When asked for proof that America has had a long friendly relationship with the French, most Americans would name three things they learned in high school:
* Lafayette's heroic role in the Revolutionary War.
* DeToqueville's classic "Democracy in America," a book on what makes America great.
* The gift of the Statue of Liberty.
These are the same things trotted out by French diplomats ad nauseam, along with something along the lines of "We fought side by side in two world wars."
The problem here, though, is the first three examples are exceptions to the relationship, and the last is nearly untrue.
Lafayette was not only an exception in French attitudes about the fledgling democracy in America, but he also spent a good share of his life under an order of arrest by his own government. DeToquevilles' book was panned or ignored in his home country, while the Statue of Liberty was largely a peace offering after a bad few decades of Franco-American relations.
As for the two world wars argument, France deceived President Wilson over the true state of the war in Europe, making him think America's involvement was in a mopping-up operation. One hundred thousand dead Americans later, the French humiliatingly froze Wilson out of the Paris peace talks and forced the punitive Treaty of Versailles, the major cause of World War II.
During World War II itself, French forces did their best fighting against the Allies in Africa, not the Nazis. In the invasion of North Africa, they slaughtered the British, who came in with bullhorns blaring, "Don't shoot, we are here to save you," and put up a tough fight against Gen. George S. Patton's army.
In "Our Oldest Enemy," a myth-busting polemic, John J. Miller and Mark Molesky show that France's refusal to participate in the recent Iraq war was part of a historical pattern, not a failure of the Bush administration. For 250 years, France's main foreign policy goal - when not fighting the British - has been countering American influence in the world.
It began before the United States became independent, the authors assert. In the French and Indian War, it was French policy to direct Indian massacres against settlers in the British territories. This set the stage for bad relations between Indians and whites for the next century.
Most recently, French President Jacques Chirac did not begin his opposition to American policy in Iraq in 2003. He opposed every bombing raid President Clinton authorized in response to a violation of the armistice in Iraq and even refused to let French planes fly in an expanded "no-fly zone" designed to prevent bloodshed on the ground.
Some other nuggets ignored by those who believe France is a "historic ally" include:
* A resolution to declare war on France as part of the War of 1812 failed by only four votes in the Senate. The French may have had better diplomats, but their navy had been just as predatory on American shipping as the Royal Navy.
* Ulysses S. Grant advocated a plan to invade Mexico after the Civil War to rid the Americas of French influence.
* Immediately after the Revolutionary War, a French covert opration tried to undermine George Washington's administration in the notorious XYZ Affair. Relations suffered so badly that the United States began drifting closer to England and fought an undeclared war on the seas against France in the late 18th century.
* Charles DeGaulle pulled France out of NATO at the height of the Cold War and hinted that French missiles were pointed at the U.S. as well as the Soviet Bloc.
A list of the ways DeGaulle frustrated Presidents Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Truman, Kennedy and Nixon would take more space than the whole of this review. It was particularly galling since it was American power that brought DeGaulle to prominence after World War II.
Since the 1970s, the authors document, France has allied itself with every Arab dictator and terrorist movement, hoping to buy peace - and oil - at home. The French have reserved their moral indignation for only at Israel and the United States.
Miller and Molesky don't aim for balance in their book; they're looking to balance all the rosy talk about France with cold reality. The result is an entertaining and enlightening argument for viewing France as an opponent of America on the world stage.