WHY CAN'T FRANCE AND THE U.S. BE FRIENDS?

THEIR PRESIDENTS HAVE CHEMISTRY, AND THEY MAY AGREE ON THE ESSENTIALS, BUT FRANCE AND THE U.S. HAVE FOUND PLENTY OF OTHER THINGS TO QUARREL ABOUT

French president Jacques Chirac is fond of certain things American: junk food, his summer-school days at Harvard, the South Carolina belle he almost married, Bill Clinton. Campaigning in the spring of 1995, Chirac enthused about the prospect of working with his U.S. counterpart; the two men, both gregarious, backslapping extroverts, had hit it off from their first meeting in Paris a year earlier. But how, a reporter asked, would sensitive Franco-American relations fare? "They will be excellent," Chirac predicted. Pause. "And contentious."

Right on both counts. The first six months following Chirac's election were a lovefest. When France's leader touched off...

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