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Paris Lights: Sarkozy’s Prison Break

In a dramatic first appearance on the world diplomatic stage, newly elected French president Nicolas Sarkozy brokered a complex deal with Libya's Muammar Ghaddafi: a measure of international respectability for the release of the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor, who spent the past eight years in a Libyan prison and were sentenced to death on trumped-up charges of deliberately infecting children with AIDS. PJM's Nidra Poller sorts through the domestic criticism of the move.

by
Nidra Poller, PJM Editor, Paris

Bio

July 27, 2007 - 4:50 am

You might think French president Nicolas Sarkozy would be hailed as a hero at home for facilitating the release of the embattled medical personnel in Libya. No one can deny that the hostages were released in short order as a direct result of a strategy devised by Sarkozy and implemented with the help of his wife Cecilia.

But instead, Sarkozy is under fire from all sides.

From the left come outbursts of unashamed machismo alternate with outpourings of heretofore concealed truths about the likes of Ghadafi. Who does the First Lady think she is? And how come that cad Ghadafi is welcomed back into the concert of nations just because he released the prisoners?

Socialist Party chief Fran√ßois Hollande, ex-companion of ex-candidate S√©gol√®ne Royal, dismissed the operation as a mediocre PR stunt: the European Union has been negotiating the prisoners’ release for 8 years, now they’re free, what’s the big deal? Euro-green deputy & former May 68 revolutionary Cohn-Bendit is indignant and assorted French Socialists, fresh from their victorious presidential defeat, are outraged: Ghadafi is a despicable dictator, Libyan quasi-terrorists will enter France freely while decent illegals are kept out, Europe is paying blood money, Sarkozy is showing off, and to make matters worse he sent his WIFE to negotiate. What is this, a royal family? An op-ed in Le Monde trashes “Super-C√©cilia, madone des Balkans. ¬ª The NY Times, in a typical indiscriminate rehash of French snob-gossip, says “Libya’s Release of 6 Prisoners Raises Criticism.”

The same NY Times, via its International Herald Tribune, claims that Nicolas Sarkozy controls the French press with an iron fist. And the same gossipers who told you that Sarkozy would be a bachelor president because Cecilia had ditched him are now clucking about her undue influence and uppity ways. Madame does not restrict her conversation with the president to appropriate subjects-meals, servants, his choice of ties-but ventures into the forbidden sphere of politics. And now she’s indulging in extramarital international relations.

It’s as if nepotism, interlocking directorates, ambiguous liaisons, and other courtly abuses had never existed in pre-Sarkozy France.

And they did. Danielle Mitterand dabbled in private diplomacy with Fidel Castro during her husband’s presidency. Bernadette Chirac, a Poli Sci dropout, nudged into politics by her husband, holds a cushy provincial office. Wives and mistresses of political figures present prime time news. S√©gol√®ne Royal was boosted into her career on Mitterand’s shoulders. Chirac’s daughter Claude acted as his official advisor and the media never mentioned her son fathered by a Muslim judoka. Mitterand’s illegitimate daughter Mazarine Pingeot, whose coming-out party coincided with his funeral, is treated seriously as a novelist….

Why is the Libyan operation cause for scandal, when that urbane dilettantism is tolerated? Because Nicolas Sarkozy has made a clear break with French tradition: using his power to act concretely on reality, he expedited the liberation of five nurses and one doctor, innocent victims of an Afro-Middle Eastern dictatorship.

Let us appreciate the strategic finesse of Nicolas Sarkozy in the Libyan negotiations: this time it was the good guy who set the ultimatum. President Sarkozy would not stop in Libya on July 25th on his way to Senegal and Gabon unless the prisoners were released. That was the muscle flexed by Cecilia Sarkozy in the first round of negotiations: the death sentence was commuted to life in prison. She returned to Libya a few days later, with Benita Ferrero-Wagner, EU Commissioner for Foreign Relations, and Claude Guéant, General Secretary of the Elysée. They bargained for 48 hours non-stop. And left Libya with the prisoners at dawn on the 24th. All subsequent deals or promises were contingent on this liberation. In other words, no deal as long as Libya held hostages.

There is something perverse in the refusal to recognize this strategic prowess. It is dishonest to pretend that it would have happened that way, anyway, sooner or later, with or without Sarkozy’s determination. The macabre farce had been going on for years, with no end in sight. Some of the president’s detractors give him a smidgeon of credit for expediting the release of the captives but in the same breath accuse him, in cahoots with the EU, of rewarding the knave Ghadafi with all manner of sweetmeats, nuclear goodies, expressways and, oh horror, ransom.

The Libyan government, we are told, pledged blood money to the aggrieved families. (The EU, it is said, has already been paying blood money in spurts and gurgles for years while sluggishly negotiating a hypothetical liberation.)

