Nicolas Sarkozy's 'Neither-Nor' on the Afghan Surge
"After exhibiting the most spectacular gestures toward the U.S. at the end of the Bush era, he seemed to lose enthusiasm after the arrival of Mr. Obama. ... France, by its refusal to commit more troops to battle, appears a reticent and dubious ally."
Neither a retreat
nor a reinforcement of French troops.
Without fanfare for the past month, such has been the position assumed by
Nicolas Sarkozy, despite American requests from their close ally. In May aboard
the presidential aircraft en route to the emirate of Abu Dhabi where he would inaugurate
a military base to face down Iran, Mr. Sarkozy decided the debate, having been counseled
about a restrained defense. At the time we reported that according to a source
in the Élysée Palace [French White House], there could be a
few adjustments but the effort on the ground would remain “in effect, constant during
Afghanistan has ultimately placed
the first president of the Fifth Republic never to have had a personal experience
of war - Mr. Sarkozy - in a difficult position. Whereas Mr. Obama revealed his
strategy of troop reinforcement at West Point on December 1, France, by its
refusal to commit more troops to battle, appears a reticent and dubious ally.
Even if it says it's ready to boost efforts to train Afghan police and
This is no small paradox, coming from a French president who has claimed
to be the anchor of the “Western family” and exerted himself to return France to
NATO's integrated structures, which were abandoned in 1966 by [Charles] De Gaulle [photo,
left] who then feared being dragged into the conflict in Vietnam.
Posted by WORLDMEETS.US
The risk of appearing to lag
behind isn't negligible in a context where even Germany could decide - after
a conference on Afghanistan scheduled for London in January - for a renewed
military effort. Reelected and endowed with a new coalition, Angela Merkel can
afford the gesture.
Is the “neither-nor” of the
French tenable while Paris officially applauds the American “surge”? The openly-Atlanticist
Sarkozy is a paradox, after exhibiting the most spectacular gestures toward the
United States at the end of the Bush era, he seemed to lose enthusiasm after
the arrival of Mr. Obama. It was 2008 that he expanded the French contingent by
about 700 men (without sending special forces home), lifted restrictions on the
use of force imposed by Jacques Chirac, and beginning to concentrate the French
military presence in the Pashtun districts of the east.
The deaths of
ten soldiers in the Ouzbine Valley [east of Kubul] on a single day in August 2008 was a turning
point. It was one of the most serious combat losses by the French army since
the war in Algeria. Order were quickly issued to render French operations more
coherent and to minimize the taking of risk.
Over the course of several
months, the French president's rhetoric on Afghanistan has lost intensity. The
theme of a struggle against “barbarism” and defense of "human values”
seems to have lose ground in favor of emphasizing the need to stabilize
Afghanistan, a nation that sits alongside Pakistan, a nuclear state plagued by
Like other European leaders, throughout
the year 2009 Mr. Sarkozy has noted the definitive “Americanization” of the war,
both in the number of soldiers and resources. The United States ultimately perceived
its allies as supplemental, useful politically but not a factor capable of changing
the game against the Taliban. The Europeans have had no trouble naming a cascade
of special emissaries on “AfPak” which have by and
large remained passive participants.
Seen from Europe, there was
sound basis for bafflement. The Elysée had observed how the Afghan conflict
became a matter of open contention between American officials, while on the ground, the debacle of the Afghan presidential election
added a political crisis to the military one. The time Mr. Obama took for refection
was perceived by Mr. Sarkozy as interminableprocrastination. The war had little bearing on the polls so Mr. Sarkozy
went into retreat, leaving the Afghan terrain to his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner. Mr. Sarkozy has also deferred to better days, another
trip to Pakistan.
In 2006, Mr. Chirac refused
to allow the French to fight in rural Pashtun areas:
he anticipated that the NATO deployment in the South would lead to a syndrome
of “occupation” of Muslim lands by Westerners. During the election campaign in
2007, Mr. Sarkozy declared that, “the long term presence of French troops” seemed
to him “indecisive.” Would he come to that same assessment today? In August, the
chief of state said in the presence of his ambassadors that the task of French
soldiers is to “stabilize the two districts in which they operate within two
years.” Two years: a period that corresponds to that which Mr. Obama has
initiated for a withdrawal.
In 2008, the increase of the
French contingent was appreciated by Mr. Bush, who could then move a thousand
American soldiers to the south to reinforce the Canadians who were threatening
to leave. Against the backdrop of Franco-American “reconciliation,” it
was thought that Paris had preserved the unity of the coalition, according to
the principal, “we entered together and we'll leave together.” Mr. Sarkozy is
now looking for the right moment to get out. At far less cost.
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