France vs. US: The German View

In the run-up to the War in Iraq Germany joined Russia and France in what the Economist has termed the salon des refusés in opposition to the US hard line. Now, as yesterday’s entry showed, a deep split between the US and France has arisen on lifting economic sanctions and the legal basis for proceeding with Iraq’s reconstruction generally, while Germany has downplayed its differences with the Bush administration. What is the German judgment on the Franco-American tiff?

In its brusque, business-like way, FT Deutschland advises the French simply to take their punishment: they gambled, and they lost. (Or they “pokered” and they lost – in the title to his commentary piece, Paris hat hoch gepokert, Hubert Wetzel uses a neologism that we can assume refers to the card-game.) How could they expect that there could be no consequences arising out of “the biggest crisis between the two lands in decades,” in which “France torpedoed the most-important foreign policy goal of the US administration”? France should not worry too much, though; the US will never be able to replace France with countries like Romania or Lithuania as a strategic partner, so the Franco-American partnership is sure to continue in some form.

In an article entitled Ein Volk als Geisel (“A People as Hostage”) in the Münich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, Stefan Ulrich presents a evaluation of the Franco-American dispute which pulls back from some of the extremes of the French position. In his view, operating under the motto “Winner Takes All,” the US wants to restrict lucrative participation in the re-building of Iraq to members of its “coalition of the willing.” The only remaining means for other members of the UN Security Council to be able to make their voices heard on the issue would seem to be in taking a tough stand in connection with the lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq.

Ulrich finds the end aimed for here – returning the UN to a central role in transitional Iraq – valid, but the means inappropriate. Fastidiousness over lifting economic sanctions amounts to taking the Iraqi people hostage in pursuit of diplomatic aims of no interest to them. And he warns that such a cynical ploy will only confirm the views of many in Washington who regard the UN as nothing but a Club der Blockierer (a “club of obstructors”). Better to continue to struggle with the Weltmacht (“world superpower”) in other fora, such as leaving the costs of occupation and re-building for the US to bear, so long as it insists on its unilateral way.

Jochen Hehn of Die Welt finds evidence of a climb-down by French President Jacques Chirac in his marked new emphasis on “pragmatism.” Not only did he recently take the initiative himself to recently give President Bush a call, but at the Athens EU summit meeting he retreated from the position he had taken at his St. Petersburg meeting with Gerhard Schroeder and Vladimir Putin, that the UN “alone the central role” should play in the re-building of Iraq. Now he had no objection to the UN’s role there being merely the “vital” one President Bush and Premier Blair had described at their meeting in Northern Ireland. But Chirac’s retreat would only go so far; in his view, UN approval is still required for the lifting of economic sanctions on Iraq and the engagement there of international institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank.

Finally, there is the view that not much of this matters in the long run anyway, because America is on its way down – at least in the view of French historian Emannuel Todd, interviewed in Die Zeit under the title Die Schwäche der Sieger (“The Weakness of the Victors”). According to the article, M. Todd has the distinction of having predicted the demise of the Soviet Union twenty-five years ago, and his prognosis for the US, a country he claims to “love very much,” is not much better. The War in Iraq was merely a “military illusion,” the trivial bumping-off of largely-disarmed and bled-white country. In contrast, the setting for geopolitical competition is shifting to the economic realm, and here things are not looking good: record trade deficits requiring the daily influx of $1.5 billion to sustain mean that the US cannot living within its means but must be dependent on other nations. Yet it refuses to recognize this inter-dependence.

According to Todd, the crisis leading to the War in Iraq resulted in one decisive development that most of the world has overlooked: Germany regained its freedom of action in foreign affairs, whereas ever since the end of the Second World War it had limited itself to merely following the US lead. Other European states which joined Washington’s “coalition of the willing” clearly have yet to make this break; in M. Todd’s eyes, it is they who make up “old Europe,” while Germany, France, and fellow-travelers such as Belgium make up “New Europe.”

All irony aside: these remarks are thought-provoking, even in the face of M. Todd’s occasional glaring errors, such as his assertion that “America has no [more> capacity to export.”

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.