Mittwoch, April 15, 2009

It takes an expert...

French politics are, if anything, guided by a supreme understanding of French national interests. It's the truly annoying thing about the French: they are, amongst the West, probably the country least susceptible to those periods of time when the US tries to bully or bullshit.

This is today's Times is an excellent reminder of this.

France has been cooing along with everyone else over the arrival of Bo Obama at the White House, but the master of America's new First Dog is no longer in good odour with President Sarkozy.

Mr Sarkozy is pouring cold water on President Obama's efforts to recast American leadership on the world stage, depicting them as unoriginal, unsubstantial and overrated. Behind leaks and briefings from the Elysée Palace lies Mr Sarkozy's irritation at the rock-star welcome that Europe gave Mr Obama on his Europan tour earlier this month.

My. That's a tad ... disappointing: President Obama as unoriginal, unsubstantial and overrated. Got give Sarkozy credit: he calls 'em real good. That's got to be a major disappointment for all the policy wonks (and wankers) who desperately want the French to like them, who think they can play the game the way the French do, who at the end of the day are completely and totally clueless about how the world really works (here's a hint: if you listen to academics, you've lost).

The American President's call "to free the world of the menace of a nuclear nightmare" was hot air, Mr Sarkozy's diplomatic staff told him in a report. "It was rhetoric – not a speech on American security policy but an export model aimed at improving the image of the United States," they said. Most of Mr Obama's proposals had already been made by the Bush administration and Washington was dragging its feet on disarmament and treaties against nuclear proliferation, the leaked report said.

You see, the French understand what the Germans call Realpolitik, the policy of naked and clear, real national interests. This is something that oh so many in the US think they know all about, but whose severely misinformed academic understanding of Realpolitik makes it seem like some sort of political game to be played. To use a phrase from Q: Au contraire, moin Capitan!

This is Presidnet Obama underneath the charm, charisma and smoke and mirrors: this is calling his bullshit.

Personal pique and French politics are also behind the souring of Mr Sarkozy's self-promoted honeymoon with the United States. On the personal side, the French President is needled by the adulation for an unproven US leader whose stardom has eclipsed what he sees as his established record as a world troubleshooter. "The President is annoyed by what he sees as the naivety and the herd mentality of the media," said a journalist who is privy to Elysée thinking.

Man's got a point: the Obama Presidency is, already, in many ways a farce extraordinaire.

Mr Sarkozy has put out a version of the proceedings at the London G20 economic summit which casts him as hero, in the classic French role of intransigent defender of principle in the face of the American steamroller. This is to counter last week's reports of Mr Obama saving the day by persuading President Hu of China to accept Mr Sarkozy's demands for naming tax havens.

Well, the French would say that, wouldn't they? Of course President Obama has spun this the way he wants history to remember the G20, he wouldn't want it any other way.

According to the leaks, Mr Sarkozy shamed Mr Obama into intervening: "You were elected to build a new world. Tax havens are the embodiment of the old world," he is quoted as saying. He also reprimanded Mr Obama for setting US goals for climate change that were inferior to Europe's, according to his staff.

Well, that's called setting your ambtions low as to not get disappointed.

Again, according to the Sarkozy version, at the Nato summit in Strasbourg, Mr Obama was meekly yielding to Turkey's refusal to endorse Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the alliance's new Secretary-General. It took pressure from Mr Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel of Germany to stiffen him up and change his mind, say the French.

Great. Carter III (much of Clinton's foreign policy in its naivete deserves the name Carter II). I think we'll see some reports not too far off about how good Bush actually comparison.

Mr Obama's favour for Ankara has irked but also helped Mr Sarkozy as his Union for a Popular Movement campaigns for European Parliament elections in June. Mr Sarkozy slapped down the US President on French TV after he publicly called for Turkish entry to the European Union.

This is also appropriate: think how well it would go over if France started giving advice to the US on how to deal with Mexican immigration, publically and without prior discussion. Some thing here...

Permanent refusal of Turkish membership is one of Mr Sarkozy's policy planks and one of his most popular with voters. Mr Obama's venture into EU affairs has enabled Mr Sarkozy to make political capital. He has shown that France can still stand up to the United States despite rejoining the Nato command last week.

Trifecta for Sarkozy: make President Obama look like a fool, keep the Turks out of the EU and garner points with the classic basis for political power in France, reflexive old order anti-americanism. He must be a happy camper....

It sounded like old Franco-American business as usual this morning when Bruno Le Maire, Mr Sarkozy's Europe Minister, accused Washington of backing the northern and eastern EU members by wanting to turn the union into a mere free-trade zone. France and Germany are sticking to their vision of the "political" Europe that others do not want, he said.

Like I said, the French are nothing if not consistent...

Behind the policy argument, it is easy to detect disappointment over Mr Obama's failure to respond to the Sarkozy charm offensive that began when he befriended the junior senator on a visit to Washington in 2006. Mr Obama showered compliments on France's "hyper-president" in Strasbourg, but the one that has stuck was double-edged: "He is courageous on so many fronts, it's sometimes hard to keep up with him."

President Obama appears to have a natural talent for playing someone who he really doesn't think he is. He believes he is suave, sophisticated, cocktails-and-cigarette-cool, but at the end of the day he's nothing more than a made man, a product of the Chicago political machine that has made him to be their front boy.

If he actually knew anything of French politics, and was actually interested in getting the French on his side, then you wouldn't have seen these sort of mistakes being made. You wouldn't actually see much of any interaction between the two, but what you would see - if you could see it - would be the bodies of common enemies being quietly buried, of bank accounts being quetly divvied up, of dreadful accidents happening to people who desperately deserve them. You think the CIA is completely ruthless, capable of torture and murder? They're pikers compared to the French.

Just remember what happened to a Greenpeace ship when it got in the way.

That's what Realpolitik, after all, is really about: it's about really getting your way without being caught, without being hauled up in front of Congress and having your dirty laundry shown to the world. The French are, if anything, and this deserves repeating, masters of Realpolitik.

As President Obama and the United States are due to find out once again. The French will respect the US when US politicians start behaving like they know what they're doing.

It's going to be a very, very long first term.

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