True enough, but such financial arrangements never bothered French heads in the past.

The media were exquisitely discreet when the government forked over millions to buy back Georges Malbrunot, Christian Chesnot, Florence Aubenas, a pleasure boat skipper kidnapped in Iran and, just recently, two lost NGO souls kidnapped in Afghanistan. The same hypocritical scenario is repeatedly played to a gullible audience. The emissaries– shady politicians, plump imams, old time finaglers, retired milintels-slip in and out of hotels and alleyways. The hostages are adored in oversized posters. The liberation is celebrated with patriotic zeal. The liberated hostages heap praise on the jailers who-finally-let them go; they accept gifts, say they were treated well, sympathize with the rebels who kidnapped them… freedom fighters, you know.

Negotiations for Libya’s re-entry into polite society, which have been underway for several years, continued while the Bulgarian nurses were being tortured, involving most Western governments and, from what I could see from the TV coverage of president Sarkozy’s brief visit, still have a long way to go.

A few preliminary agreements and notes of intention were signed. Newscasters tried with all their might to cover the visibly grotesque state visit with normalizing words, which only made it more ludicrous. A shabby red carpet and a handful of slothful soldiers to greet the barely honored guest, Ghadafi with a two-day stubble and extra-dark glasses (to hide his shifty eyes?), Sarkozy looking like he was choking on a bone, the heads of state side by side in front of the bombed-out palace, a chat in a tent, dusty street scenes and a claim that Libya is an el Dorado for foreign investors. Maybe so but I prefer to abide by my own judgment.

The French president has also been subject to criticism from Right and Left, with alarm bells ringing over stories that he handed the Libyan buffoon the keys to a nuclear kingdom.

I seriously doubt the French president traded said keys for 5 nurses and a doctor. I don’t think he engineered their liberation for the express purpose of cancelling Ghadafi’s moral debt and getting into bed with him for luscious commerce.

He is too smart for such small-minded, short-sighted bargains. Sarkozy is conducting international relations according to principles he announced at a press conference on foreign policy held before the first round of presidential elections.

He believes that third world countries should have access to nuclear power for civilian purposes. He thinks that rogue states and terrorist organizations can sometimes be lured into mending their ways. He has a vision of a Mediterranean Union, in the image of the European Union, that will bring peace and prosperity to its citizens. He wants to elicit the cooperation of Mediterranean countries, including Libya, in combating illegal immigration and terrorism, while helping them develop honest government and sound economies. Is his Mediterranean dream our Eurabian nightmare? No. His hopes would be, on the contrary, to reverse the process of surreptitious Islamization of Europe inherent in the “Euro-Mediterranean Dialogue” and promote new, healthy relations with these nations. While his high hopes sidestep the realities of global jihad and underestimate the hostile forces at work in some of these Southern neighbors — let us see how he reacts when they are dashed. (One radio report mentioned in passing that Ghadafi rather likes Sarkozy’s idea of a Mediterranean Union…as long as Israel is not included…)

In any case Nicolas Sarkozy is to be faulted for his theory and practice in this murky corner of international relations, what is to be said of the efforts of other western leaders, who are in a mad rush to shore up Mahmoud Abbas, hold talks with the North Koreans, negotiate an uneasy peace with Iran, pressure Israel to give the Golan Heights to Syria, force Bush to withdraw the troops from Iraq and, in general, surrender on a dime? It’s all part of the desperate search for solutions through dialogue and economic relations.

The real issue in this matter has been scrupulously avoided, and it is this – hostage-taking is part of the full jihad bag and western nations have been handling it like weak-kneed dhimmis. Public opinion is shaped and kneaded to respond to the demands of hostage takers as if they were reasonable political negotiations. A fuzzy video, a trembling victim stuffed into a Muslim outfit, jihadis with their heads wrapped in keffiehs, guns and scimitars, slogans, blood curdling music, imperious demands-withdraw your troops, release all of our prisoners, and give us millions or we’ll cut off his or her head. Roadside bombs in Iraq and London, great train massacres in London and Madrid, sleeper cells, mass murder airplane plots, incitement in mosques and Muslim media, 9/11 of course, the planned destruction of Israel… it all goes together and we should be fighting it with lucid determination.

Instead, we pick it apart like finicky eaters, treat each morsel separately… and now we are all hostages.

Can’t we give Nicolas Sarkozy credit for making a dent in dhimmitude? He acted cleverly, decisively, and called Ghadhafi’s bluff. Why should we assume that he’ll give Ghadafi a free pass, after he’s captured his bargaining chips, his queens?

Meanwhile, despite the blood money stories, the families whose children contracted AIDs in their local hospital, reportedly outraged to discover that the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor, extradited to Bulgaria to serve out their life sentences, were immediately pardoned, are asking Interpol to arrest them. A million dollars doesn’t go very far these days, does it?

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