Sunday, February 13, 2005

Chirac, Who Is Keeping One Foot on the Platform and One Foot on the Train, Still Thinks Bush Has a Lot to Learn From France About Running the World

Four months after the Afghan elections, one month after the Palestinian elections, and two weeks after the Iraqi elections, the sophisticated French still think they have a lot to teach the uncouth Americans about the world and the wisdom of multilateralism. Elaine Sciolino:
[Jacques] Chirac is helped in his reality offensive by [Michel] Barnier. A low-key expert on European integration, the foreign minister lacks the domineering personality and romantic vision of France's greatness of his predecessor, Dominique de Villepin, which so infuriated Colin L. Powell when he was secretary of state.

…He underscored that he is "different" from Mr. de Villepin, the man who emerged as the most vocal and relentless critic of the Bush administration's march to war against Iraq. Still, Mr. Barnier characterized his predecessor as "a friend" who is "passionate," not "arrogant."

Oui. "Arrogant" is reserved for Americans (no matter who sits in the French foreign minister's seat and no matter how positively he is depicted)…
"He still doesn't like the idea of the unipolar world with the United States as top dog," Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat, said [of Mr. Chirac] in an interview after the meeting.

The senators came away from the meeting with Mr. Chirac and a meeting with Mr. de Villepin, who is now interior minister but still weighs in on foreign policy, convinced that France has not yet accepted that some of its dire predictions on Iraq may turn out to be wrong.

Both men have argued fiercely that the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq has made the region much more dangerous. Now there is an effort to calibrate French policy while still asserting France's historic influence in the Middle East.

…"My read of Chirac, as a plain old politician, is that he was saying, 'O. K., you did better than we thought you'd do,' " Mr. Biden said. "I think he was saying: 'I'm not ready to step in and do the heavy lifting with boots on the ground. But you might make it, so I want to get in on the deal.' He's calculating he wants to keep one foot on the platform and one foot on the train because the train might leave."…

One of the main obstacles to improving the relationship between the Bush administration and the French has been chemistry. Mr. Chirac truly believes that his decades of experience in global politics have made him an expert on just about any place in the world.

At one point in the meeting with the senators, he said he would love to have some private time with Mr. Bush, without any aides present, when the two men dine together in Brussels as part of Mr. Bush's trip to Europe later this month.

"Several of us said that would be a great idea, to try to start over again," Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in an interview after the meeting.

But another participant said perhaps that was not such a good idea, noting that in some of their previous meetings, Mr. Chirac has pointed his finger at Mr. Bush and lectured him on what he does not know.