Sunday, November 07, 2004

Diplomacy á la française

As we all know, Tony Blair, in a vain attempt to be that bridge between the US and the EU that he has always said Britain should be, told his colleagues at the Brussels summit, to come to terms with Bush’s re-election. Accept it, he said. It is not entirely clear to me what else they can do. As we have pointed out before (to the discontent of some our readers), American Presidents are elected by the American people. How different from the home life of our own dear EU.

In return, as my colleague wrote in the preceding blog, Blair was nobbled by the new triple axis of France, Spain and Germany. The notion that they will run some kind of a European foreign policy is laughable. They do not speak for Europe or most European states. Neither are they prepared to put their money where their mouths are, with the rare exception of France reasserting its role in its former colonies (of which more below).

In the meantime, the EU leaders are coming to terms with the unpleasant fact that they cannot dictate to the American people how to vote. They may yet come to terms with the even more unpleasant fact that they cannot dictate to the people of Europe how to vote.

Some officials, on the other hand, are relieved. A Kerry victory might have put France and Germany into some perplexity. They might have been asked directly for help by the new President, in the name of multilateralism. What would they have said then? Presumably, much the same as they said to Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi who went to Brussels to ask for help and to suggest that the “spectator” nations might like to get involved in building a more democratic Iraq. Not on your life, was the general gist of the reply. We might help later on, when everything has settled down, but meanwhile sort out your security. But do not, said they, and were backed by Kofi Annan (father of Kojo of food-for-oil scandal fame), use force in Faluja. It might upset people. And we can all guess what Mr Allawi might have said to that.

There are voices in France that welcome the Bush election (apart from those French, unreported by their own media, who actually did suppot him), because this will speed up the European project. And, indeed, there have been some politicians and commentators who have wept and wailed and demanded the immediate ratification of the Constitution because George W. Bush had been re-elected. They should get things into perspective. Bush will be President for four years. After that, who knows? There may be a Democrat President (though if it is Hillary Clinton, it may not help much as she has repositioned herself as something of a hawk). Is this a reason for long-term decisions that cannot be undone?

The ambush of Blair by the triple axis has gone some way towards undoing whatever advantage the French President may have seen in the Bush victory. Far from unifying Europe, Chirac and his two friends have re-opened the divisions.

Several French commentators have pointed out that the second Bush presidency will be very different. In it, they say, the administration will consolidate its position and reopen negotiations with potential allies. Of course, negotiations never closed and many potential allies became real ones in the fight against terrorism. What they mean is that the administration will now be nice to France, recognizing that French support is essential in this wicked world. I wouldn’t bet on it.

According to François Heisbourg, director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research:

“It may seem counterintutive, but the French have a broader margin of manoeuvre with the United States than say, the U.K. or Italy.”
Mmm. Counterintuitive is one way of putting it.

Alain Marsaud, of the governing UMP, was another one who affirmed that

“Bush II will be totally different from Bush I. We need the United States and, I think, they might be realizing that they need us, too.”
If they are realizing this, they are showing precious little sign of it, but perhaps it is all too subtle for the rest of us who are not French politicians. But what is it the United States will need France for? M Marsaud thinks that the USA will draw on France’s experience and diplomatic relationships in the Middle East.

An interesting thought. France’s main aim has been to counteract American influence, no matter who might benefit from that. The only thing the Americans can learn from that is to watch where Chirac goes and expect trouble there.

Other aspects of French diplomacy have included political and financial support for the unspeakable Assads (père et fils) of Syria, unconditional support for the terror master, now dying Chairman Arafat, and deep involvement in the food-for-oil scandal.

In fact, President Chirac displayed the much vaunted French diplomatic ability during the European Council, when he tried to change the words of welcome for Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi and discovered that he had unavoidable engagement as the other leaders sat down to lunch with the man. Interestingly, Chirac found time to speed to the hospital where Arafat was lying in a coma or something quite near it.

Meanwhile the French have been merrily destroying aircraft in the Ivory Coast, near the capital Yamoussoukro. This was in retaliation for the killing of nine French soldiers during an attack on a rebel stronghold.

France and the UN have condemned the attack and French reinforcements have gone in. The French government says its actions are justified by the UN mandate. Well, actually, the UN mandate was rather a belated addition to the exercise. In the first place, French troops simply went in after the 1999 coup, to sort matters out. Last year a peace agreement has been signed between all the warring factions and French troops have remained in the country as UN peace keepers.

The peace agreement has not precluded a great deal of fighting between various rebels and the Ivorian government forces. The latest one of these resulted in the somewhat heavy-handed French action. The response to that have been severe anti-French riots in Abidjan, the main city. Property has been looted, schools burnt down and slogans demanding that the French go home or they will may not be able to do so later on. No doubt the extra two companies of troops and three jet fighters will deal with the problem. Another example of what France understands by multilateralism and international order.

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