Continental Drift—America and France

I have always loved France, and it is with chagrin that I see the centrifugal forces of history steadily separating that wonderful country and my own.

1. The Economic Background

In considering the relationship, let us first look at the points of departure, the politico-economic theory on which each country is built. Ever since Louis XIV’s great minister Colbert, France has believed in economic and political centralization; America, on the contrary, was from the start opposed to rulers and strong central power.

Under the kings, the ministries actually managed France, the way one would command an army. Large-scale private industry consisted primarily of monopolies granted to royal favorites. In acts and utterances, they were careful to appear loyal subjects. Today, things aren’t entirely different. If the government dislikes a newspaper or a company, matters can become exceedingly difficult. And structures change slowly in France, given that 80% of the Assemblėe Nationale are themselves government officials!

Suppose a new minister, often a young man with no industrial background, decides on a procurement policy. Measures are formulated to push it: government subsidies, regulations, big orders from national entities. He assembles a handful of grands patrons—the heads of major companies, often with a state involvement—and passes the word. Deep in the bellies of those companies groups are assigned to carry things forward, subject to the usual bureaucratic constraints. Matters progress slowly, bureaucratically.

But in a world where competition is extremely professional, a world containing Silicon Valley and the great Japanese companies, this procedure may not be sufficient. Real initiative tends to be frustrated, and projects that should grow into whole new companies in fact become sluggish divisions of large conglomerates oriented to seek government business and to respond to official pushing and pulling.

The U.S. system is different. Energetic young men with big ideas get financing from their families to start a company in the garage. Then they go to a venture capital group, and after a few years you have Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Qualcomm, Dell, or whatever: huge multinational enterprises.

Michel Detroyat, head of Detroyat Associés, an economic research firm, told me some years ago, “when I go to America, as I often do, and visit scientific companies, I am astonished at their numbers, and the vitality and creativity that they display. The U.S. is several times as populous as France, and has a substantially larger economy. But the number of exciting and creative scientific companies is not several times bigger or ten times bigger. It is hundreds of times bigger. Consider this: Is there even one French high-tech company that is taken seriously in the U.S.? And yet here, in every single sector, from information processing and office equipment to aeronautics and atomic energy, the effective competitors always include the better American companies in that field.”

The constraints of French business are illustrated by the wholesale departure of young French bankers from Paris to London—certainly in the tens of thousands.

The governing theory of U.S. economic management is decentralization. (Divisions of the same company may even compete with each other.) While in France many of the very ablest young people enter the grandes écoles—the Ecole Normal Supérieure, the Polytechnique and so on—and thereafter are assured an orderly, distinguished official career, in the U.S. energetic young people of superior talents rarely enter government. They are much more likely to take on the challenging and uncomfortable but very well remunerated responsibilities of business activity, where you can really make things happen, not only in your own country, but all over the world.

The principle of decentralization—or devolution—also operates at the political level, and has been the explicit American theory from the first. The States are themselves often very large political and economic units, and resist fiercely the authority of the federal government except as permitted by the constitution, just as companies fight official regulation. Lincoln proclaimed, “Government ought not to do for the people what the people can best do for themselves.”

You see this same distinction in the two countries’ theories of jurisprudence, Roman and Common Law. One is top-down, the other is bottom-up. Under Roman or statute law, a group of distinguished academics, jurists, and politicians are assembled, and codify what they decide the law should be. In the Common Law, which the U.S. inherited from England and England from the Salian Franks, the principle is that you determine what the people actually do, based on custom and experience, and change it as little as possible. In court you reason from precedent. It was even once asserted that “Parliament has no power to change the law of the land.” Of course, in practice the two countries’ systems are bit by bit converging.

So to sum up, in American economics the idea of hustling innovation, of “creative destruction,” is strong, often at the price of indifference to tradition and elegance. In France one finds greater respect for those qualities at the price of slower growth. Which is better, more successful? For myself, I do not know. They reflect the traditions of different populations. The French live very well! As it happens, the ideas of my own background, Boston and New England. are quite close to those of the France that I admire: traditional, within an energetic work ethic.

