With his emphasis on loyalty, crossing the president has become a risky endeavor in Washington and, as the Iraq crisis has shown, even beyond America’s shores.
With the support of the leaders of Germany and Russia, French President Jacques Chirac drew Bush’s ire in the prelude to war by vowing to veto any U.N. resolution authorizing military action.
With the fall of Baghdad, Chirac has since made plenty of conciliatory noises towards the United States, including backing a U.S. initiative to end U.N. sanctions against Iraq. But Bush appears to have singled out Paris for special retribution, even though Berlin and Moscow were equally outspoken critics of the war.
“I doubt he’ll be coming to the ranch any time soon,” Bush told U.S. television station NBC on Friday, making clear Chirac remained persona non grata.
Scaled back air show presence
The U.S. Defense Department on Thursday said it would scale back American participation at the Paris Air Show in what is being interpreted as a hardly concealed snub. Only six aircraft would be displayed at the show this June instead of 11 last time round, a Pentagon spokesman said.
"This is senior Department of Defense officials' way of expressing their displeasure with French government policy on Iraq," Joel Johnson, vice president of international affairs for the U.S. Aerospace Industry Association told the Reuters news agency.
That the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were annoyed at the French has long been no secret. But perhaps more ominously, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell – the one Bush administration member once considered as less interested in pursuing retaliation against France – said this week that Paris could expect to suffer the consequences of having opposed Washington.
In spite of strong historical ties and a common democratic tradition, Franco-American ties have clearly hit a post-World War II nadir. Though incidents in America like renaming French fries “Freedom fries” may be considered laughable in Paris, calls to boycott French goods has some in France’s business community concerned.
Ernest-Antoine Seilliere, head of the MEDEF employers' association, said on Friday that France's vocal opposition to the war in Iraq had triggered an anti-French mood in the United States.
"It is much stronger than we want to admit and that worries our companies," he told Europe 1 radio. Politicians “have to recognize that, since they didn't take economic aspects into consideration at all, a very delicate situation has arisen."
Though there hasn’t yet been a noticeable impact from the boycott call, the United States market does account for 10 percent of all French exports. Some French companies have also worried aloud that they could be shut out of lucrative reconstruction and oil production contracts in Iraq. Seilliere said the ill will between the two countries would not be overcome as quickly as most people expected.
For their part, French officials remain sanguine that their self-proclaimed “pragmatic” approach to international relations in a post-Iraq war world will enable them to smooth over ties with Washington.
As perhaps a first sign of the new French pragmatism, France on Thursday said it was prepared to consider a role for NATO peacekeeping in Iraq, but that Paris would first wait for U.S. proposals before taking a final stance. Whether such moves will be enough to get Chirac an invitation to Bush’s ranch is, however, as yet unclear.