We Are Cowboys Again

My native and adoptive countries have always had a multifaceted relationship. Not unlike two persons attracted to each other, a complex mix of love, hate, annoyance and fascination characterizes the connection between France and the U.S..

When most of the world agrees that Osama Bin Laden’s death is a positive event in the pursuit of peace, France strangely has been slow to report the news and even faster to move to another topic.
Clearly, the French neither see the death of Bin Laden nor the celebration following the announcement of his death as important enough to give it the headlines.

Not unlike post September 11, when shortly after Le Monde wrote its fraternal headline, “Nous sommes tous américains,,” the French had all kinds of justifications for the brutal attacks.
It is still difficult for me to accept that in France, young Muslims sang in the streets and the subway when the Twin Towers fell. My husband was supposed to fly aboard one of the planes that day and was saved by a dinner invitation for that very same evening. I still hear his voice calling me from Boston when he urged me to spare our four young children from the news.

We visited France several times after September 11 and it wasn’t cool at all to be living in the U.S. Of course, it didn’t help that most French didn’t like President Bush whom they called the cowboy from Dallas. By extension every American was a conservative idiot cowboy.
The pre-Iraq war was a difficult time to be Franco-American and heated articles filled the newspapers from both sides of the Atlantic.
Then, Barack Obama arrived and with him, hope and change. Right?
Visiting France then with an American passport opened doors that had been closed for the last years. Everyone loved Obama even though he was not even yet the presidential candidate for the Democrat Party.
When it was sure he would be on the ballot, every French thought they were entitled to vote. Obama was not only hope and change for us, Americans, but for the French too.
I remember of a young African who lived in Paris who gave my family the thumbs up when he learned we lived in California.
“Vote Obama for me!” he urged us. “Il est mon pote.” Or, “He is my pal.”
Obama improved greatly the image of the U.S. thorough the world but perhaps no other country more than France embraced his election with as much enthusiasm and support. As if Obama had also become President of France.

But after Bin Laden’s execution, France remained strangely silent. As if the country didn’t know what to do with the raid led with a unique mix of powerful American military and a zest of Hollywood panache.
It took France a couple of days to react. Not because they hadn’t already understood that it was a significant event not only for the U.S, but also for the rest of the world. But perhaps because President Obama suddenly wasn’t only the hope and change France had so much loved.
President Obama was actually soon called a cowboy as well.

I didn’t go down the street when CNN breaking news announced the death of Bin Laden. I was for a few minutes doubting it could be true. Then, a feeling of closure, I heard later most Americans shared, filled me.
The death of the man behind the brutal attacks and the numerous tapes encouraging violence against the U.S. doesn’t mean the end of acts of terrorism. But for us, ordinary Americans, who saw our daily lives turned upside down on September 11, the successful raid in Pakistan justifies somehow the amounts of money poured in our military.

When Americans are losing jobs, houses, retirement pensions, when our public higher education system is challenged by state and federal budget cuts, when health care cost is still too high for too many, it was uplifting to see people spontaneously going down the street to celebrate.
And even though I stayed home and watched the news with my husband who made it on September 11, and our two younger children who were five and six years old on that day, I felt proud to be American.
Even if we are all cowboys again.

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