Sunday, November 22, 2009

Obama's Waning Influence

With Obama dithering on a number of issues, some have become rather tired of his mindless platitudes and meaningless calls to hit the 'reset button'. Fed up with the foolishness, many have opted for change.

Sarkozy Outshines Obama as King of MidEast Mediation

For decades the caf├ęs, classrooms and mosques of the Middle East have discussed American intervention in the region.

Eight years of American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a subsequent promise by U.S. President Barack Obama to turn a new page in American relations with the Muslim world have only heightened the United States' role in the Middle East.

But in the battle fields outside Kabul, the mosques of Tehran and Damascus and the halls of power in Jerusalem, people are discussing an entirely different international player: Sarkozy.

In what has been termed "diplomatic activism", in the two years since he assumed the French presidency Sarkozy has launched a ‘Union for the Mediterranean’, pushed France to the forefront of international mediation in Syria, taken Europe's most aggressive stance towards Iran, made friends with Israel, officially joined NATO in Afghanistan, and most recently flown to Saudi Arabia to convince the royals to support a Middle East peace conference in Paris.

Sarkozy's saunter into Middle Eastern diplomacy is seen by the region's pundits and politicians alike in stark contrast to the approach of the U.S. president, who after almost a year in office has made a brief stopover in Riyadh and a grandiose speech in Cairo.

"This is all a sort of French diplomatic activism which the president of France believes will give him international clout," Shlomo Aronson, professor of politics at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told The Media Line. "He also has a large Muslim minority in France, so he is showing his activism and refusal to sit on his hands."

Aronson argued that in an effort to play the peacemaking statesman role, Sarkozy has been aggressively seeking a sea change in France’s relations with the Arab world, particularly Syria.

"Going all the way back to general Charles de Gaulle himself, who gave up the Israeli-French alliance after the Six Day War, previous French presidents have habitually supported the Arab position," Aronson claimed. "Sarkozy is trying to make the role of France more explicit and active, developing pretty friendly relations with whomever is in charge in Israel and trying to use France's historic relations with Syria to mediate between Israel and Syria."

"France is less moved by dependence on Arab oil than other European countries, such as the Scandinavian countries, Spain and Greece," he said. "So Mr. Sarkozy could be helpful in trying to show to the Syrians that something could be done in regard to the Golan Heights, and that Mr. Netanyahu is seriously considering it."

"The French role in Iran is also interesting," Aronson added. "They are repeating again and again that should the international community, meaning the UN Security Council, be unable to restrain Iran's nuclear ambitions, Israel will strike militarily. This gives credence to the Israeli threat, which remains on the table. In other words the French are voicing the Israeli military threat much more vigorously than other European states, such as Germany, which have much more economic interests in Iran."

Hossein Bastani, Paris-based editor of Rooz, a leading Iranian journal, argued that the most dramatic change of tack since Sarkozy became president has been seen in France's relations with Iran.

"The approach of the French government towards Iran totally changed after Sarkozy became president," he told The Media Line. "Sarkozy is seen in Iran as more pro-Israel and more severe in his criticism of Iran than, say, President Chirac was."

"France's reaction to what took place in Iran following the elections was also very harsh," Bastani said. "So the Iranian authorities are not happy with France at all. Sarkozy's positions on Iran are not only more severe than other European leaders, but indeed he is seen by the Iranian authorities as having a position even more antagonistic than the United States."

Bastani argued that Iran's response to 'Sarkozyism' was to try sideline France in the country's political discourse.

"France is clearly important, but Iranian pundits try to ignore the positions of countries like France and the government, quite willing to cut a deal with the United States, which depicts France as a non-key player in the negotiations."

Alex Jackson, Policy Analyst and Afghanistan expert at the Paris-based International Council on Security and Development, said that while France does not have much material influence on the ground, Sarkozy has also dramatically changed the country's symbolic role in international military alliances.

"We're seeing a lot more active and engaged French involvement in Afghanistan and a willingness to move beyond the Iraq war," he told The Media Line. "France has always been a more distant participant in NATO than other European states, but earlier this year France formally rejoined NATO and is now formally fighting under a NATO flag in Afghanistan. So while it may not make much of a difference on the ground, it's symbolically quite important."

"A lot of this is personal and reflects Sarkozy's personality and political convictions," Jackson said. "In many ways he's broken with the old model. He believes that France's future lies not just in ties within Europe but in becoming a significant player on the world stage. So he's basically trying to engage with everyone."

Benjamin Joffe-Walt

Via The Media Line

H/T: Esther IslamInEurope blog

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