It’s official—America has finally forgiven France.
This is big news, particularly after such a messy break-up over America’s infatuation with remaking the Middle East. That fixation on Iraq turned into an international affair when France spurned America’s proposition and then-President Jacques Chirac refused to get sucked into a morally and legally sticky ménage à trois with George W. Bush and Tony Blair.
Despite the infamous French appetite for such things, they didn’t join the aptly-named “Coalition of the Willing.” It seems that the French weren’t willing get screwed by America’s clumsy, juvenile power-play.
But hell hath no fury like an imperialist scorned.
In 2003, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s succinctly stated the administration’s policy towards the unwilling—”Punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia.” That petty policy quickly became a series of petty punishments. The U.S. “downgraded its participation” in a French air show. It excluded France—officially a NATO member—from some NATO military exercises. French scientists were barred from meetings on Galileo, the European satellite program, and the U.S. blocked selection of France’s leading nuclear institute as the site of a cutting-edge nuclear fusion experiment called the International Tokamak Experimental Reactor (ITER).
The coup de grâce, though, came from those patriot actors in Congress. If you really want to hurt the French, you gotta go after their food, right? So, on March 11, 2003, Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio and Rep. Walter B. Jones, Jr. of North Carolina drew a line in the menu. Upon their direction, both French Fries and French Toast were re-christened as “Freedom Fries” and “Freedom Toast.” And it became a national sensation, with hash jockeys, greasy spooners and burger flippers across the country marching lock-step toward a menu that better reflected their values.
This national outpouring of righteous indignation even reached into condom dispensers in truckstop bathrooms, where patriotic fornicators could purchase “Freedom Ticklers.” Seriously. Freedom Ticklers. The best part of “the “Ticklers-formerly-known as French” was that the package depicted the Statue of Liberty, which was made in France and given to America as a gift. It’s a little irony that was probably lost on the target audience.
But now that’s all in the past. Congress eventually put the French back into their fries and, according to a new Gallup poll, Americans have decided to pull out the Barry White records and kiss and make-up with the apple of Thomas Jefferson’s eye. Although Americans’ favorability toward France plummeted from 79% just after 9/11 to a staggering 34% in March of 2003, it has finally recovered to the historical norm established throughout the 1990s. It took 11 years to recover, but now 78% of Americans sing “Je t’aime” when asked what they think about the French.
To seal the deal, President Obama invited an actual French Socialist—President Hollande—over to the White House for fancy dinner, some drinks and little dancing and then…who knows?
The two leaders were moonstruck enough to plan a big date between NASA and the French National Center of Space Studies (CNES). America and France have decided to go to Mars together. Sure, some will see a nefarious subtext in a European Socialist and President Obama agreeing to go to the “Red Planet,” but this scientific cooperation should put to rest any a lingering resentment over the petty punishments ordered by the Bush Administration.
President Hollande returned the favor by publicly putting to bed his government’s concerns in the wake of the Snowden-NSA spying revelations. “Mutual trust has been restored,” said Hollande, and he reaffirmed his commitment to work together with the U.S. to fight terrorism. And this is where the United States and the French are really getting into bed together—increasingly cooperating around Africa to quell insurgencies, fight jihadists and counter militants.