Arthur Goldhammer reports that Sarkozy has backed off on his previous statement that the US should abandon its Missile Defense project in Eastern Europe. Last Friday I called Sarkozy's move shrewd. So what now? Why did he back off?
Arthur (link above) thinks that Sarkozy weaken his hands by backing off and make Russians more suspicious; and he wonders whether his new position means that he learned in Washington this weekend that Obama had no intention of removing his support for the project.
I do think it might be possible that Obama's representative to the G20 meeting, Madeleine Albright who is well known for her Russophobia, might have scared Sarkozy into believing that Obama would not back off. But after thinking about the issue, I think I stick with my original assessment. I don't think Sarkozy weakened his hand by backing off. He signaled to Russia that he was opposed to the plan and to Washington that he would support them if they decided to not go ahead with the project and his retraction shows that he would not object if they went ahead either. By retracting his previous statement, he takes a back seat and does not involve France further; he saw that loudly opposing USA foreign policy did not get Chirac very far in terms of results. The ambivalence of his position is its strength, everyone can read into it what they want but no one can be seriously angry with his position.
I still think the new US administration will eventually back off the Missile Defense plan in Obama's first term, but maybe the Russophobes will win. We'll see.