Andrew, you point to Sarkzoy’s avowed skepticism of globalization and the transatlantic partnership. I think these are defensive positions—definitely “electioneering.” The fashionable bunk of the moment in Europe consists of (a) doomsday environmentalism, (b) anti-globalization, and (c) anti-Americanism. No candidate in western Europe is viable without genuflecting before each of these idols. Even the Tories in Britain are running to the left of Labour in their “greenery” and anti-Americanism.
Days before the election, Sarkozy visited the tomb of Charles de Gaulle–and recently cited de Gaulle and Pope John Paul II as his most important influences. A key question in France is the extent to which Gaullism – the real kind – survives as an integral political philosophy. Jacques Chirac was seen by many old-school Gaullists in his own party as an unprincipled opportunist who didn’t even have the I.Q. necessary to be a real Gaullist.
Of course, de Gaulle was a statist, and he charted a course of independence from the United States in France’s Cold War position. But the essence of Gaullism to my mind consisted in the belief that (a) in domestic affairs, the only way to conserve institutions is to constantly renew them; and (b) in foreign affairs, the democratic state must be free to act in its defense. By failing to reform France’s social model, despite its obvious failure, and by insisting that states need the permission of the United Nations to use force preventively, Chirac betrayed the core principles of Gaullism. And while de Gaulle insisted on independence from American control, he never tried to triangulate between America and its enemies, as Chirac has so shamefully done. De Gaulle was unambiguously a friend of the United States—despite his reputation to the contrary in some quarters.
Sarkozy has struck some commentators as superficial. But he has staked out some pretty bold positions. For example, he does not think that the anger of angry Muslims is the fault of the West — so he doesn’t suffer from that paralyzing self-doubt that nearly destroyed Europe in the first half of the 20th century and is crippling Europe’s ability to fend off Muslim extremists today. He has been so vocally pro-American that he has had to defend himself from the “Bush’s lapdog” charge constantly leveled against Tony Blair. He thinks that France must liberalize its labor laws, and has campaigned on tax cuts. Depending on the results of the coming parliamentary elections, he could indeed by the man to reform France’s social model. And whatever he says publicly in the interest of personal popularity, expect France to become much more helpful to America in discrete and practical ways. And not a moment too soon.
P.S. In my last post, I put Sarkozy at 30%. In fact, his tally was closer to 31% and now the latest reporting puts him above 31%. Le Pen, by contrast, came in closer to 10%.