America and France: whose betrayal?

Sabine Herold Kenneth Timmerman
18 October 2004


Dear Kenneth,

In your latest book on Franco–American relations, you flatly accuse France of having betrayed the United States. In your eyes, Jacques Chirac’s vigorous opposition to the intervention in Iraq is regarded as evidence of the cavernous divide that separates an “old France” from a “youthful America”.

However, amidst the “peace” marches and “anti–war” demonstrations, there are other voices to be heard. As you may be aware, we at Liberté Chérie supported this intervention that ultimately allowed the liberation of the Iraqi people from a dictator who had enslaved them for the past thirty years.

Here in France, like you in America, we have seen large anti–war demonstrations and hodgepodge gatherings, portraying the United States as the new, oil-hungry imperialists. They are as misleading as they are insulting. At Liberté Chérie we reject this blind ignorance that seems to have befallen many of our compatriots. We would have preferred to see demonstrations recalling the close ties that unite France and America.

It is in the name of those close ties that I cannot allow you to categorically condemn France, your country’s long–standing ally. I cannot allow you to treat France as a traitor when we are, in fact, brethren.

It is undeniable that France and America are united in fraternity. Of all the grand democracies only France and America have never fought against each other. Yet it is not the blood spilled at the hands of the other that brings us together, but rather that has been spilled for the freedom of the other. Remember, first Lafayette liberated America from British shackles; then Pershing brought us freedom in 1917; and then Eisenhower did so again in 1944.

Our shared history can never be erased because, above and beyond the mutual moral debt we owe each other, France and America share the same values and ideals. Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence is rooted in the same principles as the French Revolution. Americans and French alike, we defend personal freedom, we recognise the intrinsic value of the individual and we esteem responsibility – these are the values we share that form the basis of our respective societies.

Our countries’ common history will always unite our destinies, and reactionary rhetoric will not alter this fact.

This is why I must caution you against making such sweeping and hasty judgments. Beware of certain optical illusions that focus solely on the president of France, Jacques Chirac, whose view does not represent the whole nation. The outdated perspective of this statesman must not drive apart our two nations. Chirac is a man of the last century. His ideas on foreign policy are nothing more than a poor caricature of Gaullism, and although the stances he takes may sometimes nostalgically recall this past era, they no longer have true recourse in today’s decolonised, globalised world.

In fact, France’s current foreign policies amount to little more than an accumulation of the erroneous tendencies of the past. For example, pro–Palestinian politics, friendly relations with the worst of African dictators, privileged ties with Cuba – these policies all carry the stamp of the old guard, still imbued with the ethos of the cold war and non–alignment manoeuverings.

Furthermore, the very concept of terrorism denies all those humanist values our two countries share, and it is therefore unthinkable that the “war on terrorism” could separate our two nations, as many seem keen to portray. Despite the fact that the politicians of France’s current administration are presently at an impasse, you must have faith that France can change. Indeed, it is already starting to take place. The light murmur for change is growing ever louder, looking to establish its foundations, a process in which Liberté Chérie believes it can play a role.

We are not politicians, however, only citizens eager for change. With the strength drawn from our 3,000 members, we aim to give voice to a civil society which is keen and ready for reform. The single guiding principle that directs our work is freedom, whether our activities are of national or international significance.

In national affairs, we support liberal economic reforms that bring more independence to the individual as well as movement and flexibility to the French economy – an economy that has gangrened under the pervasive and overarching state. In international affairs, we advocate the freedom of every man and woman, regardless of their origin. We have affirmed our willingness to liberate the Iraqis from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. We have demonstrated our rejection of Fidel Castro’s legitimacy and the complacency with which the French press and political milieu have embraced the Cuban regime. If asked tomorrow, we would not hesitate to offer similar open opposition to North Korea or Iran.

Everyday, our ideas gain more ground in public opinion, as we increase our membership and consolidate our political and media presence. Our voice is getting louder and stronger. Our voice is the voice of France, the France that you can still love, and the France we will seek to convince you to love always.

I hope, Kenneth, that I have offered a case for not rejecting my country so absolutely.

