WorldVoices: Sarkozy at War

[Editor’s Note: WorldVoices—a new recurring feature of the WorldPolicy blog—links to opinion and analysis of current events from English-language news sources around the globe.]

By Eleanor T. West

In the past few months, France has increased its international military profile, engaging in military actions in both Libya and the Ivory Coast.  France was the first country to recognize the “Libyan National Council”—the lead opposition group— as the legitimate ruling party of Libya.  In the Ivory Coast, French forces, with backing from the United Nations, are targeting weapons of Gbagbo’s supporters. Additionally, the French are leading the surrender negotiations with Gbagbo.

Critics are questioning the timing of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s suddenly assertive stance  abroad. Officials in China and Russia have said that France’s military force in the Ivory Coast is unwarranted.  Many suggest that the president aims to use military success to boost his ratings for the upcoming election, in which he will face credible challenges from both the right and the left .

In an article for the New York Times, Steven Erlanger reports on France’s new, more prominent role in foreign policy.

Some have suggested that Mr. Sarkozy, who is at historical lows in the opinion polls, with a presidential election next year, is acting tough to stir up patriotism. “If Sarkozy could do it, he would declare a war every week,” said Didier Mathus, an opposition Socialist legislator on the foreign affairs committee of Parliament.

Bruno Tertrais, another French defense expert, said that French policy in Ivory Coast was not a big issue for voters — “it’s the usual business in Africa,” he said. “And I don’t think he’s doing Libya for domestic political reasons.”

The Chinese paper People’s Daily concluded that Sarkozy’s election anxieties are behind his actions in Libya.

French media agencies believe that if President Sarkozy can succeed in saving the Libyan people, he will further enhance France's international status.

If France can dominate the Libyan war situation to develop in the direction as it wishes, the ruling party can rebuild the trust of the French people, which is crucial to next year's presidential elections.

An editorial in The Winnipeg Free Press embraces Sarkozy’s new international agenda.

The dust has not settled in Ivory Coast or Libya yet, but one clear winner is emerging — France. Under President Nicholas Sarkozy, the "glory of France" is being re-established as a major presence on the international stage.

An opinion piece in Russia’s RIA Novosti cites a different motivation behind Sarkozy’s actions: namely French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy.

The man in question, Bernard-Henri Levy (or BHL as he is known in France), signs his articles simply "French philosopher and writer."

[I]ndeed, his influence on global politics in the last few weeks has proved to be stronger than that of the 27 EU foreign ministers combined.

He called Sarkozy from Benghazi during the civil unrest in early March to suggest that the French president meet with the leaders of the National Council, the government of the rebel forces fighting the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Sarkozy immediately agreed to meet with the council members in Paris, without even informing his foreign minister, Alain Juppe, who was in Brussels during the tete-a-tete in Paris. On March 10, Sarkozy announced France's recognition of the National Council as the legitimate government of Libya, catching Juppe completely off-guard.

The Australian looks at Sarkozy’s participation in the Ivory Coast and, like other critics, suspects that elections are on the forefront of Sarkozy’s mind.

 [A]bidjan's night of the French gun-ships will have heavy consequences. Many in Abidjan – which voted mainly for Gbagbo last November – have believed his anti-French propaganda. France seems to be back embroiled in ethnic bloodletting.

In Paris, the verdict on "Sarkozy's wars" may come in April next year, when the unpopular President seeks re-election. He has performed an extraordinary pirouette since February and the Arab revolution.

Eleanor T. West is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.

Photo courtesy of flickr user World Economic Forum.

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