Sarkozy's Message: I Won't Be a Poodle
Monday, May 7, 2007; 2:45 PM
PARIS -- To the world, President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy sends this message: France is back. Sarkozy said in his victory speech that his France will stand up against tyranny, dictators and fundamentalist Muslim oppression of women _ a global vision more in line with President Bush than Jacques Chirac, who defied Washington over Iraq and has been criticized for cozy ties with authoritarian rulers.
By urging the United States to take the lead on fighting global warming, Sarkozy also signaled that an invigorated friendship with Washington would not mean subservience. His speech Sunday provided comfort to a populace worried that France's global voice is fading.
"The message was, 'Don't take me for granted,'" said Francois Heisbourg, a leading expert on French strategic and foreign policy. "This was wise in terms of domestic policies but also in terms of the overall relationship. He was saying, 'I'm not going to be a poodle.'"
Sarkozy has won the label "Sarko the American" for openly admiring the get-up-and-go spirit in the United States, and indicated that he would toe a less-accommodating line toward the Arab world than his predecessors _ whose close ties to the Middle East were rooted in France's past as a colonial power in the region.
Overall, though, his campaign gave short shrift to foreign policy, and his limited international experience has left many wondering how he will steer France in global affairs.
Sarkozy sought to quell that uncertainty in a speech barely 30 minutes after his electoral triumph.
France, he said, will stand alongside "all those persecuted by tyranny, by dictatorships." He reached out to "all those in the world who believe in the values of tolerance, freedom, democracy and humanism."
"France will not abandon women who are condemned to the burqa," the full head-and-body covering worn by women in Afghanistan and some Muslim women in Britain and elsewhere, he said. He did not elaborate on how that would translate into policy.
Sarkozy was a member of the government that instituted a law banning head scarves and other "ostentatious" religious apparel in classrooms.
In his speech, he appealed for all warring parties in the Middle East to "overcome hate."
"France will be at the side of the world's oppressed," he went on. "That is the message of France, that is the identity of France, that is the history of France."
While some of the language was reminiscent of Chirac _ a fellow conservative and one-time Sarkozy mentor _ the message itself was new.