Mr. Obama, Meet General de Gaulle - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Mr. Obama, Meet General de Gaulle

“I am France.”

So spoke General Charles de Gaulle to British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax in1941. At the time France was under the control of the treacherous Vichy French, the puppets of the Nazis, the latter having invaded France in May of 1940. With Adolf Hitler himself personally appearing in Paris to inspect his new conquest. de Gaulle had refused to bow to Hitler, instead going across the Channel to Britain and presenting himself to the British government and anybody else who cared to listen (there weren’t many) not just as the legitimate head of what was quickly known as “Free France.” For de Gaulle that was not even close to the reality of what he represented. As he made plain to Halifax, de Gaulle saw himself — then and always — as France.

De Gaulle was prickly. He drove every American president from Franklin Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson just shy of crazy. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger admired him greatly, but alas Nixon was no sooner in the White House than de Gaulle resigned the French presidency. He managed to anger Winston Churchill too. So angry was Churchill with de Gaulle during the war that he summarily dismissed the excuse from his foreign minister Anthony Eden that “it may well be that de Gaulle is crazy.” Churchill — who perhaps not coincidentally was often accused by his own opponents of seeing himself as the British Lion personified — saw de Gaulle as “pigheaded.”

But when all was said and done, by the time General de Gaulle was President de Gaulle, there was not the slightest doubt anywhere around the world. When Charles de Gaulle spoke there was one and only one message: “I am France.”

And so it was on November 22, 1963, that when de Gaulle learned the shocking news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy — with whom he had occasionally crossed swords — de Gaulle was determined to show France’s solidarity with America. How to do this? He was, records biographer Jean Lacouture, to instantly announce that he would be attending the young American president’s funeral. Writes Lacouture:

The next day, de Gaulle chaired a meeting of the Council of Ministers. When he came into the room, he refrained for once from shaking the hands of the members of the government. He sat down, looking very serious, and without moving his chair towards the table, as he usually did, he stood behind it and said slowly: “John Fitzgerald Kennedy has been assassinated. He was one of the very few leaders of whom it may be said that they are statesmen. He had courage and he loved his country.” It was a tribute without precedent and one that was never repeated.

Ten hours later,* he was standing in uniform, granite-like, beside the grave in Arlington Cemetery. All eyes were on him. When colleagues of the assassinated President thanked him for coming, he replied: “It’s a tragedy, I’m merely carrying out the wishes of all the French people. There is intense emotion everywhere in France.”

*(Note: Author Lacouture errs on one detail: JFK’s funeral was not “Ten hours later” — Sunday — but rather Monday, November 25th. Otherwise he is correct. The French president marched boldly down Connecticut Avenue behind JFK’s caisson that Monday, attended the service, then rode in a long motorcade of world leaders to Arlington, where he was front and center at the gravesite. Standing as described, “in uniform, granite- like.”)

One of the few things left out of Lacouture’s account is that by the time funeral arrangements began to be organized for the dead president it was already Saturday morning. The funeral would be Monday. Forty-eight hours away, this was thought by the U.S. State Department to be far too close a period of time to invite world leaders. It was de Gaulle who stepped forward, noting that the President of France must absolutely be present for such a momentous and unusual event, then calling the French Ambassador in Washington to inform him the President of France would be there. He was. And when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy asked that mourners march with her through the streets of Washington to St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the site of JFK’s funeral service, de Gaulle was there. Marching smartly down Connecticut Avenue (as seen here) and standing front and center at the subsequent burial service in Arlington National Cemetery (as seen here), Charles de Gaulle was there in a moment of great American tragedy — along with dozens of other world leaders — because he believed he had to represent France at such a moment. This was, after all, the man who over twenty years earlier had said, in the face of the Nazi invasion of his own country, “I am France.”

This moment was recalled more briefly Sunday night by former New York Congressman John LeBoutillier, a Fox Insider who hat tipped a Fox staffer old enough, as am I, to recall this iconic de Gaulle story. The story raises the inevitable question.

Where was the president of the United States this past weekend? Over a million people and dozens of world leaders marched through the streets of Paris as once world leaders and Americans had flooded the streets of Washington, D.C. in tribute to a fallen American president. 

The hardcore reality? No president since Ronald Reagan has understood the importance of symbolism at critical moments as well as Barack Obama. This is the president who made a point of speaking from Berlin even before he was elected president. This is the man who accepted his party’s nomination in front of (fake) Greek columns. He wanted to be the leader of the free world — and like it or not, he is.

So what’s the problem? As the saying goes, anybody who was anybody in the world-leader category of the Western world was there. Britain’s Cameron, Germany’s Merkel, Israel’s Netanyahu. And even, yes, the Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas. Not to mention all the rest.

And where was the President of the United States? The Vice President? Even that famous French speaker Secretary of State John Kerry? Nowhere to be seen, protesting through a White House flunky that their importance would be just too distracting.

One suspects there is another truth here. A very disturbing if by now familiar truth.

While France’s leaders have not hesitated to call this episode exactly what it is — an act of Islamic terrorism — President Obama and his administration have refused yet again to deal with the reality of radical Islam. Say again, they refuse deliberately, willfully, knowingly.

Not going to France when France needed America has brought to the White House and the American people. We have had our differences with France over the centuries — even differences with the prickly Charles de Gaulle. But in plain fact? The United States of America would not exist were it not for the bravery of France during the American Revolution.

In 1917, when American troops arrived in France to help the French face down the German Kaiser, American Army Colonel Charles E. Stanton (not General John Pershing, as often erroneously attributed) said, “Lafayette, nous voilà.” In English: “Lafayette we are here.”

The world has turned many times since 1917. But once again there was a need for an American — in this case an American president — to show up and be present and accounted for on French soil. Sadly, in the world of Barack Obama, not only could this American president not show up in Paris to say “Lafayette we are here,” even more embarrassingly in the modern world he could not show up and say “De Gaulle, we are here.”


And don’t think for a second the jihadists of the world are not watching.

Jeffrey Lord
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Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is a former aide to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. An author and former CNN commentator, he writes from Pennsylvania at His new book, Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and The New American Populism vs. The Old Order, is now out from Bombardier Books.
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