Levitte stressed the need to rebuild strained relations between the long-time allies, adding that American politicians and pundits who decried France’s refusal to back the U.S.-led war in Iraq overlooked his nation’s continued support for the other elements of the War on Terror.
“I think we are the best ally of the U.S. in this war,” said Levitte, pointing to the continued presence of French troops in Afghanistan.
He said he was horrified by the Sept. 11 attacks and recalled the worldwide support for America in the immediate wake of the attacks.
“We were all Americans,” he told the audience, echoing a phrase that had been printed in the French daily Le Monde shortly after Sept. 11.
France’s refusal to support the war against Iraq stemmed from basic disagreements about intelligence information—not a desire to counterbalance American military strength or intrinsic anti-American bias—according to Levitte.
To support the war in Iraq, Levitte argued, would have been to support a change in the way wars are conducted.
“We said it loud and clear: we didn’t see an imminent threat,” he asserted. “If you didn’t see an imminent threat, then it’s a war of choice, and a war of preemption. It changes the entire international system.”
Levitte cautioned Americans not to assume that France’s position on Iraq is indicative of deeper anti-Americanism on the part of the French people.
“We have the same values, the same goals,” he said. “Our friendship is a real treasure.”
Members of the audience expressed mixed reactions to Levitte’s speech. Some decried France’s unwillingness to join the war in Iraq, while others defended France’s commitment to America’s efforts to combat global terrorism.
“Levitte told us that ‘we love the strength of the U.S. military to protect the world,’ but at the same time I don’t think that France is willing to share the risk,” Veenita Kaushik, a local resident and self-described “foreign policy buff,” complained. “France provided the perfect crack for Saddam to manipulate.”
But Guillame Rousseau, a French MIT student, disagreed.
“We are one of two or three countries that have the most soldiers behind the U.S. all over the world. We are also taking risks,” he said.