Double Entendre

The Paradox of France's Humanitarian Interventions

French President Francois Hollande arrives in Mali in February 2013 Courtesy Reuters

For years, France’s penchant for surrender has been a running joke in the United States. It’s always been a caricature, but these days the joke makes less sense than ever. In 2011, France took a leading role in the campaign to oust Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi from power. Last year, it intervened to support the government of Mali against Islamist rebels. And now France has troops on the ground in the Central African Republic, as part of an international force trying to end the catastrophic ethnic conflict there. For Americans, this may seem like a strange turn of events. Has France suddenly rediscovered its Napoleonic military vigor? Is it aiming to surpass a newly gun-shy United States as the West’s leading interventionist power? 

The answer in each case is a clear, firm non. In fact, postwar France has rarely had serious qualms about using force abroad. But it is

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