PARIS – The French government has finished mince words. All the diplomatic niceties between two allies in a relationship dating back more than two centuries to the very birth of the American republic, one that has managed to survive even the turmoil of Donald Trump’s presidency, has gone out the window. The United States stabbed France in the back.
What irritates the French leaders just as much is that Blinken himself was supposed to be a confirmed French speaker and to contrast strongly with his predecessor Mike Pompeo.
When the Biden administration this week persuaded Australia to strike a deal giving it state-of-the-art nuclear-powered submarines with development assistance from the United States and Britain, failing a 50-year, $ 66 billion contract for diesel-powered submarines from France, was just the last nail in a coffin Trump started building more than five years ago.
This action is designed to form a bulwark against China in the Pacific but excluding France, which has its own deep stakes in the region, cuts to the very heart of the NATO alliance and whether the United States and the ‘Europe itself has a future together – unless one in which America can be called upon as a constant partner. Above all, it confirms many French (and European) fears that Biden is not a true break with Trump, but simply a continuation of many US-centric policies that are gradually isolating the United States from many of its oldest. and more faithful. allies.
A close associate of President Emmanuel Macron told me this way during a conversation at the Elysee Palace even before Biden’s latest decision was known: “I think the Europeans expected a big change with the Biden took office in terms of international relations. And what we are experiencing now is a continuum.
The brutal withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan, leaving several French citizens behind, as well as the prolonged efforts to bring the United States back to the Iran nuclear deal, which France and the other signatories have never retired, only intensified that feeling of playing second fiddle, officials at the Foreign Ministry told me.
What was particularly irritating – a term probably too innocuous to accurately describe France’s attitude today – for the French was the fact that all underwater negotiations were conducted in the utmost secrecy and that Paris was not had been informed of this only hours before the world learned of the deal.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried to put lipstick on this pig when he told reporters in Washington on Thursday: “We are cooperating incredibly closely with France on many common priorities in the Indo-Pacific but also beyond, into the world. We will continue to do so. We place a fundamental value on this relationship. But as he uttered these soothing phrases, he was surrounded by Australian Foreign and Defense Ministers. Not a French face in the room, beyond a few astonished reporters.
What irritates the French leaders just as much is that Blinken himself was supposed to be a confirmed French speaker and to contrast strongly with his predecessor Mike Pompeo. Blinken grew up in Paris and was educated at Paris’s first bilingual school, École Jeannine Manuel, before leaving for Harvard. Now the growing feeling across France is that he has completely betrayed them.
The French Embassy in Washington, headed by the brilliant diplomat Philippe Étienne, launched a impolitic statement in response to the gesture that evoked memories of the Trump years: “The choice to exclude an ally and partner like France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, testifies to a lack of coherence that France can only observe and regret.
Etienne’s predecessor, Gerard Araud, was more direct: “The world is a jungle. France has just been reminded of this bitter truth by the way the United States and the United Kingdom stabbed her in the back in Australia.
France was a key power in Asia at the end of the colonial era and still wants to be seen as a major international player, not only in Europe but in the world. But the United States is seeking to restore its own preeminence in the east, and the nuclear decision is hampering France’s efforts to play a leading role in opening a constructive, albeit cautious, relationship with China, which would include lucrative trade deals and offer a different take on the hostility that seems to have punctuated the Biden administration’s relationship with Beijing.
As such, the action of the Biden administration had immediate repercussions. France recalled its ambassador on Friday afternoon. Prior to that, France summarily canceled a gala for Friday night at its sprawling embassy in Washington to commemorate the 240th anniversary of the Battle of the Caps, the most crucial naval battle in the American Revolution.
The longer-term impact could be more pernicious. In September 2017, Macron observed that Europe “is witnessing a gradual and inevitable disengagement from the United States and a long-term terrorist threat with the stated goal of dividing our free societies.” The answer, he suggested, was simple: “In the field of defense, our aim must be to guarantee the autonomous operational capabilities of Europe” – its own joint military force, independent of the United States. This enraged Trump, but today the Biden administration appears to be doing little to improve matters, or make it less likely to move towards such a European system.
Moreover, the apparent reason for the new US nuclear contract was to send a strong message to China in a time of increasingly strained relations. But the move has undermined the united Western front which is as important as any weapon in keeping the threat from China at bay.
And Asia isn’t the only geopolitical battleground where the United States needs powerful allies. As the United States shocked France with its Australian deal, Macron himself proudly announced that French military forces had killed Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara group, responsible for the death of four American soldiers in Niger. in 2017.
A French diplomat told me quite succinctly: “Is that how you thank us?”