Its Sarko Time
By Oh Young-jin
Assistant Managing Editor
France often finds itself on the margins of world affairs. President Nicholas Sarkozy has done little to change that status except in the tabloids ― his divorce from his second wife Cecillia and marriage to Carla Bruni, who sings love songs about her little man (five feet and five inches or 165 centimeters tall), in a rapid -fire sequence that would tempt Jerry Bruckheimer.
Sakorzy seems destined to fit the lineage of French heads of state in the Fourth and Fifth Republics, perhaps with the exception of de Gaulle (his exception is very much owed to the passage of time). Chirac tried to reason with Americans ahead of their Operation Iraqi Freedom but was upstaged by then U.S. Secretary of State Powell. It's hard to recall what Mitterand did during the fall of the Berlin Wall. Giscard d'Estaing was handsome with a trademark hankie in his suit pocket.
That was before the Georgian conflict.
A crisis has a strange way of producing heroes or wannabes. Defying the typical European tardiness that may be attributed to the birth of so many philosophers in the region, the French President got into action, shuttling from Moscow and Tibilis in order to stem the Bear run on the Caucasus through a ceasefire he crafted between an westernized Medvedev and an unwilling Saakashvili.
Let's set aside the fact that France is the current holder of the EU presidency that its member states take on a rotating basis. Never mind that the Georgian President, who is accused of placing too much faith on Pax Americana and baiting president-turned-Prime Minister Putin, waited until U.S. Secretary of State Rice arrived to sign the deal.
It may be irrelevant for the moment that Sarkozy's six-point peace deal was so vague and porous that Russians are taking advantage of the loopholes as an excuse for staying on in an attempt to command its control of South Ossetia in name and practice and remind its neighbors that a resurgent Russia shouldn't be messed with.
It is Sarkozy's and the French people's moment to be back on the center of stage. Sarko is turning from a fruity commercially-intended Beaujolais Nouveau into a respectfully aged bottle of wine (You may ask your favorite sommelier what the best French bottle in the cellar is and put its name there instead).
This French moment is likely to prove brief and it's not their fault.
Europe has become so accustomed to hiding under the U.S. umbrella that it can't think of doing things without U.S. help. Rice came and went. Now, Vice President Dick Cheney is coming to Georgia, with George Bush rooting long distance for Tilibisi from his Crawford, Texas ranch and Washington. Americans know what's at stake ― respect. If it didn't show resolve and help its ally in Tibilisi, a major contributor of troops to the Iraqi operations, the U.S. would likely see a weakening of its power in Europe, western and eastern, in the process damaging its missile shield plan and allowing a Russian resurgence.
For Europeans, self-determination is no longer a viable concept under the illusion of consensus. Scores of countries comprise continental Europe with applicants queuing up, but its European integration seems as distant as ever with the Irish recently vetoing ratification of its charter. Its effort to adopt a constitution has long been shot down.
Germany is turning into an introvert after being chastened for triggering two world wars, left with neither the will nor power to take on the leadership role. Prime Minister Markel is preoccupied with the upcoming elections. Britain is acting as if it was fighting a blockade by Napoleon on the continent, looking across the Atlantic toward Washington. Gordon Brown is not as capable as Blair in juggling with Europe and U.S., his personal hope being to declare the opening of the London Olympics in 2012.
In contrast, Asia is flourishing. A post-Olympics Beijing is far more confident and India is emulating China.
The two countries are preparing for their turn to lead not just in their neighborhood but globally.
Russia is anxious to regain the respect it enjoyed during the Soviet days and is ready to flex its muscles. Putin is orchestrating the Russian comeback, with his hands on levers that close and open the spigots of gas and oil pipelines that supply Europe with its fuel.
The position of Europe in the shifting sands of the world map of realpolitik is precarious at best. At this juncture, Sarkozy is the EU President. He took on the first important mission in this capacity when he brokered the Moscow-Tibilisi peace deal. The reviews are mixed with the Sept. 1 emergency EU meeting set to give Sarkozy another test of his leadership. But the success of the resolution of the Georgian crisis and eventually the restoration of the European self-determination depends not so much on Sarkozy as on a cohesive power for individual European countries to follow. Meanwhile, Mr.Sarkozy, carpe diem and bonne chance!!!0