An enormous international sigh of relief has followed the election of comparative moderate Emmanuel Macron as president of France. He has decisively defeated Marine Le Pen of the right-wing National Front. Macron began his political life as a socialist, and served for a time in the government of President François Hollande. 

            Macron has overcome these associations, and also relative obscurity. His moderate stance was vital to achieving election victory.

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News

French Voters Choose Stability & Progress

  • Charles de Gaulle in World War II
    Charles de Gaulle in World War II
June 19, 2017

An enormous international sigh of relief has followed the election of comparative moderate Emmanuel Macron as president of France. He has decisively defeated Marine Le Pen of the right-wing National Front.

            Macron began his political life as a socialist, and served for a time in the government of President François Hollande, who has become extremely unpopular. Last year Hollande announced he would not seek a second term.

            Macron has overcome these associations, and also relative obscurity. His moderate stance was vital to achieving election victory. An important factor has been widespread anxiety regarding Le Pen and her party, fueled in part by the long controversial political career of her outspoken father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

            While France’s elections generate heated rhetoric and colorful confrontations, the nation’s foreign policies are of greater external importance. Americans should remember that from the beginning France has been among our most significant allies. During the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin played an historic role in wooing and winning French public as well as royal opinion, which led to crucial military as well as financial assistance.

            Immediately after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 French aircraft joined those of other NATO allies in patrolling the skies over North America. The struggle against international terrorist groups remains a collective enterprise, supported by the United Nations as well as the NATO alliance. This commitment has transcended party lines in France.

            However, during the Cold War France often pursued an independent foreign policy. This was the case especially after General Charles de Gaulle, the great leader of Free France during World War II, returned to power as president in 1958. France appeared to be politically both weak and unstable, widely viewed as verging on the collapse of effective government.

            After returning to power, he skillfully employed a three-pronged strategy involving image, institutions and foreign policy. His remarkable career and personality permitted him to appeal simultaneously to French traditions of monarchy, nationalism and democracy. He appeared imperious, yet resorted to popular referenda.

            De Gaulle established the Fifth Republic, including a new constitution granting great institutional power to the president. He rebuilt French self-confidence through emphasis on the “force de frappe,” the independent national nuclear deterrent, plus diplomacy. The nuclear force became a dramatic symbol of pride and independence.

            Except for Britain, a special partner, the U.S. has consistently opposed development of nuclear weapons by other nations. The Kennedy administration was aggressive and at times abrasive in pressing this policy on France and others.

            De Gaulle came to power during the Eisenhower administration, during which such clashes were avoided. President Dwight Eisenhower was more tolerant of policy ambiguities, in hindsight remarkably shrewd.

            While planning the Allied invasion of France during World War II, some American and British air commanders argued against heavy bombing that would kill many French civilians. General Eisenhower was able to turn to General de Gaulle for support. Both deemed such bombing essential for success; Ike had already established personal rapport with the French general.

            In 1966, de Gaulle took the step of withdrawing France from NATO. Indirectly this reinforced his effort to rebuild French confidence. In 2009, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced France would return to NATO as a full member.

            France today has strong effective democratic government. American leaders should avoid telling French people how to vote, and instead focus on keeping our enduring alliance strong. Lecturing others is easy; effective foreign policy is hard work

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of ‘After the Cold War’ (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). Contact acyr@carthage.edu