As to the legal framework of business, when I was a wine grower in France I was surprised to find that the profit split between the patron—the owner of the land and productive equipment—on the one hand, and an independent worker on the other—called in French métayage (in English, sharecropping)—was minutely regulated. The arrangement could not just be whatever seemed fair to both of us; it had to be exactly as spelled out word for word in the agricultural code, and nothing else. Similarly, thanks to the forced heirship principle of the Code Napoleon, there were dozens of strips of vines within the property that belonged to others. All had to be bought or exchanged, an extremely laborious business which could never have arisen in the U.S. And labels! A French national body, the INAO, specifies precisely what can and what must not appear in specific locations on the label. Every word, every letter, is controlled.

But in the end is French law a better or worse way to run a country than the Common Law? Having lived under both, I do not know: the cardinal virtue of good law is predictability, and French law certainly has that.

Some say that there is more social justice in France, thanks to the government’s deep involvement in the life of the people, but it is also generally accepted that the U.S. offers more opportunity, both to succeed and to fail. The U.S. has a higher income per capita, but France has more emphasis on the good life.

2. Une Grande Querelle

“France has need of a great quarrel,” said de Gaulle, meaning, to unify the country. For centuries the English and then the Germans provided that requirement, at the price, to be sure, of fearful suffering. Then Russia. Now, with Germany pacifist, and Russia and England no threat, with whom can France pick its necessary fight? The U.S., of course, ever since Yorktown its partner in one of the longest dysfunctional marriages in history.

Particularly annoying to the French, in a funny way, is that while the elite there are raving about an “undeclared war,” the U.S., except for the recent kerfuffle over Iraq, is basically indifferent to French opinion and French military pretensions. With vast éclat, France has launched a real aircraft carrier. Wow! A whole carrier! The nature of carriers is that they must be in port for overhaul and R&R most of the time, so that essentially France can only deploy a fraction of a carrier. Most Americans don’t know how many carriers we have—ten? A dozen?—and are completely unimpressed. It greatly bothers France that America does not even consider France a major country, like China, India, or Brazil. Most people would opine that France no longer deserves to be a permanent member of the Security Council.

Chirac was in fact a good Reaganite in his day. But keep in mind that there awaits a serious prosecution against Chirac, suspended while he’s in office. This gives him a strong incentive to distract the electorate by demonizing the other guy. For the moment, that’s America.

The displacement of French, in which that country takes vast pride, as the great international language, in favor of English, is another maddening irritant of which Americans are barely conscious. (How curious that their reluctance to learn foreign tongues has helped give humanity one of the greatest boons in history, a single world language!)

Nor is France a factor on the economic front. Except for fancy luxury goods and wine France is scarcely conspicuous among U.S. imports, unlike China or Japan, let’s say, although French companies are large investors and employers in the U.S.

3. The Intellectuals

French intellectuals, few of whom actually know the U.S. except through the movies and television, are violently against what they think is American. It is lethal for a French politician to be labeled pro-U.S.: he will be labeled part of a “fifth column.” But the population at large remains friendly to individual Americans (although not to President Bush himself) and consumer goods gains prestige from sporting American labels.

The U.S. situation is exactly the opposite: The American elite love traveling in France and savoring French wines. A house in Provence is a classy asset. Meanwhile, our rank and file have quite a hate going, including re-naming French fries and boycotting champagne. In U.S. discussions of international matters there is usually a little laugh if someone refers to “French foreign policy,” as though you mentioned flatulence remedies.

