France’s Envoy to North Korea

I think it’s safe to say that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has yet to find the sweet spot for situating French foreign policy since U.S. President Barack Obama took office. In Sarkozy’s first year in office, he got great mileage out of combining his dynamic energy with President George Bush’s political bankruptcy to create a sort of credibility for French diplomacy. He used his leverage expertly, in both European politics (today’s final ratification of the Lisbon Treaty culminates his initial EU initiative) and in transatlantic affairs (backing up a desperate Bush on Iran and Afghanistan).

But being the best (only?) friend to a lonely U.S. president is easier to navigate than being one among many hopeful friends to a popular U.S. president. And it’s almost as if the lack of opportunities for the familiar leverage tactics that Sarkozy usually employs to great advantage has thrown him off his game. How else to describe the appointment of Jack Lang as France’s diplomatic envoy to North Korea?

This is just wrong on so many different levels that are intuitively obvious to anyone familiar with Lang and his place in French politics, if a bit difficult to translate to a Stateside audience. I’m not even sure there’s a comparison to any equivalent U.S. political figure. Suffice it to say that for all his popularity, Lang does not exude the kind of gravitas the job seems to call for.

And I like Lang. He was gracious with me the one and only time I had an opportunity to ask him some questions (at Ségolène Royal’s final presidential rally in 2007, where talking with an unknown American freelancer was essentially a waste of his valuable time).

But it’s hard to imagine him, in Pyongyang or anywhere else, with anything other than his famous smile on his face.

This could be just another effort by Sarkozy to pick off a prominent Socialist politician, in the interests of domestic politics. But as far as serious diplomatic initiatives go, it’s hard to fathom.

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