Sarkozy´s American Strategy

<a href="">David Allen</a>. Professor. IE Business School

31 October 2007

Sarkozy has decided that the best way to position France on the world stage is by getting closer to the US. Will he succeed?

Once upon a time, France was the most populous, most envied nation in Europe; once upon a time my U.S. passport was in English and French. But alas, France never quite got to be Europe´s most powerful nation. Napoleon almost got there, but his adventure bumped up against the Russians and that was it.

Like the Spanish and British, the French aspired to be empire builders. Alas, as colonizers, they sold America for a bowl of porridge and got stuck making a mess of themselves and Africa (see Tavernier´s magnificent "Coup de Torchon"); they did slightly better in French Indochina before ceremoniously dumping the whole thing on the remarkably foolish Americans who apparently had learned nothing from Korea.

Today, post-colonial France is a country that tries to play itself as friend to both Muslims and Jews, selling arms and doing what they can to make money in the oil business. (By the way, the Spanish are pretty good at the bait and switch game as well, though they try to focus on South America and sucking money out of South American socialists. The English and Germans do their part as well, all of whom, up to now, have depended on the United States to keep the business going and the Euro in the clouds.

France, Germany and Great Britain would all be happy to run the world, and I have no problem with any of the European democracies individually, or as a group, taking over from the U.S. as the world´s superpower so long as that means we don´t have to put up with a world run by the Chinese or the Russians. My reason is simple: in democracies the people still have some chance, however remote, of reining in the stupidity of their leaders. And frankly, if I had to pick a European nation to be the boss, I would take the French, whose food, wine and movies we need to make the world a bearable place to live in. (I will spare you my possible objections to the British and the Germans; the Spaniards and the Italians are not in the running.)

However, as we know none of the European nations, individually, are in a position to run the world, and so we are left with two reasonable choices in sorting out power on planet Earth: 1) Accept the Americans as the Big Enchalada with the usual British, French and German support; or 2) Go back to a balance of power scheme. (Forget about an option 3, a UN utopia with no world superpowers, it ain´t gonna happen.)

Option 1 we are all familiar with and understand the pluses and minuses. Option 2 means two or more countries or blocks of countries struggling for economic (and perhaps military) supremacy. Option 2 is a real possibility given how the Americans have screwed things up. Unfortunately Option 2 brings with it many uncertainties, most of them pretty bad as the Chinese arm themselves, the Japanese rearm, and the Iranians actively seeking to become the Muslim world leader.

And so, as the world power structure threatens to come undone, Western Europe finds itself in a bizarre tightrope walk between the EU crashing into pieces and consolidating its status as an economic power that depends on U.S. military power. There is, unfortunately, no real chance of putting together a European military and foreign policy, which means that the Europeans need the Americans.

Sarkozy, the immigrant pragmatist instinctively understands this and has decided to go all out for Option 1 with a reinvigorated role for France as America´s interlocutor. Sarkozy, even in 2,000-Euro suits, even with 2 very French wives plus affairs, is still the pushy immigrant, a street fighter who sees things in black and white, and has decided to gamble on the Americans, not because he really believes that they will win, but because the alternative is so bad.

Sarkozy has stuck his neck out. He will need a post-Bush administration that understands that without continental Europe, in particular France, the United States has no chance of engaging the world diplomatically and will have to rely on an over-extended military guided by an incompetent administration to fight against Chinese domination. Retired Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez´s condemnation of the management of Iraq War is just the latest in a seemingly endless outpouring of regret over how we have debilitated ourselves in a terrible "nightmare". We need time to recover and Sarkozy wants to help us get it.

Sarkozy wants to bring France back to the world stage, but he needs a strong U.S. to do it. This is self-interest in its best guise. I am afraid, however, that the next American president won´t appreciate what Sarkozy is offering to us and will do something stupid that will oblige Sarkozy to renounce his American strategy.
It is a shame that Sarkozy cannot run for president of the United States. But even if he were a naturalized citizen, it would be unconstitutional. It is odd that the only two other politicians who have an idea of what needs doing are an Austrian weightlifter and a black guy with a Kenyan father and a name that wouldn´t get him elected dog catcher.


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