Understandably, news of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to the United States has been overshadowed by the events in Tucson. So when during a joint press conference yesterday Barack Obama slipped into diploma-speak and said “we don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally” than France, not many people picked up on it. But some did — especially those in Britain.
“We don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people,” Obama said while seated next to the French president:
To be fair, it could just be a case of inflated praise regularly poured on visiting dignitaries. While we may not have a “stronger” ally, maybe all our allies are equally as strong. But that’s not how some in Britain are interpreting the comment.
Headlines in some British news outlets show the president’s statement raised more than a few eyebrows. The Daily Mail put it this way:
While the Telegraph commented:
“Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the US president is difficult to fathom, and if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in US foreign policy,” political analyst Nile Gardiner writes in the Telegraph. “Nicolas Sarkozy is a distinctly more pro-American president than any of his predecessors, and has been an important ally over issues such as Iran and the War on Terror. But to suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.”
Gardiner is especially flummoxed by the statement considering Sarkozy has previously called Obama “thin skinned and authoritarian.” He’s also puzzled considering the amount of troops Britain has committed to current American conflicts in comparison to France:
Today in the war against the Taliban there are more than 10,000 British troops fighting alongside their US allies, compared to 3,850 Frenchmen. Nearly 350 British soldiers have laid down their lives in Afghanistan in contrast to French losses of 53.
Gardiner has noticed other anti-British actions coming from the Obama administration in the past. He’s even outlined the top 10 snubs.
“These kinds of presidential statements matter,” Gardiner adds. “No US president in modern times has described France as America’s closest ally, and such a remark is not only factually wrong but also insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French famously knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”
Gardiner isn’t the only one.
“I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely,” Tory politician Patrick Mercer told the Daily Mail. “It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.”
“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”