The French and the Americans each accuse the other of that sad defect, ingratitude: we, because they forget Pershing and Eisenhower in the twentieth century and they, because the U.S. no longer gives much weight to Rochambeau and Lafayette in the eighteenth. (Of the two, Rochambeau was in fact much the more important, and the French army, fleet and money were indispensable to the cause of independence.) They recognize the American role in grinding down the Soviets, but resent Roosevelt’s pressure on them to free their colonies. The fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Europe has made it possible for France and some other countries to be emancipated from American tutelage, which they are very eager to achieve. Chirac is a bit insincere about all this: he tired to sound personally sympathetic toward the 9/11 victims, but privately said, “They brought it on themselves.: And of course France was waist deep in the Oil for Food Scandal.

French anti-American poster - evil octopusI experience a certain déja vu in this department: when I was settled in Paris in the 1050s, U.S. GO HOME signers were plastered everywhere—by the Communists, to be sure—and only two intellectuals of rank, Raymond Aron and Eugène Ionesco, were solidly anti-Soviet. Sartre, Picasso and almost all the rest were either card-carriers or fellow travelers, wailing about “Coca-colonization.” And yet the people one met were grateful and friendly.

But after the exposure of the Gulag and the suppression of the Hungarian and Czech uprisings it became hard for all but blinkered professors to be pro-Soviet, so for quite a while France thought well of America. There was some resentment when, against their warnings, we assumed their position defending South Vietnam, but they felt better when the North, after having signed a peace treaty, successfully invaded the south and took over the country. (These days, of course, the Vietnamese agree that communism doesn’t work, and, having realized that we aren’t colonialists, look to the U.S. as their big friend. The younger folk all speak English: French has become irrelevant.)

As the Derrida school of French intellectuals proclaims, though, profound fundamental differences between France—indeed, Europe—and the U.S. are growing, such as U.S. individual (not state) religiosity, militarism, resistance to the welfare state and occasional willingness to inflict the death penalty. France is a post-religious country, while America is not. And French intellectuals, the elite of that most intellectual of races, are completely out of key with their more stolid American counterparts, who dislike play with clever ideas—”esprit.”

On a popular level, things are different. The French in general like Americans, whom they find generous and kind. Personally, I have in fifty years never experienced any hostility, in part, to be sure, because I am at home in the language and enjoy a certain ceremoniousness. The youth are yet another matter: clad in jeans and Nikes, puffing Marlboros, they head for American movies, watch abominable American TV shows—worse than you can find on our networks—and are immersed in American pop music.

And a handful of French intellectuals, notably Jean François Revel, perceive the situation clearly. He sees French anti-Americanism as a mask for France’s loss of status, and an excuse for opposing free enterprise.

4. Iraq

The sharp split with the French over Iraq should be restated. Our respective policies have little to do with our professed reasons. Each of us is right about the other, but we are both subject to a taboo when talking about ourselves. France now has a huge and angry Arab minority (some say 10% of the entire population, although race and religion are not part of French censuses). The first generation fled North Africa to escape poverty and persecution, but today’s second generation, although often legally French, nevertheless find themselves excluded from the main current of French life, and are furious. One greatness of France lies in the strength of its tight “nos ancêtres les Gallois” culture, and the North Africans don’t fit in: they get the bad jobs if they’re employed at all, their ghettos are centers of crime, and—hard to forgive—they often consider themselves superior to the French because of their religion, while the French know they’re superior to everybody. Worst of all, the Arabs in France are believers, which most French no longer are: practicing Muslims in France probably outnumber practicing Christians. France has some 5,000 mosques, three-quarters of whose imams are foreign, and many not even French-speaking. (The U.S. situation is different: ever since World War II, when different immigrant strains fought in the same foxholes, integration has been a central theme of U.S. domestic policy, successfully achieved at the price of dumbing down and political correctness. Americans now try to offend nobody; the French don’t mind offending everybody.)

This Arab influence, of course, necessarily deforms French foreign policy. If the French military attacked an Arab country the armed and dangerous Islamist faction within France would erupt. (Similarly, our Cuban policy is heavily influenced by electoral factors.) So there is little point in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs proclaiming grand principles behind French policy in the Middle East: demography rules.

