Jeff Immelt and Ian Read took different approaches in their quests to acquire big targets in France and England, but ended up in similar situations. General Electric's CEO started by reaching a friendly agreement with Alstom's board. When French politicians found out, they jumped in to save the company from the Americans. Pfizer's chief began by courting British government officials. And when AstraZeneca's directors received Read's $100 billion offer — the biggest ever for a U.K. target — they dismissed it as too low. Both deals could still get done. For now, though, political and cultural issues dominate the debates. The merits of the mergers are secondary.