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From Surrender Monkey to Oldest Ally

France is our new hero. Just over 10 years ago that beleaguered country of fine wine and soft cheese was vilified for not supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Now Secretary of State John Kerry praises France as "our oldest ally."¹ France not only supports U.S. plans to attack Syria, it can do so without a parliamentary vote. That's a close ally indeed.

To those living outside of the Washington beltway, our attitude towards the heroic French may seem fickle, based solely on whether French leaders support our war du jour. But that just shows how little you understand about international relations.

First some brief history.

In 2003 France had the audacity to question whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to the West. To pressure France, the Bush Administration and its supporters orchestrated a campaign saying the French were "cheese eating surrender monkeys" during World War II. Congress voted to change the menu in the House cafeteria so that French Toast became Freedom Toast and French fries christened Freedom fries.

Woody Allen famously commented that he would be forced to "Freedom kiss" his wife.

Americans boycotted French wines and other products. The U.S. tapped phones and spied on the French mission to the UN, along with all other missions that opposed the Iraq War.

But that's 10 years ago, so ancien regime. France has a new leader; America has a new leader. The NSA regularly intercepts phone calls and email messages from diplomats all over the world, not just at the UN.

Today the French understand some basic tenets of U.S. policy:


  • When the U.S. sends planes and missiles to attack another country, that is not an act of war. It's Cruise lite, or as they say in Paris, a petite guerre.
  • Military attacks must be proportionate to the attacker's ability to sell the actions at home. Quick attacks in which no Americans die and cost less than $1 trillion are legal, requiring no vote of Congress.
  • Republicans go to war for national interests such a securing our strategic oil supplies. Democrats go to war to defend human rights, and get the oil wells and military bases later.
  • All countries must respect international law and uphold decisions made by the UN Security Council, unless we disagree with them.
  • No Arab country openly supports a U.S. military attack, but they all support it privately. How do we know? You'll have to take our word for it.
  • The findings of the UN chemical weapons inspectors are irrelevant unless they support the U.S. viewpoint.
  • France supports military action as a disinterested power concerned with human rights atrocities, not as the former colonial power in Syria.
  • The U.S. military assault will be surgical - just strong enough to get Assad mad but not harsh enough to accomplish anything.


Now that the U.S. and France have re-established their historic alliance, they can focus on the most important question facing the world today: How do we start a campaign against the British? Those limey bastards sucked up our lend lease during World War II and never paid us back.

I suggest we start by boycotting anyone selling fish and chips.

1 Actually certain Native American tribes from the French and Indian Wars may have been our oldest ally, but they don't get mentioned because they are unlikely to favor sending cruise missiles into Damascus.

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Reese Erlich

Reese Erlich

Reese Erlich is a journalist who writes frequently on foreign policy, arts, and culture. His most recent book is, Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect, with a foreword by Noam Chomsky (Prometheus Books). See website or follow him on Twitter: @ReeseErlich

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