Some of the French, however, make an equal and opposite point about the U.S. They claim that sympathy for Israel is at the center of the U.S. foreign policy establishment; that Israel greatly influences the U.S. Congress, and so we can never be even-handed as between it and the Palestinians. Some argue that our Iraq intervention was only ostensibly about WMD and was in reality to “drain the swamp” in the middle east—and bring about a stability favorable to Israel.

So to sum up, it would be as unimaginable for France to bomb Baghdad as for the U.S. to bomb Tel Aviv.

Absent the demographic factors, the situation could well be reversed: we need Arab oil, and forced France and Britain to back down during the Suez crisis; while France, with its energy supply 85% nuclear, is much less dependent on oil from the mideast.

5. Terrorism

French opinion holds that what the U.S. dramatically calls the “war on terrorism” is not in fact a war, merely a profound and perennial problem, like AIDS or crime. Many Europeans, in fact, maintain that if the attempt to suppress terrorism is fought like a war, it will instead exacerbate the issue, as in Chechnya. The French do not believe in preemptive strikes, which of course the U.S. considers an essential possibility in dealing with an atomic or potentially atomic power. For that reason it is widely believed that the U.S. is a greater danger to world peace than the terrorists are. The French underline that no great problem will be solved entirely by force: “soft” power is also necessary. Iraq has proved that, they assert: And indeed the European experience in soft power will be needed in the dangerous world of the 21st century.

6. Demographics

Freud said that anatomy is destiny. My footnote is that demography is destiny. By degrees the U.S. and France are separating: 20% of Harvard freshmen are now Asians and 10% African-American—at the same time that France is seeing ever-increasing numbers of North Africans, with a much higher birthrate than the Gallic population.

Surprisingly enough, 44% of French babies are now born to single mothers. The corresponding U.S. figure is a third, or 23% among “non-hispanic” whites. (In England it’s 40%.)

France, more than the U.S., confronts the paradox of an aging population coupled with a shorter working life. In 1998 about 60% of French men between 55 and 64 had retired—an eight-year decline in working life—even though their life expectancy had risen some eight years since 1960. Comfortable tidings for the life insurance companies, but not for the pension system! This, of course, creates a heavy burden on the working population, exacerbated by shorter working hours—40% less than the U.S.

By a perverse effect, the unfortunate French labor laws, like those in much of the E.U., provoke unemployment. Roughly speaking, you can’t fire a regular employee unless he is convicted of stealing from you. Anything else, and he is entitled to six months’ compensation, plus a housing allowance that he collects tax-free. It is often a costly favor to an employee to fire him. So, obviously, an employer does anything to avoid adding to permanent staff.

It seems that most Americans enjoy their work much more today than most Europeans—what the Germans, of whom this was once true, called Arbeitsfreude. And, the possibility of a princely reward late in the game is a fine stimulus.

7. Assimilation

A striking difference between France and America, or indeed between America and most of Europe, is the treatment of immigrants. Immigrants come to America to seek employment, find it, and many then create more employment. A great many immigrants into France are primarily interested in the allocation familiale and other advantages, and less concerned with legal employment possibilities.

Europe has spent half a century developing a social-democratic arrangement for societal harmony—a concern for the weakest members of society. Also, an insistence on excellent environmental quality and a civilized lifestyle. In France, particularly, the tradition of high educational standards (not always very imaginative) and a reverence for a traditional culture have created one of the most intellectually developed populations in Europe.

However, this very condition militates against accepting recent immigrants of other races as full members of society. “Mais, ceux ne sont pas des français, ces gens-la,” said de Gaulle of the Algerians, and, indeed, they aren’t, in an ethnic and cultural sense. As a result, in most of Europe the new immigrants (not only North African, but also from the “-stans,” and other areas to the east) find themselves shunted aside from the mainstream of society, both as to how they live and how they work. A new arrival has trouble getting a really good job in France, although of course there are exceptions. In contrast, new arrivals in America can aspire to fine situations in finance, industry, the professions, and indeed politics and the military. Arabs in America have family incomes above the national average, and a much higher percentage of management positions in business. Recent chiefs of staff of the U.S. Army include a Georgian-American and a Japanese-American, and the two latest secretaries of state—the senior officer in the Administration after the president—have been African-Americans, as is one of the nine Supreme Court justices and a great many ambassadors and top officials. This for the least advantaged component of the population. Many of the mayors of New York when I grew up were immigrants. In my youth, there was severe tension between the blacks and the rest of the population, but this has largely been dissolved. As to Jews, Italians, Irish, and Asians, there is not the slightest question that they can reach any level.