Kind regards,


Dear Sabine,

I regret that my book The French Betrayal of America is not available in French translation. This has not been for a lack of effort on the part of my publishers, Crown Forum. However, everyone we approached was of the opinion that no one in France would be interested in reading about the lies of Monsieur Chirac or the corruption of French leaders, who preferred to betray a 200 year–old alliance with America in order to preserve $100 billion worth of promises from Saddam Hussein.

Remember that canard that the United States was going to war in Iraq for oil? Well, French Betrayal argues that Iraq was indeed a war for oil – but by Jacques Chirac and his cronies, not by the Bush administration. Chirac was determined to prevent war in order to preserve oil contracts with Saddam worth $100 billion for French oil companies that were conditioned on two things: Saddam Hussein remaining in power and the lifting of United Nations sanctions.

I agree that the French nation should not be tarred by the behaviour of its elected president. Through their support for a ruthless dictator, Chirac and his foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, betrayed France before they betrayed America. But so far, if your compatriots agree, they have kept pretty quiet about it.

However, I do believe that fundamental national interests – or at least, a certain perception of those interests – are driving America and France apart. This is a new phenomenon that began at the end of the cold war and accelerated after the first Gulf war against Saddam Hussein. It has been caused in part by declining French arms exports and by a French economy suffocating from high taxes and government regulation.

President Chirac has elevated an economic quarrel into a grand philosophical divide. In so doing, he betrays his belief that export contracts are divided up through back–door deals among world leaders, not by market forces.

In detailing the past thirty years of the US–French relationship, I note that our alliance was strongest when a conservative American president, Ronald Reagan, teamed with a socialist French president, François Mitterrand, to fight the cold war shoulder-to-shoulder.

“Given a choice between freedom and tyranny, Mitterrand didn’t hesitate an instant,” I write in French Betrayal. “Despite his leftist philosophy and political affinities – and an ingrained suspicion of America that surfaced again and again – he chose America as his ally.

Faced with that same choice between freedom and tyranny, Chirac consistently has chosen tyranny, to the great dishonour of my many freedom–loving friends in France.

You rightly mentioned pro–Palestinian policies. Given the chance to support Palestinian reformers, who sought to build a society based on pluralism and law, France under Jacques Chirac consistently provided financial and diplomatic support to Yasser Arafat and his reign of terror.

He is doing it again today with the theocratic regime in Iran, which is developing nuclear weapons as the Europeans mumble “peace in our time”.

People question on both sides of the Atlantic the wisdom of the war in Iraq. The final Iraq Survey Group report, released on 7 October, should put to rest those critics who claimed that Saddam Hussein was not a threat. With hundreds of pages of supporting details, documents, and interviews with former regime leaders and weapons scientists, the ISG’s Charles Duelfer and his team of analysts paint a detailed picture of an Iraqi dictator determined to circumvent UN sanctions and rebuild an offensive military capability that included long–range ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons, and chemical and biological arsenals.

But the most compelling reason for going into Iraq was the one the Bush administration argued the least at the time. For the free world to succeed in beating the terrorists who attacked us on 11 September 2001, we must offer an alternative to the ideology of hate that motivates Osama bin Laden and his followers. By helping Iraqis to win their freedom from fear, the US–led coalition is bringing hope to the Middle East.

It will be a long war, but I believe the tipping-point will come more quickly than most people could imagine, given the picture of doom and gloom they see daily in the press. That tipping-point will come when the Iraqis themselves realise that their own interests demand they rip the terrorists from their midst, so they can get on with the task of building their country.

I am pleased to learn about Liberté Chérie and hope that you will succeed in getting your voice heard. From the eighteen years I lived in France, and my frequent trips today, I know that the values you champion resonate deeply with your compatriots, many of whom still remember the shame of occupation and collaboration but also the glory of resistance and liberation.



Coming next week: Former Japanese ambassador to the US, Yoshio Okawara, corresponds with distinguished MIT scholar of Japanese history, John Dower.

Last week: Iraqi mother and blogger, Faiza al-Araji, writes to author and former US marine, Anthony Swofford.


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