No Stronger Friend...than France?

Even for an unapologetic Francophile like me, President Obama's latest diplomatic gaffe was too much to swallow.  Mr. Obama greeted the president of the French Republic with this comment: "We [Americans] don't have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people."

The British, not surprisingly, took umbrage.  The Heritage Foundation's British-born commentator, Nile Gardiner, took to the pages of London's Daily Telegraph to point out that Britain supplied three times as many troops for NATO's war effort in Afghanistan and has suffered seven times as many battle deaths there as the French for our common cause.

Gardiner also noted that Nicolas Sarkozy was decidedly less impressed with the new U.S. president than some in the media.  When the American president went to France for the 65th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, Newsweek's Evan Thomas gushed that Obama hovered "above the nations, like a sort of god."  But Sarkozy puckishly said that he was waiting for Obama to walk on the English Channel.

If President Obama were really searching for the "no stronger friend than" award-winner, he might have chosen to honor Australia.  The brave soldiers of Oz have fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans in every one of our wars for the past century.  (Actually, it is the U.S. that bravely joined the Aussies in World Wars I & II, since they were in the battle line years before we were.)

The sad fact is that too many Americans despise France for her military weakness in the twentieth century.  American students are not taught that France sacrificed 350,000 soldiers in defending Paris from the German "Huns" in just three months in the autumn of 1914.  France suffered the loss of more than two million of her young men in that war.

To compensate for her loss, and to prevent its recurrence, Premier Georges Clemenceau demanded at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 a mere thirty-kilometer de-militarized zone in Germany's Rhineland.  You British have the Channel, and you Americans have the Atlantic, he said -- all France wants is thirty kilometers.

It was not an unreasonable request, especially when you consider that France had only one half as many eighteen-year-old young men coming of age each year as Germany and produced only one tenth as much steel.

Not only was this Clemenceau request reasonable, but it was promised to him in the French Guaranty Treaty signed by Britain's Prime Minister David Lloyd George and the U.S. president, Woodrow Wilson.

I first learned of the French Guaranty Treaty a decade ago over coffee with then-Canadian writer David Frum.  I had never heard of it before.  And I had taught college-level courses in U.S. diplomatic history.

Frum was right.  What I learned was that Woodrow Wilson, once the U.S. Senate had voted down his pet project, the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, declined even to submit the French Guaranty Treaty to the Senate for ratification.  Was this spite on Wilson's part?  Or brokenhearted resignation?  I don't know.  But I know that the victorious Republicans in the 1920s also failed to ratify this treaty.

David Frum wisely called the French Guaranty Treaty "an earlier NATO."  It was a limited U.S. commitment that the Republicans in the Senate were more than willing to support.

Had we ratified the French Guaranty Treaty in 1919, we might have raced to France's side in 1936, when Hitler marched into the Rhineland.  We now know that Hitler had given orders to his generals to beat a hasty retreat if the French showed any resistance to his flagrant violation of the Treaty of Versailles.  And there is good reason to believe that those German generals might have overthrown the Führer had the French met steel with steel.

The world might have been spared the Second World War and the Holocaust had Wilson kept his word to France.  Wilson, instead, won a Nobel Peace Prize.  FDR, for his part, thought that Wilson was responsible for the rise of Hitler.

President Obama, like Woodrow Wilson, has won the Nobel Peace Prize.  And like Wilson, Obama has a visionary view of the role of international peace-keeping organizations.  Like Wilson, President Obama has abandoned key American allies -- in this case, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.

In praising France, Obama has dissed Britain.  But he has also failed to give the French the help they really need: a strong endorsement for France's tough measures to check the spread of jihadism and sharia.  France could play the role in the struggle against Islamism that Poland played in the Cold War.  If only President Obama saw it that way.
Even for an unapologetic Francophile like me, President Obama's latest diplomatic gaffe was too much to swallow.  Mr. Obama greeted the president of the French Republic with this comment: "We [Americans] don't have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people."

The British, not surprisingly, took umbrage.  The Heritage Foundation's British-born commentator, Nile Gardiner, took to the pages of London's Daily Telegraph to point out that Britain supplied three times as many troops for NATO's war effort in Afghanistan and has suffered seven times as many battle deaths there as the French for our common cause.

Gardiner also noted that Nicolas Sarkozy was decidedly less impressed with the new U.S. president than some in the media.  When the American president went to France for the 65th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, Newsweek's Evan Thomas gushed that Obama hovered "above the nations, like a sort of god."  But Sarkozy puckishly said that he was waiting for Obama to walk on the English Channel.

If President Obama were really searching for the "no stronger friend than" award-winner, he might have chosen to honor Australia.  The brave soldiers of Oz have fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans in every one of our wars for the past century.  (Actually, it is the U.S. that bravely joined the Aussies in World Wars I & II, since they were in the battle line years before we were.)

The sad fact is that too many Americans despise France for her military weakness in the twentieth century.  American students are not taught that France sacrificed 350,000 soldiers in defending Paris from the German "Huns" in just three months in the autumn of 1914.  France suffered the loss of more than two million of her young men in that war.

To compensate for her loss, and to prevent its recurrence, Premier Georges Clemenceau demanded at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 a mere thirty-kilometer de-militarized zone in Germany's Rhineland.  You British have the Channel, and you Americans have the Atlantic, he said -- all France wants is thirty kilometers.

It was not an unreasonable request, especially when you consider that France had only one half as many eighteen-year-old young men coming of age each year as Germany and produced only one tenth as much steel.

Not only was this Clemenceau request reasonable, but it was promised to him in the French Guaranty Treaty signed by Britain's Prime Minister David Lloyd George and the U.S. president, Woodrow Wilson.

I first learned of the French Guaranty Treaty a decade ago over coffee with then-Canadian writer David Frum.  I had never heard of it before.  And I had taught college-level courses in U.S. diplomatic history.

Frum was right.  What I learned was that Woodrow Wilson, once the U.S. Senate had voted down his pet project, the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, declined even to submit the French Guaranty Treaty to the Senate for ratification.  Was this spite on Wilson's part?  Or brokenhearted resignation?  I don't know.  But I know that the victorious Republicans in the 1920s also failed to ratify this treaty.

David Frum wisely called the French Guaranty Treaty "an earlier NATO."  It was a limited U.S. commitment that the Republicans in the Senate were more than willing to support.

Had we ratified the French Guaranty Treaty in 1919, we might have raced to France's side in 1936, when Hitler marched into the Rhineland.  We now know that Hitler had given orders to his generals to beat a hasty retreat if the French showed any resistance to his flagrant violation of the Treaty of Versailles.  And there is good reason to believe that those German generals might have overthrown the Führer had the French met steel with steel.

The world might have been spared the Second World War and the Holocaust had Wilson kept his word to France.  Wilson, instead, won a Nobel Peace Prize.  FDR, for his part, thought that Wilson was responsible for the rise of Hitler.

President Obama, like Woodrow Wilson, has won the Nobel Peace Prize.  And like Wilson, Obama has a visionary view of the role of international peace-keeping organizations.  Like Wilson, President Obama has abandoned key American allies -- in this case, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.

In praising France, Obama has dissed Britain.  But he has also failed to give the French the help they really need: a strong endorsement for France's tough measures to check the spread of jihadism and sharia.  France could play the role in the struggle against Islamism that Poland played in the Cold War.  If only President Obama saw it that way.

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