One should take note of the different criteria of immigration in the U.S. and in France. Many new legal arrivals in the U.S. are energetic and educated, thanks to the professional preferences applied to applicants. One could say that Asian immigration in California created the technology boom in that state. Similarly, the revival of Florida arose largely through the immigration of educated and skilled Cubans. The Canadians have found that Asian immigrants create employment within five years. We have a large number of illegal immigrants, particularly in the Southwest, but by and large they come to do hard work, and many propose to return home. In earlier centuries immigrants to the U.S. were often the least fortunate members of their previous society, but they had the initiative required for a long and often dangerous voyage. (Half the Plymouth Colony died in the first winter, and four-fifths of the Jamestown Colony within five years.) Of the recent immigrants to Europe from North Africa and the east, this has not been true.

Because of the tradition of social democracy in Europe, new arrivals there are not turned loose to make their way as best they can, as has been true of most immigrants to America, but instead drift into the poor quarters of big cities, where they receive modest support payments and health care, which are often disincentives for them to earn their way out of the ghetto. North African immigrants to France often make unreliable workers, and the disaffected young have a tendency to drift into crime and political dissidence. (As a curiosity, Mohammed is the most frequent name for newborn boys in Brussels, with Osama the second. Indeed, Muslims are a majority of children under fourteen in the four largest cities in the Netherlands, and half the population of Rotterdam is now of foreign origin.) Unofficial figures indicate that some cities in France may now be half Muslim.

Thus, the very factors that make America a welcome destination for immigrants—truly a melting pot—virtually guarantee that France, with its strong elitist tradition and emphasis on the integrity of its language and culture, will relegate many of its immigrants to an indigestible clot.

What is to be done? Here is a presumptuous suggestion: First, the French should accept the idea that nothing can stop the flood of North African immigrants. Second, in France, unlike America, propaganda will probably not suffice to bring about their full acceptance in society. Somehow, the immigrants must be turned into real citizens. That implies many, many years of education, both childhood education and adult education. Third, the penal system and the policy of social assistance must be redesigned to take note of the difference between the productive immigrants and those who will not be productive. The latter should be sent back while this is possible. Fourth, and most important, one must create incentives for potential immigrants to stay back home, to find opportunities in their own countries. (This has been U.S. policy vis-a-vis Mexico since 1994, and it seems to be working quite well.)

8. Civil Society

Toqueville commented repeatedly on a distinctive feature of American life: the tendency of its citizens to form “associations,” what Benjamin Franklin, the ultimate practitioner of this activity, called juntos or clubs. (It will be recalled that Franklin created the first lending library in America, the Philadelphia fire department, a newspaper, the first fire insurance company, the Pennsylvania militia, and innumerable other such groups.) Toqueville was greatly struck by this American tendency. On the island off the coast of Maine where I spend the summer, I have amused myself by counting the local associations. There are at least twenty. Some of them are involved in general policies; most are more particular. The business of the island could quite surely be carried out without any intervention from the state of Maine or the national government. We have our own village government, which does not refer to any larger unit; our own fire department; our own churches; the usual collection of American fraternal organizations, notably the Masons; a local newspaper, a historical society, a number of other clubs, and a policy discussion group, which attracts one or two hundred participants. The places where I’ve lived in France lack the habit of this type of “association,” and have little of it. One’s focus is on the family and the job, not the community. In the Colbert tradition, authority is thought of as coming down from the top, not rising from the bottom.

