France’s Golden Opportunity

By: Greg C. Reeson

When conservative Nicolas Sarkozy defeated socialist Segolene Royal for the French presidency earlier this year, media pundits and political analysts alike speculated that we were witnessing the dawn of a new era in U.S. – French relations that had been severely strained when Jacques Chirac was at the helm in Paris. An August 27 speech by Sarkozy, in which he laid out his foreign policy priorities, may indeed indicate that the speculation is becoming reality, and that the Chirac era of antagonizing and obstructing the United States at every opportunity is finally coming to an end.

In the August 27 speech, Sarkozy’s tone, and choice of words, were markedly different from those of his predecessor. When Sarkozy spoke of the need for a strong European Union, he did so with a vision for a European entity that would complement and cooperate with the United States to advance common interests, and not with an eye toward creating a super alliance that could counter American power on the world stage. When addressing some of the key security concerns currently occupying the attention of global powers, Sarkozy chose harsh words for Iran, China, Hamas and Russia instead of friendly overtures designed to appease and engage. It was a different approach, one that met with a warm reception in the United States, especially with regard to Iran’s continued defiance of the world community over its ongoing nuclear program.

Perhaps this is the dawn of a new era in relations between the United States and France, but there is a significant divide between the countries that will take time, and more than pro-American words in foreign policy speeches, to overcome. Sarkozy has a chance to change France’s approach to the United States from one of obstruction to one of engagement, but it will take substantive action, both in France and abroad, to begin the process of healing French-American wounds. Internationally, instead of actively lobbying against America in the United Nations, France can look at our common concerns and objectives and work with the United States to address the world’s pressing security issues. Sarkozy could also lead France back to NATO, and re-establish France as a global player by actively participating in ongoing and future peacekeeping missions in a manner worthy of a global power.

At home, Sarkozy could address France’s ever growing, and increasingly discontented, Muslim population, which if left unattended could result in a French 9/11-scale attack that would send Paris reeling backward. A strong relationship with the United States could help potential counter-terrorist operations in France by increasing an already solid intelligence sharing and law enforcement agreement. Also at home, Sarkozy could benefit from a strong relationship with the United States by making France more investment friendly and less of a social welfare state. Economic reforms in France could reap huge benefits in terms of trade and investment for both France and the United States.

The election of Nicolas Sarkozy holds great promise for France, Europe, and the United States. A strong, mutually beneficial partnership between France and America, based on engagement and cooperation instead of obstruction and competition, could go a long way toward changing U.S. public opinion about France, and perhaps French public opinion regarding the United States. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany wasted no time warming up to America after her election, and Sarkozy should do likewise. In the end, France, Europe, and the United States will benefit and France will emerge a stronger power, perhaps once again worthy of a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

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