Sarkozy’s Greatest Strengths are his Weaknesses

Usually the way it works is that Art Goldhammer criticizes NicolasSarkozy’s foreign policy for being all hat and no cattle, and then I,for some reason, feel the need to point out that there is some cattleif you can ever get past the hat. But today Art decided to flip thescript, and nails a bunch of things about Sarkozy which I wish I’d formulated myself:

. . . Sarkozy’s very flaws can sometimes play a usefulrole: his egotism encourages him to run risks that others might avoid,and he seems to be undeterred by the prospect of losing face. This canbe helpful when other actors are too cautious and unwilling to takechances and explore remote possibilities. Yet while he can be as brashand overbearing as Bush, he has never been as reckless.

I think the part about being “undeterred by the prospect of losing face” is key.

Buttwo anecdotes from Sarkozy’s formative years come to mind. In 1975,legend has it that then-Prime Minister Jacques Chirac decided to let ayoung party militant speak at the UDR national congress in Nice. “YouSarkozy?” he barked. “You’ve got five minutes, no more!” Sarkozy wenton to speak for a half-hour, and by the end, 25000 people in the hallgave him a standing ovation.

The other is the incident thatcatapulted Sarkozy into the public eye, the famous HB (for Human Bomb)drama, in which Sarkozy personally negotiated with a man holding akindergarten class hostage. Arriving on the scene in his capacity asmayor of the city where the drama took place, he basically took overthe negotiations, repeatedly entering the classroom and cajoling theman — who claimed to be wearing an explosive vest — to allow him totake a few children out with him each time he left. HB was ultimatelykilled by a French RAID team. Not a single child was harmed. Sarkozywas 38 years old at the time.

The point being, if Sarkozy iswilling to take risks and rush in where others fear to tread, it’sbecause it’s been a winning tactic for him in the past. In fact, it’sarguably the tactic that’s gotten him where he is now.

The danger arguably comes from the sense of invulnerability that comes from feeling like risks will always pay off. But what makes Sarkozy such a compelling political figure is thetransparency of his faults. He can’t hide them, the way he can’t stopfidgeting. But as Art says, some of them work for him.