French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the unprecedented move an “extraordinary decision” that “reflects the exceptional seriousness” of the situation, adding that the US-UK’s sinking of Australia’s submarine deal with France “constitute unacceptable behavior among allies and partners.” France also recalled its ambassador to Australia.
The Biden White House played down the French anger, saying it understood Paris’ position and will continue to be engaged in the coming days to resolve differences in keeping with their long and historical alliance. “France is our oldest ally and one of our strongest partners, and we share a long history of shared democratic values and a commitment to working together to address global challenges,” the White House said.
The Franco-American alliance is so old and storied that Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s Founding Fathers, served as an envoy in Paris for five years before ascending the White House as the country’s third President. The park in front of the White House is named after Marquis de Lafayette, who helped Americans defeat the British.
But the current rift, which in the larger context had to do with the US pivot to the Pacific and the threat it perceives from China, has shaken the Atlantic alliance that has long been the centerpiece of US foreign policy where the former Soviet Union and its successor state Russia has been seen as the adversary.
Britain’s exit from the European Union last year, coming on the heels of former President Donald Trump’s disdain for Nato, had already weakened the alliance with the French seeing the British decamping as London’s return to the US fold.
The French decision to recall its US ambassador, said to be the first since 1778 when the alliance was born, was reported to have been taken by President Emmanuel Macron, who has not hesitated to push back against Washington in keeping with the French tradition of charting its own course. France refused to back the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 leading to a spat that so agitated Bush Republicans that some of them wanted “French fries” in congressional canteens to be called “Freedom fries.”