Versailles Confidential

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 24, 2004 | Go to article overview

Versailles Confidential


Byline: Arnaud de Borchgrave, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The makings of a grand bargain for a Franco-American reconciliation were on a hollow oval table in the shadow of the 700-room Versailles Palace.

The Bush 43 administration to prevail upon Ariel Sharon to accept a "viable" Palestinian state would be the quid for the French quo that would drop opposition to the U.S. in Iraq and cooperate with the U.S. on an exit strategy.

Ranking 15-strong delegations from the U.S. and France sat on either side of the long table at a private, two-day meeting including a rare joint appearance of America's two principal heavyweight geopols, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

For the sake of truth in advertising, both luminaries are counselors at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) where this writer is also a senior adviser and Versailles delegate. John Hamre, CSIS president and chief executive officer, and Jean-Louis Gergorin, a senior vice president of EADS, the French aerospace giant and a French strategic thinker extraordinaire organized the high-level, off-the-record encounter. NATO Supremo Gen. James Jones dropped in by G-5 from his Belgian headquarters.

Both French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and Foreign Minister Michel Barnier suggested the time was propitious for bygones to join Tennyson's eternal landscape of the past. Mr. Barnier even rolled out the red carpet to a new era in Franco-American relations with a sumptuous tribute to friendship as old as the American Revolution - and French culinary arts - at the gilded Quai d'Orsay.

Mr. Barnier had set the tone in a Nov. 8 op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal. France helped America secure its independence, and America shed its blood in two world wars to secure freedom for France and Europe. Today France is the largest investor in the United States after the United Kingdom - responsible for 650,000 U.S. jobs.

French intelligence operatives work side-by-side in counterterrorist operations. French Special Forces fight alongside U.S. units in Afghanistan. France now heads NATO's operations in Kosovo and is the second-largest contributor to the NATO Reaction Force.

After the Americans told the French the United States has no problem with Europe except France, and the French said France has no problem with America except Iraq, the two sides got down to business, sweeping aside once make-or-break issues like so many dead leaves in the Versailles Palace grounds.

Mr. Barnier said history would have to judge whether France was right to oppose the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Meanwhile, France's priority is the same as Washington's. "France has no other aim" than to make Iraq a real success.

Committing French troops to Iraq is politically impossible in France. But Paris wants to help train Iraqi security forces and, more broadly, help prepare Iraq for successful elections in January. So far so good. The American quid pro quo in the geopolitical bargain was harder to come by.

U.S. Middle East policy has been a captive of domestic political considerations in the United States for longer than anyone cared to remember. Israeli Prime Minister Sharon had made sure the 2002 roadmap suggested by President Bush for a Palestinian state by 2005 became a map for a road that led nowhere. So said Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to former President Bush (41), in a Financial Times interview two weeks before the current President Bush (43) was reelected. …

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