9. Foreign Policy

France has always felt the need to be number one in its neighborhood (“France is only itself it is being great,” said de Gaulle), and has undertaken many diplomatic and military interventions to that end. De Gaulle hoped that France could lead a Europe that would swing the balance between the Russian and the U.S.-U.K. camps. In our hemisphere, America is incontestably number one, and thus has no such preoccupation. Contemplating Europe, though, the U.S. feels it should be able to play the balance of influence game there, supporting some European countries to offset others: at times, over the centuries, for France against England, then against France, then against Spain, Germany, and Russia in turn. To France, however, the U.S. is today mostly a threat to its primacy—albeit a benign one. Indeed, U.S. postwar opposition to French colonialism in Indochina and North Africa bothered them greatly. Thus, France strongly dislikes the present system of unipolarity that American military supremacy has spontaneously created, and has a natural impulse to organize a faction to resist the American “hyper power” in both Europe and the Middle East. Since from the U.S. standpoint French maneuvers in these areas are annoyances without real weight, and, in fact, counterproductive to the main effort of the moment, the U.S. finds them extremely tiresome. (In the Dean Acheson days, the U.S. position was that France belonged to the western alliance, but that its integration had to await de Gaulle’s retirement: the so-called “empty chair” policy.)

The French also feel—rightly—that the “special relationship” between their ancient foe Britain and its American cousins rather leaves them to one side. De Gaulle often referred to “les Anglo-Saxons.” Our old belief that in a crunch France would stand by the U.S. has now faded, although in anti-terrorism there is excellent top-level liaison. On the contrary, even those Americans who opposed the Iraq campaign were profoundly troubled by the idea of the French president traveling around Africa lobbying against the American resolution in the U.N. Some in the U.S. also feel moral indignation at French moves in Africa, such as supporting the Biafra secession and supplying the Hutu government in Rwanda, where a million Tutsis were massacred in a few months. (The complete destruction of the Ivory Coast air force by the French created a much bigger shock in France than the U.S., though.)

In great matters, personal relations are much more important than one might think. Sometimes statesmen coming from different directions have a natural affinity for each other, like Churchill and Roosevelt, or de Gaulle and Adenauer (both of whom, by the way, were profoundly Catholic) or Reagan, Thatcher and Gorbachev. Alas, you would have to get up early in the morning to find an American statesman less European, less worldly, than President Bush, By and large, most Europeans find him naturally antipathetic for the same reasons most Americans like him.

10. The Military Dimension

During the Renaissance, the Italian city states sometimes defended themselves by hiring a professional warrior—a condottiere—and his band to do the job for them.

One trouble with this “gun for hire” approach to defense is that quite often the condottiere develops his own ideas, and having subdued his clients’ enemies, extorts further substantial concessions for himself. This triggers the “quem ipsos custodies custodet” paradox: how do you get your hired force back under control?

For many decades after World War II the U.S. complained to the Europeans that they were not contributing their fair share to the collective defense against the advance of Soviet Communism. Even the modest effort they did dedicate to this purpose had less effect than it should have, being pointed partly at the East and partly at each other: what in French was called the tous asimuths approach—understandable for historical reasons, but wasteful. So the U.S. had to take the lead. As a result the U.S. has come to feel it is the responsible partner. In the end, NATO was a wonderfully successful alliance, but now that the condottiere has developed independent policies, some of the other partners, and particularly France, are resentful.

The underlying problem remains unchanged: only about 5% of European troops have the training, equipment, logistics and access to intelligence to fight Iran, let’s say. And only we have meaningful airlift and air refueling capability or carrier decks. They are not in our league.

De Gaulle offered the French nuclear deterrent as a sop to his military, who were disconsolate after their humiliating and bloody expulsion from Indochina and North Africa, and indeed threatened to overthrow the government out of rage at giving up Algeria (a Department, like giving up Hawaii). Unfortunately, the “Force de Dissuasion” or “Force de Frappe,” intended as a last-ditch defense if NATO crumbled, never really worked. Its strategic missiles would probably not have overwhelmed Soviet defenses, and neither its tactical nor submarine-launched missiles were perfected. We can assume that the Soviets knew this, but not the French public.

