The World From Berlin 'You Can't Have an iPod Without a Stealth Bomber'

During his whirlwind trip to Washington, French President Nicolas Sarkozy massaged a relationship in need with the help of plenty of charm and a few medals. German commentators wonder how long the bonhommie will last.

President Bush greets French President Nicolas Sarkozy for a social dinner at the White House.

President Bush greets French President Nicolas Sarkozy for a social dinner at the White House.

It's been six years since a French head of state has set pied on American soil. And it wasn't so long ago that Americans were calling the French "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" for disagreeing with America's decision to wage war on Saddam.

Times have changed, though, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who visited US President George W. Bush in Washington on Wednesday, has little in common with his predecessor Jacques Chirac. Sarkozy has not been afraid to voice his support for a range of things American, including its foreign policy, its business culture and even Elvis. And with his recent proposal for France to play a greater role in NATO and his harsh words against Iran and its nuclear ambitions, Sarkozy has signaled that he agrees with many American foreign policy approaches.

In August, Sarkozy crossed the pond to socialize with his American counterpart at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, but the trip was dubbed a vacation rather than a state visit. Sarkozy's first official visit came on Tuesday and Wednesday, when he toured Washington to make speeches to private groups and to the US Congress, to dine at the White House, to visit Mount Vernon -- and even to pin Légion d'honneur medals on the chests of American World War II veterans.

Several US newspapers featured caricatures of Sarkozy as a happy, yapping poodle on Bush's lap. This sort of talk is nothing new to "Sarko l'Américain," as the French have dubbed their president, and Sarkozy pre-empted the inevitable negative reaction before he left for the States by telling his countrymen: "I am a friend of America. Don't torture me for it."

During his visit, it appeared that the Franco-American mutual admiration society was in full session. Sarkozy was greeted with cheers, pomp and standing ovations. Even Bush acknowledged the shows of approval, stating to Sarkozy: "It's safe to say you've impressed a lot of people here on your journey. I have a partner in peace, somebody who has clear vision, basic values, who is willing to take tough positions to achieve peace."

In general, the response among commentators writing in Germany's main papers Thursday was less critical than might have been expected, although they were somewhat skeptical of how long the French public would allow him to follow the same course as his bon ami Bush.

The right-leaning Die Welt writes:

"All paths lead to Washington because the US is willing to use force to make a world 'that plays by the rules.' In a one-week period, George W. Bush will play host to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. One of the main reasons they are coming is because they know that Bush is willing to use force -- if he has to -- to make sure that Iran, too, plays by the rules. He is the only one who has the courage to do so, should other means prove fruitless."

"Since 1989, however, Europe has been working on the premise that tyrants eventually fall in a peaceful manner if you just give them enough time to do so. And it also believes that compromise is the way to get to that point. But that's not the way Americans see things. They'll point to Hitler in 1938, to former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in 1995 or to Osama bin Laden. And that's a belief that is independent of party affiliation. The Democratic Party's criticism of US policy in Iraq is deceptive. They criticize Bush because it's not 'their' war. But if they get into power, they'll stand firmly behind 'God's own country,' too."

"Nicolas Sarkozy leaves the impression that he understands that. Whether that's true or not has yet to be seen. Regarding Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin is behaving toward Bush as Khrushchev did (to Kennedy) in 1962. Whether he has the strength to keep up the act remains to be seen. And Merkel is trying to mediate the situation. The extent to which she can help depends on whether she shares America's views on freedom. It appears that she does."

"It's a mistake to believe that Americans take any pleasure in seeing their children die overseas. But you can't get an iPod without a stealth bomber. The carefree nature of the one goes together with the necessity of the other. They are both the result of the freedom that Americans believe must be defended. And when they defend it, they have frighteningly large amounts of stamina."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The ice age is over. Washington and Paris have made amends. And President Sarkozy enjoyed every second of it ... Although Sarkozy never endorsed the war in Iraq, he made a point of making sure not to annoy his partner in Washington about it. As things turned out, anti-American sentiments in France were less prevalent as anti-French sentiments were in the US. 'Sarko l'Américain' impressed the Yanks. His background, his career as a self-made man and his curt and direct method of speaking fit in nicely with the American idea of pluck and self-assertiveness. He is not some kind of intellectual; he's a doer and a rags-to-riches type of guy."

"On his trip to America, he brought something to win over hearts, too. The president, who always wears his medal from the Légion d'honneur on his lapel, brought a couple of decorations in his suitcase to affix to the chests of veterans. The old men, who had once risked their lives on Omaha Beach, were moved to tears. They deserved the medals. Sarkozy, who does not lack sentimentality himself, savored the moment. Rightly so, because things will be stressful once he gets home."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"If there's been one constant in Sarkozy's foreign policy, it's his efforts to make improved and lasting relations with America. Sarkozy demonstrated that he wasn't going to be satisfied with mere gestures by addressing two sensitive issues: On the one hand, as opposed to his predecessor Chirac, he has taken a tough line on Iran ... . On the other hand, Sarkozy has formulated conditions under which France would once again be militarily integrated into NATO in such a way that the seriousness of the offer cannot be doubted -- despite the fact that the proposal breaks with Gaullist dogma and isn't popular."

"Sarkozy wants to make a 'break,' not only in terms of his foreign policies but also with his domestic policies, and he accepts the risks associated with that. The two things are connected: If resistance to his domestic reforms increases, it might also dampen his courage to re-define France's role on the global stage."

-- Josh Ward, 2:00 p.m. CET


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