CUBA SOCIALISTA Theoretical and Political Journal Edited by the CC of the Cuban Communist Party
Although France provided decisive military support to the American settlers during their independence war against Great Britain, and followed their lead with the 1789 Revolution, US-French relations have always been touchy. Traditionally, short and fragile moments of relative understanding are always followed by periods of important contradictions usually having an impact on political and economic issues.
There is a growing concern in the international arena about the negative implications that could stem from the conflict between the Bush Administration and the French Government, particularly its effects on the system of transatlantic relations.
Some right-wing American congress members, displaying a negative disposition towards Paris, have outlined projects to damage French wines in American markets, criticizing French arrogance vis a vis American "modesty and honesty." This tense situation reached its peak with the French opposition to Anglo-American plans of intervention in Iraq as part of their strategy of creating a unipolar world.
Consequently, France received the "punishment" announced by the American Administration as part of a wider reaching scheme which included ignoring Germany and forgiving Russia. All these factors have determined the actions of both countries regarding the Middle East.
Chirac inherited a French foreign policy that already looked toward the Arab world, therefore his intentions of strengthening his links with many of these States and some groups in the area — considered terrorists by the American Government — are the continuity of a more general strategy to boost French influence in the region. The Bush Administration, of course, opposes this.
French policy towards the Middle East changed after the Israeli victory in the 1967 Six Day War. The then President Charles de Gaulle started a pro-Arab policy that still prevails. According to Le Point journal, De Gaulle based his approach (of which he stated: Arabs have numbers, space and time) on a long term plan of sacrificing relations with Israel for the good will of a more populated and oil rich Arab world.
When Jacques Chirac became President in 1995, he declared that the French policy towards the Arab world represented an important political aspect of his foreign policy. This was reflected in the increase of commercial and cultural exchanges as part of his projection for the relations with this region. By 2002, France was already one of the three main commercial partners of jost of the countries in the region: In the first place of Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia and Saddam’s Iraq, in the second of Lebanon and Syria, and in the third of Egypt.
French Middle East policy motivated several disagreements with the White House as it contrasted sharply with Washington’s support of Israel. These contradictions undermined the real possibilities and credibility of the European Union as co-sponsor of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
By 2004, a survey among six Arab countries showed that Chirac was at the top of the list of world leaders in Egypt, Lebanon, and Morocco and in the third place in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. In contrast, the same statistics revealed American President George Bush as the least popular after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
These results have a lot to do with the personal relations the French leader has developed with important personalities in the region. Apart from Arafat, and the deceased Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik-al-Hariri, Chirac maintained steady and cordial communications with the deceased Syrian President Hafez-al-Assad, which remained unaltered with his son and successor Bashar, and with ex Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
These personal links earned the French leader repeated criticisms from Washington and at times jeopardized their bilateral dialogue. A particularly difficult issue was the approach between the French President and the Iraqi leader which conditioned a disapproving attitude from Paris regarding the American campaign against Iraq as well as its opposition to the use of force by armed intervention to solve the crisis.
Divisions within the European Union became more apparent as a result of the crisis regarding the military intervention of Iraq. The breaches in the general transatlantic dialogue, and in particular in France-US relations, were significant and stand little chance of being restored in the short or mid term. Tension and mistrust characterize today’s dialogue as evidence of prevailing reservations between the parties.
Chirac’s systematic and open support of Arafat in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was another bone of contention in his relations with the White House, particularly during the days before the death of the Palestinian leader. Such behavior increased the influence of the French President in the Arab world.
French support to Syria has also been significant, despite the fact that Paris, together with the US, co-sponsored a UN Security Council Resolution demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops stationed in Lebanon and the disarmament of the pro-Syrian militia. Solid evidence of these ties is the close personal relations between the French President and the Syrian leadership (namely the ex President and his successor).
So much so that the French-Syrian Friendship Association has among its jost important members former Prime Minister Raymond Barre, former State Secretary Claude Cheysson and Nicolas Sarkozy, whom analysts single out as the jost likely winner in the 2007 presidential elections.
To this list of contradictions we must add the attempted coup d’etat in Equatorial Guinea, clearly promoted and designed by the US with NATO support (Spanish and British troops), and obstructed by France.  Washington’s main objective was to take control of the country and build the largest gas plant in the world, which could have meant a disastrous market loss for Total in favor of Repsol with ominous consequences for the French administration.
Some specialists believe that France’s support of Saddam Hussein, Yasir Arafat and the aforementioned Syrian leaders is due to the wish of curtailing American ambitions in the Middle East while increasing French prestige at a cost to the US in the region. Other specialists highlight French antipathy toward Israel and a desire to please Muslim voters as the main factors. The fact is that the convergences of these factors with France’s interest in extending its influence in the Arab world as well as its own hegemonic tendencies — traditionally at odds with the imperial pretensions of the White House — have been at the root of both parties’ policies toward the Arab world, and other areas of international relations.
An eventual arrival of Sarkozy to the Eliseé could end, or at least mitigate, the traditional French policy of antagonism to the US in the Middle East. His display of "affection" towards the British Prime Minister and the German Chancellor together with his frequent statements in favor of strengthening the Paris-Washington links through an open and steady dialogue, indicate a course of action tending to dialogue rather than to conflict. This will also contribute to the eventual fading out of the Chirac doctrine.
One would have to look at what advantages and disadvantages a privileged relation with the Middle East has for Paris if it means, in jost cases, a confrontation with the US administration. Chirac has attained an interest-cost-benefit balance that may not be completely favorable, but is frequently in keeping with his aspirations of relative independence from the US in the general framework of international relations. Popular support to this is apparent, but future perspectives are not very encouraging.
One would only need to identify the interests determining the new government’s links with the White House as they will dictate the level and quality of future France-US relations. In a context characterized by the recent mutual approach on both sides of the Atlantic, regardless of the constant disagreements, the course of the Paris-Washington dialogue will be an important variable to consider when defining the general state of transatlantic relations.
. See: Lobe, Jim. Ola de francofobia en Washington. En:http://www.ipsenespanol.net/internairaq.as
. Guitta, Olivier. La doctrina Chirac. En: www.gees.org, octubre de 2005.
. For further detail see: Lepic, Arthur. Francia pone en jaque a la OTAN.