The New York Times
Mayo 8, 2007
PARIS, May 7 — Two days before the first round of the presidential election last month, Nicolas Sarkozy donned a red checked shirt, jeans and cowboy boots, mounted a small white horse named Universe and rode around the Camargue country in France’s deep south. A gaggle of reporters and cameramen followed him in a cart pulled by a tractor. The black bulls in the nearby pasture stayed away.
“A vague resemblance to the look of George W. Bush on his Texan ranch,” is how the left-leaning newspaper Libération described Mr. Sarkozy, who was elected president on Sunday, beating the Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal in a runoff. The newspaper dismissed the event as a media stunt, saying, “Everything for the image, right up until the last minute.”
Mr. Sarkozy is unabashedly pro-American, a man who openly proclaims his love of Ernest Hemingway, Steve McQueen and Sylvester Stallone and his admiration for America’s strong work ethic and its belief in upward mobility.
The last film that made Mr. Sarkozy cry was Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” He once said he wanted Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” as his victory song. He calls himself “proud” to wear the label “Sarkozy the American.”
In his acceptance speech on Sunday night, Mr. Sarkozy reached out to the United States, signaling his desire to end the tension with Washington during Mr. Chirac’s presidency.
Addressing his “American friends,” Mr. Sarkozy said, “I want to tell them that France will always be by their side when they need her, but that friendship is also accepting the fact that friends can think differently.”
He was so pleased with the message that he told an American friend just before the speech, “I’m going to talk about America!”
There must have been relief in the White House on Sunday that President Bush didn’t have to call Ms. Royal to congratulate her.
After all, she said during the campaign that she would never genuflect before Mr. Bush the way she suggested her opponent had done. She tried to tar Mr. Sarkozy as an imitator of what she called Mr. Bush’s phony compassionate conservatism. She even told a Hezbollah lawmaker in Lebanon last December that she agreed with him when he talked about the “unlimited dementia” of the Bush administration.
Instead, with the imminent departure of Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, Mr. Bush got to congratulate the man who may well become his new best friend in Europe.
“They had a friendly, very friendly chat,” said David Martinon, Mr. Sarkozy’s chief of staff, in a telephone interview. “Mr. Sarkozy wants to improve the relationship with the United States, to renew it. There’s a need for a change. There has to be a way to restore confidence.”
Mr. Sarkozy is Mr. Bush’s kind of guy: brash, tough-talking and proud of it. Mr. Sarkozy’s vow to rid the troubled suburbs of France of delinquent youths — “scum,” he calls them — is the French equivalent of Mr. Bush’s vow to “Bring ’em on.”
Both men are teetotalers. Both are disciplined exercisers: Mr. Sarkozy jogs and, like Mr. Bush, is a fearsome bike rider.
In Washington, Mr. Sarkozy’s victory has been warmly welcomed.
“We certainly look forward to cooperation with the French,” Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, said Monday, adding: “We know that there are going to be areas of disagreement. But on the other hand, there are certainly real opportunities to work together on a broad range of issues.”
The two presidents will meet in Berlin next month for the G-8 summit meeting of industrial nations, and Mr. Sarkozy would be expected to visit the United States for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, told CNN on Sunday, “It would be nice to have someone who’s head of France who doesn’t have a knee-jerk reaction against the United States.”
On the same program, Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican, said that “Sarkozy would be favorable to the United States,” adding, “Clearly his views are more in line with ours.”
Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, meanwhile, praised Mr. Sarkozy on the CBS News program “Face the Nation” on Sunday as “the candidate of change.”
Certainly, Mr. Sarkozy has promised never to behave in the “arrogant” way he said that the current French government did in making threats against the United States in the prelude to the Iraq war. “You must have loathed us then,” he said in a speech in Washington last September.
Although he has a bellicose air, he has never suggested that if he had been president at the time he would have sent French troops to fight in the American-led invasion.
“I have been in every meeting Mr. Sarkozy has ever had on the subject, and no, no, he would never have sent troops,” said Mr. Martinon, who also serves as Mr. Sarkozy’s foreign policy adviser.
Indeed, Mr. Sarkozy has long defended France’s decision to stay out of the war, citing the bitter lessons of his country’s tortured history in Algeria and Vietnam.
“We were kicked out of Algeria less than 50 years ago, so don’t tell us that we don’t remember and that we don’t understand,” Mr. Sarkozy told an audience at Columbia University in 2004 in explaining France’s decision to stay out of the Iraq war. “We lived what you are living through in America before you. We were in Vietnam before you, and our young people died in Vietnam.”
He added: “In France, history is something that counts. Please don’t be angry with us because we remember what happened to us. Is there even a single country of the world, at any time of history, that was able to maintain itself in a sustained way in a country that was not its own, uniquely by the force of arms? Never, not a single one, even the Chinese.”
That analysis of the Iraq war sounds remarkably similar to the one articulated repeatedly by Mr. Chirac both publicly and during private meetings with Mr. Bush.
“In Algeria, we began with a sizable army and huge resources, and the fighters for independence were only a handful of people, but they won,” Mr. Chirac said in an interview in September 2003. “That’s how it is.”