- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The makings of a grand bargain for a Franco-American reconciliation were on a hollow oval table in the shadow of the 700-room Versailles Palace.

The Bush 43 administration to prevail upon Ariel Sharon to accept a “viable” Palestinian state would be the quid for the French quo that would drop opposition to the U.S. in Iraq and cooperate with the U.S. on an exit strategy.

Ranking 15-strong delegations from the U.S. and France sat on either side of the long table at a private, two-day meeting including a rare joint appearance of America’s two principal heavyweight geopols, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

For the sake of truth in advertising, both luminaries are counselors at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) where this writer is also a senior adviser and Versailles delegate. John Hamre, CSIS president and chief executive officer, and Jean-Louis Gergorin, a senior vice president of EADS, the French aerospace giant and a French strategic thinker extraordinaire organized the high-level, off-the-record encounter. NATO Supremo Gen. James Jones dropped in by G-5 from his Belgian headquarters.

Both French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and Foreign Minister Michel Barnier suggested the time was propitious for bygones to join Tennyson’s eternal landscape of the past. Mr. Barnier even rolled out the red carpet to a new era in Franco-American relations with a sumptuous tribute to friendship as old as the American Revolution — and French culinary arts — at the gilded Quai d’Orsay.

Mr. Barnier had set the tone in a Nov. 8 op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal. France helped America secure its independence, and America shed its blood in two world wars to secure freedom for France and Europe. Today France is the largest investor in the United States after the United Kingdom — responsible for 650,000 U.S. jobs.

French intelligence operatives work side-by-side in counterterrorist operations. French Special Forces fight alongside U.S. units in Afghanistan. France now heads NATO’s operations in Kosovo and is the second-largest contributor to the NATO Reaction Force.

After the Americans told the French the United States has no problem with Europe except France, and the French said France has no problem with America except Iraq, the two sides got down to business, sweeping aside once make-or-break issues like so many dead leaves in the Versailles Palace grounds.

Mr. Barnier said history would have to judge whether France was right to oppose the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Meanwhile, France’s priority is the same as Washington’s. “France has no other aim” than to make Iraq a real success.

Committing French troops to Iraq is politically impossible in France. But Paris wants to help train Iraqi security forces and, more broadly, help prepare Iraq for successful elections in January. So far so good. The American quid pro quo in the geopolitical bargain was harder to come by.

U.S. Middle East policy has been a captive of domestic political considerations in the United States for longer than anyone cared to remember. Israeli Prime Minister Sharon had made sure the 2002 roadmap suggested by President Bush for a Palestinian state by 2005 became a map for a road that led nowhere. So said Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to former President Bush (41), in a Financial Times interview two weeks before the current President Bush (43) was reelected.

When the Versailles players watched Mr. Bush unveil his newest plan for a Palestinian settlement in a joint news conference with Tony Blair, it became clear the 2005 deadline had just been postponed to the end of Mr. Bush’s second term — or 2008. Iraq came first and then, if there is still time before 43 becomes a former president, a Palestinian state.

Skeptical would be an understatement to describe the reaction of the Versailles interlocutors. For France, Tony Blair and the rest of Europe, a viable Palestinian state is the sine qua non of a larger Middle Eastern peace. Israel’s treatment of Palestinians angers Muslim minorities all over the Continent. Mosques are full on Fridays. Churches are sparsely attended on Sundays.

But France also has larger concerns. It is beginning to feel the impact of a European Union that suddenly mushroomed from 15 to 25 nations. It is now a cumbersome construct in which France loses influence without a compensatory gain in strength for the EU. Paris also realizes a momentarily weak EU needs a strong America engaged in world affairs.

None of France’s European partners shares its prestidigitator’s illusion of a EU that would be a “counterweight” to America’s planetary power. The U.S. devotes $420 billion to defense; the EU spends $200 billion, and only 5 percent of Europe’s military manpower is deployable. Europe’s bloated welfare states always prevail budgetarily over defense. There is no public appetite for spending the billions required to make Europe a more credible defense partner. A European “counterpart,” not counterweight, is the lodestar for the rest of Europe.

Nothing can be done without America. But then nothing can be done by America alone either — witness Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo. Any notion the United States can afford to ignore Europe is fatuous. Mr. Bush plans to make Europe his first port of call after his second Inaugural, and told his first two foreign visitors, Tony Blair and NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, “Europe is vital to us.”

John Kerry won by a landslide in Europe and the rest of the world on Nov. 2. But Americans outvoted Europeans who now begin to realize they are impotent if they ignore what happened. They still share many more things with America than they share with anybody else. And both sides of the Atlantic are still closer to each other than anyone else.

To get Mr. Bush’s ear, said one European who could not be identified, we have to find the right frequency; Mr. Blair is too close and France’s Jacques Chirac too far to influence U.S. policy. On a state visit to London — to mark the 100th anniversary of the Franco-British entente cordiale, Mr. Chirac praised London’s special relationship with Washington, now the key to mending fences with the United States.

“The U.S. and Europe have a natural vocation to work together,” said the normally abrasive Mr. Chirac, “and historically we share the same values.” The litmus test will be this week’s jamboree at Egypt’s Sinai resort of Sharm el Sheikh. All of Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran, the Group of 8 industrialized countries (including Russia), China, the U.N. and the Arab League will be present. The goal: greater assistance for U.S. efforts to secure a democratic future for Iraq.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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