Barack Obama campaigned on restoring America’s standing with its allies, accusing the outgoing Bush administration of insulting and alienating our closest friends with his alleged unilateralism. How has Obama done as President? He has repeatedly insulted the British, insisting that there is no “special relationship” and demonstrating it by denying Gordon Brown the usual joint press conference on his visit to the US. Reuters reports that another close ally has taken the measure of Obama and started looking elsewhere for cooperation:
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, initially dubbed Sarko the American for his pro-U.S. stance, is finding it much tougher to deal with Washington than he had anticipated and is recalibrating his policies accordingly.
Stung by perceived snubs from U.S. President Barack Obama and encouraged by the growing importance of the G20, Sarkozy is increasingly reaching out to non-aligned states in an effort to extend France’s international influence.
He has forged especially close ties with Brazil, is seeking alliances in central Asia and is intensifying his activities in the Middle East, using multi-billion dollar military and civilian nuclear trade deals as his calling card.
These initiatives are being played out against a discordant tone in Franco-American relations. This lack of harmony does not constitute a crisis, but is nonetheless raising eyebrows.
The irony here is that the entire “unilateralist” meme started with France in the first place. Then-President George Bush decided to pursue his own coalition of nations to dislodge Saddam Hussein from Iraq when then-French President Jacques Chirac double-crossed the US and the UK at the United Nations. Despite having dozens of nations in the coalition, the lack of an eighteenth resolution from the UN and the public opposition of Chirac’s France allowed the American Left to paint Bush as a go-it-alone cowboy on the international stage.
When Nicolas Sarkozy replaced Chirac, he and Bush created closer ties between the two nations than had been seen in decades. The two partnered on the war on terror, with France taking the unusual position last year of scolding its European partners for not contributing more combat troops to the effort in Afghanistan. Sarkozy and Bush also formed a tight alliance against Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Now who’s the go-it-alone cowboy? Obama has damaged relations with the UK, France, the Czech Republic, and Poland, which even Joe Biden was forced to admit yesterday. Instead, Obama has focused his friendlier attention on Russia and Iran. What has Obama and the US received in return? Laughter over Hillary Clinton’s amateurish “reset button” and zero cooperation on Iranian nuclear weapons. And this is “smart power”?