Bonjour, Hollande. Ready for a gentle arm-twisting at the White House? (+video)
France's new president, François Hollande, is set to meet with Obama Friday morning. He's likely to get some prodding about his intentions vis-à-vis the Afghanistan war, given his campaign pledge to expedite removal of French combat troops.
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After all, certain reaches of the blogosphere and cable talk shows may well trumpet the news that Europe’s latest openly Socialist leader is being feted (in the American people’s house!) by the world’s most powerful closeted socialist.
Though it may be true that the two leaders, broadly speaking, fall on the growth side of the growth-versus-austerity spectrum for addressing the eurozone’s economic ills, that doesn’t mean the tete-à-tete will be a love fest.
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For one thing, the American president remains “cool Obama.” Unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, who professed to seeing into Vladimir Putin’s soul and who playfully (and oh-so awkwardly, as it turned out) massaged one of Angela Merkel’s shoulders in public, Mr. Obama doesn’t easily warm to other leaders.
But there are other reasons for some trepidation on the American president’s part. One is Afghanistan.
Remember when Obama warned in March against any “rush to the exits” in the form of a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan? He was speaking after a string of terrible incidents involving US soldiers that led some critics (and a growing majority of Americans) to call for a swift conclusion to the US war effort.
But he might have been speaking to then-candidate and now-President Hollande.
One of Hollande’s few foreign-policy pledges in his campaign to dethrone Nicolas Sarkozy was to remove all French combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of this year. He made that commitment despite NATO’s policy, adopted at its summit in Lisbon in 2010, to have all international security forces transition out of a combat role by the end of 2014.