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ANOTHER BUSH MAN IN EUROPE
by Amir Taheri
Gulf News
May 9, 2007

Are the French going to choose what the Americans don't want? Are we going to vote for a French George W. Bush?

These were the questions raised by Marianne, a left-wing Parisian daily in its cover story about the French presidential election.

On Sunday almost 38 million French voters provided the answers. Yes, they wanted Nicholas Sarkozy, the right-of-centre candidate vilified by his political enemies as l'Americain and le copain de George W Bush.

Being a friend and admirer of George W Bush did not seem to be handicap. Efforts by the left to portray Sarkozy as a "Bushiste" started last September when the candidate visited Washington for a 40-minute tete-a -tete with President Bush. Pictures of the Bush-Sarkozy handshake were printed in thousands and distributed throughout France by a shadow group calling itself "Tout Sauf Sarkozy (TSS)".

Sarkozy gave his opponents on the left more ammunition when, after meeting Bush, he spoke of France's " arrogance" during the debate on the liberation of Iraq in 2002.

At times during the campaign, the left gave the impression that the election was more of a referendum on relations with the United States rather than the future of France.

Segelone Royal attracted a string of anti-American figures from across Europe, starting with Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, among other usual suspects, who spoke of his dream of a Socialist axis between Paris and Madrid.

German "Greens" and " "watermelons" (environmentalists who are green outside and red inside) also turned up en masse along with anti-war activists from Britain and Italy.

The TSS, which included many anti-Bush militant volunteers from the United States, even tried to link Sarkozy to the war in Iraq that more than 80 per cent of the French oppose.

Strong pressure

By last January, Sarkozy was coming under strong pressure from his friends and advisors to distance himself from the US, especially Bush, to cash on what they believed was a deep-rooted anti-American sentiments.

To his credit, Sarkozy refused. Instead, in his only major speech on foreign policy he insisted that repairing relations with Washington, wrecked by the outgoing president Jacques Chirac and his sidekick, prime minister Dominique de Villepin, would be a priority of a Sarkozy administration.

On Sunday night, moments after it had become clear that Sarkozy had won, Bush was the first foreign leader to telephone the new French leader to congratulate him.

An hour later, Sarkozy used his first post-victory speech to send a message to the Americans: We are on your side! Our separation during the debate over the liberation of Iraq was a tragedy!

But that was not all. Sarkozy buried Chirac's hare-brained quest for a multi-polar global system and, instead, called for the major democracies to unite against forces that threaten their security and their way of life.

Chirac saw the war on global terrorism as a figment of Bush's imagination and instead perpetuated the myth of moral equivalence between the West and its enemies.

Not surprisingly, on Sunday night Sarkozy did not mention Chirac once. The French president who had split the democratic camp in the hope of saving the Iraqi despot Saddam Hussain in 2002 had become a fading phantom.

It is not only on such issues as the global war on terrorism, and preventing the Islamic Republic in Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal that Sarkozy is close to Bush.

He has also promised a major tax cut, the first of its kind in modern French politics, the abolition of inheritance tax and more flexible labour laws.

Even the educational reform scheme that Sarko has proposed is partly inspired by Bush's "no child left behind" programme in the United States.

It is in the realm of values that Sarkozy, affectionately called "Sarko" by his supporters, is close to Bush. During the campaign he used a vocabulary that had all but disappeared from the French political lexicon.

He spoke of work, merit, authority, respect, patriotism, and national identity. He said he would fight against self-loathing, multiculturalism, political correctness and moral equivalence between the forces of good and those of evil.

Sarko has warned Islamists inside and outside France that he would no longer grant them the benefit of a doubt in the name of passed misdeeds supposedly committed by the West. He would not allow the hijab and burqa in French official buildings, including places of education.

Served notice

On Sunday night Sarko also served notice on Iran, Syria and Libya that his France will not be a pushover as it had been under Chirac.

Dismissing the so-called "realists" in international affairs as "men struck by illusions", Sarko has promised to develop a values-based foreign policy, even if that means a clash with Vladimir Putin's Russia over such issues as the continued tragedy in Chechnya.

Sarko has promised a smaller government - starting with reducing the number of ministries by almost 50 per cent and committed himself to a thorough reform of the French welfare system that is pushing the nation to the edge of bankruptcy.

Promising to "liquidate" the heritage of the 1968 "revolution" of free love and individual revolt, Sarko says he would pass legislation to restore some of the traditional values and practices destroyed by the so-called "68 generation".

Two issues divide Sarko from Bush. The first concerns Turkey's hopes of becoming a full member of the European Union. Bush is strongly for; Sarko is as strongly against.

The second issue is global warming. Sarko has called on Bush to commit the US to a modified version of the Kyoto accords and assume global leadership in an international effort to protect the environment.

With Sarkozy at the helm in France, the US now enjoys the support of all three major EU powers - the others being Britain and Germany - for the fist time in almost a decade.

And that should enable the Bush administration to undertake major foreign policy initiatives without fear of risking another split among the major democracies.

Iranian author Amir Taheri is based in Europe.

 

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