It appears as though French TV network France2 had a a very atypical piece on the US’ humanitarian efforts in Southeast Asia. Usually the reaction of the French media to anything Anglo-Saxon is a kind of sneering contempt — except this piece was something entirely different:
But wait. It gets worse. 12 minutes and 57 or so seconds into the broadcast: on the strength of the preceding, and devastating, report, Pujadas then turns to conduct a live interview with Defense minister MichÃ¨le Alliot-Marie, who is clearly being hauled onto the carpet. Pujadas does not begin by asking, Why have you humiliated us? Instead, he asks, “Does France still have the means to realize its ambitions, which are humanitarian in this case?”
Alliot-Marie, until recently a senior lecturer at the Sorbonne with degrees in law and ethnography, answers, “of course,” but then engages in a wince-making attempt at damage control. “France is far from Indonesia,” she says. “If there were many American helicopters on the scene, this is because the Americans were already there,” she says.
You think Chirac was watching this at home? Was he in the next room with the sound on, pouring himself a drink? Did he throw a Baccarat crystal glass at the TV?
If he saw the report, I’d imagine he did.
The problem with Europe in general, and France in particular, is that they are chronically unable to project force anywhere in the globe. They have no airlift capability per se, and they don’t have the ability to deal with situations like the tsunami. They see an aircraft carrier as nothing more than a weapon, a retrograde symbol of power. What they don’t realize is that the US fleet is right now saving tens of thousands of lives precisely because we have the ability to project our power across the globe – that power being not only military, but humanitarian.
If Europe wants to be a “humanitarian superpower”, they’re more than welcome. Another rapid reaction force like the one we used to deal with the tsunami could be of invaluable aid. However, Europe has systematically neglected their military for decades now, preferring to let NATO (read the United States) do all the heavy lifting for them. However, the ducks are coming home to roost as France finds itself completely impotent in dealing with a complex humanitarian emergency like the one in Southeast Asia.
France’s force de frappe has long been an international joke, and if France wishes to style itself as a world power, they need to be able to pull their own weight. When even French national television starts to realize how bad things are, how long can French decision makers remain in a state of denial?