Opinion and Editorial

Leadership Sarkozy style

Filed on July 16, 2008

PRESIDENT Nicolas Sarkozy has stopped surprising France and the rest of the world with his ever interesting shenanigans. If his political career and phenomenal rise to the presidency at a relatively young age have been extraordinary, his globe-trotting style of leadership with little patience for diplomatic niceties has been truly amazing.

From winning the presidency to romancing Carla Bruni and from taking on the powerful French trade unions to dashing off to the Middle East and African capitals on shortest possible notice, speedy Sarko has established himself as a leader who is not only different from the likes of Jacques Chirac and George Bush, but he is also a doer, rather than a talker. You can dislike him and disagree with him but you've got to give the man his due. Here's someone who brings a refreshing change to the staid and serious world of European politics.

What Sarkozy managed to accomplish this week will be remembered as the biggest diplomatic coup in recent times and a high point in the French president's career. As usual, the Bastille Day parade in Paris saw crème de la crème from around the globe. What was unusual about this year's Bastille Day parade was the presence of several Arab heads of state and leaders including Syrian President Bashar Assad as well as Israeli PM Ehud Olmert.

By persuading Arab leaders, especially Assad, and Olmert to share the platform in Paris, Sarkozy has managed to accomplish what no other Western leader has. This is something that eluded a high flier like Blair and will elude Bush, Sarkozy's friend and ally. Few photographers managed to capture Assad and Olmert in a single frame as the Syrian leader stood there, with his back to the Israeli PM, chatting with Qatar Amir. But these are interesting encounters, full of infinite possibilities, even if Assad and Olmert did not acknowledge and greet each other.

Thanks to Washington's shortsighted and unrealistic policy of demonising Syria by blaming every problem in the region on Damascus, the Arab country finds itself dangerously isolated and alienated from the rest of the region. The US policy played a significant role in forcing Assad into the welcoming arms of Iran's Ayatollahs. By hosting Assad at the summit of the Mediterranean states and then at the Bastille Day parade, Sarkozy put an end to Syria's isolation and pariah status in one brilliant stroke. The question is what happens now? Can Israel, Syria and the US build on this diplomatic coup of Monsieur Sarkozy? It would be a huge tragedy if this window of opportunity for the Middle East peace is also shut thanks to myopia in Washington and Tel Aviv.

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