It is not just Europe and the European Union that have something at stake in the outcome of the French elections. One of French President François Hollande’s legacies is the creation of the strongest Franco-American defense and intelligence relationships in living memory. Hollande’s wise and cool-headed minister of defense, Jean-Yves Le Drian, steadily built this relationship in close partnership with four successive U.S. secretaries of defense, establishing a unique and warm bond with each.
The bonhomie began in 2013 with then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s pledge to provide relentless support to French operations in Mali. From that point until today, U.S. and French forces have been deep in the fight together in a crescent from Afghanistan, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Five years ago, our intelligence partners were split between the Five Eyes nations and everybody else. Now, with years of combat and counterterrorism activities together, it is Five Eyes plus France. Whoever wins the May 7 runoff election will inherit this defense and intelligence relationship, along with the responsibility to work with U.S. President Donald Trump to protect and nurture it.
The United States and France have had their difficult moments. From “Citizen Genêt” and the Quasi-War in the late 18th century to freedom fries in the 21st century, it seems the U.S.-France relationship is in perpetual marriage counseling. If nations had a genetic code, the U.S. and France would be genetically fated to always see the world differently as it did when President Charles de Gaulle kicked NATO out of Paris. However, when there is a scrape to be had, the U.S. and France often find themselves fighting shoulder to shoulder.
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