PARIS – A year ago, when Nicolas Sarkozy was campaigning for the French presidency, he promised a “rupture” with the past. So far, few French people can see the sort of rupture that Sarkozy promised. But they are wrong to think that nothing has changed in the first year of his presidency. Sarkozy has, in fact, brought about a rupture, albeit in an unexpected area: the foreign policy consensus that has prevailed since the days of Charles de Gaulle.
Of course, it is impossible at this early stage to evaluate with any degree of precision the long-term strategic repercussions of Sarkozy’s apparent decision to return France to NATO’s integrated military command and strengthen the French military commitment to NATO’s out-of-theater engagement – its first ever – in Afghanistan. But the implication of these decisions is clear: France under Sarkozy is now back at the heart of the Atlantic Alliance.
Although this may seem mundane outside France, Sarkozy’s foreign policy revolution has incited fierce opposition at home. Indeed, all left-wing parties denounce Sarkozy’s rupture with the Fifth Republic’s military/diplomatic heritage.
Of course, the left’s real quarrel with Sarkozy’s policy has at its roots in his conception of France’s relationship with the United States. Wariness of America was, to be sure, not just a leftist pose; many Gaullists over the decades have been tinged with anti-Americanism, too. But, although Sarkozy may not have sold his party on the merits of George Bush’s America, he has softened its once habitual suspicions about the US. As a result, a left-right divide has opened in this central area of French diplomacy – a division that has not been seen in France for four decades.