Sarko Skeptic

This, by Art Goldhammer at French Politics, is about the most concise and compelling case for questioning French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s foreign policy prowess as any I’ve read. I especially liked this part on his handling of the Georgia War, which I have defended:

The Russia-Georgia War ended because Russia knew that it could not oustSaakashvili without damaging its long-term interest in a cooperativeeconomic relationship with the West. It ended when the Russians weregood and ready to end it, and the limits to their incursion wereself-imposed. Sarkozy merely showed up with a piece of paper on whichhe had hastily scrawled some conditions that ratified the situation onthe ground and were consistent with intentions Russia had alreadyformed.

The takeaway is just as savvy:

In short: Sarkozy seems to have wanted France to replace the UK as theUS’s partner in a “special relationship.” There are benefits to such astrategy but also clear limits.

Art’s points are well-taken. In all fairness, though, I think any assessment of Sarkozy’s handling of the Georgia War has to take into account not only the ceasefire agreement but also the EU’s response, which managed to bridge the deep internal East-West split within Europe in a way that has tugged and pulled but so far held.

I think Art has given short shrift, as well, to the ways in which Sarkozy has used the renewed Franco-American relationship not only to advance France’s interests, but the EU’s as well. It’s happened under the radars, to the extent that even ten days ago I was wondering what progress was being made on it, but the much-vaunted NATO-for-ESDP quid pro quo seems to have gathered momentum. As I mentioned here two weeks ago, and as Nicolas Gros-Verheyde at Bruxelles 2 explains in detail, the British position on EU defense has recently undergone a sea change. And while some of that has to do with the urgencies of the moment reinforcing France’s historic argument of the necessity of both EU defense and NATO, a lot it also has to do with the momentum Sarkozy has given to the project on both sides of the Atlantic.

It pays to be skeptical with Sarkozy. It’s hard to tell how much of his kinetic energy actually results in real work, and when it does, it’s uncertain how much of that will be durable. But the fact that it’s even open to debate illustrates to me one of Sarkozy’s accomplishments, namely to have returned France to a central place in the discussion. That’s better than irrelevance.

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