With a Grain of Piquant Salt:
So here we have a country which was considered to be a colonial enterprise in the Middle East, hated with a vengeance, totally imperialistic, only interested in its own culture and shoving its language down the native throats, only interested in the natives' oil and in return selling arms to repressive regimes. And then thirty years later, it has suddenly become a close friend of the very same people who previously thought of them as an enemy. Yes, Sir, I am referring to France, the same cheese eating surrendering monkeys who have successfully managed to turn their foreign policy dramatically upside down, inside out, and to turn enemies into friends. Compare that to the USA and UK, which are still embroiled in that hell-hole called as the Middle East. What happened there? Any lessons to be learnt?
Frankly, up and until 1967, France was considered as the mortal enemy of the Middle East. The majority of the crusades were staffed, funded and originated in the French kingdoms. The name Franks relates to the French. Most of the massacres during the crusades, whether in Byzantine lands, Constantinople, Levant, Jerusalem or in Egypt were carried out by the Frenchmen. While the Brits think that they exerted most of the influence in the Ottoman Empire, it was actually the French who can arguably be said to have the greatest influence. French troops were present when the Turks were turned back at the gates of Vienna. Do you remember the battle of Lepanto? French capital, lots of French ships. Charles Martell? How about the huge French backing, funding, people and tactics which were involved in the roll-back of the Arab/Berber Empire of Granada in Spain? Or Napoleon's invasion of Egypt, the carve out of the Ottoman Empire ' the French got the best parts of the carcass if you ask me - ranging from Algeria to Syria / Lebanon, etc. France sold weapons gaily to everybody and their dogs. And then came the disaster that was the 1956 Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt, followed by the strong French support for Israel (and the huge arms deals!) Think about the biggest military defeat for the Arabs, the 1967 war. It was almost completely due to French military equipment for the air force, army and the tiny naval fleet. Who can forget the long brutal colonization of Algeria followed by the devastatingly brutal gradual retreat and final independence for Algeria with millions killed, injured, hurt, imprisoned and made destitute.
You ask about oil? Well, after World War I, the carcass of the Ottoman Empire and the German colonies were subdivided, and France got a share of the Turkish Petroleum Company - an Anglo-German dominated company - as part of the repatriations emanating from the Versailles treaty. This company was the seed leading to the Compagnie Fran'aise des P'trole in1924 and in turn became TOTAL in 1954. TOTAL was a very heavy investor in Iraq during the middle part of the century, right up to the point when the Iraqi oil fields were nationalized. Unlike the USA and UK, France does not have local domestic sources of Oil, which made it very single minded in pursuit of stable, secure and most importantly long term supply of oil.
So a country which clearly wants oil and has had a very long history of anti-Arab / anti-Muslim actions is now, in the beginning part of this century, a very close and trusted friend of the Arabs! France deploys troops in Lebanon and not even a single squeak. France wags her fingers at Arab potentates and not even a single murmur of protest. Terrorist gangs are generally quiet about France. France negotiated the release of the nurses held for over ten years in Libya. Everyone loves France. It's not just the Arabs, but the Iranian Shia love it too. Remember the long hosting of Ayatollah Khomeini during his exile in France? (His house there is now apparently a pilgrimage site!) But this support has faded because France supported Iraq in the Iraq Iran War. Even the current sabre rattling against Iran is part of the same design, this puts them firmly in the Sunni Arab camp. (http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,506396,00.html)
So what did France do? Starting from the 1960's onwards, it started to redress its balance to Israel and started supporting Arabs a bit more. This was a master stroke. France imposed an embargo on arms sales on both sides before the 1967 war. Since most of Israel's weaponry was French, Israel was hit proportionally harder. And paradoxically, since Israel won so handsomely using French arms, the Arabs junked their clunky Soviet equipment and went for more French arms. And the cherry on the cake, was that after the war, France managed to sell more parts and equipment to Israel, funded by the Americans. So, at a masterstroke, France gained public congratulations from the Arabs, ended up earning loads of brownie points from the Arabs, and sold more to both sides.
Guess who supplied Iraq with its Osirak Nuclear Reactor, which the Israelis destroyed? Guess who was supplying Iraq with huge amounts of weaponry during the Iraq Iran War? Guess who helped to broker the agreement which ended Lebanon's civil war? Who do you think was the biggest opposer of Iraqi sanctions before the Gulf War I? And when it became clear that Saddam Hussein would not repay the debts owed to France for arms sales, who do you think was the fourth largest contributor to the coalition after USA, UK and Saudi Arabia (well, you can quibble whether Saudi Arabia really was a contributor, but that is detracting from the point)? Guess who positioned themselves very well for the post Gulf War I period? Do you remember the corruption allegations and accusations relating to the Iraqi Oil for Food programme against a gentleman called as Charles Pasqua and the BNP Paribas bank? Which western country fought the hardest against Gulf War II? No prizes for guessing!
So how it is that France has a great reputation (despite having the most atrocious reputation amongst its own domestic Arab minority population)? What can the UK and USA learn from France's foreign policy? UK and USA are the Great and Smaller Satan at this moment on the Arab Street and in its basement. You are almost guaranteed to have the effigies of Brown and Blair and/or the flags of the two countries burnt during every Arab street demonstration.
Well, the first and foremost bit is that its national interest (oil) is aligned to its foreign policy. For almost a century, the state was aligned with going after external oil with the exception of some war years. So the policy is stable. It learnt from its colonial experience in Algeria and has decided not to get involved in colonial endeavors. It supports the ex-colony governments, ties them together in a very tight francophone web of culture, language, politics, diplomatic, military and government contacts. When was the last time you heard France going to war or beating the war drums because a French ex-colony's government has been beastly to its citizens? Do you seriously think that France gives a rat's behind about democracy, equality, liberty and fraternity of those oppressed people?
All elements of its intelligentsia subscribe to France's foreign policy, so it does not alter given changes of its president or prime minister. Whether we are talking De Gaulle, Mitterrand, Chirac, Jospin and now Sarkozy, the foreign policy has been remarkably consistent for almost half a century. This is because the elite of French society are drawn from a tight circle and the think tanks and intellectuals, are all bought into this national interest, national ethos and foreign policy.
It is also remarkably consistent in its secularism, which paradoxically is very appealing to its Arab Muslim client states. They like knowing that the French State will follow its own national interest and that it will have nothing to do with anti-Islam, Islamophobia or what have you. It is also remarkably hypocrisy-free in terms of its arms sales these days. No questions asked, you want arms, you want technology, you want engineering products, show me the money and the stuff is yours. Whether we are talking food processing, engineering, petrochemical, shipping, France is your woman (if you pardon the pun, France is a woman, and don't you know? Unlike Germany which is masculine!) Why is it that French products were never hit with the boycott calls after the infamous Mohammad cartoons row blew up, despite French newspapers and magazines publishing the very same ones? While UK, despite not publishing them, was panned left, right and centre?
The solution is simple! If the UK and USA want to go down the route of France They need to drop the governmental support for Israel, stop banging on about democracy, freedom, free speech, etc. They need to divorce foreign policy from trade policy and be ready to sell anything / everything to anybody who has money. Be discreet but consistent about supporting autocratic rulers, who will in turn support trade, industrial and defence industries. They need not worry about their populace, but have to make sure that the intelligentsia will march to the same tune of the national interest of UK and USA being the most important issue. The rest follow much later if at all. There you go - simple answer.
All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!