Vice President Kamala Harris' visit to Paris
and talks with French President Emmanuel Macron this week were the culmination of a weeks-long show of contrition by the US for the worst Franco-American diplomatic contretemps in years. France erupted in September and even recalled its ambassador to Washington after finding out that the US and Britain struck a deal behind its back
to build nuclear-powered submarines for Australia -- which was already contracted to buy conventional French subs.
Paris insists its tantrum was not about money -- though the loss of the subs deal dealt a blow to French shipbuilding. Instead the Elysee said it felt betrayed by its oldest ally (though made clear it didn't expect much better from the Brits with whom post-Brexit relations are plumbing disastrous lows). The spat dented the Biden administration's self-awarded reputation for foreign policy expertise, already battered by its chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal. The affair also exposed political maladroitness from the White House since it deeply embarrassed Macron, who is running for reelection.
The US has tried to make amends. The Francophile US Secretary of State Antony Blinken endured a prime time telling-off on French TV
, when news anchor Anne-Sophie Lapix told him, "We expected better ... and especially with you." President Joe Biden delivered a mea culpa to Macron, saying the US had been "clumsy" and lacked "a lot of grace." The two Presidents met not on neutral ground, but in the French embassy to the Vatican. Then Biden sent Harris to Paris.
According to the White House, Harris' invitation predated the row. Still, the symbolism is clear (and the trip gives the VP and possible future presidential candidate a chance to polish her rather thin foreign policy credentials). "We do share the view that we are at the beginning of a new era," Macron said as they met.
Ending the furor does benefit the US -- with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's exit, Macron becomes the key European leader. Watch the US-France relationship going forward, since Paris regards itself as a bona-fide Pacific power but does not share the US' hard line on China.