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The French "Never Again"

The French can be said to have their own version of "never again," a phrase usually associated with the fierce determination of the Israelis that the Holocaust, at all costs, is never to be repeated.

The French version is that of 1940, and the sudden and shocking defeat by the Germans that is a permanent fixation in the French subconscious. The French struggle to hold on to its Empire -- in sharp contrast to the way the British adapted to the coming end of the colonial era -- was in large part a reflection of the French military's determination, through the hard-fought wars of Indochina and Algeria, to restore the glory of French arms and the era of what the Europeans called the "furia française" (French fury).

Fast forward to the 21st Century. The French are the most forward-leaning of Europe's militaries, in contrast to the "spiritual paralysis" of the Germans which, down deep, may give to the French some satisfaction. (The phrase is that of the former U.S. Ambassador to Germany, John Kornblum, in an interview with the author). Former President Nicolas Sarkozy led the charge to get rid of Gaddafi. His successor, François Hollande, intervened rapidly and effectively to save some 6,000 expatriates, mostly French, from being overrun by Islamist fanatics in Bamako, Mali. Earlier this fall, the French were all revved up to join in an air attack on Syria, with its Rafale aircraft set to hit the western part of the country while the Americans bombed in the east. What would have been the first joint French-American military operation since Yorktown (that is, without the British, whose Parliament had voted down such an attack) was called off at the eleventh hour, without consultation, by President Obama, who explained in a phone call to President Hollande that he had first wanted to consult the Congress.

Perhaps with the disappointing Syrian experience in mind, the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, put the kibosh on the nuclear talks with the Iranians at Geneva over the past weekend, on the grounds that the position of Iran's negotiating opposite numbers was not strong enough, especially as regards the heavy-water reactor near Arak, which is due to produce plutonium, an alternate to enriched uranium as a means to produce a nuclear weapon. (The negotiations are to continue on November 20 at, however, the senior diplomatic level rather than the foreign minister level).