What bothers the US about France is also what makes it valuable.

On Thursday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will officially welcome French President Emmanuel Macron to the White House. and the United States are more interdependent than ever, but history suggests that cooperation will not be easy.

Vice President Kamala and French President Emmanuel Macron

Macron’s visit is a chance for Washington to get over its biases about his sometimes erratic foreign policy and see that France’s value as an ally comes from the fact that it is independent. For its part, France must demonstrate that its transformative agenda for Europe and its global role can yield tangible benefits for the United States.

Macron’s predecessors have irritated Washington for over fifty years, beginning with president Charles De Gaulle, who criticized America for the Vietnam War, opposed the U.S. dollar’s global dominance, constructed France’s own nuclear weapons, and distanced France from NATO. Macron has not been less forthright. When he called NATO “brain dead” in 2019, Pentagon, CIA, and State Department officials’ heads exploded. When the Biden administration announced new plans for military cooperation with Australia and the United Kingdom in 2021, U.S. officials were taken aback by France’s stern rebuke. Macron’s insistence on maintaining a diplomatic channel with Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine caused U.S. policy elites to vent even more steam from their ears. Macron’s ardent advocacy for European “strategic autonomy”—by which he means that Europe needs the economic and military strength to assume much more responsibility for its foreign policy—irritates ardent NATO supporters in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere.

But Washington needs to realize how important it is to have an ally that says what it thinks and thinks for itself. France’s independence is tied to its global goals and strategic vision, both of which are very important to the United States. It is an acceptable price to pay for an ally willing to spend money to defend itself, and for an ally that provides global leadership on climate issues, understands the challenge China poses, supports the rule of law, is a member of the United Nations Security Council, possesses nuclear weapons, and, last but not least, shares America’s core political values.

Biden will have the first state dinner with Macron.

True, Macron’s approach to strategic autonomy may make it more difficult for U.S. diplomats in Brussels to create a semblance of agreement from the divergent views of NATO’s thirty nations, but it is precisely the type of policy that Washington should embrace.

Security in Europe has been shattered by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, and the United States should want Macron’s vision of a stronger, more unified Europe, particularly in an era when the costs of deterring China in the Indo-Pacific are certain to rise. Due to its presence and experience in Africa and the Middle East, France is also exceptionally well-equipped to combat terrorism and strengthen security in regions from which the United States is pivoting — a pivot enabler, if you will.

Moreover, Macron’s criticisms have frequently been justified. When Macron called NATO “brain dead,” many U.S. and European officials were secretly glad that someone was finally admitting how broken the alliance had become because of the fighting and bad will among its leaders. Macron’s criticism was a wake-up call that made people think more about the alliance’s future.

France’s complaints about the sale of nuclear submarines to Australia by the United States and the United Kingdom may have been overly emphatic, but France was genuinely surprised and its interests were harmed. Moreover, as the timelines for U.S. and U.K. nuclear cooperation with Australia extend into the distant future, France’s original plan to provide Australia with diesel submarines may have been the more realistic approach to achieving something that everyone wants: enhancing Australia’s underwater capabilities against China in the Indo-Pacific.

France is currently spearheading a European approach to the Indo-Pacific region that will strengthen its ties with India, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates. These connections can also serve U.S. regional interests. Biden and Macron should establish communication and coordination mechanisms for their regional strategies.

Finally, Macron’s diplomatic channel with Moscow may soon prove prescient if Ukraine’s advances slow and Vice President Biden heeds mounting calls for a diplomatic solution to the war.

Macron occasionally makes exaggerated claims. His appetite for disruption can backfire if it becomes too detached from reality, such as at the beginning of the Ukraine war. His approach can also be isolating if it is too rigid, as has been the case on occasion when he has resisted U.S. economic and security efforts in the Indo-Pacific.

As the war in Ukraine pushes Europe to the brink of its energy and defense capacities, Franco-American relations will be put to the test. Macron has advocated for European sovereignty and independence in these areas, but the reality is a stark dependence on the United States. The two presidents must prevent this disparity between expectations and reality from causing collateral damage. As they work out their differences over emerging aspects of their industrial policies, such as those in Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, they will also need to keep in mind their shared goal of combating climate change.

When Macron and Biden converse, they should also discuss the underlying values that underpin the French and American political systems, as well as how to wisely protect and adapt these values for the future. Despite his reelection, Macron faces an uphill political battle for many of his domestic goals, as well as a struggle against a nationalist right comparable to that of Biden. France and the United States are democracies with distinct experiences and political traditions, but they also share many similarities. They can teach one another.

Both countries will be better off if Biden and Macron can agree on priorities and clear the way for sensible cooperation. Most importantly, they will move toward their shared goal of creating a predictable international order based on rules that everyone agrees on and that is good for democracy. Paris and Washington have been fighting for a long time. They need to stop fighting over small things and focus on the bigger, quickly changing picture of the world.

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