- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2007

TESTIMONY

by Nicolas Sarkozy, translated from the French by Philip H. Gordon,

Pantheon Books, $26, 266 pages

Nicolas Sarkozy wants to be president of France, and to help him win the coming April election he has written the book “Testimony,” which tells us in simple, direct language where he stands and what he hopes to accomplish.

He begins by stating the unbelievable: He likes America. France and the United States have many things in common. Both strive for the common decencies in life and France can learn much from looking at the American experience.

There are of course minor differences — he does not like American gun laws, for example — but both countries share the same hopes and fears for the future, and their fates lay intertwined. Further, he believes that in both countries new, workable ideas come from the conservative right; that the left still clings to a dated ideology that has proven unworkable, yet it persists because it can think of nothing else.

He writes, “The specialty of the French Socialists has been to share wealth that does not exist.” He feels it necessary for the French economy to start producing wealth and use it to create more wealth. He realizes that the 35-hour workweek is now so entrenched in French culture that it cannot be rescinded, but would like to see it become possible for people to work beyond 35 hours to earn more.

As for the French civil service, he would like to raise pay and provide a faster promotion rate in exchange for replacing only half those who retire.

Mr. Sarkozy has spent his entire career in the Conservative Party, but his approach to all problems is pragmatic rather than ideological. He believes in examining what other countries have done and then copying what has actually worked. Part of his fondness for America is based on the fact that we do attempt to solve social problems rather than promote social ideology.

France has done an admittedly poor job in assimilating new immigrants, particularly those of color. Surprisingly, the author feels American affirmative-action programs might be worthy of French emulation.

In regard to his Socialist opponent in the coming election, he says the fact that she has won the nomination shows she has both talent and executive ability. He ends there, and the reader wonders why American candidates cannot be equally courteous. Certainly he lost no votes in being polite.

There is, however, one newspaper smear he takes pains to rectify. As minister of the interior he changed somewhat the methods employed by the CRS, the French anti-riot force. It had been centrally located and from there dispatched to wherever occasion demanded. He felt it more effective for the units to be stationed in specific high-crime areas where the police could get to know the people and terrain more intimately.

Argenteuil, a northwestern suburb of Paris, had one of the highest crime rates in the region, and so it was here one evening that he came to establish a unit of the CRS. They were met by a mob of more than 200, hurling stones and insults.

The mob considered the arrival of police a provocation, an invasion of the right of the mobsters to rule as they pleased. It took the police about an hour to restore order, after which the author resumed his tour.

He writes, “As I found myself at the foot of some tall towers a window opened and a woman who looked to be of North African origin called out to me: ‘Mr. Sarkozy, get rid of the scum (racaille) for us! We can’t take it anymore!’ I responded: ‘Yes, madame, that’s what I’m here for. I’m going to get rid of the scum for you.’ ”

The French press, with its relish for scandal, jumped on the word “scum” as proof of racism and anti-immigrant bias, ignoring completely that the first use of the word came from a nonwhite immigrant. One wonders if the politically correct American press would have handled it any differently.

As minister of the interior, Mr. Sarkozy has recognized the danger of unbridled immigration and has instituted reforms encouraging an immigration policy that brings in economically needed immigrants and restricts family regroupings, a process that can be endless in scope.

The bloated welfare state that is modern France is in desperate need of reform, and were Mr. Sarkozy elected president, reform initiatives would fly in. As domestic policies would change, so too would some of the self-defeating foreign policy stances change, and old friends abroad could sigh with relief that France, thank God, is not dead yet.

Sol Schindler is a retired foreign service officer who writes on international affairs.

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