Politics & Policy

Democracy in America, Still

Another Frenchman appreciates what we've got here.

Addressing a joint session of Congress yesterday, which conservative politician said the following:

‐ “America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world and who–with their hands, their intelligence and their heart–built the greatest nation in the world, ‘Come, and everything will be given to you.’ She said: ‘Come, and the only limits to what you’ll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent.’ … Here, both the humblest and most illustrious citizens alike know that nothing is owed to them and that everything has to be earned. That’s what constitutes the moral value of America.”

‐“America’s strength is not only a material strength, it is first and foremost a spiritual and moral strength.”

‐“Success in Libya and progress under way in North Korea shows that nuclear proliferation is not inevitable. Let me say it here before all of you: The prospect of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons is unacceptable.”

Astonishingly, these remarks were all from the speech of Nicolas Sarkozy, the new president of France. Though no one would call Sarkozy conservative by American standards, Sarkozy’s speech was more evidence that the new president is pushing the famously socialist nation to the right in important ways.

In fact, when Sarkozy declared in the House chamber that a nuclear Iran was unacceptable — a significant number (though by no means a majority) of Democrats did not rise with the rest of the audience for the standing ovation that ensued. That’s right, a couple dozen members of Congress are more dovish than the president of France on a pressing matter of international security.

Nonetheless, the fact that the leader of one of Europe’s more socialist nations is recognizing the threat posed by Iran can only be seen as a victory for the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

While all of the leading Democratic presidential candidates campaign on the assumption that the Bush presidency has left the U.S. diplomatic relations in tatters, France and other European countries appear quietly to be adopting the administration’s causes.

And though much has been made of the fact that Sarkozy’s address did not mention Iraq, Sarkozy made it clear that he stands beside America in the war on terror. “Let me tell you solemnly today: France will remain engaged in Afghanistan as long as it takes, because what’s at stake in that country is the future of our values and that of the Atlantic Alliance. For me, failure is not an option. Terrorism will not win because democracies are not weak, because we are not afraid of this barbarism. America can count on France,” he said.

Aside from Sarkozy’s rhetoric, France genuinely appears to be active in addressing potential terrorist threats. A paper, released just last week, from American Enterprise Institute scholars and security experts Gary J. Schmitt and Reuel Marc Gerecht, titled “France: Europe’s Counterterrorist Powerhouse,” sings the praises of the country’s efforts in the war on terror. France has become the most accomplished counterterrorism practitioner in Europe. None of the western European counterterrorism officials we have met with over the last eighteen months would dissent from this view,” the report read.

Sarkozy also spent considerable time addressing the American perception that France is ungrateful for U.S. support in the last century. Nearly one fifth of the speech was spent thanking Americans in explicit detail for liberating France in two World Wars, as well as providing ongoing support during the Cold War.

“I want to express the deep, sincere gratitude of the French people. I want to tell you that whenever an American soldier falls somewhere in the world, I think of what the American Army did for France. I think of them and I am sad, as one is sad to lose a member of one’s family,” he said.

Sarkozy also made it clear that the European Union needs to prioritize providing for its own defense and France needs to step up and assume more responsibility in NATO. “Having learned from history, I want the Europeans, in the years to come, to have the means to shoulder a growing share of their defense … At the same time, I want to affirm my attachment to NATO. I say it here before this Congress: The more successful we are in the establishment of a European Defense, the more France will be resolved to resume its full role in NATO,” he said.

EU defense efforts are necessary for Europe to help confront humanitarian conflicts. “There are more crises than there are capacities to face them. NATO cannot be everywhere. The EU must be able to act, as it did in the Balkans and in the Congo, and as it will tomorrow on the border of Sudan and Chad. For that the Europeans must step up their efforts,” he said.

Sarkozy shrewdly offered up some criticism of the United States, however, with regard to the U.S.’s current economy. He was at once pro-markets and at the same time made it clear he was concerned about America’s looming economic problems, such as its massive current account deficits and rapidly falling dollar, without sounding like a scold.

“Those who admire the nation that has built the world’s greatest economy and has never ceased trying to persuade the world of the advantages of free trade expect her to be the first to promote fair exchange rates. The yuan is already everyone’s problem. The dollar cannot remain solely the problem of others. If we’re not careful, monetary disarray could morph into economic war. We would all be its victims,” he said.

The French president also called on the United States to assume more of a leadership role regarding global warming. Notably, it was these few remarks about global warming in a speech otherwise mostly about defense issues that generated the loudest ovation from the Congress.

“Those who love the country of wide open spaces, national parks and nature reserves expect America to stand alongside Europe in leading the fight against global warming that threatens the destruction of our planet. I know that each day, in their cities and states, the American people are more aware of the stakes and determined to act. This essential fight for the future of humanity must be all of America’s fight,” he said.

Still, Sarkozy’s speech was at once surprisingly conservative and necessarily conciliatory. Though it remains to be seen if Sarkozy’s pro-American sentiments will become a matter of policy, his speech will likely go a long way toward reversing the anti-Americanism of his predecessor Jacques Chirac, who tried to cultivate relationships with Russia and China to use as a hedge against American power.

Sarkozy’s speech further serves as a reminder that despite difference on Iraq, Europe is turning toward America, not away from it. New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel remain pro-American.

But given Sarkozy’s recent and clear electoral mandate defeating a popular socialist candidate on a more conservative and pro-American platform, neither Brown nor Merkel are in a position to be as transformative as Sarkozy. If Sarkozy’s rhetoric becomes actual policy, it could prove to be a turning point that draws America and Europe closer together.

– Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

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