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L’Americain in Washington: Sarkozy Searches for an Elusive Friendship with Obama

Will Sarkozy reverse 75 years of irritants!

Will Sarkozy reverse 75 years of irritants!

There are two types of European state visitors in the United States capital. One seeks to underscore his or her closeness to Washington. The other likes to emphasize how independent Europe really is. But French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is visiting American Senators and US President Barack Obama, would like to be both at the same time.

Sarkozy also wants to remind the Americans that, as a European, he can defy them. In a speech given in New York on Monday, the Frenchman repeated his demand for better regulation of the global economy. “We can no longer accept a capitalist system without rules or order,” Sarkozy said. “The world economic regulations cannot go on as they are,” Sarkozy said. “A system in which the most money is earned through speculating instead of producing, I don’t want to live in such a system.”

Of course, Sarkozy needs to score points back at home, too. Only last weekend, he was punished in regional elections in France. In an interview, Sarkozy’s own father advised his son not to run for re-election. Given his electoral setback, it makes sense for Sarkozy to bang the drum for French and European interests in Washington. Obama, on the other hand, is feeling reinvigorated following the passage of his healthcare reform through Congress and the new arms treaty with Moscow.

When the US president traveled to Paris last year, he preferred to dine with his wife Michelle rather than Sarkozy. “The hoped-for partnership never materialized,” the French daily Le Figaro wrote. Sarkozy hasn’t forgiven his American colleague for it, either. He has complained to those close to him that Obama is ill-prepared to govern, noting that he didn’t even hold a cabinet-level position before taking office.

The Americans are disappointed that, even after the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty — which was meant to give the European Union’s common foreign policy more clout — the individual European countries are continuing to pursue their own interests abroad. The question, former senior US diplomat and current Harvard professor Nicholas Burns argued in an interview with the New York Times, is whether Europe can “develop a collective European idea of global power? They talk about it a lot, but they don’t do it.” The Washington Post has even criticized Obama for this, noting that in contrast to his predecessors, he hasn’t established close ties to a single European leader.

John Podesta, the leader of Obama’s transition team that helped prepare the newly elected president for the White House in 2009, told SPIEGEL: “His style is certainly different from George W. Bush who wanted to be liked and really developed deep personal relationships.””But if you have the wrong foreign policy and good personal relations, you end up with bad results,” he added. “And if you have the right foreign policy, a strong team to implement it, and thinner personal relations, you’re more likely to have very good results.”(via L’Americain in Washington: Sarkozy Searches for Friendship with Obama that Has Eluded Him – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International).

Between Europe and racism

Even US media cannot ignore Obama's race! (NYPOST cartoon).

Even US media cannot ignore Obama's race! (NYPOST cartoon).

While 2ndlook was analyzing the new calculus between USA and Europe, a worried European press (for instance, Der Spiegel) was looking at Franco-American relations through a German prism.

For Europe, the experience of dealing with Obama has been different – and difficult. Europeans would   like to pretend that Obama’s race does not make a difference – but it took Berlusconi to spell out the European ‘superiority’! That probably rankles with Obama.

Behind prickly Franco-American relations is history – and gold!

Franco-American relations – a perspective

In the 1960s, the USA was bleeding gold. Most of the world was buying gold at an artificially low price US$35 – under the Bretton Woods Agreement. USA was printing dollars and dumping it in world markets. Calls for devaluation of the dollar price was resisted by the US, as that “would reward the speculators and be a special windfall for two gold producing countries that have few friends in the Congress, namely Russia (which usually sells at least $400 of gold a year) and South Africa (which sells about $1 billion).”

The French team of Charles de Gaulle and his economic advisor, Jacques Rueff did some quick maths. It was clear this मेला mela (a ‘fun-fair’) would not last long. Based on huge dollar outflows from the US, the French decided to call the bluff. The French started redeeming gold for their dollar earnings – and for this ‘perfidy’ the US had not forgiven France.

The French, unhappy with a “monetary system of gold, dollars and pounds” redeemed their dollar holdings (1958 onwards), sent the French navy (in 1965) to take delivery of gold from USA and bring it to Banque de France. The French raised gold reserves and dumped dollars.  Time magazine called this “an open assault on the monetary power of a friendly nation” – dutifully, echoing American Government’s feeling. Banque De France finally, by 1968, increased its gold reserve to 92% (as a percentage of total foreign currency /monetary reserves). This was much like the pre-WW2 French methodology devaluation, new peg, of old debt for new gold routine got the US hackles up.

Many decades have passed since these redemptions by France.  The new French President, Sarkozy believes it is now possible to renew US-French relations.

If wishes were horses!


It was at Copenhagen, that for the first time, Europe realized that they no longer have the inside track with the USA. At least, in Obama’s administration. The ‘special relationship’ that swells the British chest, has been under some strain. For some time now. The US engagement with Asia makes some sense – as it is Asia, which has extended some US$3-4 trillion in credit, growth opportunities to the US. Europe increasingly seems more like a liability – and a truculent competitor.

The US presumably knows which side of their bread is buttered.

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