Defending Sarkozy

To follow up on Petra’s post, the Syria-Iran relationship is based on interests, not values. In many ways, it’s against nature for both regimes. Given a secure border with Israel and lucrative commercial ties with the EU, Syria might feel less of a need for the Iran-Hezbollah insurance policy, or at least, as Petra says, more of a need to try to ratchet down their destabilizing influence. Those are the two angles Sarkozy is working. Is it a long shot? Sure. Is it easy to dismiss his efforts? Like shooting fish in a barrel, which is one reason he’s been taking so much flak for trying.

But I don’t see any harm in France’s efforts to establish itself as an effective player on the diplomatic scene. No one, least of all the Syrians and Israelis, seriously considers France as a realistic guarantor of any eventual peace agreement. For the foreseeable future, there’s no replacing America for that. Sarkozy, like Turkish PM Erdogan, is simply serving a mediator role that might get some momentum going in time for the next American president to take advantage of. Which makes it just another leverage point at our disposal.

Will France get some contracts out of it? Probably, but if the Turkey-Israel pipeline deal currently in the works is any indication, that’s how gratitude for energetic diplomatic mediation is expressed in the region. And in case that sounds too much like the arguments of an expat that’s gone native, here’s Nikolas Gvosdev on Sunday’s Union for the Mediterranean summit:

. . .Sarkozy’s efforts are quite interesting. Perhaps taking a leaf out of the China-Taiwan process, the focus is less on finding resolution to sticky political issues and instead focusing on whether common environmental and energy projects can inculcate certain habits of cooperation.

Marwan Bishara, Al-Jazeera’s senior political analysis, calls the summit a triumph of Mediterranean realism and contrasts the more humble aspirations of the French in light of the “failure” of America to remake the Middle East.

Sarkozy is no saint, and even less a visionary. He’s a dealmaker. That seems like a good fit for the Middle East to me.