I’ve recently been reading an old friend, Henry Kissinger’s 900-page tome Diplomacy. Like with many books of epic proportion and content, every read gives me new insight, and for the first time Kissinger’s comments on the US foreign policy during the early years of the Cold War ring true — especially as I fear we are making the same mistakes today.
And I am suprised at how sympathetic Kissinger was to France’s foreign policy. As Kissinger writes, the Suez Crisis (acknowledged even by Eisenhower in retrospect as a major error in US policy), in which the US sided with Egypt against the two European imperial powers, was a turning point in the end of European Empire. Britain and France each took away two different conclusions from the experience: Britain chose to side with America and create a special relationship by which the two countries would always work together, whereas France decided that Europe had to have an independent foreign policy from the US and go its own way. For General de Gaulle’s view, the British had initiated a ceasefire mid-battle without consulting the French, and the US had opposed the French politically, evidencing that France that it could not rely on its allies.
In the 1960s, at the height of [Charles de Gaulle's] running controversy with the United States, it became fashionable to accuse the French President of suffering from delusions of grandeur. His problem was in fact the precise opposite: how to restore identity to a country suffused with a sense of failure and vulnerability. Unlike America, France was not supremely powerful; unlike Great Britain, it did not view World War II as a unifying, or even an edifying, experience. Few countries have experienced the travails of France after it has lost much of its youth in World War I. The survivors of that catastrophe realized that France could not withstand another such ordeal. In these terms, World War II became a nightmare come true, rendering France’s collapse in 1940 a psychological as well as a military disaster. And while France technically had emerged from the war as one of the victors, French leaders knew all too well that it had been saved largely through the efforts of others.
For the French, it wasn’t just the Suez Crisis in 1956. Prior to the Suez Crisis, there had already been what France considered to be a betrayal by the US of the French war effort at Dien Bien Phu in today’s Vietnam in 1954.