WHO REMEMBERS JACQUES CHIRAC
When President Nicolas Sarkozy's now famous visit to the Bush family summer dacha in Kennebunkport was being planned between Washington and Paris back m June, the White House told the French in effect, "And, of course, President Bush and his father will take President Sarkozy for a ride in the Bush cigarette speedboat." Not many people know this, but the Elysee Palace (the French White House) said "non, merci" to the boat ride. Sarkozy s advisers thought the image of the newly elected French president skimming over the water with President Bush suggested a cozy relationship that would not go down well in France. Admiring the United States - as Sarkozy openly does - was one thing. Seeming to extend that admiration to an American president who is reviled in France would draw public criticism.
Cecilia Sarkozy, whose political instincts match her husband's, skipped the lunch altogether, doubtless calculating that a diplomatic sore throat in New Hampshire was preferable to a public outcry at home. So when, after the hamburgers and the corn on the cob, George Bush Sr., departed from the script, suggesting a ride anyway, Sarkozy had the good grace to bow to the inevitable; but it was just boys being boys together.
As expected, the speedboat ride caused some waves in France (actually, the whole visit did). But in terms of the bi-lateral relationship it was probably the moment when official Washington and Paris bid a mental goodbye to "Freedom Fries" and all that they represented. Who remembers Jacques Chirac and his angry denunciation of the Iraq invasion? Or, on the American side, deposed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfelds malignant sniping at Old Europe? Sarko s choice of Lake Winnipesaukee for his family vacation, rather than traipsing through the lavender fields of Provence or sunning himself in Brittany was a calculated move to deliver the message that a new trans-Atlantic entente cordiale was born, and to pave the way for his forthcoming visit to the White House.
Back home in Paris, Sarkozy collected 180 French ambassadors from wherever they were serving and outlined new approaches to the post 9/11 world that were far different from those taken by Chirac. Anti-Americanism is out. France will engage with the United States because it is important for France — and for a sometimes cynical European Union - to face the world with more definable attitudes of solidarity with their ally across the Atlantic. The idea that the United States must take on most of the burden of a new and dangerous world is one that he wishes to change. He also hinted that by refusing to halt its nuclear program Iran was running the risk of being attacked militarily, a threat voiced by some officials and commentators in Washington, but hitherto not in Europe.
More recently, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who sometimes tends to shoot from the hip, also warned that the deadlock with Iran could lead to war. Kouchner, who is a Socialist, made what sounded like a saber-rattling comment on the eve of his first visit to Washington - but that too may have been coincidence. The nascent Franco-American friendship had already found expression in Kouchner's visit to Baghdad on August 21. Reporting the first visit to Iraq by a French foreign minister since the 2003 U.S. offensive, the French newspaper Le Monde said in an editorial that "Frances desire to return to Iraq has to be seen in the context of Franco-American rapprochement," and the New York Times called it