With filial pats on the arms in front of photographers, a tête-à-tête that lasted almost an hour, and a joint press conference with journalists from around the globe, U.S. President Barack Obama received the man he called, simply, “François” yesterday at the White House.
It was an opportunity for the American president to profess his love for France. “We the French,” Obama told reporters. “Sometimes we Americans are too shy to say so, but we’re not feeling shy today.” The president said that Americans love France because “we dedicate ourselves to the same ideals—that all people deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Obama even let it slip that he has a photo of Paris in his private apartment in the White House, a picture of himself and the First Lady kissing in the jardin du Luxembourg.
By attacking Paris on November 13th, Obama said, Islamic State had taken aim at “our free and open societies”—an “attack against the world itself.”
A Common Goal
For France and the U.S.—both allies and amis, both presidents insisted—the goal is simple: destroy the Islamic State. But to achieve this, the two agreed “that our nations must do even more together.”
The U.S. president promised to improve the coordination of air attacks with France and the sharing of American military intelligence, a plan that should make strikes against IS more effective while minimizing collateral damage to the civilian population. Embracing these gestures and offerings, François Hollande said that he had garnered the concrete backing he had come to Washington in search of.
The Grand Coalition: A Project Still In The Works
But the aim of François Hollande to see a large anti-Islamic State coalition, ranging from the United States to Europe to Russia, still seems out of reach. During the joint press conference, Obama had particularly harsh—bitter, even—words for Vladimir Putin. For the American president, if Russia wants to take its place in the coalition against IS, then there’s only one solution: stop supporting the Assad regime in Syria.
As for the prospect of one day seeing heavy deployments of American soldiers in Iraq and Syria, Obama doesn’t consider it an option, sticking to his guns that the U.S. will not put boots on the ground.
For the two presidents, there remains another shared belief: not to confuse “migrants” with “terrorists.” Obama has sharply criticized the American states that oppose the resettlement of Syrian refugees within their borders, invoking the long screen process and high-level of security checks required.
“Even as we’re vigilant, we cannot, and we will not, succumb to fear,” Obama said. “Nor can we allow fear to divide us—for that’s how terrorists win. We cannot give them the victory of changing how we go about living our lives.”
“Vive la France,” the president said before ceding the floor to Hollande, “and God bless the United States of America.”