It says something when the second-highest ranking leader in an important nation comes into town, and you see only a short wire story in The Boston Globe. Last Friday, Boston was beset by a Nor’easter. Suffolk County was recognizing Evacuation Day, in the lead-up to St. Patrick’s Day. The local pubs may have been filled on that snowy day, but this didn’t affect the crowd at Harvard for a major speech by France’s prime minister, Dominique de Villepin. The speech marked the French leader’s only public appearance during a recent trip to America. For his remarks, he work a sleek black suit and immaculate gray tie, which made him the only public official in a 280-mile radius to not don a green tie over a five-day period.
As smooth a speaker as de Villepin is, as courtly and well-educated, I nonetheless found his remarks disconcerting. His speech — at which he actually used the phrase “New World Order” — was titled “The United States and Europe: How Can We Face the Changing World Order?”. Roughly a third involved his proposals for Middle East peace, proposals which essentially amount to a series of concessions by the Israelis for little if nothing in return. In addition, de Villepin praises the potential of blue-helmeted U.N. armies.
Everyone in the United States — from Barack Obama to John McCain to Howard Dean — is talking about rebuilding America’s relations in the global community right now. But when you actually sit down and listen to these guys, such as de Villepin, talk about what it would take, it’s rather eye-opening.
Anytime a member of the audience asked de Villepin a tough question about France — and many, to their credit, did — his response amounted, more or less, to saying that France was a “specific” or “unique” country.
I wrote my column in the New York Sun on his visit.