France is back in NATO. Why does it matter that more than four decades after de Gaulle slammed the door, Nicolas Sarkozy is to bring France back into the Alliance’s integrated command? The gesture – for it is more potent as a gesture than as an action – is Sarko’s most radical move to date. Not because it will change much on the ground: France is the fourth largest provider of troops to NATO and has led NATO missions to Kossovo and Afghanistan but because,
a) it will put an end to decades of hypocrisy: all through the nineties, French foreign policy required that any arrangement which put French forces at the disposal of NATO, had to be agreed in secret (Daniel Vernet, Le Monde 24/6/08)
b) it undermines the sacred cow of anti-Americanism and thereby strikes at the heart of the nation’s identity.
Because despising the Americans – for their materialism, their consumerism and their perceived philistinism, in short for their quintessentially un-French value system – has been an acceptable national pastime ever since May ’68. And even before that, as far back as the First World War, the French ruling classes, who were learning to resent the emerging superpower, felt entitled to the kind of savage remarks made by Georges Clemenceau (who happened to be married to an American):
‘America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilisation.’