He was impregnably armored by his good intentions and his ignorance. – Graham Greene, The Quiet American
PARIS – With former British prime minister Tony Blair out of the picture, there’s now a newer, leaner, meaner, adrenaline-packed “Made in France” version. Thanks to his unrelenting support for President George W Bush’s war on Iraq, Blair used to be derided in all corners of the globe as Bush’s poodle. Now the new self-appointed lap dog is French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The hyperactive “Sarkozy the First” – as he is widely referred to in France – has just pronounced his first major foreign-policy speech, to an annual conference of 200-odd French ambassadors from posts around the world. He took no time to engage himself in the current White House and neo-conservative-promoted Iran-demonization campaign.
Neo-cons and their ilk in France, plus mostly sycophant media, obviously loved it, with instant geopoliticians raving about the “prudent” and “firm” stand behind Sarkozy’s rhetoric.
He said an Iranian nuclear bomb would be “unacceptable” – as if the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was on the verge of discovering one or two hidden under a pile of exquisite Hamadan carpets.
Sarkozy is in favor of even more sanctions against Iran, but is willing to talk in the event the Islamic Republic suspends its nuclear-enrichment program, which Iran has a right under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue. So Iran must renounce an inalienable right for the West to be willing to discuss substance. Sarkozy has already coined the sound bite framing the “catastrophic” alternative: “The Iranian bomb, or the bombing of Iran.”
Sarkozy now officially joins the US thunder and lightning unleashed by the White House, the Pentagon, Republicans, Democrats and corporate media, which all take for granted the “all options are on the table” scenario as far as Iran is concerned.
With the IAEA making steady progress on ironing out misunderstandings on Iran’s nuclear program, and signing an understanding to that effect, the new casus belli du jour for attacking Iran is that it is helping Shi’ite guerrillas kill American soldiers in Iraq. Thus the White House’s proposed designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist outfit – tantamount to declaring war on the elite group.
Sarkozy for his part re-attacks on the nuclear front. Now that’s some real trans-Atlantic entente. Sarkozy said everything must be done to “prevent a confrontation between Islam and the West”. His idea of preventing confrontation is to antagonize Iran and – why not? – Turkey.
Sarko stressed that the “only” option for Turkey’s accession talks with the European Union is a fuzzy partnership framed by a Mediterranean Union (which, he also stressed, should start by 2009). He remains absolutely against EU membership for Turkey. His vague proposal is to set up a “committee of wise men” to study where Europe is heading. The Istanbul daily Zaman tried to put on a brave face, stressing that even though Sarkozy prefers an association, he “will not be opposed” to new negotiations between the EU and Turkey.
Sarkozy vaguely suggested that a possible solution to breach the West/Islam abyss would be for France to “help Muslim countries to have access to nuclear energy” (would Iran be included?). He did not say a word about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization fighting in Afghanistan; just that European meddling in Afghan affairs would be in vain if Pakistan “remained the refuge of Taliban and al-Qaeda”.
Not only pontificating over the troubles of the Muslim world, Sarkozy also criticized a “certain brutality” by Russia and China in their thirst for energy in Africa – much to the delight of Washington. But Iraq, for Sarkozy, remains a “tragedy”. He had to take pains to stress that France “is and continues to be hostile to his war” – something that may distress Washington, but not as much as former president Jacques Chirac’s stubborn opposition to the war.
The only solution in Iraq will be “political”, implying “a clear timetable for the retreat of foreign troops”. Here we have Sarkozy involuntarily joining Shi’ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr – and the Iranians.
The Middle East is awash in so much grief that few in the region will bother to listen to what the new French mission civilisatrice amounts to – apart from the hard sell of Louis Vuitton bags to local elites.
Meanwhile in Paris, relatively few voices are concerned over the Bush-Sarkozy lovefest – a measure of how Sarkozy, as former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi once did in Italy, exercises almost universal power over the French media (one of his former top advisers now is at the top at TF1, the private channel that subscribes to the Rupert Murdoch/Berlusconi school of mass television).
The flashy Sarkozy has already been portrayed as the epitome of the new bling-bling right, which has replaced the defunct caviar left; his role models are Rupert “Fox” Murdoch and Bernard Arnault, the first fortune of France and owner, among others, of deluxe conglomerate LVMH.
First a beaming Sarkozy met with Bush in Maine on August 11 during his tabloid-style holidays – complete with pirate Sarkozy invading a paparazzi boat. Then on August 19 he sent dashing Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on a Baghdad tour. Kouchner – who was in favor of the war on Iraq in 2003 – has lost all the credibility he had as “the French doctor” who founded Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). He’s now no more than a Sarkozy messenger boy.
Not happy to be constantly yapping on the phone with his new pal, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Kouchner made notoriously skillful French diplomats blush in disgust when he told Newsweek that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had to go. Maliki demanded an apology; at least Kouchner was gentleman enough to acquiesce.
Next month, Sarkozy goes back to the US, to attend the United Nations General Assembly. Not only is he eager to do anything to help Bush and “Condoleezza” in Iraq, he now goes all-out neo-con on Iran. After more than 100 days in power, he’s still immensely popular in France, frantically monopolizing the political spectrum on an around-the-clock basis. But he would be wise to spare a thought for what happens to hyperactive poodles that go against their voters’ wishes.