On 9/11, France's president reminds the U.S. that we really screwed the pooch on Iraq

When I wrote my own remembrance piece for 9/11 I’ll confess that I went a bit on the dark side. (Okay… probably more than a bit.) But if nothing else, I was at least positive about the essential goodness of the United States and our moral footing on the world stage. It turns out that the President of France, Francois Hollande, had some memories to share on the occasion as well. His were, shall we say, a bit less supportive in terms of America’s efforts to stem the global tide of terrorism. (Washington Post)

On the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that left almost 3,000 people dead in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, French President Francois Hollande wrote a message that spoke of his grief for the victims.

“Yes, that day, we were all Americans,” Hollande wrote on Facebook of September 11, 2001 – echoing a front-page headline in the Le Monde newspaper at the time.

But the French leader also offered a criticism of U.S. policy in the wake of the attacks.

“The response that the U.S. administration had to these attacks … far from eradicating the threat, they have expanded it to a wider space. In particular, Iraq,” Hollande wrote, referring to the bloodshed that followed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and continues to this day. “And even though France, through (former president) Jacques Chirac, rightly refused to join the intervention which it even condemned, it has still been a victim of the consequences of the chaos it caused.”

Just for the record (and I mentioned this on Sunday), I had a far more libertarian view fifteen years ago and I actually opposed the invasion of Iraq. Primarily I felt that it was a diversion from going after the guy who had attacked us and was reliably believed to be in Afghanistan, though I’ve found myself reconsidering my position as the decades roll by. But as the significant, if comparatively limited coalition to take down Saddam was assembled and went into action, we expected our allies to be at our side. France drove a serious wedge in our relationship at the time by not only refusing to participate, but blocking our access to their airspace. In diplomatic terms it was a debacle.

With the passage of time and the tumultuous events which have embroiled Europe, Americans have mostly gone back to our default position of regarding France with at least a sense of loyalty, if not admiration. They were, after all, our earliest ally at the founding of the nation and they’ve mostly stood for democracy in the face of tyranny since Bastille Day. (Even if they’ve needed some frequent propping up to stay on their feet.) They’ve been the subject of terror attacks themselves of late and have mostly supported the good guys in the various conflicts which surround them.

But are we ever going to completely forget the earliest days of the war on terror? We didn’t wind up with “Freedom Fries” in the congressional cafeteria by accident. Don’t forget that at one point we were talking about retaliatory action toward the French. (Baltimore Sun, from 2003)

Just weeks after the angriest rift with a close ally in decades, the United States is quietly backing away from threats to penalize France for its strenuous efforts to block the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Although Secretary of State Colin L. Powell sent ripples across the Atlantic with his warning April 23 that Paris would suffer “consequences,” serious steps to punish France are “not being taken seriously” in the Bush administration’s top ranks, a White House official said this week.

Getting back to Hollande, this is some very regressive thinking. As I said, I understand the reaction of some when we were dealing with the Iraq situation as it happened, but there’s been far too much water under the bridge since then. Yes, France has suffered terror attacks. There’s no question on that score. But what I didn’t understand in 2003 and what Hollande should most certainly understand by now is that they were going to be attacked anyway. The horror of 9/11 wasn’t the start of anything. It was just the most shocking, visible symbol of a disease which had already taken hold in the global bloodstream. To think that the terrorist urges of Islam weren’t going to hit France sooner or later (being a western power within easy reach of their strongholds) is foolish. Blaming it on us is counterproductive and ignores both history and reality.