Incoming French President Nicolas Sarkozy appears set to maintain the status quo in terms of French foreign relations. Sarkozy has already hinted at a French withdrawal from Afghanistan, and has recently selected the anti-American Hubert Védrine as Foreign Minister.
It appears that President Sarkozy has decided to embrace the left wing of French politics despite his overwhelming mandate for change. At best, this would make French foreign policy schizophrenic — Sarkozy’s Atlanticist views are in direct conflict with Mr. Védrines view of containing American “hyperpower.” At worst, it signals that President Sarkozy has no intent of changing the course of French foreign policy, which has viewed itself as a major player on the world stage despite being impotent in nearly every regard. The French people rejected the vision of the EU superstate and rejected the left-wing ideologies of the Socialists — Sarkozy may not want to embrace America as Prime Minister Blair had, but he certainly has the authority to say that French foreign policy can be more muscular in defending democratic principles and human rights from Iraq to Afghanistan to Darfur. In order for France to be relevant, they have to be willing to take risks and be willing to project power. Unfortunately, Sarkozy seems to have fallen into the myth that using diplomatic “soft power” while taking the use of hard power off the table is anything but a sign of political impotence.
If Sarkozy really wanted to make France relevant again on the world stage, he’d start by making France’s foreign policy relevant. Declaring that the use of force is off the table in regards to Iran, pulling out of Afghanistan, and hiring on yet another énarque elitist as Foreign Minister is hardly a break from the atrocious foreign policy of the Chirac government. If that’s the direction that Sarkozy will take France, then France will still be a bit player on the world stage. It’s unfortunate that someone like Sarkozy, who based his campaign on a rejection of the status quo in France, is so quick to embrace it in terms of France’s foreign diplomacy. To follow the failures of the Chirac government in this regard is a major blow to hopes for better Franco-American relations and a more muscular French diplomacy abroad. Then again, given that French diplomacy has been more on the side of the enemies of civilization rather than it its defense, perhaps the irrelevance of French foreign policy should be viewed as a good thing.
UPDATE: May 17, 2007: It appears as though Védrine will not be Foreign Minister, instead the job will go to the human-rights defender Bernard Kouchner. Kouchner is a Socialist, but a Socialist who is willing to stand strongly behind basic principles of human rights. Michael Ledeen describes Kouchner as “a Socialist mugged by reality” — which seems apt.
Sarkozy seems to have gone exactly in the opposite direction of where it had looked like he would when I wrote this piece. Bad for me, as it invalidates my entire argument. For France, and the rest of the world, it is a positive sign of a stronger French diplomacy standing for human rights across the globe.
I was wrong on this one, but gladly so.