Syria coalition: US, France, but no Britain? Not really a surprise

Olivier Knox
Yahoo News

Some very smart people are saying some very silly things about the prospect that France could be the only major U.S. ally likely to support military strikes against Syria — expressing shock and surprise that Paris, not London, might be Washington’s key partner.

Yes, it was a bit of a shock to see Britain’s Parliament reject Prime Minister David Cameron’s call to authorize, in theory, a U.K. role in any U.S.-led air assault.

But a Franco-U.S. partnership against Damascus isn’t only logical, it’s rooted in history. Very, very recent history.

In 2005, only two years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq — and France’s opposition to that campaign drove bilateral relations to their worst level in decades — then-Presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac partnered to help push Syrian forces out of Lebanon.

Remember: Things had been so bad over Iraq that the House of Representatives renamed French fries “Freedom Fries” (a move met by amusement in France, where fries are considered a Belgian food), Bush’s Air Force One served “Freedom toast,” U.S. television showed images of Americans pouring French wine down sewers, and of course some commentators latched onto a line from "The Simpsons" describing the French as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”

Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution” began with a Valentine’s Day 2005 bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.

Amid an international outcry, Bush and Chirac locked arms and pushed for the full implementation of a U.N. Security Council resolution requiring the withdrawal of Syria’s roughly 14,000 troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon. The council passed that Franco-U.S. measure, UNSC Resolution 1559, in September 2004.

Britain backed the Franco-U.S. initiative — but did not play a leading role in its implementation.

No, it wasn’t a military operation. But the point is that France and the United States have formed this kind of partnership against Syria before. And of course French troops have been playing a role in Afghanistan, notably with close air support.

Back in 2005, Bush and Chirac made a big show of papering over their previously obvious distaste for each other.

At a Feb. 21, 2005, meeting at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Brussels, Bush declared: “”Every time I meet with Jacques, he’s got good advice.”

"We've got a lot of issues to talk about: Middle Eastern peace, Lebanon, Iran, helping to feed the hungry," Bush added.

Chirac replied “President Bush and I have always shared very … very warm relations.” (This was untrue, unless “warm” meant “have made each other’s blood boil.”)

Still, the French leader acknowledged recent tensions.

"Of course, we can have our differences, our divergence of opinion. Recently, this was the case. We didn't share the same view over Iraq,” Chirac said.

"But this in no way affects or in no way undermines the bedrock of our relations, namely, our common values and our common vision."

Bush ducked a question about whether he would invite the French leader to the United States and to his Texas ranch, saying: "I'm looking for a good cowboy."

But, he added, “this is my first dinner since I've been re-elected on European soil, and it's with Jacques Chirac — and that ought to say something. It ought to say how important this relationship is for me, personally, and how important this relationship is for my country.”

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