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.