November 6, 2007
By Peter Brookes
Nicolas Sarkozy, the recently elected leader of America's oldest
ally - and possibly the most pro-U.S. president in France's history
- begins his first official visit to the United States
today, a country he's called the world's "greatest democracy."
During a two-day visit, Sarkozy will meet with President Bush,
go to George Washington's home at Mount Vernon and - following in
the footsteps of Marquis de Lafayette - address a joint session of
Congress, becoming the eighth Frenchman to do so.
Let's just say, we've come a long way since freedom fries . .
Compared to his anti-U.S. predecessor, Jacques Chirac, "Sarko
the American" (as he's sometimes scornfully called at home) has
been nothing less than a breath of fresh Alpine air for Franco-U.S.
relations. Even so, he's no Gallic lapdog.
In his electoral victory speech, Sarkozy said: "I'd like to
appeal to our American friends to say that they can count on our
friendship." But, he added, "I would also like to say that
friendship means accepting that your friends don't necessarily see
eye to eye with you."
Fair enough. But Sarkozy's record so far inspires some
In his first major foreign-policy speech, he called Iran's
development of nuclear weapons "unacceptable" - and agreed that
keeping the military option on the table was a good idea. But,
choosing his words carefully, Sarko didn't advocate
He supports punitive economic sanctions against Iran, even
increasing them, but has yet to require French firms, such as
energy giants Total or Gaz de France, to divest themselves of their
While not endorsing Coalition policy on Iraq, Sarkozy seems to
understand the importance of success there. In fact, French Foreign
Minister Bernard Kouchner visited Iraq in August - an act that
would have been treasonous under Chirac.
Sarkozy's also pretty good on Afghanistan. He originally
advocated removing French troops from the NATO mission, but he's
now in favor of staying, although French forces largely don't
operate in the most dangerous parts of the country.
On Russia, Sarkozy has talked tough, saying the Kremlin is too
hard-edged in its policies at home and abroad. He's also upbraided
Russia about the use of the energy card, but produced little in
early dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Another plus: Sarkozy has pledged to make human rights a
centerpiece, especially in Darfur, Russia and China. Kouchner - a
founder of the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders - is
noted for his strong humanitarian streak. While Chirac was famously
pro-Arab, Sarkozy isn't anti-Arab, but is warmer toward Israel. He
gets it on terrorism, straying from French policy by describing
Hezbollah as a terrorist group - even if he has yet to add it to
France's terrorist-organization list.
So what are the real downsides? The United States and France
begin to part company most starkly on Europe. As much of an
Atlanticist as he seems to be, Sarko is also Eurocentric, dedicated
to the European Union's rise as a world power, including the
passage of a constitution.
While he's talked of France rejoining NATO's military command,
which it left in 1966 under Charles de Gaulle, it will come with a
price, including giving some NATO key posts to the French.
(Negotiations in the mid-1990s under Chirac failed.)
He's also strongly in favor of a common European Security and
Defense Policy (ESDP) - an EU defense capability independent of
NATO. While the Europeans should do more for international
security, the ESDP could lead to NATO's demise.
The Kyoto Treaty is also a priority for Sarko. He's chided Bush
indirectly, saying: "A great nation like the United States has the
duty not to oppose the fight against global warming, but to lead
that battle, because what is at stake is the destiny of
So, on balance, Sarko looks pretty darn good in comparison with
his predecessors. But while the desire to break out the champagne
and foie gras over the new French president might be overwhelming,
he's no French poodle.
Sarkozy will do what he does for his own French reasons, looking
after France's national interest. Don't expect Sarko's Elysee - or
the entrenched French foreign-policy bureaucracy at the Quai
d'Orsay - to just take the American line.
But Sarkozy's France seems open to a new partnership with the
United States. And considering continuing French influence in world
affairs, this is an opportunity we should try to make the most
is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and former US deputy
assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in the New York Post
Nicolas Sarkozy, the recently elected leader of America's oldest ally - and possibly the most pro-U.S. president in France's history - begins his first official visit to the United States today, a country he's called the world's "greatest democracy."
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
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