(A translation of a Le Monde editorial from June 7, 2004)
On June 6, 2004, there was another successful operation on the beaches of Normandy. In spite of all that empoisons international relations, in spite of the profound disagreements that could have derailed a risky French-American meeting, Jacques Chirac knew how to emphasize gratitude on this sixtieth anniversary of the Allied landing.
Spontaneously, grateful French did their part. Between the red carpet unrolled for President George W. Bush and a genuine sense of the event’s historic dimension, Americans left happy. For his part, President Chirac cannot help but congratulate himself on the success of this anniversary.
What will be the real impact of this upturn? Far from the fanfare, political observers picked up on the obvious tensions that Bush and Chirac could not successfully hide during their joint press conference on Saturday at the Elysée. While it is true—as the American press emphasized—that the word “Iraq” was never once uttered during Sunday’s conference, the United Nations was duly praised—twice—by Chirac, as was the multilateralism damaged by Washington.
The vote on the Iraqi resolution in the UN Security Council, which is expected this week, should provide an indication of the depth of this new spirit of French-American cooperation. The negotiations were re-launched on Sunday in New York, and their primary aim is to enable the Bush administration to open the G-8 Summit on Sea Island this week with the diplomatic consensus from the UN as a backdrop. The stability of a compromise thrown together under such circumstances remains to be proven.
Five months from the presidential elections, George W. Bush can return home with his head high: apart from the Pope’s reprimand, Bush was not embarrassed during his trip through the Old Europe. Yet one must say that all was done to avoid any problems: Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense who, in the eyes of Europeans, symbolizes the Iraq occupation fiasco, was not beside his French counterpart: Michèle Alliot-Marie. In the midst of this lavishly celebrated alliance, another figure was notable by his absence: Dominique de Villepin, the man who was in charge of French diplomacy at the moment when France and the United States collided head-on last year on the international stage. More than Chirac, de Villepin is the contemptuous symbol of that confrontation in the eyes of Americans. One can only wonder whether de Villepin’s departure from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not the price that Chirac had to pay in order for George W. Bush to participate in this anniversary.
Nonetheless, it remains the case that the gap dug between Europe and the United States over the past two years has not disappeared at a wave of the media’s wand. The future will tell whether the spirit of Omaha Beach will inspire a new French-American partnership or whether, more mundanely, the only beneficiary of this rapprochement will be the American president in the next election.