M. Sarkozy shows how to se­duce

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

All to­gether now: Viva la France! Ni­co­las Sarkozy, the un­likely pres­i­dent of France, came, saw and nib­bled away at the care­fully nur­tured mu­tual mis­trust that has marked the Franco-Amer­i­can re­la­tion­ship since there was first an Amer­ica.

Some­times the ev­i­dence of this mis­trust has been merely silly, like “free­dom fries” and “cheese-eat­ing sur­ren­der mon­keys.” The French think we’re un­couth (mostly be­cause we don’t speak French) and, in Jac­ques Chirac’s fa­mous put-down of Amer­i­can sol­diers in Iraq, be­cause we’re “An­glo-Sax­ons.” You could tell that to Ty­rone, Jiminez, Vito and all the other GIs in Bagh­dad who are about as “An­glo-Saxon” as Pierre. But we get the point.

So M. Sarkozy had work ahead when he ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton last week, and he suc­ceeded in charm­ing of­fi­cial Wash­ing­ton far be­yond his ex­pec­ta­tions. The Lon­don Daily Tele­graph, per­haps with a lit­tle envy, re­ported that his “visit to the free world was not so much a charm of­fen­sive but an out­right se­duc­tion.”

His speech to a joint ses­sion of Congress, an honor rarely ac­corded to for­eign­ers, was in­ter­rupted by nine stand­ing ova­tions. The con­gress­men, even the left­most Democrats who usu­ally suf­fer waves of nausea at the mere thought of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary prow­ess, ap­plauded M. Sarkozy’s trib­ute to the Amer­i­cans who helped lib­er­ate his coun­try, twice.

The pres­i­dent, son of Hun­gar­ian and French-Turk­ish par­ents, opened his not-so-Gal­lic heart with ac­co­lade af­ter ac­co­lade. “I want to be your friend, you ally and your part­ner,” he said. “But a friend who stands on his own two feet.” The French pres­i­dent was flanked by por­traits of two men who helped when Amer­ica was first try­ing to stand on two feet, Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton and the Mar­quis de Lafayette.

His warm words were ea­gerly re­cip­ro­cated at the White House, where he was treated to a black-tie din­ner and Ge­orge W. Bush, who speaks a pass­able border-bor­dello Span­ish, at­tempted a toast in French: ”Bi­en­v­enue a la Mai­son Blanche.” No­body in the French del­e­ga­tion fainted at the well- frac­tured French. (That was prob­a­bly a first, too.)

M. Sarkozy went out of his way in Wash­ing­ton to pay trib­ute to the Amer­i­can sac­ri­fice of blood to evict the Nazis from his coun­try. He went straight from his ar­rival at An­drews Air Force Base to the res­i­dence of the French am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton to con­fer the Le­gion of Honor, France’s high­est dec­o­ra­tion, on seven ag­ing vet­er­ans of World War II. “With­out your sac­ri­fice,” he told them, “France would not be free.” He spoke with ten­der feel­ing of the rows of snow-white crosses and Stars of David in the ceme­tery above Omaha Beach, where, he might have added, the young Amer­i­cans who died on D-Day far from home could sleep for­ever un­der the Stars and Stripes in Amer­i­can soil ceded to the United States by France. The French un­der­stand the beau geste. The French gov­ern­ment even put up the hon­ored vet­er­ans in lux­ury digs at the Park Hy­att Ho­tel.

M. Sarkozy’s af­fec­tion for Amer­ica is not new, and does not nec­es­sar­ily en­dear him to his coun­try­men. His sen­ti­ments are those that few French pols dare ad­mit to, even if felt. “Amer­ica,” he wrote in his book, “Tes­ti­mony,” came to “aid and de­fend us twice in our re­cent his­tory. [. . .] You don’t have to be a grand strate­gist to un­der­stand that our in­ter­est is to have the best pos­si­ble re­la­tions with [the United States]. [. . .] Where our strate­gic in­ter­ests are con­cerned, sys­tem­at­i­cally op­pos­ing the United States is a dou­ble mis­take. [. . .] If I had to choose, I feel closer to Amer­i­can so­ci­ety than to a lot of oth­ers in the world.”

He even scolds his coun­try­men. “In [France] suc­cess is not re­ally seen or ac­cepted as a pos­i­tive value. [. . .] All the hard work done by those who are even­tu­ally suc­cess­ful is rarely ac­knowl­edged. This at­ti­tude is ex­plained by the French de­sire for egal­i­tar­i­an­ism, the fas­ci­na­tion with lev­el­ing out, and frankly, jeal­ousy.” Tough stuff. Since he came here to se­duce us, he might stay awhile, and we could all en­joy a hon­ey­moon while it lasts.

Wesley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief of The Times.

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