Chirac's message


There is logic to the repeated argument of France's new president, Jacques Chirac, that the European Union should have more influence on the Middle East peace process at the expense of the United States. The logic is that -- at least according to official French figures -- the U.S. gave $9 billion in aid to countries of the Middle East while European states contributed more than three times as much, $31 billion in 1993.

Mr. Chirac is on an old French kick of demanding grandeur and trying to reduce the United States role. Shades of Charles de Gaulle. The catch is that Mr. Chirac is seeking it for Europe, or its "inner" Franco-German core, and not for France alone. His pretensions are more realistically scaled to existing power relationships.

In the short run, no such thing will occur. The European Union is not up to a common foreign policy. In a region closer to its vital interests, Bosnia, the countries of the European Union are unable to agree on the outcome they should seek or the commitment they should make. A European effort to supplant U.S. influence in the Middle East would devolve into competitive wooing of clients.

But in the longer run, U.S. influence is going to be dissipated in favor of European or other nations because of the U.S. deficit and the concomitant need to reduce U.S. aid. Argueably, this has begun.

The people who should be listening most to President Chirac are the Republicans in the U.S. Senate trying to decide just how much to pare back U.S. aid. Washington politicians who dismiss foreign aid as charity down a rathole should reflect seriously on the degree of influence in the world that they wish the U.S. to have.

Foreign aid brings influence. No one should pretend otherwise. Anyone who believes that U.S. nuclear domination alone makes everyone bend to our will is hopelessly naive.

The budget-paring in foreign affairs, whatever the individual outcomes for the State Department, the Agency for International Development, USIA, international lending institutions and other instruments of foreign influence, reduces the U.S. ability to shape the world to fit its interests, commitments or ideals. That is the price being paid.

The American budget deficit and attempts to remedy it in the foreign policy slice of the pie weaken the U.S. and fortify the message of France's new president.

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