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April 30, 2007

French Election a Chance at Reconciliation with America


While they are supposed to be among America’s primary traditional allies, the French, over the last few years, have been anything but. Instead of standing strongly by the United States on Iraq, Iran and so on, France has acted like the sibling who demeans you in public instead of sorting out differences at home.


While an argument could be made that the French have been M.I.A. since World War I, they at least have not been there for us in the last few years. Heck, they have not been there for themselves. From the 2005 riots that exposed not so obscure weaknesses in France’s ability to integrate its immigrants, to an exhausted economy further debilitated by high taxes, severe regulations and other socialist policies, the French have engineered their own descent from greatness to mediocrity.


That said, however, it is not too late for France to make amends. We can overlook the disastrous foreign policy they have conducted in the last few years. We can forgive their failure to aid us in the ousting of Saddam’s regime, with which many top French elements had questionably cozy relationships. We are ready to jump-start a global counter-radicalism campaign with them, if indeed they make themselves available for one.


France has the resources and the ideology necessary for such a campaign. What they still need, however, is to obtain the type of leadership of which they have been deprived for decades. For a country where one of the top two presidential candidates declares her refusal to shake President Bush’s hand without criticizing him first, serious questions arise about the hope for effective leadership. And when condom distribution is a campaign tactic used by the country’s conservative party, there is normally little hope for that side as well to generate solid leaders in the mold of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.


This time around, however, there is a chance for France to redeem itself. France’s Union pour un Mouvement Populaire has gotten its act together after a poor 12 years of President Chirac to present France – and the world – with a promising leader, Nicolas Sarkozy. After an impressive performance in the first round of presidential elections, Sarkozy now faces Socialist Candidate Ségolène Royal in the runoff. And the stakes are as high as ever.


This election is not just about France. It is about Franco-American relations, about the global war on terror and about the impact of France’s rapidly changing demographics on Europe and the world. It is imperative that relations between Paris and Washington improve drastically and soon. This is where Sarkozy comes in. His pleasantly surprising willingness to openly and proudly express his admiration of the United States in front of French audiences is truly a refreshing sign of his wish to improve trans-Atlantic relations. For once, we might see a French president who will not work to subvert America’s image as a way to distract his constituency from France’s own problems.


Further, Sarkozy’s audacious reaction to the 2005 riots was not lost on anybody. Instead of sweeping serious societal problems under the rug by pampering the poor and the unabsorbed, his plan to modify immigration policies and crack down on crime while simultaneously improving the poor’s lot through a solidified economy represents much needed change in France. His intention to cut taxes, deregulate and remove French society from its narrow track of socialism should finally give France a resurgent economy and lower unemployment rates.


According to a public opinion poll published last week, 44% of the French think badly of themselves (compared with only 38% of Americans who think badly of the French). After what they have put their own country and the world through in recent years, such numbers are not surprising. These negative perceptions, however, have an excellent chance of changing.


France can be an economically powerful country again, it can develop sustainable internal stability and it certainly can rebuild a strong alliance with America. Most importantly, it has a chance at regaining our respect. America has extended its hand to the people of France. Let us hope that on May 6, the French respond with a friendly, strong and hopeful hand. Let us hope it is the hand of Nicolas Sarkozy.

© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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