France and the United States in the Wake of 9/11

by Lindsey Carlsen

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, the world rallied in support of America. One of the most powerful nations in the world had been attacked by forces that threatened the American ideologies of freedom and liberty. These attacks shocked the world, and America’s allies became concerned that the attacks could occur on their soil just as easily. In the months immediately following the attacks, the American government, led by the Bush administration, vowed to fight terrorism. These plans were initially met by an outpouring of support from European countries, including Britain, which showed their good faith by granting America special military privileges in their country in an effort to carry out the War on Terror.

During this initial plunge into the War on Terror, even France, who according to  Kent Bolton, was “far from a booster for American hegemony” stood by the United States (269). On September 12, 2001, France’s most popular newspaper, Le Monde, displayed the headline “We are All Americans!”, illustrating their American solidarity. After a few years; however, this American-European solidarity began to fade, especially as it became clear that President Bush was orchestrating a full-scale military invasion of Iraq. Cracks in the façade of this strong alliance are especially clear when examining the relationship between the United States and France, which has always been fragile. In the latter part of the twentieth century, the relationship between these two world powers has remained friendly, despite their differing political policies.

As an American author who splits her time between Paris and San Francisco, Diane Johnson was able to witness the deterioration of French and American relations after September 11th. In this atmosphere, it is likely that Johnson felt torn in her allegiance, given her double identity as both an American and an expatriate living in Paris. In an interview with New York Times magazine, Johnson cites one of the most difficult parts of being both French and American as seeing “America go from an admired to detested nation” in the wake of the War on Terror (Levine).

There have always been strains on the relationship between France and the United States, yet with the onset of military action in the Middle East these conflicts came to a head. Feelings of discontent with American policies resonated among French citizens, and in a poll conducted by Gallup Inc. 60% of French citizens polled stated that they opposed U.S. military intervention in Iraq (USA Today). Additionally, when asked whether France should become involved with the U.S. military, 61% of French citizens polled stated that their country should stay out of the conflict in the Middle East (USA Today).

French disapproval of the War on Terror can be traced to their disapproval of President Bush, and their desire to balance American hegemony in the developed Western world. To many French citizens President Bush embodies all that is wrong with American culture, as they see him as the epitome of an ugly American, due to his image as a simplistic Texas cowboy. Their disdain for the former president also stems from the fact that his administration invaded  Iraq, even without the continued support of many powerful European actors. In Bush’s opinion, “The war on terror was a truly global fight…but one which only America could and would lead – even if many chose not to follow” (Lynch and Singh 229). These beliefs and subsequent actions reflect the power of the United States in the world political sphere, another issue that resonates with the French people. France would like to take on the role of a leader within the European Union, and in doing so become a check on American power (Bolton 271). France would like to “see the U.S. bound by the Kyoto Protocol and International Criminal Court…to constrain U.S. power” (Lynch and Singh 238). These constraints on the United States would put the world’s most powerful countries on a more even playing field, and in doing so might thaw relations between America and France. Finally, according to Timothy Lynch and Robert Singh,  “distaste toward the Bush administration [and America] in Paris” can be traced to the long-standing infiltration of American culture into France (239). American culture has invaded many aspects of French life, food, clothing, and leisure time, as the French eat at McDonald’s, watch American movies, and wear American-made clothes like Levi’s.

In the United States, these disdainful French sentiments were viewed as active hostility to American initiatives. In response to this perceived hostility, many Americans became determined to boycott French goods.

Most notably, this boycott manifested itself in the renaming of French fries to freedom fries. Although the introduction of freedom fries received a great deal of media attention in the United States, it is not the most notable case of “Francophobia” that occurred during the reign of President Bush (Wall 127). During the President Bush years, the conservative movement took center stage in America, and this caused many to feel disdain toward the French system of welfare, which is incredibly generous in comparison to that of the United States. Many conservatives in America viewed this system of welfare as wrong, describing it as “bloated, wasteful, and an inhibition to economic growth and competitiveness.” (Wall 127). Additionally, for politicians across political party lines, the biggest reason for anti-French sentiment stems from their desire to create a more powerful European Union, one that will challenge the power and influence of the United States.

The early years of the twenty-first century marked a time of great controversy between the United States and France. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York, the U.S. sought to take out all terrorists in the Middle East, a desire viewed as arrogant by many, especially the French. In the years following the invasion of Iraq; however, the relationship between the two nations has begun to thaw, and with the elections of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 and Barrack Obama in 2008, there has been a significant strengthening of the relationship. Although the relationship between the United States and France has improved in recent years, it is unlikely that the two countries will ever exist conflict free, due to both of their desire to be reigning world powers, and given the conflicts that they have experienced in the past.

Works Cited

Bolton, M. Kent. U.S. National Security and Foreign Policymaking After 9/11: Present at the Re-creation. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Print.

Levine, Edward. “A Writer’s Part-Time Paris Apartment.” The New York Times. 23 Nov. 2003. Web. 17 Nov. 2010.

Lynch, Timothy J., and Robert Singh. After Bush: The Case For Continuity In American Foreign Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.

Wall, Irwin M. “The French-American War Over Iraq.” Brown Journal of World Affairs 10.2 (2004): 123-39. Print.

“Many Europeans Oppose War In Iraq.” USA Today, 20 May 2005. Web. 17 Nov. 2010.

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