Sarkozy returns common sense to French foreign policy
Nicolas Sarkozy made headlines this week by telling his diplomatic corps that "an Iran with nuclear weapons is for me unacceptable." But the French President did more in his speech than name the gravest current threat to global security, itself a feat of clear thinking. He also signaled that France means to be something more on the international scene than an anti-American nuisance player.Whether the Europeans are willing to put policy ahead of business as usual with the religious bigots in charge of Iran will be the true test of whether the common sense is more than an facade. One of the reasons that Bill Clinton was so popular in Europe was that he was a master of the facade of power. He could gather support easily for a bluff that none of the parties had any intention of actually doing. That is what most of the strum and drange over Iraq was in the late 1990's and the Democrats and the Europeans were appalled when they found out that George Bush was actually serious about doing something about the situation.
That's worth applauding at a time when the conventional wisdom says the next U.S. President will have to burnish America's supposedly tarnished reputation by making various policy amends. In Germany, under the conservative leadership of Angela Merkel, foreign policy views have been moving closer to the Bush Administration's, not further away, while new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has made clear he will not depart significantly from the pro-American course set by Tony Blair.
But it is Mr. Sarkozy who, true to his reputation, has been the boldest in stepping up to his global responsibilities. On Afghanistan, he told the assembled diplomats, "the duty of the Atlantic Alliance as well as that of France," is to "increase efforts." He then announced he would be sending additional trainers to assist the Afghan Army. On Israel, he said he "would never budge" on its security. He warned about Russia, which "imposes its return on the world scene by playing its assets with a certain brutality," and he cautioned against China, which pursues "its insatiable search for raw materials as a strategy of control, particularly in Africa."
In his speech this week to the diplomats, Mr. Sarkozy warned of the need for tough diplomacy, including "growing sanctions," to avoid the "catastrophic alternative: the Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran." That doesn't sound far from Senator John McCain's useful formulation that "There's only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option; that is a nuclear-armed Iran." The important point is that Mr. Sarkozy has put on record that he won't let Iran develop a bomb under cover of feckless Western diplomacy.
One test of his resolve will be how much France assists the Bush Administration as it seeks to round up votes in the U.N. Security Council for a third round of sanctions on Iran next month. The Administration has had a hard time moving the diplomacy beyond symbolism in part because of the economic ties that other permanent members of the Council, including France, have with the Islamic Republic. The French say they've already pulled out some of their investments in the country, and in recent months France, Germany and other European countries have in fact cut back their export credits to Iran.
Mr. Sarkozy could now demonstrate real seriousness by forcing French energy giant Total from its $2 billion investment in the huge South Pars natural gas project. A corruption probe into the decade-old project could give him the leverage to do so, as could rising pressure in the U.S. Congress to start enforcing sanctions against companies that do business with rogue regimes.