Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sarkozy, Peacemaker

Nicolas Sarkozy has thus far acquitted himself honorably in the Russia-Georgia fracas. There has been little complaint about his hyperpresidential upstaging of Bernard Kouchner. Apparently this situation was deemed grave enough to warrant the president's personal intervention, even if it put him hard on the heels of his foreign minister. To be sure, the Russians had no doubt decided to halt their onslaught for the time being even before Sarkozy arrived, and his presence was surely not the decisive factor. Nor is it clear that he achieved any modification of their terms for a cease-fire, which included continued Russian occupation of South Ossetia as an "international peacekeeping force," certainly the most remarkable epithet ever attached to a belligerent in an affair of this kind.

But in the long run Sarkozy may indeed have achieved something of importance, though not in regard to the rapport des forces between Russia and Georgia, which is what it is and will remain so despite the wishful thinking that transformed Georgia into a beachhead of democracy in the Caucasus. For one thing, he engaged in his shuttle diplomacy as the representative of Europe as well as France. So Europe now has a foreign policy of sorts, even if it still has no foreign minister, and when Henry Kissinger wants to call Europe, he can dial the Elysée (for the next few months, at any rate). For another, and more important, Sarkozy further established his independence from the United States. Indeed, he harked back in certain ways to the halcyon days of Gaullism, for the General was never one to underestimate the potency of Russian nationalism or the reality of Russian anxieties about its borders. Nor was he likely to be beguiled by the idealism of a forty-year-old Georgian lawyer so Americanized in his ways that he wears a flag on his lapel as a token of his patriotism.

Realpolitik is not always a pretty thing, but in foreign policy Wilsonian idealism is a sham unless backed by a readiness for sacrifice that even Wilson was not able to extract from his war-weary nation. I have consistently said that Sarkozy's primary foreign policy concern is securing Europe's supply of energy. Russia looms large in his strategy. If he joins NATO, it will not be to associate France with efforts to poke thorns in the Russian underbelly. He will continue to oppose NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, as he should. Democracy can be encouraged in those countries without making them part of a western military shield whose mission ought not to be to antagonize Russia, however critical one may be of Russia's internal evolution. Antagonism will only exacerbate the situation. Constructive engagement at least holds out the hope of modifying it.

For Judah Grunstein's take on the war, see here.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I corrected his post after a reader kindly pointed out that Georgia is not in Central Asia. Really, I knew that. Americans are notoriously bad at geography, but I can read a map. It was a slip of the keyboard.