The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Sarkozy: “I Love America.” Some interesting facts about the new French President on his first “official” visit to the land he loves

Posted by vmsalama on November 7, 2007

I appeared this evening one of the news programs to discuss Sarkozy’s “official” visit with the United States today.  Over the course of the day, I gathered snippets from various news sources just to help me organize my thoughts.  I have to admit, I like the guy.  I especially liked it when he stormed off the set of his 60 minutes interview last month when the reporter asked him about his failing marriage!! (see YouTube clip below)  Anyhow, I thought I’d list the bullet points for all of you — it’s very informative and some of it is certainly very telling on its own. 


  • Nicolas Sarkozy ran on a platform of “major change” and so far, he has delivered.
  • First official visit since his election.  Difference over Iraq should be no barrier toward friendship.
  • First address to Congress by a French leader in more than a decade.
  • Washington Post calls it Sarkozy’s “Washington charm offensive”
  • French notoriously adverse to change
  • Jacque Chirac’s modest plans to reform welfare was rejected by hundreds of thousands
  • Prior to 2007, in every parliamentary election since 1 978 the French had voted out of office whichever party they had voted in the previous time.
  • Sarkozy got elected running on an explicit platform of major change and praise for hard work, discipline, tax cuts—and even the United States.
  • DOMESTIC POLICIES: compromise on issues like the 35-hour work week, university reform and “minimum service” for public transport.   The biggest domestic test for Sarkozy will come if he tries to liberalize France’s generous welfare state and notoriously inflexible labor market laws.
  • Deep down, the new French president is a nationalist who puts French interests first.
  • LIBYA: His unilateral intervention in the case of five Bulgarian nurses held hostage in Libya, who were freed just prior to the announcement of French arms and nuclear energy deals with Tripoli. 
  • He took a great risk during the campaign by paying a personal visit to President George W. Bush and praising the unpopular United States—steps then assumed to constitute political suicide—but he won nonetheless, suggesting that French anti-Americanism is both overstated and more limited to Parisian elite circles than commonly believed.
  • MIDDLE EAST:  France under Sarkozy is also likely to see eye-to-eye more often with the United States on the critical question of the Middle East. Sarkozy is a strong supporter of Israel (while also a determined promoter of an independent Palestinian state)  and an opponent of Syrian intervention in Lebanon.
  • IRAN: Like the United States, he argues that an Iranian nuclear weapon is “unacceptable” and supports stronger economic sanctions against the Tehran regime, which he denounces for its support for terrorism, repression of human rights and opposition to Israel. Sarkozy has publicly warned that a failure by the international community to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomacy and sanctions could lead to military conflict, though he  makes clear that everything possible must be done to avoid such a “catastrophic” outcome.  Unlike his predecessor, he is open to the principle of imposing economic sanctions outside the context of the UN Security Council, if Russia and China are unwilling to go along. Also unlike Chirac, he has appealed to major French energy companies like Total and Gaz de France to stop investing in Iran.   Sarkozy Emphasized the need for diplomacy to go hand-in-hand with the sanctions.

Sarkozy said it is “unacceptable” that Iran should have a nuclear weapon, and he expressed his belief in “the effectiveness of sanctions.  After Tony Blair, a close Bush ally, stepped down as British prime minister this year, Sarkozy, 52, became the most vocal European leader to share the U.S. opposition to Iran’s nuclear program

(Last month the White House issued a new string of sanctions against Iran targeting the nation’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite Quds Force, several top military officials and three major Iranian banks.)

  • IRAQ: On Iraq, the source of the greatest French-American dispute since the 1 956 Suez crisis, Sarkozy has endorsed his predecessor’s opposition to the war (while also arguing that Chirac’s diplomacy was over the top). But he believes now is the time for France and America to put that dispute behind them.  Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner—one of the few French politicians to have supported regime change in Iraq—traveled to Baghdad in August 2007 and announced that France was ready to play a role in international efforts to stabilize Iraq. 

INTERESTING POINT – Iraq, the conflict that split the allies four years ago, was rarely spoken of publicly during the visit. The French president made no direct mention of the war in his speech to Congress yesterday. At Mount Vernon, Sarkozy said only there should be a “united” and democratic Iraq, while stopping short of offering solutions. Bush thanked Sarkozy for sending Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to Baghdad in a gesture of support.

Now, on Iraq, Bernard Kouchner’s trip to Iraq was very successful. What does France want? A united Iraq. No one — it is in no one’s interest to see Iraq dismantled. We want a democratic Iraq. We want a diverse Iraq where each component — component element of Iraqi society has learned to live with others, an Iraq which can administer and govern itself and that has the means of ensuring the peace and security of every one of its citizens

  • AFGHANISTAN: pro-American positions on the war in Afghanistan and the Iranian nuclear dispute. While Bush describes Iraq as the central front in the war on terror, Sarkozy suggested yesterday that Afghanistan is the vital fight, and said France might commit more troops there. France has about 1,000 soldiers in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and moved Mirage warplanes from Tajikistan into Afghanistan in September to assist the war effort. Chirac withdrew about 200 special-forces troops earlier this year, raising doubts about France’s commitment in Afghanistan.

“France will remain engaged in Afghanistan as long as it takes, because what’s at stake in that country is the future of our values and that of the Atlantic alliance,” Sarkozy said in the first speech to the House and Senate by a French leader in almost 12 years.

At a time when majorities in all European countries—including France—are highly critical of U.S. foreign policy, it would be unreasonable to assume that longstanding difficulties in the French-American relationship are behind us.

Sarkozy has already been compared to everyone from Napoleon to Margaret Thatcher, but a more apt, contemporary comparison might be Britain’s Tony Blair. Like Sarkozy, the youthful Blair also challenged party and political “sacred cows” in his first months, and he was similarly accused of accumulating too much personal power, ignoring the parliament, manipulating the media, cozying up to dubious tycoons and aligning his country’s foreign policy too closely with that of the United States.  (but Blair won three consecutive elections)

·        On PAKISTAN, SARKOZY SAID:   “On Pakistan, yes, we’re worried about the situation. It’s worrisome, and we need to have elections as swiftly as possible.You cannot combat extremism using the same methods as extremists. And it is very important, it is of the essence, that Pakistan organize elections. And, like President Bush, I wish this to take place as speedily as possible. Let me remind you that this is a country of 150 million inhabitants who happen to have nuclear weapons. This is very important for us, that one day we should wake up with a government, an administration in Pakistan which is in the hands of the extremists. And we should, each and everyone of us, think about this. The principles, the values that we uphold and that we defend, and we must continue to uphold. And then there’s the complexity, as it were, in the field. That’s why it’s important to convene elections — call elections.”

Sarkozy’s Address to Joint Congressional Session


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