Just as the British press is venerating David Cameron in the aftermath of last night’s UN resolution, so too the French press is praising President Sarkozy. In fact, the whole administration is basking in his reflected glory. Le Figaro describes Sarkozy’s and Prime Minister François Fillon’s roles in obtaining the UN Resolution and preparing the French military for action; the Defence minister also receives a hearty appraisal.
Even the Presidency’s determined adversaries have expressed more than grudging respect. The left-wing newspaper Libération applauds Foreign Minister (and grand old man of Gaullism) Alain Juppé’s success in bringing the fractious United Nations to resolution. In recent days, the paper has also reported that the French Left aligned behind Sarkozy on this issue.
Libération has also given some space to David Cameron: it frequently refers to the ‘joint Anglo-French operation’ and today it included Cameron’s Commons statement in its Libyan live-blog. Other French newspapers have been more reticent about Britain’s role. Le Figaro mentions Cameron in passing, and Le Monde, the ‘newspaper of record’ in France, has taken a patriotic line. Although it acknowledges that the UN Resolution was a joint effort with Britain and other nations, it is presented as an achievement for ‘la France’. Particular praise is reserved for the
‘solemn letter’ that Sarkozy personally wrote to members of the UN Security Council before yesterday’s vote.
Cameron and Sarkozy have been close comrades in this cause. On 11th March, they wrote a joint letter to NATO urging it to enforce a no-fly zone. But while
Cameron’s recent statement to the House was sombre, the Elysee has been boisterous today: insisting that Mirage aircraft will be in Libyan skies ‘within hours’.
Sarkozy’s rhetoric has been arch throughout. On 25th February, he declared that France’s position was ‘clear’: Gaddafi ‘must go…and the repeated and systematic violence against the Libyan people…must be submitted to investigation and sanctions.’ By 10th March, Sarkozy was urging NATO to deliver ‘targeted air strikes’ on forces loyal to Gaddafi. Also, Sarkozy’s France was the first major power to recognise the Libyan rebels officially and dispatch an envoy.
Certainly, sabres rattle more loudly when unsheathed by a panicking politician. As Janine di Giovanni explains in this week’s magazine, Sarkozy is being electorally squeezed by Marine Le Pen and the decline of his popularity seems inexorable. Rarely, then, has a leader been more in need of a “good war”. However, there is enough to suggest that the UN Resolution is more Sarkozy’s achievement than Cameron’s (though that does not diminish the latter’s statesmanship on this occasion). The protesters in the rebel town of Tobruk (pictured) above certainly seem to think so.