[Paris Blues] Nicolas Sarkozy in Three Dimensions

Nicolas Sarkozy veut être président de la France. | Nicolas Sarkozy wants to be president of France. Many French people-and outside observers-- believe he is the only candidate who could tear this country out of the doldrums of latter day welfare statism, arabesque foreign relations, and banlieue Eurabian tyranny.

Polls are worth what they're worth, yet no one can resist taking them as a reality; Sarkozy wins over Royal, by percentages ranging from 50.5/49.5 to 57/43, in every poll taken since his candidacy was announced. Those who detest Sarkozy-the racaille, the far Left, the altermondialistes, Islamists and fellow travelers-detest him fervently, virulently, violently. He's been tarred and feathered by Left-oriented media that accuse him of pouring oil on banlieue fires, creating tension and conflict, snapping an authoritarian whip. He's called a fascist, a nasty cop, a threat, a disaster. Ordinary citizens who are truly put off by Ségolène Royal still hesitate to vote for Sarkozy. "He's frightening," they say. Why is he frightening? Don't ask.

asegonico.jpg

This year's fun couple: Royal and Sarkozy

Sarkozy-trashing has been toned down since the official campaign got underway because the media are supposed to be neutral, but the bogeyman image hovers on the horizon. Sarkozy-haters act as if his crimes go without saying, as if they are not only common knowledge but commonly acknowledged. So why is it that the majority of voters intend to vote for him? The fact is that Nicolas Sarkozy is very popular. And this popularity, which extends to working class people and residents of the banlieue, must be telling us something about what French citizens really want.

Sarkozy is the closest to a neoconservative, free market libertarian, pro-American, pro-Zionist, unapologetic nationalist, pro-globalization candidate who could make it onto the ballot in France. Though many Jewish voters will probably maintain their leftwing voting habits, a significant sector of the Jewish community loves him like a brother. Jewish people are prominent in French public life; some assert their identity proudly and others flash it as a permit to trash Israel, some soft pedal it to avoid charges of parochialism, some never mention it, some are Christian converts, many have Frenchified their names.

Sarkozy is Catholic, but does not hide his Jewish affinities. His parents divorced in 1959, when he was four. His charming but unreliable Hungarian father went off to new adventures, his mother and the three boys moved in with her father, Benedict Mallah, a Jewish immigrant from Salonika who converted to Catholicism in 1917 when he fell in love with a widow from Lyon. Sarkozy's wife Cecilia has similar mixed origins: her father is Jewish, from Eastern Europe, her mother is a Spanish Catholic. Nicolas Sarkozy has been openly, enthusiastically, abundantly friendly to the state of Israel and the French-Jewish community... particularly in the past seven years of explosive Jew hatred and virulent anti-Zionism. At every major incident, he has promised-as Minister of the Interior-that the culprits will be found, tried, and punished. The results have been meager but he is judged on his intentions.

February 28th Foreign Policy Press Conference

I was sitting between Bloomberg News and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE journalist showed me his ticket and tacked a copy of the list of Sarkozy's speeches in our press kit, which begins with American Jewish Committee, followed by the Herzliya Conference, and includes Daughters of the American Revolution. He was surprised, or more like stupefied, by the absence of "countries in the Middle East."

"Herzliya is in Israel, isn't that the Middle East?"

"It's Israel."

"If he had given a talk in the UAE, that would be the Middle East?"

Yes, no, you know what he meant. I asked him if his country was concerned about Iran's nuclear projects.

"Yes. If the U.S. decides on a military strike, it will inflame the whole region."

"Hmmm. And if Iran decides to strike Israel, that too might inflame the region?"

Nicolas Sarkozy entered without fanfare, without introduction, and calmly presented his foreign policy platform. He was relaxed, natural, and not the least bit frightening. I would guess that the UAE journalist was reassured to hear that the Israeli operation in Lebanon this summer was "disproportionate," the Palestinians should have a state, the Americans made a historical error in Iraq, and Iran must not have nuclear weapons.

Others may have been disappointed to hear these same old tunes from a man who has been known to be bolder. Only this summer he defended Israel's right to vigorous self-defense against Hizbullah, and criticized the arrogance of France's UN campaign against the American initiative in Iraq in 2003. But if one looks past the general statements and concentrates on the foreign policy dynamics he outlines, the rupture overrules the continuity.

achirac.jpg

Jacques Chirac tried every way possible to get Sarkozy out of his-thinning-hair. Every time Chirac groomed a dauphin, the unlucky heir would fall upon hard times. Alain Juppé choked on a scandal that should have hung Chirac; after a few years out to pasture in Canada he returned in time to join Sarkozy's camp. Villepin tripped up on the meek attempt to introduce a bit of job flexibility (the CPE). Defense Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie emerged briefly and then deflated; she wasn't able to get presidential-strength traction out of threats to shoot down Israeli planes that scared her UNIFIL troops.

It looks like Chirac doesn't want any heirs; he hates Sarkozy but doesn't really like his own picks. Chirac will negotiate with Ahmadinejad, make concessions to Hamas, lobby for Hizbullah, but he is absolutely ruthless with domestic rivals. I was told that Sarkozy kept his job as Minister of the Interior because it offered the best police protection available. Is it literally true or just an indication of the degree of animosity churning in Chirac's cauldron?

