US responsibility for the weak Franco-American Relationship

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.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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4 Responses to US responsibility for the weak Franco-American Relationship

  1. An excellent book.

    His forthcoming book China will probably be good.

    Suez was badly handled by everyone. Stephen Ambrose’s bio of Eisenhower gives the inside view of the events from the American perspective. Ike was furious with his former wartime colleagues for not working with the USA, not consulting with him, attempting to present him with a fait accompli.

  2. Alfred Russel Wallace says:

    My feeling is that the UK thought Suez a deep humiliation – it took some courage to decide to maintain the ‘special relationship’….

  3. M Brueschke says:

    While the French might have considered a lack of US support during Dien Bien Phu a betrayal, why would the French or British think the Eisenhower government would back either of them in a colonial affair when the Eisenhower, Truman and Roosevelt administrations were all anti-colonial in foreign policy?

    Roosevelt was very anti-colonial during the summits during World War Two while many of the USAAF and USA generals were super anti-colonial, including Eisenhower.

    In 1954 Eisenhower said – “Nobody is more opposed to intervention than I am”.

    Rather than damaging the relationship, its more importantly a foreign policy that actually had some continuity.

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