Winning friends internationally again; Update: The missing context of the Chirac letter
posted at 9:56 am on March 23, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
Remember when Democrats insisted that we needed a change in parties in order to restore our friendships with our allies, especially in Europe? So far, they’ve done a bang-up job of it. Hillary Clinton told the EU that she didn’t understand multiparty democracy — which almost all the free world uses — and then fumbled the names of her counterparts in Europe. Now Obama has pulled a bait-and-switch at NATO that has our allies steamed:
On Wednesday afternoon, e-mails circulating between Brussels and Berlin suggesting that, within the course of the day, Washington would name General James N. Mattis as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. The commander is in charge of all US troops in Europe as well as NATO deployments, including the ISAF security force in Afghanistan.
Traditionally, the United States appoints the supreme commander and the Europeans pick the NATO secretary general. The decision to appoint Mattis appeared to be a logical one. He has long carried the title “Supreme Allied Commander Transformation.”
In the end, though, Mattis didn’t get the appointment. Instead, Defense Minister Robert Gates announced that Admiral James Stavridis would be nominated for the highly prestigious position. The US Senate and the NATO Council must approve his nomination, but it appears likely he will get through. Gates said Stavridis was “probably one of the best senior military officers” in the US.
In Brussels, though, many felt bluffed. “America treats this like it’s purely an American matter — and they didn’t even give any hints about the appointment,” one NATO employee said. “The conspiratorial manner of the personnel search was almost reminiscent of the way the pope is selected,” Stefani Weiss, a NATO expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation in Brussels, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Democrats accused the Bush administration of “arrogance” in diplomatic efforts, mostly because we chose to bypass the UN and finish the Iraq War with our own coalition of partners. I doubt that Donald Rumsfeld, with all his New/Old Europe talk, would have appointed a Supreme Allied Commander without at least consulting the major partners in NATO. Obama’s decision to do that speaks to his own arrogance and a certain level of disdain for the Western military alliance.
Obama has spoken constantly during the past two years about the critical nature of the fight in Afghanistan, and how the Bush administration allowed themselves to get distracted by Iraq. He also criticized the damage Bush supposedly did to our alliances that hurt the Afghanistan effort. This snub looks a lot more direct and a lot more damaging than anything Bush did.
I find it interesting that this got no play in the American media. Not surprising in the least, mind you, but interesting. It’s a good thing I read European news feeds.
In other alienating-our-allies news, Gateway Pundit blogged about an item that has floated around the e-mail circuit this weekend:
In his latest faux pas Obama managed to pi$$ off France…
President Obama wrote Jacques Chirac saying he was looking forward to working with the former French president in the coming four years(?)
Monsters and Critics reported:
US President Barack Obama has indirectly praised former French president Jacques Chirac’s fierce opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq, the online edition of the daily Le Figaro reported on Thursday.
In a letter described by Chirac as ‘very nice,’ Obama wrote, ‘I am certain that we will be able to work together, in the coming four years, in a spirit of peace and friendship to build a safer world.’
Le président américain vient d’adresser une lettre «très sympathique » à Jacques Chirac, selon l’expression de ce dernier. «Je suis certain que nous pourrons au cours des quatre années à venir collaborer ensemble dans un esprit de paix et d’amitié afin de construire un monde plus sûr» , écrit le successeur de George W. Bush au prédécesseur de Nicolas Sarkozy. En évoquant le mot de « paix», Obama rend un hommage implicite à l’action de l’ancien président français qui s’était opposé à la guerre en Irak. Une intervention américaine contre laquelle le futur président américain s’était opposé comme sénateur, lors du vote au Congrès.
Mais oui! Nothing in this report suggests that Nicolas Sarkozy, the current French president, took offense to this. It didn’t make any of the European news media if he did, and since hardly any country has as much sensitivity to American slights as France, I’d say there was nothing to report. Obama may have just written Chirac as a continuation of a correspondence begun when Chirac was still in office.
It does seem strange that Obama would write to the former president of France, a man not terribly popular among his own people, pledging to work closely with him over the next four years, especially since Chirac had closely worked with figures in the Oil-for-Food corruption scandal. If he’s looking to build a stronger alliance with France and its current administration, that would be the wrong direction to take.
Update: As I suspected, the Christian Science Monitor reports that Obama was replying to Chirac:
With his help we found out that another French newspaper, the New Observer, explained that Obama was merely replying to a Chirac letter who was writing him as the head of his foundation — the Jacques Chirac Foundation for sustainable development and cultural dialogue.
The foundation is promoting access to water and medicines in west Africa, combating deforestation in the Congo Basin, and trying to save dying languages in Polynesia, according to a spokesman who helped set up the foundation. …
Le Figaro did opine in its article that “in using the word ‘peace,’ Obama was offering an implicit homage to the former French president who had opposed the Iraq war.”
But other French news organizations confirmed with Chirac’s entourage that they believed the reference was not in regards to the Iraq war but to Chirac’s current work as head of the foundation.
I thought as much when this first made the rounds over the weekend. Obama was just being polite, although again I’m not sure that working publicly with Chirac will make Obama more popular in France. (h/t: commenter CP)