The visit by French President Francois Hollande to the United States last week, once the fluff about his love life was brushed away, underlined the importance of Franco-American relations.
France has had particular value to the United States as an ally, starting in America’s revolutionary period. Its most useful characteristic as an ally is that it wields credible military power, and is willing and able to use it. The French president can send troops into difficult situations quickly, generally without grumbling from the parliament.
France has done so most recently in two of its former African colonies, Mali and the Central African Republic. France, with the United Kingdom, also signed on to President Obama’s intervention in support of the rebels fighting against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya.
France’s other value as an ally in 2014 is that it is the strongest country, after Germany, in the 28-nation European Union. After the United Kingdom, it is America’s most important partner in NATO, the transatlantic military alliance. Its government has disagreed at times with Washington, notably over the Iraq war, but it remains a vital interlocutor.
This visit included fussing at the White House state dinner over the place that was to have been occupied by Mr. Hollande’s former significant other, Valerie Trierweiler. The Obamas put him between them; in an inspired move, they sat comedian Stephen Colbert on the other side of the First Lady.
More substantively, the presidents discussed a range of important issues. These included the problems posed by the Syrian civil war, progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and growing pressure for boycotts against Israel, and discussions with Iran on curtailing that country’s nuclear ambitions in return for easing economic sanctions.
Top-level U.S.-French contacts are always useful. Given the issues at stake, last week’s visit was particularly timely.