Saturday, April 3, 2010

Welcome to the Club, the Special Relationship is Over

French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaking at Columbia University in New York City on March 30, 2010:

"Welcome to the club of states who don't turn their back on the sick and the poor ... When we look at the American debate on reforming health care, it's difficult to believe. The very fact that there should have been such a violent debate simply on the fact that the poorest of Americans should not be left out in the streets without a cent to look after them ... is something astonishing to us. If you come to France and something happens to you, you won't be asked for your credit card before you're rushed to the hospital."

Who would have predicted that the welcome to the club of socialized medicine would come from a French right-winger like Sarkozy? Maybe that means Sarkozy is not a true right-winger. Or that the health care reform is not truly socialized medicine.

We would inform Sarkozy that you never have to show a credit card to the ambulance driver in America. The bill comes later. After that, if you get a big pile of bills and fall through the health insurance cracks, comes the personal bankruptcy.

What Europeans and even some Americans don't understand is that a large section of America is afraid that the health care bills, instead of bankrupting the individual, will bankrupt the nation. I don't know if we will be able to get over that fear. I hope we will.

Sarkozy also had this to say on America's role in the world:

"Reflect on what it means to be the world's No. 1 power. The world needs an open America, a generous America, an America that shows the way, an America that listens."

Maybe Sarkozy has it backwards and it's we who should be welcoming them to the club. I think that's what France and Europe really want, but they should be careful what they wish for. Britain has been a member of the club, and now a committee of the British parliament has determined its special relationship with America is no longer politically correct:

"The use of the phrase 'the special relationship' in its historical sense, to describe the totality of the ever-evolving UK-US relationship, is potentially misleading, and we recommend that its use should be avoided. The overuse of the phrase by some politicians and many in the media serves simultaneously to de-value its meaning and to raise unrealistic expectations about the benefits the relationship can deliver to the UK."

"The perception that the British government was a subservient 'poodle' to the US administration leading up to the period of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath is widespread both among the British public and overseas. This perception, whatever its relation to reality, is deeply damaging to the reputation and interests of the UK."

The reality is that the support British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave the Bush administration was crucial, both in obtaining support from the American people and in persuading other countries to join the coalition. And let's not forget the role of the British intelligence services in touting the threat of WMD. Britain wasn't a poodle but a bulldog who now has trouble accepting its share of responsibility. Maybe we should be kicking them out of the club.

My advice to Britain, France, and the rest of Europe: If you want America to listen, you need to speak more clearly. Your private counsels to American governments count for nothing with the American public. And if you are going to tell us a story, make it a true story.

Getting back to Sarkozy, it is too easy to just hear the mocking of America. When Sarkozy asks for "an America that shows the way" he is begging for American leadership.

Listen up, many Americans don't want the responsibility of being No. 1. We didn't ask for it and it runs counter to our most cherished democratic ideals. Our idea, the world must remember, was the UN Security Council, where the big powers would include the small powers, work things out, and act together. The failure of the UN Security Council to bring security has been a great disappointment to America.

The European Union is perhaps the best example to prove our good faith in our intentions. Has there ever, in the history of the world, been a No. 1 power that allowed such a union of countries to be created without a fight? Yet America has encouraged and embraced the European Union.

The reality is that America looks at the potential security risks facing the world, a resurgent Al Qaeda, a nuclear-armed Iran, an unstable North Korea, with trepidation. All that has happened in the last decade, from the 9/11 attacks to the financial crisis, does not give America any comfort or confidence in being labeled No. 1. I don't know how soon we will get our confidence back. I hope we will.

The latest security challenge is the troop buildup the Obama administration is putting together for Afghanistan. Europe, we're listening, how many combat troops are you going to send? If none, tell us in plain words why not.

Remember, Europe, you asked for us to put aside the Republican party and vote for Obama, and many of Americans obliged by voting Democratic for the first time in their lives. I don't know if they will do that again. I do know that hope is not going to cut it the second time around.

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