Another Appeaser? Conservative Hero Sarkozy To Meet With Syrian President

Back in May, President Bush traveled to Israel's Knesset to deliver a speech that equated negotiations with modern terror-sponsoring states to World War II-era appeasement of the Nazis. At first, U.S.-focused observers took the speech to be an indirect shot at Barack Obama's policy of diplomatic engagement with Iran, which seemed a reasonable enough interpretation (despite the White House's firm denial).

But one week later, an alternate explanation for Bush's address became evident when Israel acknowledged its ongoing peace negotiations with Syria (also a state terror sponsor, according to the State Department). As he must have known when he stood in the Knesset, Bush was condemning a diplomatic move that Israel's government had decided was in its own security interest.

Now another putative U.S. foreign policy ally, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, is getting into the appeasement act, at least by Bush's lights. One week after his own trip to the Knesset, in which he staked out some gutsy criticism of settlement expansion in the West Bank, Sarkozy announced on Wednesday that he will meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad when the leader visits Paris later this month.

The daylight between an American president and a French one wouldn't necessarily be noteworthy, except for the fact that many conservatives originally hailed Sarkozy's ascension as a new, "pro-American" dawn in French politics -- one not only driven by a commitment to more free-market policies, but a tough-minded approach to terrorism and international affairs.

Writing for Town Hall's website after Sarkozy's election in 2007, former senator Fred Thompson offered a toast to Sarkozy's victory. "It has been a long road, but the forces of civilization and order are beginning to understand that we are in a global struggle against the forces of death and destruction."

When Sen. John McCain visited Sarkozy in March, Time magazine's write-up was headlined "McCain's Paris Romance":

McCain spoke in such high praise of Sarkozy that it seemed as though he was on the stump for the Frenchman's re-election rather than acting on his own political ambitions. Indeed, McCain was so laudatory of Sarkozy's actions and role in improving the ties between the two nations that he predicted "our relationship with France will continue improving now no matter who becomes President of the United States." [...]

McCain...praised Sarkozy's leadership in environmental issues, pushing the harder international line against Iran's nuclear ambitions, and fighting terrorism. McCain called Sarkozy a "man of enormous energy" who has been central to bringing Franco-American relations into "an era of friendship and cooperation."

Despite the "surrender-monkey" reputation France has in America, Sarkozy's outreach to Syria is all the more notable given his predecessor's intense distaste for the regime in Damascus, given its alleged role in the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri back in 2005. (Former French President Jacques Chirac was a close friend of the slain Hariri, and forcefully pressed the UN to set up a tribunal to try Syrian suspects.)

And while Lebanese opinion writer Michael Young is justifiably miffed at Sarkozy's apparently flagging interest in prosecuting Syria for all alleged crimes against its smaller neighbor, McCain is still offering praise for Sarkozy's judgment in countering the West's global foes. In March, the presumptive Republican nominee hailed the French president's commitment to operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and cited his support for a new round of UN sanctions against Iran as "very effective and ... important."

So is Sarkozy an appeaser? Given such a wide swath of attitude overlap with the Bush administration and John McCain when it comes to foreign policy, that would seem to be an unlikely argument for American conservatives to make.