Monday, May 7, 2007
Sarkozying Up To America
A lot has been made in the American press about Nicolas Sarkozy's "pro-American" posture during the French presidential election. But the truth is, his positions have been a lot more nuanced than either his American cheerleaders, or French critics, would like to admit.
It's true that Sarkozy is not in principle hostile to a dominant America, as was Jacques Chirac. In fact, he's made a point of stating that France, and the world, needs a strong America. So while he's expressed disapproval of American unilateralism, he's unlikely to assert French influence for the sole purpose of counterbalancing it.
It's also true that in some ways, Sarkozy's style resembles that of George W. Bush. He's a "With us or against us" type of guy who believes that French and European foreign policy should be guided by Western ideals instead of realpolitik. As such, he'll fit in nicely down on the ranch in Crawford.
But his expressed idealism notwithstanding, Sarkozy is above all a pragmatist, willing to pursue whichever approach -- French, European or multi-lateral -- is most likely to achieve results. And judging by his policy declarations during the campaign, his foreign policy will most probably be a mixed bag from an American perspective, ranging from solid alignment (China, Iran and Russia), to nuanced differences of approach (Middle East policy), to direct opposition (admitting Turkey into the EU).
There's something else to keep in mind amidst all the American euphoria over finally having a powerful friend in Paris. Jacques Chirac paid a pretty steep price in the immediate aftermath of his opposition to the Iraq War. He was ostracized and humiliated by a Bush administration at the peak of its power. And for all intents and purposes, he's been hamstrung on the international stage for the past two years by the French people's humiliating rejection of a constitutional treaty he wholeheartedly supported.
Now the situation has been dramatically reversed. Sarkozy takes office at a time when the Bush administration finds itself weakened and isolated, both at home and abroad, by failed policies and a lameduck president quacking louder with each passing day.
America is no longer in any position to pursue unpopular, unilateral approaches to strategic challenges. So if French and American policy begin to overlap to a greater degree, it will be as much because American foreign policy has become more pragmatic and less arrogant, than because of the change in French leadership.