November 11, 2007
What a change from two years ago! The relatively unheralded visits by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week suggest a favorable strategic shift in favor of the United States. It couldn't happen at a better time for our beleaguered Chief Executive, who needs all the foreign friends he can get. The Washington Post noted that ex-SecDef Donald Rumsfeld's haughty dismissal of "Old Europe" is a thing of the past, and we can count on increased cooperation in a number of fields. True, there isn't much of a concrete military nature that France and Germany can offer us right now, but their diplomatic support will be crucial as Russian President Vladimir Putin adopts an increasingly belligerent stance. One big difference between Germany and France is that Merkel has expressed strong caution about confronting Iran over its nuclear program, whereas Sarkozy has issued frantic alarms, even suggesting that war may be necessary in the near future. The German people are getting tired of maintaining a 3,000-strong force in the remote wilds of Afghanistan, and they have no appetite for taking on new adversaries.
The Post also showed a photo of Sarkozy addressing a joint session of Congress, warmly praising President Bush while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi forced a smile in the background. Another Post article about Bush and Sarkozy's meeting had a wry headline: "A Fraternite party" -- as in Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, the guiding ideals of the French Revolution.
This diplomatic turnabout will leave right-wing pundits in a quandary about whether to cease and desist mocking the French for being defeatist turncoats. It reminds us that in international relations, there is no such thing as permanent friends. Countries act in pursuit of what they conceive to be their own best interests, and neither the unconditional, true-blue loyalty to President Bush shown by former P.M. Tony Blair nor the stubborn rejection of all things American by the former leaders in France and Germany (Chirac and Schroeder) could be sustained indefinitely. There are some clear converging interests between the United States and Europe (both "New" and "Old"), and there are some clashing interests as well. Occasional adjustments in diplomatic relations make perfect sense from a realist point of view.
It is also important to remember that not all of Europe loves us (or Bush), however. Britain's new prime minister Gordon Brown is scaling back his country's involvement in the Middle East, but at least the Brits aren't bugging out completely. Also, Spain is now led by an avowed Socialist who is friends with Hugo Chavez: Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. His election after the Madrid bombing in March 2004 was a big setback for U.S. foreign policy.