In the Kosovo period the French criticized the U.S. military for being slow to put troops on the ground: “The U.S. breaks down the door, and leaves Europe to clean up.” However, the object of war is to crush the enemy’s will, not, as in a tournament in the middle ages, to demonstrate heroism. War is no game, and one is well advised to play from one’s strength. Since for the U.S. all wars today are “out of area,” the U.S. prefers to project overwhelming air and sea power where appropriate, rather than land power. That is also the logical division of labor between the U.S. and its allies, who have nearby manpower. (One should, incidentally, recognize that the U.S. has no vital interest at stake in Kosovo. The Europeans were desperate to stabilize the situation, and the U.S. reluctantly obliged them. Had not the Serbs been forced back out of Kosovo, the mass flight of Muslim Kosovars into Macedonia would have destabilized that country, probably resulting in intervention by the Greeks and the Turks, and a serious catfight in that corner of Europe. In the other direction, the flight of persecuted citizens of the former Yugoslavia into Austria and Italy was extremely unwelcome.)

The original Bush doctrine was that possessing overwhelming power, the U.S. didn’t need the consent of its friends before acting righteously in the collective interest when action was necessary. Bush had felt that Clinton was too indulgent with Europe, and so made enlisting under our banner to fight terrorism a test of being a valid ally. The French note sardonically that having tried that, we are now reappearing hat in hand. On the other hand, the French, with an ill-advised tendency to “punch above their weight,” as one says in boxing—to fight in a heavier league than where they belong—have essentially lost all their big wars for two centuries, unless rescued by allies, with frightful loss of life. Today, France (like Germany) can be described as a post-military country. It lost 3% of its population in World War I—the equivalent of 9 million in America today. When I lived there I had a number of older acquaintances who told me that they had lost all their childhood friends in World War II.

Europeans are surprised to learn that within the United States there exists a regional body of opinion similar to their own on the appropriateness of military action. In general, the northeastern states—the original colonies—are opposed to military action under almost any circumstances, and favor negotiation and patience. On the contrary, the southern and western states have a more bellicose tradition. It follows, as a general rule, that a president from the east, such as Woodrow Wilson, will appeal first and foremost to diplomacy and international organizations, whereas westerners, including George W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson, will be more ready to commit troops.

In any event, America’s politico-military concerns lie more and more in Asia, where there are dangerous fault lines that concern American profoundly, notably North and South Korea, China and Taiwan, India and Pakistan, China and Japan, in most of which American power is welcomed as force for stability. The Europeans are generally unaware of this, and it is impossible for them to take any significant role in these problems. Since the U.S. army, stretched thin, is withdrawing from Europe and since this Asian commitment cannot go away—least of all with China looming on the far side of the Pacific—one must assume a reduced American military concern with Europe. It, including France, will have to develop real politico-military strength, and look after itself much more, in the twenty-first century than in the twentieth.

And what of the more distant strategic future? Neither Toqueville’s vision of a bilateral world dominated by America and Russia, nor de Gaulle’s of America and Russia with a Europe led by France as arbiter seems plausible, given an awakening Asia and a Russia that has decomposed. Instead, one can look forward to a shifting triangle: America, Europe, Asia. Later, America, Asia, Europe. In such a formation the second power usually rivals the first, with the third (e.g., Europe) in a balancing role. Another variation would be to consider the Pacific world separately: there, the U.S. and India might make common cause to limit China. Fortunately, China practices a very conservative foreign policy. But either way, France, while destined for an interesting position in Europe, is unlikely to return to a conspicuous role on the world stage.

* * *

So, the conclusion of this paper is that I fear that the continental drift between France and America will continue to widen. As a Francophile (and part-time resident) I wish it weren’t so, but the underlying forces are, alas, very strong.