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‘Freedom Fries’ back on the menu? US-France row over submarine deal with Australia revives Bush-era meme

The submarine sale, negotiated in secret and announced earlier this week, prompted France to recall its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra on Friday, kicking off a rare, high-level row between the three allies. Paris argued it was not informed of the deal, which effectively killed off a multi-billion dollar shipbuilding agreement already reached between France and Australia. 

The diplomatic drama soon spilled over onto Twitter, briefly pushing “Freedom Fries” into the trends – breathing new life into a public campaign to rename ‘French fries’ that was first floated ahead of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

While many US allies quickly fell in line and backed the ill-fated war – later found to have been justified on false claims that Baghdad possessed “weapons of mass destruction” – France initially insisted it would not support the invasion, and even vowed to veto any UN Security Council resolution that called for an attack on Iraq.

Originally created by a restaurant in North Carolina, the ‘Freedom Fries’ trend was soon picked up by a number of prominent Republican hawks, who used the concept to bash Paris’s anti-war stance. Before long, the idea went national, seeing eateries across the country, and even the Congressional cafeteria, rechristen their fries with the more patriotic moniker. 

Seeing a new spat unfold with France, some observers online asked what year it was, noting the ‘Freedom Fries’ throwback, while other users too young to remember 2003 marveled at “the most comical propaganda campaign the US has ever tried.”

A major proponent of the renaming campaign, the late Congressman Walter Jones (R-North Carolina) – also a vocal supporter of the Iraq War at the time – later recanted, devoting much of his later life to anti-war activism. By 2005, Jones was already disillusioned with the war, and when asked about the French fries debacle by a reporter, he said “I wish it had never happened.”

Hours after France recalled its envoys over the sub sales on Friday, Washington and Canberra went into damage control mode, issuing statements reiterating their close ties with Paris. Representatives from both nations said they would continue to attempt to resolve the dispute at the senior level, including at an upcoming UN General Assembly meeting in New York next week.

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