JAMES BAKER IS COMING TO TOWN….France reacts to the impending visit of James Baker:

Seizing the initiative a day after the announcement of Saddam Hussein’s capture, France said today that it would work with other nations to forgive an unspecified portion of Iraq’s immense foreign debt.

….Mr. de Villepin’s statements came a day before James A. Baker III, a former United States secretary of state, was scheduled to arrive in Paris to ask the French for help in relieving Iraq of its crushing financial obligations….

Damn! I’ve always heard Baker referred to as the Bush family consigliere, but I guess it’s really true. He didn’t even have to show up in Paris, he just had to threaten to show up and the French caved in!

On a more serious note, this doesn’t strike me as a surprise for several reasons:

  • France has been consistently trying to mend fences since the war ended, although they’ve been rebuffed pretty thoroughly so far. This is just more of the same.

  • All of Iraq’s debtors must know that, politics aside, there’s no chance at all that they will ever be repaid. The money just isn’t there, and at best they might get pennies on the dollar. Given that reality, why not play nice? There’s really no downside.

  • Despite what the American right likes to think, French politicians do not spend every waking moment trying to figure out how to screw the United States. There’s no question that preventing total economic, cultural, and military American hegemony over the entire globe is part of their foreign policy, and has been for a while, but they really do have other interests besides ? and France has shown itself perfectly willing to cooperate with America in the past. (Kosovo and Afghanistan are Exhibits A and B here, and way too many Americans conveniently forget that France and Germany have contributed heavily in both money and troops to the occupation of Afghanistan. They are hardly sworn enemies of Amerika.)

My guess is that France will try to use the debt forgiveness issue as a way of showing leadership in Europe, as a path toward warming its relationship with America a bit, and as a way of gaining some credibility in the Middle East. They could be quite helpful if George Bush is willing to let them be, and it will be interesting to see if Baker has the influence to make that happen.

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