Politics & Policy

On the Road to Tbilisi

Nicolas Sarkozy becomes the hardest-working man in show biz.

Remember the French 35-hour work week? Disparu, compadres! Peace demands overtime, so French President Nicolas Sarkozy interrupted his vacation to fly to Moscow with Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Why? Because France is president of the entire EU and so M. Sarkozy is president of the continent. Duty calls, so when the two Frenchmen arrived in Russia, they worked! In August! And how, according to Le Figaro:

The French president negotiated for five hours with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, and prime minister Vladimir Putin, the specifics of the cessation of hostilities in Georgia….The working lunch which was to have lasted only an hour or less became a three and one-half hour session. There was only one topic on the luncheon menu: a cease-fire in Georgia.

It was served cold.

Putin, it turned out, was an uninvited guest at the luncheon (“which no doubt contributed much to lengthen the conversation,” said the paper). Sarkozy then went to Tbilisi, where, as Liberation observes, “the principle of Georgian territorial integrity” had suddenly disappeared from the international draft settlement.Sarkozy, the paper said, “will now have to convince not only Georgia, but also the other 26 European Union countries, that this compromise is not a new Munich.”

Later, after announcing the ceasefire, Medvedev noted that Sarkozy had “participated in resolving a complicated problem.”

That’s not exactly the headline Sarkozy had in mind, of course, and, fortunately for him, certainly not what the rest of the French press reported. The Georgian peace initiative, said Le Monde, was a EU triumph, exactly the sort of thing that could only be orchestrated by La France. As for the Georgians, their young president “gambled and lost.” C’est la vie, and all that.

It was obvious by looking elsewhere at the news that the session in Moscow was drawn out not by painful negotiations, but precisely by the amount of time it took Russian troops to consolidate their positions, having sliced their way through the Georgian republic they so despise. Le Monde reported Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s secretary general, was claiming Georgia’s ambition to join the pact is still in place. Which means very little indeed. In fact, maybe it’s a good thing they weren’t members, since if they had been, Putin would have succeeded in cutting NATO in two as easily as he did Georgia.

Georgia’s error was tactical in taking the Russian bait and moving into South Ossetia. Georgia’s sin, however, was wanting to be a part of the West, something Russia won’t easily permit. Putin obviously has been watching what was once American strength in Iraq has turned to weakness everywhere else on the planet, including especially in the U.S. itself where polarization is now so complete that a Republican president couldn’t declare war on litter without eliciting a pacifist response from Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

The Russians didn’t kill everybody in Georgia, as they could have if they’d wished. So that’s a victory. And Georgia still stands, although now more as an example to the rest of Eastern Europe what an alliance with a paralyzed U.S. really means. So as cynical as all the posturing on Georgia’s behalf in Europe may be, it’s a lot more inspiring than Condoleezza Rice’s waif-like “statements” about Russia’s reputation and W’s brow-furrowing utterances of the obvious.

Didn’t George once look Vladimir in the eye and “get a sense of his soul”? That was in Crawford, at the begging of what Bush called “a very constructive relationship.” He told reporters, “I wouldn’t have invited him to my ranch if I didn’t trust him.”

Maybe Bush has a new sense of Putin’s soul. If so, he now knows that if Putin had wanted to go to the Bush ranch, he wouldn’t have waited for an invitation.

— Denis Boyles is the author, most recently, of Superior, Nebraska. He teaches at The Brouzils Seminars.

Denis BoylesDennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...


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