Nicolas Sarkozy is very intelligent. He opened the press conference with a tribute to Chirac and followed with a program that would tear French foreign policy away from the sleazy practices currently in vogue. Cleverly avoiding an antler to antler confrontation with the outgoing president, Sarkozy announced principles of continuity, issue by issue, and followed with specifics that promise a whole new way of conducting foreign relations. The president, he said, will maintain his leadership role along with the incumbent responsibility, but citizens and their elected representatives should be informed and invited to debate foreign policy. Our foreign relations should be conducted openly, nation to nation, and not based on opaque private friendship between the French president and chosen heads of state.

Accused by his adversaries of being a "Boooousssh with a French passport," Sarkozy asserted the principle of French independence in an independent Europe, loyal friend to the American ally but honest enough to say no to the admission of Turkey into the EU, no to the infinite expansion of NATO as a replacement for the UN and, of course, having had the foresight to say no to the Iraq war. But, he added, we do not have troops in Iraq; it is not for us to dictate the timetable of their withdrawal. He drew the red line on Iran's nuclear ambitions, but cautioned against unilateral military action. Strong sanctions will work, he believes, on condition that the international community is united and determined. That would include Russia and China. [Ahem.]

It is reported that when Sarkozy met with Bibi Netanyahu, during his brief mid-February visit to Paris, he told the Likud president that Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.

Sarkozy argues for a firm stand on defense. France's nuclear deterrent must be maintained in ready-to-fire mode, and potential aggressors should know that any attack will be met with a "disproportionate" response. Curiously, he also described Israel's military campaign in Lebanon this summer as "disproportionate." Would it be stretching the imagination to conclude that the disproportion was justified?

Concerned about the 2-year stalemate of the EU since France and Holland rejected the Constitutional Treaty, Sarkozy recommends a new effort to reform EU institutions with a simplified agreement, an authentic full-term presidency, a clearly defined political operation and, ultimately, a pan-European defense system. But, he cautions, European defense is impossible if only 3 of the 25 countries participate in its development. Indeed, there's the rub.

Convinced that misery feeds terrorism and provokes uncontrollable waves of immigration, Sarkozy argues for a bright new policy of co-development with the "south." He wants the UN to develop a nuclear fuel bank available to all countries for civilian use; the minute a rogue state tried to divert the fuel for military purposes, access would be instantly blocked. He encourages a reinvigorated, redirected Euro-Mediterranean "dialogue." And, of course, he advocates the creation of a Palestinian state asap. But Israel's security is not negotiable.

Les misérables

Sarkozy has made his domestic policy perfectly clear: firm action against offenders, generous encouragement for the willing and able. He wants to liberate the economy from decades of government meddling, encourage competition, reward merit and effort, make streets and schools safe, raise the shades and let the sun shine in, open the windows and give France a breath of fresh air.

This, I think, is the key to his popularity. Contrary to the image concocted by those who are determined to defeat him, Sarkozy comes across as a warm-hearted man whose lyrical optimism is tempered by a rigorous commitment to law and order. His vision of banlieue youth brought into the fold by "positive discrimination" [French for affirmative action] and his faith in a new age of Mediterranean harmony is attractive if not exactly appropriate as a working hypothesis.

"Secular" or libertarian Muslims are not too happy with Sarkozy's role in the creation of the Muslim umbrella group-essentially co-opted by the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. He does not seem to be sufficiently wary of the Eurabian swords below the surface of the Euro-Med dialogue. But his enemies hate him as if he were an advocate of ethnic cleansing. And some of his friends hope that the reality principle will eventually prevail. As Interior Minister he has already implemented stricter policies against legal and illegal immigration.

asarkozybonapartheidir5.jpg

There are those who hate Sarkozy with a vengeance, and then a larger circle of critics who accuse him of being an overly excited, overly ambitious arriviste who lusts for money, lives in luxury, hangs around with the wealthy. They say he is a power-hungry authoritarian crypto-fascist who will crush the weak and destroy civil rights.

François Bayrou, who has reached 20% of first-round voter intentions in the latest polls (as compared to 26% for Royal and 31% for Sarkozy) does not provoke intense hatred. His detractors find him plodding, nondescript, middling, wishy-washy. Bayrou is a man of the land...his land; he still lives in his native village. He preaches virtues of humility, simplicity, modesty, moderation. His "neither Left nor Right" echoes St. Paul's "neither Jew nor gentile, neither slave nor free...."

Sarkozy is cosmopolitan in his origins and his scope, urban, unashamed of his hearty appetite for wealth and power. He invites his compatriots to roll up their sleeves and get to work, stand up courageously to competition, strive for material success. There is something strangely or faintly Jewish about Sarkozy's style, the values he defends, and the hostility he provokes.

asarkoportrait.jpg

What do French people really want?

It is intriguing to observe the stubborn popularity of Nicolas Sarkozy. If confirmed at the polls on April 22nd and in the final round on May 6th, it would contradict the mirror held up to French society by the dominant groupthink. Even now, when Sarkozy's popularity is reaffirmed in poll after poll, the media continue to portray the French as worn out misfits who can't find a job, can't keep a husband, can't make ends meet, can't feed their kids, can't pay the bills. Nothing less than the revolutionary communism of Olivier Besancenot could deliver these misérables from their terrible fate.

The polls might be mistaken, anything can happen between now and the elections, but the very fact that Nicolas Sarkozy can be popular with voters who have been fed a steady diet of antipathy to everything he stands for suggests that they just might be thinking for themselves. And that would be a victory of sorts.


For Nidra Poller's previous profiles of the candidates for the French presidency after 12 years of Chirac see:

* For additional background information on the campaign, read the excellent article by Michel Gurfinkiel, "A Battle Royal" in the Weekly Standard.


Bonus video feature:



Nicolas&Segolene - Les musclés