Vive la France
Dumping on America’s oldest ally is short-sighted
French President Emmanuel Macron on Sept. 15 announced his forces had killed the leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi. It was a major victory in the France-led battle against jihadists in Africa’s Sahel region.
It should have been a win for the United States, too: Al-Sahrawi had a U.S. bounty of $5 million on his head after plotting an attack that killed four U.S. soldiers in Niger in 2017. His death, along with more than 500 jihadists killed by French troops in the Sahel in the last year, takes us all closer to disrupting terrorists outside Afghanistan, something President Joe Biden claims he wants to focus on following the demoralizing U.S. withdrawal in August.
Instead the United States was busy backstabbing one of its oldest allies. Within hours Macron learned U.S.-led efforts snatched a massive naval defense contract with Australia from France—a $60 billion deal at least seven years in the making and the largest French defense contract ever.
After months of secret meetings, Australia abandoned its 2016 contract with France for a dozen conventional submarines in favor of a new deal from the United States and U.K. to build eight nuclear-powered submarines. The new tripartite alliance, called AUKUS (“awk-us”), leaves France out of Western efforts to confront China’s aggression in the Pacific.
The Australians as recently as Aug. 30 had reaffirmed their commitment to the arrangement with France, prompting one French diplomat to assert, “We weren’t lied to by omission, we were lied to openly.”
There are at least two reasons the double-dealing should matter to more than the defense establishment. Besides another trust buster with Biden, it will now be harder to convince France to continue playing its outsized role fighting terror in Africa. Jihadist attacks there are spreading at an alarming rate and targeting young Christian communities in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. The insurgency by ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked groups has killed more than 900 people, displaced more than 850,000, and left some 2 million people in need of humanitarian aid. This year Burkina Faso has endured seven major attacks targeting Christian communities since April.
These are among the fastest-growing areas for Christian faith in the world. In 2019 Africa became the most Christian continent in the world at 631 million believers. Salafi jihadist movements target these communities in the Sahel, mainly made up of Muslim converts. Overall, French-speaking Africa is growing so fast that by 2050, language experts say, French may be the most-spoken language in the world, more than English or Mandarin. Already more French is spoken in Africa than in France.
France since 2014 has led counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel with more than 5,000 troops. It’s currently in the midst of a withdrawal to be completed in early 2022 (ahead of French presidential elections). The latest rift will make it harder for the United States and France to counter spreading Sahel terrorism, and already analysts are wondering if it will become the next Afghanistan.
Macron recalled ambassadors from Canberra and Washington on Sept. 17—a first in U.S.-France relations since France signed on to defend the Colonies against Britain in the American Revolution.
To state the obvious, we’d be hearing a lot more scrutiny had this happened in the Trump era. Was there no way to counter Chinese aggression without undermining France? Without opening the Pacific to a nuclear race?
The AUKUS deal marks the first time the United States will share sensitive nuclear technology with a state other than Britain. And Australia will be the first nonnuclear state to acquire nuclear subs. The arrangement is a major departure from nonproliferation policy and is likely to escalate U.S.-China tensions in a way the acquisition of a dozen French subs would not.
Those who thought Biden would return the United States to a more carefully calibrated and compassionate foreign policy are thinking again. Europeans, in less than a month’s time, are left to collect pieces from sloppy, America-first decisions that are life-changing for the rest of the world.
NOTE: We continue to follow closely efforts to evacuate vulnerable Afghans but have agreed not to report some developments until they reach safety. A list of organizations working to support Afghans is at wng.org/helping-afghans.
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