OPINION

Sarkozy’s ‘break with the past’ looks familiar

PAUL WELLS August 13 2007
OPINION

Sarkozy’s ‘break with the past’ looks familiar

PAUL WELLS August 13 2007

Sarkozy’s ‘break with the past’ looks familiar

OPINION

PAUL WELLS

The Tour de France concluded with no more than the usual number of incidents. Alexandre Vinokourov, the Kazakh, pulled out after a positive A-test for blood doping. Michael Rasmussen, the Dane, was fired by his own team after he couldn’t account for his whereabouts before the season began.

On the epic race’s second-last day, one of the Spanish racers sprouted two eye-stalks from his forehead, picked up his bike with his sticky tongue and started leaping through the French countryside, 300 yards at a step. The Chileans admitted they had been injecting themselves with a Soviet-era psychotropic drug and hallucinating the entire Hungarian team, which obligingly vanished with a pop. The surprise winner was Leonard Cohen. It was all slightly embarrassing. Organizers admitted the fabled Grand Boucle was going through a “rebuilding phase.”

What made it all so depressing—for real— was that some people had been counting on a renewed Tour de France to boost the country’s mood. No such luck. “We hoped that things would work out for the best,” Victor Chernomyrdin once said when he was prime minister of Russia, “but instead they worked out the way they always do.” As France breaks for its annual August vacation after an eventful year, many things are working out the way they always do.

“The French people have spoken,” Nicolas Sarkozy said on May 6, the night he was elected president of the Republic. “They have chosen to make a break—to break with the ideas, the habits and the behaviour of the past.” And then Sarkozy sent his wife off to cook a nuclear-energy-for-hostages deal with Moammar Gadhafi.

In 1999, a short-lived Libyan newsmagazine—short-lived because it reported upsetting news accurately—announced that appalling hygiene at the Benghazi children’s hospital

had led almost 500 children to be infected with HIV virus from used needles. Gadhafi, falling back on old instincts in a crisis, closed the magazine and had five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor rounded up and charged with poisoning the children on orders from the CIA and Israel. The defendants were tortured into confessing. Death sentences were automatic.

Eight years of negotiations followed, because it is easy to say one mustn’t negotiate with hostage takers until there are hostages. Already last December, the European Union was offering nearly US$500 million to compensate the infected children’s families, along with substantial improvements to the ramshackle hospital, if only the nurses and doctor would go free. Sarkozy was far from the first to pitch this deal. Being the latest may have helped.

Sending his wife Cecilia to Tripoli on July 12 and 22—well, who knows? It definitely put noses out of joint in Brussels and Berlin, where showboating was never seen as the best way to handle the nurses’ file.

Then on July 25—one day after the nurses went free—Sarkozy was in Tripoli signing a deal with Gadhafi that could lead to Libya getting a French nuclear reactor, ostensibly for removing salt from sea water. For Sarkozy it was just another day in a marathon week of keeping a straight face.

Did today’s nuclear deal with Gadhafi have anything to do with yesterday’s release of the tortured fake Mossad-CLA AIDS poisoners? “No link,” Sarkozy said. To top off the whole cynical edifice, he brought along his promising young junior minister for human rights, Rama Yadé, to shake Gadhafi’s hand. Yes, human rights. There you go, Rama—only 30 years old and already part of the gang.

To be fair, there’s nothing extraordinary about Sarkozy’s opportunism and his cheerful denials. The Bush administration, a bit desperate for a victory in the Middle East, has made Gadhafi the human rights star of the region through a succession of social promotions. After all, he regrets the past, right? “I absolutely do not regret the past,” he said in Brussels in 2004. He’s sworn off terrorism, right? “We don’t need to buy tanks, airplanes, missiles or other huge things like this,” he

told Libyan television 18 months ago. “If the enemy is a superpower like NATO, America, Russia or China, which occupies Libya, I will not fight it with tanks, missiles or cannons. I will fight it with explosive belts, car bombs and Kalashnikovs.”

Oh well. Tony Blair and Paul Martin were among the foreign leaders who made the trip to Gadhafi’s tent to look on (for?) the bright side. Canada’s PetroCan and Talisman have bid for oil drilling rights in Libya. We already know who everyone is; Sarko’s just better at haggling over the price.

Which is what’s so worrying about the Tripoli business. As with the Tour de France, it stinks of business as usual. Sarkozy was elected on higher hopes. But already he is

He sent his wife off to cook a nuclear-energy-for-hostages deal with Moammar Gadhafi

testing his neighbours’ patience. In Brussels he is best known for asking for a two-year extension on France’s commitment to balance its budget by 2010. In Berlin he is known for wanting to talk down the value of the Euro as a crutch for French exporters. The Germans, who lived through Weimar-era hyperinflation and then... worse... are touchy on the subject.

Sarkozy spent July passing $14 billion in tax cuts and putting the mighty atom to work for salt-free Libyan drinking water. He has proven a dab hand at distributing goodies and begging for indulgence. August is vacation time. This autumn we will see whether he has more in him. M

ON THE WEB: For more Paul Wells, visit his blog at www.macleans.ca/inklesswells