Obama, Hollande Agree on Debt Crisis Approach

By Alexis Simendinger - May 18, 2012

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Great Britain has said its 9,500 troops there will stay put through 2014. As with the United States, it has pledged to contribute training personnel and counterterrorism experts long after combat forces have exited.

Afghanistan’s economic challenges, the status of operations on the ground, and the pace of troop withdrawals will be discussed among the G-8 leaders Saturday at the Camp David summit, and again in Chicago on Sunday and Monday as part of the larger NATO summit Obama will host in his adopted hometown.

Beefy diplomacy briefly broke the ice between Obama and Hollande in the Oval Office on Friday as the president attempted some culinary bridge-building. “I was reading the president's biography,” Obama told the press corps, noting that Hollande as a young man spent time in the United States “studying American fast food.” “And although he decided to go into politics, we'll be interested in his opinions of cheeseburgers in Chicago.”

Hollande smiled gamely at this introduction, coming back to the subject of gastronomie during the wind-up of a conversation that was polite, but too new to be genuinely warm. “I would like to thank President Obama for the knowledge he has of my life before I took office,” he said. “I will say nothing against cheeseburgers, of course.”

Hollande’s girlfriend, journalist Valérie Trierweiler, told the New York Times this spring that her beaux’s “taste for hamburgers” can be blamed on a summer’s driving sojourn in 1974 from New York to San Francisco. The trip was part of a business school grant project to study fast food, including McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The result was a report predicting that America’s burger mania would take France by storm. “I could have made a fortune in cheeseburgers, but I finally chose politics,” he told the newspaper.

Obama, eager for the last word, offered Hollande a purposeful smile Friday as the two stood up.

“I just want you to remember that cheeseburgers go very well with french fries,” the president said.

Talk of french fries, considered neither French nor delectable in France, called to mind a low point in Franco-American relations when French opposition to the invasion of Iraq sparked nationalistic rebukes among some U.S. conservatives, who renamed the food “Freedom Fries.”

“No declaration on french fries,” Hollande told Obama, this time in clear English. 

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.

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