Mending Fences With France

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 8, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: America stands ready to work with Europe on our common agenda and Europe must stand ready to work with America. After all, history will surely judge us, not by our old disagreements, but by our new achievements.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) on her first official trip to Europe, telling an audience in Paris, of all places, that it's time to turn away from the disagreements of the past. The French Foreign Minister echoing the sentiment saying Paris wants to make, "a fresh start," with America.

John Miller's the co-author of "Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France." And today's big question, Mr. Miller: is it possible for a fresh start with the French?

JOHN MILLER, AUTHOR, "OUR OLDEST ENEMY": Well, Condi Rice gave a really good speech in Paris today. And one of the messages of it was to the French people saying it's never too late to join a just cause. The French have been obstructionists on Iraq for so long, it's never too late for them to make things right.

So, I think we can talk about a fresh start; we can talk about hoping that relations will improve, as long as we don't become delusional. We need to recognize that the French geopolitical outlook, the equation that determines everything they do, has not changed.

So many of them in the elite, in the government, in the universities and the media continue to view the United States as a unilateral menace, as a hyper-power, as they call it, that needs to be inhibited through international organizations like the United Nations and various treaties.

So, we need to look at the cold reality of this, as well.

GIBSON: OK. But here's Condoleezza Rice, the person who uttered the famous phrase, "Forgive the Russians, ignore the Germans, punish the French." So what happened to punish the French?

MILLER: Well, I think partly what we're doing is now ignoring the French, in a way. It's a little counterintuitive: she goes to Paris and gives a speech, but what she's saying to the French is that it is not too late to join the cause in Iraq, to fight for freedom.

And if the French don't want to hop onboard, the United States will do what needs to be done. But the French will be welcomed if they want to be partners in this.

GIBSON: The other thing is that I know I've read many reports that say that George Bush and Condoleezza Rice and the Bush administration throughout, just get infuriated, angry whenever they hear the French say, "It is a multi-polar world. It's not just our desire for there to be many poles of power in the world," that is the French and the Americans, "but that it is a fact."

Is that a fact, or is that just a dream of the French, which the United States will in the course of events, try to thwart at every turn?

MILLER: No, it is not a fact. It is a dream of the French. They would love to be equal partners with the United States. They would love to have the power of the United States. They would love to be able to project force around the globe the way the United States does.

We see though, however, they can barely hang on to their lingering colonial presence in the Ivory Coast. It takes the United States to go to Afghanistan and knock over the Taliban and depose Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Only the United States can do that.

The French would love to have that kind of power for themselves, but of course, when they have 35-hour work weeks and the like, it's difficult to have that kind of economic and military might.

GIBSON: The French always say -- and I've had the French Ambassador to the United States tell me this personally over my book, "We're your best friends." And I always say, "Well you don't act like it."

Is there is anything to this business of the French being our best friends?

MILLER: It's a mythology. The French love to say that. They love to talk about Lafayette; they love to talk about Yorktown. And Lafayette, of course, was a great friend of America, but they don't want to talk about what France did during the Civil War; they don't want to talk about all the discord that Charles de Gaulle caused in the Second World War and during the Cold War.

The French have really benefited from this mythology of Franco- American friendship. They love to talk about it all the time, but they can be extremely slippery. The Foreign Minister of France had an article in the French papers this week where he's talking about Franco-American relations. And he said, "Well, alliance does not mean allegiance."

This typical slippery use of words, the French are great at this, they are the inventors of linguistic deconstruction, after all. But they love to talk about this friendship, when it serves their purposes.

GIBSON: One last thing, John.

Jacques Chirac is going to meet with President Bush. He is insisting to have a private lunch with their aides out of the room, where he can speak to Bush directly. Now the last time this happened, he apparently wagged his finger at him and gave him a good lecture.

Is this such a wise idea for the French, for Chirac in particular, to sit privately with George Bush?

MILLER: Well, I can guarantee you President Bush will give President Chirac a piece of his own mind. And he will explain why Americans are upset with the behavior of France over the last few years. And why, if you look at polls, Americans no longer view France as a stalwart friend or anything like that. The blinders are off.

And after we saw the behavior surrounding Iraq, which was not just a polite disagreement, they were actually obstructing and trying to hurt the United States, Americans are upset about that, President Bush is upset about that. And I guarantee you that any meeting behind closed doors, that message will be conveyed.

GIBSON: John Miller, co-author of "Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France."

John, thanks a lot.

MILLER: Thank you.

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