Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Président De La République
The official changing of the guard took place today in a formal ceremony (video link) at Elysée Palace that juxtaposed the oddly poignant, regal bearing of Jacques Chirac with the agitated jumpiness of Nicolas Sarkozy. In his investiture address, Sarkozy again mentioned Europe, the Mediterranean, and Africa as priorities, and announced that he would place human rights and global warming at the heart of France's foreign policy.
Which says alot about what Sarkozy really represents for France's posture in the world. Because there's been a lot of discussion of whether, how much, and in what ways he'll represent a difference from Chirac in particular, and from traditional Gaullism in general. But it's all focused on policy. And while there will be differences in priorities and emphasis, the major change won't be in terms of policy itself.
The quality that will mark Sarkozy's foreign policy is activism (not to be confused with interventionism). Which might take people by surprise, especially Americans who are used to thinking of France as a "second-rate" power. But Sarkozy's genius is in seizing the initiative and determining what people are talking about to fit his agenda. He did it throughout his five years in the government. He did it throughout the electoral campaign.
And watching him today I realized that he intends to do it as president. How? I don't know. But one thing is certain. While he's president, France will be an actor on the global stage, not a spectator. And French influence, which Americans tend to underestimate, will most likely grow even stronger.
So in wondering how Sarkozy will align France with US policy, American analysts are missing the point. The real question is, How are we going to align ourselves with his?