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Ditch The Accordion

There’s a great deal of justified excitement about your election, Mr. Sarkozy.

For starters, the French people have shown themselves not to be completely enamored by flash and false promises by rejecting S√©gol√®ne Royal, and they’ve chosen by a comfortable margin to elect you, someone who’s being called a French Thatcher, a French Reagan, who wants to reassert France in the world and restore a reality-based economy.

I don’t particularly give a damn about your economy. But it is an important issue for us, for Europe and for the world. France’s deeply entrenched socialism and its fearfulness about alienating the Muslim immigrant masses risk making it a third-world nation, ultimately a failed state we may need invade (again) someday. You have shown you are interested in taking on French labor and willing to stand up against extremism in France’s Muslim immigrant community.

You have daringly said you wants better relations with the United States. That this did not sink your campaign speaks well of the French electorate. That a so-called “outsider,” born to an immigrant family, busting your way in from outside the traditional French ruling elite, now represents the French establishment, suggests a positive shift and maybe some desperation in France.

But your alleged interest in better relations with the United States is a far cry from actually being interested in playing a useful role in the world in time of war. Your hedging remark that being friends doesn’t mean agreeing, and yours highlighting of global warming as a priority suggests you don’t entirely get it, and that in “French Thatcher” and “French Reagan,” the key word may be “French.”

France was shamed into living up to its promise in Lebanon last summer, though grudgingly and some hostility toward Israel, and to what ultimate effect remains to be seen. During a key moment in the campaign, with the Taliban holding French hostages and demanding a withdrawal of French forces, you pointedly said that France’s commitment to Afghanistan is not open-ended. That sounds dangerously like catering to terrorists, and dangerously like the beginnings of disengagement, where France has barely engaged.

I’d suggest, if you want France to be taken seriously as a player in the world, that France start acting like one and support the kind of unflinching action for liberation that France has itself been the beneficiary repeatedly within living memory. France is said to be quietly useful, behind the scenes, in the war on terrorism. How about becoming publicly useful?

Iraq needs help. France, for its catering to Saddam Hussein’s regime, owes Iraq. How about sending troops to support the free Iraqi government? How about some pressure on France’s pals in Iran?

An unstable Afghanistan, like an unstable Iraq, is a threat to world security. France, with barely a toe in that pool, would appear to be headed in the wrong direction there. How about some combat troops? We know French soldiers and the French people are capable of acts of bravery and self-sacrifice, despite the often craven behavior of their leaders. Let us see the bravery of the French nation.

As tempting as it may be -for those nations that are positively engaged in the world- to turn their backs on a Europe that allows itself to be hamstrung by failed socialist policies and Islamists, we need a Europe that is economically strong, strong in defense of western freedoms, and strong in defense of our common interests in the world. France has the ability to become the leader of a new Europe that rejects socialism and is willing to take uncompromising stands on freedom. You, Mr. Sarkozy, can be the one who wakens the French to their potential in the world.

The French voter’s long history of looking out for No. 1 has been counter-productive. No. 1 is in deep trouble at home, and internationally worse than a laughingstock: He’s not just the accordion one prefers not to take to deer hunting, but the one that insists on playing loudly anyway.

If you want to restore France to a place of greatness, Nicolas Sarkozy, I’d suggest starting with some French humility. I suggest looking at not just about what France can do for France, but what France can do for the world. Ditch the accordion.

Jules Crittenden is an editor and columnist for the Boston Herald.

Crittenden’s web page is at Forward Movement.