WASHINGTON (AP) — Overshadowed by the intrigue of a European love triangle and a glamorous White House gala, Tuesday's policy talks between President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande will showcase a revamped relationship that is now a cornerstone of diplomatic efforts in Iran and Syria, as well as the fight against extremism in northern Africa.
The partnership between the longtime allies has slowly improved after hitting a low point a decade ago, when the French public and politicians alike bitterly opposed the U.S-led conflict in Iraq. Now, with Americans weary of war, it's France that has been staking out a more muscular military posture in parts of the world, with the White House gladly playing a supportive role.
"We're having a bit of a role reversal here," said Heather Conley, a Europe scholar at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Indeed, France took the lead in recent military endeavors in Libya and Mali, while the U.S. contributed equipment and assistance with logistics and intelligence. And when the U.S. looked to be on the brink of a military strike against Syria following a chemical weapons attack there last year, France was the only European ally ready to join that effort.
Obama's critics have seized on this new dynamic as a sign of American weakness, while the White House has touted the approach as a strong model for a country with little appetite for protracted military conflicts.
Despite the array of pressing foreign policy concerns on tap for Tuesday's talks, much of the focus surrounding Hollande's state visit has been on the French leader's romantic woes. The 59-year-old ended his relationship last month with girlfriend and French first lady Valerie Trierweiler after it was revealed that he was having an affair with an actress. Hollande showed up in Washington Monday without a guest to accompany him during his two days of events.