Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Chirac's Message Misses the Big Question…

After mentioning Britain and Germany as EU nations whose leaders George W. Bush will probably visit in late February when he comes to Europe "to make things trans-Atlantically whole and wonderful again" (although Gerhard Schröder has "made sealing the 'fissures' and 'breaches' more complicated by clamoring to sell arms to China"), John Vinocur devotes the rest of his International Herald Tribune article to the country lying between the two:
The French, theoretically the ally with the furthest to go in improving ties with Bush administration (Colin Powell describes the White House as specifically hoping to "mend" the relationship), have smartly laid out through a speech by Jacques Chirac a blueprint of where they want to be positioned in terms of the United States.

The speech was made last month and has gotten only marginal attention. This is curious in the view of an aide to a European prime minister because he considers that Chirac was trying to explain for the first time how his multipolar view of the view of the world can be compatible with good relations between the United States and Europe.

In the speech, where he keeps things simple and away from away the world being organized around the idea of multipolarity — which to the permanent grief of France's global civilizing mission has a conversation-ending, Hegelian sound to it — Chirac is forthcoming, saying things that the Bush administration would presumably like to hear.

Terrorism is not some kind of nuisance as John Kerry promised to make it, but a threat Chirac described as "present and growing." France and the United States are on the same line, "with exemplary cooperation" (no reference to Iran, though) on the issues of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear proliferation, Chirac said. And, he stressed, finding peace in the Middle East "should rally America and Europe together," as should cooperation in reducing poverty, and environmental protection.

At the point where he comes the closest to dealing with why France has explicitly called for European and world counterweights to American power (notably on trips to China and Russia by Defense Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie and former Prime Minister Alain Juppé), Chirac argues, very narrowly, that strengthening European defenses "is obviously not, as sometimes said, about building up a Europe against the United States."

European defense is not the issue though. Rather, talking from an honest nook in a zone of frequent disingenuousness, the Americans really mean it when they say they're in favor of greater European military independence if the result is European willingness to take over greater military responsibilities.

The big question is whether chopping the world up into specific spheres of schematized and artificially defined characteristics and interests, à la Chiracian multipolarity, doesn't really concretize its divisions. Not to mention whether in assigning Europe (and other places) polar status, Chirac isn't really trying to seat the American superpower alone, across the table from a committee of global censors.

In his speech, Chirac presents Bush with a Europe that is a clearly separate pole "set to establish special links with the world's major poles," which he lists, beyond the United States and Japan, as China, India, Brazil, Russia and regional groupings in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

In doing so, Chirac transmogrifies Europe into a unified, muscular, spirited entity that it may never be. And he disregards Tony Blair's view that the world is unipolar, or even Gerhard Schröder's acknowledgment last year that Blair's description sounded pretty accurate to him. …

How much of this would Bush like to deal with head-on during a trip seemingly preprogrammed to be nonconfrontational? … In the French case, Bush could take the advice of all those in Washington who say respect France but do not exaggerate the importance of what it says about the world's future. This argument maintains that since Europe will never be a superpower, it makes no sense for the United States to overreact to French theorizing.

A counterargument accepts over-reaction as a mistake, but makes the point that the United States shouldn't just let lie an approach to the world that essentially defines America as the globe's biggest problem. Doing this tends to legitimize French and German ambitions to lead Europe at Britain's expense, and leaves in the lurch the countries in Europe and elsewhere that see their development secured in a comfortable relationship with the Americans — and not rebranded by Chirac as their counterweights. …