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There’s A New Sheriff In Town?

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If I was George W. Bush, I'd be looking forward to retirement and forget about attempting to establish a legacy at this late date. Besides – the death of the American Economy should be plenty of legacy for anyone, but that's a topic for another post.

George is just finishing his latest vacation to Southwestern Asia, and like too many American tourists traveling abroad during the last legal year of his term, he's returning with nothing but memories.

A veteran member of the Indian diplomatic corps, M K Bhadrakumar, reports that "Washington looks foolish" to Gulf leaders, and as a result, Gulf allies have turned their backs on Bush. "In the Arab world, perceptions matter the most, and nothing hurts more than being made to look foolish," he wrote. As a result he notes, "The Arabs have assessed that the right thing to do is to bide their time until a new president moves into the White House…"

But that doesn't mean that they will do no business in the meantime. French President Nicolas Sarkozy just returned from visiting Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates after concluding several big energy and military sales of the sort George sought in the region.

Sarkozy and Saudi King Abdullah signed cooperation agreements covering expanding energy prospecting cooperation and French university and professional training for Saudis, and reviewed a package of contracts worth over  $58 billion related to defense, transportation, power and water plants to be concluded soon.

All George had to offer was some lame sword dancing and the idle warning that "Iran nooks is bad!" It can't be helping George's position to know that his new competition believes that "all states have a right to atomic power".

Sarkozy plans on making offers of French technical assistance for nuclear power to all Gulf states, something he's already done across the Muslim world. He's made nuclear cooperation deals with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates on this trip, and with Algeria and Libya recently. He's working on similar deals with Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Egypt.

Sarkozy isn't afraid to "trespass" on General Electric's turf, either. He's been pitching French reactor sales to Argentina, Britain, Chile, South Africa, and Vietnam after closing an €8 billion ($12 billion) order from China. He's also seeking to overturn what might well have been George's best deal by approaching India with a deal that has fewer strings attached than the one they almost concluded with Washington. French companies are even attempting to sell reactors in the United States!

Sarkozy isn't just selling millions of years worth of toxic waste. He's also selling more traditional technology. France's Areva Transmission and Distribution will supply Qatar's electricity company Kahrama with electrical distribution substations.

But here is where things have to be getting tense in the Oval Office: Sarkozy is moving the French military into the Gulf. He's signed an agreement with the UAE in order to establish a French military base there.

Like George, however, nothing Sarkozy is doing fails to draw criticism. Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal – whose nation was occupied by France – criticised Sarkozy for establishing this base, implying that Sarkozy is no better than Bush in his "threaten[ing] a friendly and neighbouring country (Iran)."

Sarkozy had best be paying attention to the reaction in the region to this move. Claude Salhani, Editor of The Middle East Times, writes of this:

The disadvantage and the danger, of course, is that having troops in the Arabian Peninsula opens up France — and the Emirates — to the same grievances U.S. forces and the Saudi royal family faced from al-Qaida when American troops were stationed in neighboring Saudi Arabia in the buildup to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein's forces. Time will tell if this was a wise move.

If time tells it isn't a wise move, then Sarkozy will be seen by Gulf leaders to be the same sort of fool that Bush now is. This would be as bad a development for France as it has already been for the United States. It would mean the end of his efforts to supplant the United States as the dominant power, and leave the door open for someone else to make the same attempt. Britain would very much like to regain the global economic dominance they once enjoyed, and Germany feels that this time maybe they can succeed where in the past they always failed.

None of these ambitions is likely to faze India or China, whose world views extend much further than the next Western corporate quarterly report.

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  • troll

    Realist – your thesis that France (and Briton and Germany) is queuing up to challenge the US attempt to establish hegemony in the ME is unrealistic…the ‘new sheriff’s’ 500 man force will operate under the US military umbrella and is better interpreted as a statement of support for the ‘aggressive’ containment of Iran

  • The French have never been out of the middle east. They have been selling arms and nuclear materials to countries there for decades. They have no moral qualms so long as there is money to be made. Their role there is not anything like the role the US attempts to play. It has no altruistic or diplomatic quality to it, it’s just about raking in some petrodollars.


  • STM

    Realist, you lost me at: “None of these ambitions is likely to faze India or China, whose world views extend much further than the next Western corporate quarterly report.”

    I’d like to see you prove it.

    That’s just a lot of bollocks IMO and a highly subjective opinion born in the kind of ill-conceived paranoia that is gripping much of the US.

    They’re not in any position to do anything other than grow their ecomomies right now … and in the case of China, while it remains a communist country and under regimented state control, it’s not likely to approach the US on a global level anytime in the next 100 years, and even then if the US maintains its technological lead China still won’t be approaching the US for 100 years after that.

    India, too, is problematic in that they haven’t ended their caste system – which means a majority of Indians are still living on what we would call the poverty line.

    They’ve just introduced the world’s cheapest car, hoping to get Indians off two wheels and onto four – that’s right, most mobile Indians are still riding around on small CC motorcycles.

    It’s very third-world, and nowhere near the US. Even upwardly mobile Indians aren’t doing that well by our standards.

    You display a lot of ignorance in regard to what’s happening in the world by spouting that kind of nonsense.

    And BTW the US doesn’t run the world, even though it actually does, which means the frogs or anyone else can do whatever they want independent of what the US wants – within reason, and provided it doesn’t tread on our collective interests.

    It’s true, too, that Arab leaders think Bush has lost face. In Arab culture, perception often IS more important than reality, so Bush and his administration would be the object of ridicule (in private of course, as in Arab culture it’s also considered OK to lie through your teeth as long as it achieves your ends. It doesn’t have the same taboo attached to it as it does in the West).

    So on that score, you are probably right up to point. But there are a lot of smart Arab leaders around too who despite what they might think privately know exactly which side their bread is buttered.