Why You Should Care About This Weekend’s French Presidential Election

Published 10:00 am Monday, May 8, 2017

You’re probably looking at this title, and wondering why a French election matters to the United States.  There’s more at stake than just some other country’s political contest.  There’s our foreign policy, our anti-terror strategy, and yet another contest between the West and Russian President Vladimir Putin, which will be on the line this weekend.

French presidential elections aren’t too different from those in Georgia.  A lot of candidates can run, but if no one wins a majority, the top two go to a runoff.  For example, Jon Ossoff just missed winning the special election last month, and must battle second-place finisher Karen Handel for the 6th Congressional District contest in June.

Normally the Socialist Party and the French Conservatives are the top two.  But Socialist President Hollande didn’t run for another term, and Conservative Francois Fillon had a hiring scandal, where he paid people for work that was not done, including his wife.  A communist, Jean-Luc Melenchon, finished a close fourth.

The top two were Emmanuel Macron, a young former economic minister who never ran for public office before, and Marine Le Pen of the National Front party, a far-right party whose success would have far-reaching consequences for the United States.

Le Pen’s party was founded by her dad back in the 1970s.  Jean-Marie Le Pen was a noted anti-Semitic man, who has tried to talk down France’s role as a collaborator with Nazi Germany.  But the American forces in North Africa know better, that the “Vichy French” (the name of the Nazi puppet regime Le Pen defends) shot to kill U.S. forces.  You can read more about it yourself in the book An Army At Dawn by Rick Atkinson (that I finished earlier this year) about the U.S. fight in North Africa, and you’ll never conclude it was some easy operation.

Despite claims to the contrary, Marine Le Pen has continued continues her father’s anti-Semitic comments (http://forward.com/opinion/370526/french-anti-semitism-isnt-helping-marine-le-pen/), also targeting immigrants and globalization (which include American businesses).  She’s also received support from Putin, who has criticized Macron.

Ironically, when hard conservatives or the far-right get into power, it doesn’t go well for the United States.  Conservative President Gen. Charles DeGaulle took his country out of NATO and criticized our Vietnam effort (we originally went in was to bail out the French).  Remember the whole “Freedom Fries” incident, when Conservative French President Jacques Chirac refused to back the Iraq Invasion in 2003, even a UN Security Council veto against us.

Centrists and even Socialists, however, have a different record.  They’ve always pushed harder for alliances.  Moderate President Nicolas Sarkozy brought France back into NATO in 2009.  Socialist President Francois Mitterrand supported the Persian Gulf War with troops in 1990-1991, and backed Ronald Reagan’s mission to Lebanon in the early 1980s.  French paratroopers died alongside our U.S. Marines in the Hezbollah attack in Beirut.

Le Pen claims to want to fight terrorists, but it usually involves targeting immigrants or non-whites (most have nothing to do terrorism) which could lead to resentment, a backlash, and just grows the haystack where the needle is hidden, increasing the chances of terrorism in Europe (http://observer.com/2017/05/terrorists-elections-france-marine-le-pen/).  Her isolationist stand will likely end any French involvement in anti-terror operations abroad, something President Hollande wasn’t shy about doing in North Africa.  Meanwhile, Macron’s idea about focusing on encryption has a lot more promise than Le Pen’s tired Vichy-era policies for taking down ISIS and Al-Qaeda networks.  Voters have also grown weary (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/terrorism-hurt-le-pen-more-than-it-helped-her_us_5902019ee4b00acb75f1854f) of her plagiarism, misappropriation of EU funds, and fraud convictions for prior electoral lies.  Hopefully, this is a French election that America can win.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.  He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.