I’ve always had a soft spot for Nicolas Sarkozyadmits Roger Cohen in France Flies, Germany Flops.
He was the guy with the wrong name and the wrong background who took on the smug talkers with names like Dominique de Villepin and vanquished them. He was the outsider from the wrong schools who believed in energy and talent and had the audacity to smash the taboo that said a French politician can’t love America and prosper.
Sarkozy was a doer. He thought François Mitterrand’s seductive phrase (in French at least) — “Il faut laisser le temps au temps” (You must let time take its course) — was baloney that left you with disasters like the Bosnian genocide. He thought work and reward should be linked, a Gallic heresy, and he worked hard.
He hated the dependency culture of an overdeveloped French state, which entrenched rights and enfeebled responsibility. That he was elected president showed that France, deep in its soul, knew it had to escape the Mitterrand-Chirac rut with its glut of erudition and its glob of inaction. That was heartening.
…Only in recent weeks has the distance traveled come into focus: France, reintegrated in 2009 into the command structure of NATO, spearheading the United Nations-backed NATO military operation in Libya; providing armed muscle to the U.N. forces in Ivory Coast; and giving its pacifist-trending ally Germany a lesson in 21st-century Atlanticism.
Adenauer and de Gaulle must be turning in their graves. Here was Germany standing wobbly with Brazil, Russia, India and China — and against its closest allies, France and the United States — in the U.N. vote on Libyan military action. And here was France providing America’s most vigorous NATO support.
This was a dramatic inversion of postwar roles. It revealed the drift of a navel-gazing Germany unprepared to lead despite its power and impatient with Adenauer’s Western anchoring. It also demonstrated France’s break under Sarkozy from the posturing Gaullist notion of a French “counterweight” to America. These are seismic European shifts.
In Benghazi, the capital of free Libya, when they see a NATO aircraft they say, “There goes another Sarkozy.” After the French shame of Rwanda, a genocide where Mitterrand let time do its fullest work, that’s something.
…Sarkozy has intuited three things. First, the democratization of the Arab world is the most important European strategic challenge of the decade. Second, it was time “to take the training wheels off,” in the words of Constanze Stelzenmüller of the German Marshall Fund, and have Europe rather than an overextended America lead in Libya. Third, the U.N. cannot always be an umbrella that folds when it rains. If its “responsibility to protect” means anything, it must be when an Arab tyrant promises to slaughter his people.
…We stand at a high point in French postwar diplomacy and a nadir in German.