The three-day visit of French President Francois Hollande to the United States last week, once the fluff about his love life was brushed away, underlined the importance of the relationship between America and France.
France has had particular value to the United States as an ally, starting in America’s revolutionary period. Perhaps its most useful characteristic as an ally across the years is that it wields credible military power and is willing and able to use it. The French president is able to send troops into difficult situations at the drop of a hat, generally without even grumbling from the parliament.
France and Mr. Hollande have done so, most recently in two of France’s former African colonies, Mali and the Central African Republic. France, with the United Kingdom, also signed on to President Barack Obama’s intervention in support of rebels fighting against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya. The Fezzan, Libya’s third region after coastal Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, was also part of France’s colonial domain.
France’s other value as an ally in 2014 is the fact that it is the strongest country, after Germany, in the 28-nation European Union and, after the United Kingdom, America’s most important partner in NATO, the trans-Atlantic military alliance. Its governments do not always agree with Washington, notably over the Iraq War, but are always an important interlocutor.
This visit, apart from the fussing over who at the White House state dinner sat in the place that was to have been occupied by Mr. Hollande’s former significant other, Valerie Trierweiler — the Obamas put him between them — permitted discussion between the two presidents of a range of important issues. These included the problems presented by the continuing Syria conflict, progress in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and growing pressure for boycotts against Israel, and the discussions with Iran on curtailing its nuclear ambitions in return for easing the economic sanctions against it.
Top-level U.S.-French contacts are always useful. These were particularly timely, given the critical issues on the tables at which both countries sit.