BUSH WINS, CHIRAC WINS.
by Stéphanie Giry
Post date: 12.06.04
Issue date: 12.13.04
eorge W. Bush's reelection was a major disappointment in France, where polls show that three-quarters of the population had been hoping for a John Kerry victory. Except for the far-rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen and a few hawks, the entire French political class had also been cheering for Kerry. After Bush's win, President Jacques Chirac waited days to formally congratulate him on his reelection. And French resignation recently sharpened with the loss of another moderate to another hawk: Secretary of State Colin Powell's replacement with Condoleezza Rice, whose policy toward opponents of the war in Iraq has often been summarized as "punish France, ignore Germany, and forgive Russia."
Yet Bush's reelection isn't all bad for the French political class--and especially not for Chirac. U.S. struggles in Iraq have, for many Europeans, validated Chirac's opposition to the war. And a second term of Bush's unilateralism may now help justify Chirac's continued reluctance to get involved in Iraq, bolster his campaign for a stronger European Union and an international system that can check U.S. power, and maybe even boost Chirac's chances for reelection in 2007.
Despite the two men's conflicting sensibilities and worldviews, for Chirac, Bush's reelection is "a fairly comfortable result," says Guillaume Parmentier, an expert on U.S.-French relations at the Institut Français des Relations Internationales in Paris. Bush's victory essentially extends Chirac's excuse for continuing to keep France out of Iraq. It would have been awkward for Paris to deny a conciliatory, multilateralist Kerry assistance with Iraq's reconstruction. But, with Bush still at the helm, Chirac can remain intractable. In fact, even as the rest of Europe has begun to roll up its sleeves, with Germany considering increased assistance for reconstruction, Chirac is sticking to his guns. Last month, while some 10,000 American troops were preparing their assault on Falluja, Chirac snubbed an EU-sponsored lunch in Brussels with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. The foreign ministry recently reiterated that France would consider participating in a nato mission to train the Iraqi military only on a direct invitation from the Iraqi government and only if the training takes place outside of Iraq.
Even better for Chirac, a second Bush term will help promote the Gaullist's pet foreign policy project: "multipolarity." A few weeks ago, at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, Chirac exposed his vision of "a multipolar world in which there will be an American pole, a Chinese pole, a South American pole, an African [pole], I hope, and a European pole." Although Chirac claims that this worldview is simply a description of the world's "inevitable" progress rather than a French doctrine, he has been busy trying to hasten this progress along. In late August, when he gave France's ambassadors their marching orders for the year, he instructed them to maintain a "balanced" relationship with Washington--which he still sees as the "backbone" of world security--while forging stronger ties with Russia, China, and regional organizations. To set the example, Chirac has pushed Franco-Chinese business, urging the European Union to lift the 15-year-old arms embargo imposed against Beijing. And now, Chirac's effort to check U.S. dominance of the international system has received a boost from Bush's reelection. The idea of multipolarity becomes "much more convincing," Parmentier says, "when the U.S. is led by an administration that has scant regard for the feelings of other countries."
Chirac also wants the European Union to respond to "the affirmation of a forceful U.S. policy" by "reinforcing its unity." He has been pushing two controversial issues that could fundamentally redefine the European Union: incorporation of Turkey into the European Union and formal ratification of the constitution that was finalized this summer. Chirac is advocating opening accession talks with Turkey. Adopting the constitution, meanwhile, would give the European Union a foreign minister and, for the first time, the chance to devise common foreign policies and defense strategies--a degree of integration that still makes some member-states uncomfortable.
Ironically, the Bush administration has some reason to support both projects. If, for Chirac, they are means to strengthen Europe and France, for Bush, they could be a tactic to keep both in check. European critics of Turkish membership fear that it will make the EU too diverse and too unruly and prevent it from forging a unified foreign policy. Others fear that, even if enlargement doesn't dampen the Union's political clout, the constitution will. Critics among the French left, for example, say that, by confirming nato as the foundation of Europe's collective defense system, the constitution will put the European Union under the "trusteeship" of nato, dominated by Washington.
It is too soon to tell whether expansion and a new constitution would strengthen Europe. But even Oxford University Professor of European Studies Timothy Garton Ash, who dismisses Chirac's grand ambitions for the EU and France's role in it as a "neo-Gaullist fantasy," believes that "Bush's reelection is going to give mighty wind into the sails of the Euro-Gaullists." After all, like Chirac, most French don't much care for a world run out of Washington. A poll conducted by the German Marshall Fund in June found that 83 percent of the French people support the idea that "the European Union should become a superpower like the United States." Bush's reelection helps Chirac's case, says Philip Gordon, who studies French-U.S. relations at the Brookings Institution, "because it strengthens the argument that Europe should be unified and autonomous, which is the sort of Europe he's been pushing." Chirac already had a sympathetic audience; with Bush still opposite him, it's hard to see how he could lose their support.
Playing foil to Bush might also help Chirac survive France's 2007 presidential election. After an appalling upset during the last national election, when Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin lost to Le Pen in the first round, Socialists have stolen seats from Chirac's center-right party in local, regional, and European elections. But, although the left is shaping up to be a serious contender for the next parliamentary and presidential contests, it is split on the European Union. Like Chirac, François Hollande, leader of the Parti Socialiste, wants to turn Bush's reelection into an argument for adopting the constitution to strengthen the European Union. Laurent Fabius, the party's number two, opposes it, not only because he thinks the text does too little to protect France's social welfare state, but also because he dreads what Bush might not mind so much: the European Union's emasculation by enlargement.
These divisions also run through the French public, which supports a stronger European Union but doesn't know what to think of the constitution or Turkey's accession. The outcome of the referendum on the constitution, tentatively scheduled for next spring, seems less certain in France than in any other EU country but the United Kingdom, where the constitution is likely to fail. And, as concerns over the assimilation of France's six million Muslims rise, the debate about whether to consider Turkey's membership gets tenser. With about 75 percent of the French people and his own party against Turkey's inclusion, Chirac has vowed to put the issue to a referendum, too.
Chirac will need to do a lot more convincing to show the public that his policies will make Europe and France stronger, but he might get help from Bush. Although foreign policy is only one of the issues that will determine the French elections in 2007, as the most popular agenda of an unpopular president, it is particularly important to Chirac's chances. After all, while only 36 percent of the French approve of Chirac generally, according to a recent poll by The Economist, 76 percent like his foreign policy. And, as Parmentier puts it, Bush's first term has "vindicated" Chirac's perception that "the U.S. is now so strong that it refuses to listen to anyone." Defiance of U.S. power hardly sets Chirac apart from other French politicians, except the ostensibly Americanophile Nicolas Sarkozy, the former finance minister who is taking over the rightist UMP party. Still, according to Brookings' Gordon, Bush's reelection could marginally strengthen Chirac's position with the French electorate because "he, more than anyone, has shown that he's willing to stand up to Bush." If so, in 2007, Bush may be grinding his teeth over another term's worth of Jacques Chirac.
Stéphanie Giry is an associate editor at Foreign Affairs.