May 8, 2007 -- PARIS
ARE we going to vote for a French George Bush? So asked Marianne, a left-wing Parisian daily, in its cover story about the French presidential election. On Sunday, French voters answered: Yes, they wanted Nicolas Sarkozy, the candidate vilified by his enemies as "l'Americain" and "le copain de George W. Bush."
That was not all. Sarkozy collected more votes than any other politician elected president of the French republic and captured a number of cities and regions that had voted on the left for the past 60 years.
Efforts by the left to portray Sarkozy as a "Bushiste" started last September when the candidate visited Washington for a 40-minute tete-à-tete with President Bush. Pictures of their handshake were distributed throughout France by a group calling itself Tout Sauf Sarkozy ("Anyone But Sarkozy").
Sarkozy gave his foes more ammunition when, after meeting Bush, he spoke of France's "arrogance" during the 2002 debate on the liberation of Iraq.
At times, the left gave the impression that the election was more of a referendum on relations with America than on France's future. Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal attracted a string of anti-American figures from across Europe, starting with Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, who spoke of his dream of a Socialist axis between Paris and Madrid.
By January, Sarkozy was coming under strong pressure from his friends and advisers to distance himself from America and Bush. He refused. Instead, in his only major speech on foreign policy, he insisted that repairing relations with Washington, wrecked by outgoing President Jacque Chirac and Premier Dominique de Villepin, would be a priority of a Sarkozy administration.
Moments after it had become clear that Sarkozy had won, Bush was the first foreign leader to phone 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 harebrained quest for a multipolar global system and, instead, called for the major democracies to unite against forces that threaten their security and their way of life.
Sarkozy didn't mention Chirac once on Sunday night. The French president, who had split the democratic camp in the hope of saving the Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein in 2002, had become a fading phantom.
It's 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 labor laws.
During the campaign, "Sarko" 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 evil.
He warned Islamists inside and outside France that he would no longer grant them the benefit of the doubt in the name of past misdeeds supposedly committed by the West. He would not allow the hijab and burqa in French official buildings, including places of education.
On Sunday night, Sarko also served notice on the Islamic Republic, 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," he has promised to develop a value-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 and committed himself to a thorough reform of a welfare system that is pushing the nation to the edge of bankruptcy.
With Sarkozy at the helm in France, the United States now enjoys the support of all three major E.U. powers - the others being Britain and Germany - for the first 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-born journalist Amir Taheri is based in Europe.