Hell hath no fury like a French leader scorned

Ruba Saqr (Photo: Jordan News)
(Photo: Jordan News)
Many agree that the Biden administration committed a major diplomatic faux pas when it excluded France from the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal. But this “clumsy” oversight is costing it an important ally, especially since France’s wrath has been proving hard to contain, despite countless efforts to remedy the situation.اضافة اعلان

Ever since the debacle, France has been attempting to undermine the US’ authority at every possible chance. On several fronts, the European government has been both subtle and not, in its little rebellion against the US.
The most obvious sign of defiance was when France recalled it ambassadors to the US and Australia in mid-September, right after the AUKUS row.

Shortly after, French President Emmanuel Macron told Europe to “stop being naïve” about the US. He resurfaced a mantra he had started during the Trump era, when he envisioned “strategic autonomy” for Europe. The AUKUS saga offered him a new opening to urge Europe to develop its own military capacity and further its involvement in the Indo-Pacific region where the US has been building its presence to counter Chinese dominance.

Needless to say, those are not simple acts of defiance. Macron’s agenda threatens to end 76 years of US-European dynamics born out of post-World War II “indebtedness” towards the US for entering the war with 12 million soldiers and ultimately helping defeat Nazi Germany.

But one of its subtler acts of defiance was truly uncalled for and goes to show that anger can be a blinding factor that destroys both rational and strategic thinking, even on the international stage.

One of France’s subtlest moves took place last month when the International Monitory Fund’s (IMF) board and ethics committee met to discuss the future of its current Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, in light of recent revelations regarding her role in changing data to boost China’s economic image, while serving as the World Bank’s CEO.

WilmerHale, a US law firm tasked with independently investigating the bank’s “Doing Business” reports, found that Georgieva had pressured her team in 2017 to alter the report’s methodology and make changes to certain data points with the sole purpose of improving China’s ranking in the 2018 edition.
The investigation was commissioned by the World Bank, most likely at the request of the US Treasury Department, which manages the US relationship with both the IMF and World Bank. The US, after all, is the largest shareholder in both lending bodies.

America’s vested interest in shining a light on Chinese-leaning corruption inside the IMF and the World Bank has been clear from the very beginning.
Late September, US Treasury spokeswoman Alexandra LaManna said in statement: “As we have made clear, the Treasury believes the report’s findings are serious and have warranted a full review by the IMF of the managing director’s role in the Doing Business report. … Our primary responsibility is to uphold the integrity of international financial institutions.”

This was supposed to be a slam dunk for the US, scoring easy points against China. But, apparently, nobody had accounted for France’s move.
Unfortunately for the US, one of the first countries to jump to Georgieva’s rescue was France, which put all its weight behind her, making sure to block US plans to hold high-ranking officials accountable for helping China score higher in the Doing Business report.

France even lobbied other European countries to follow suit, pulling the rug out from under the US’ feet and weakening the position of US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who sent a strong statement in late September when she refused Georgieva’s request to meet to present her defense.

France’s wound, from what it had termed as “betrayal,” “insult,” and “back-stabbing” on the heels of the AUKUS deal, was still fresh. In fact, those remarks were made a mere three weeks ahead of the IMF board’s meeting to discuss Georgieva’s future at the institution.

A French-led pushback resulted in the IMF board deciding to keep Georgieva onboard, costing the US a missed opportunity. The whole point was to send China a strong message about its influence inside international bodies like the IMF, the World Bank, and potentially, the World Trade Organization (WTO).

To rub it in, the IMF’s board went a step further by expressing “full confidence” in its managing director. As a result, the US Treasury ended up issuing a watered-down statement saying that in light of “absent further direct evidence with regard to the role of the managing director, there is not a basis for a change in IMF leadership.”

With this, France has completely lost the plot and ended up costing Europe, not just the US, a pivotal moment in time that could have brought to the fore Chinese influence over international institutions, all while cementing the way for US-European escalation to probe other institutions, including the WTO.
Sadly, though, France’s fury ended up throwing a wrench in an important strategic move that could have served its own interests.

Not to give the US any excuses for not being courteous towards France, (especially since the AUKUS deal has cost it billions of dollars in a foiled submarine transaction with Australia), but French leadership should have picked another battle to make a point.

What France did at the IMF should not happen again, granted of course, that the Biden administration continues to keep its allies close, and France closer, in its future foreign policy communications.

Unilateralism, championed by Trump, has proven to be a tool of division more than anything else. The Biden team needs to keep in mind that the world has come out of four years of brutal bullying and a complete shattering of diplomatic decorum. As a result, everyone is holding the US to a higher standard than usual to make up for lost time, and out of a strong desire to prevent history from repeating itself. The slightest mistake might prove costly, as evident from the recent IMF mess.

Let us hope that the rift between allies is healed, and that fury is replaced with clear-eyed strategic planning that allows France to choose its future battles carefully and wisely.

Ruba Saqr has reported on the environmental, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.

Read more Opinion and Analysis