French presidential elections do not usually stir much interest in the United States. The cast of characters seems to have varied little over the years: President Jacques Chirac, former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, the far-right figurehead Jean-Marie Le Pen. The last presidential election without Chirac as a candidate was back in 1974, when Richard Nixon was in the White House and Harold Wilson at 10 Downing Street. And for the past four decades, French foreign policy, whether toward Europe, the United States, the Middle East, or Africa has remained remarkably constant under presidents of the left or the right. Most French candidates under the Fifth Republic have been reliably anti-American, either of the independent-minded Gaullist variety or of a left-wing anticapitalist strain.
This time things are different. Neither Nicolas Sarkozy, the leading right-wing candidate for April's presidential contest, nor his main contender, the Socialist Party candidate Ségolène Royal, has ever stood for the presidency before. Both are in their early 50s, of a different generation from Chirac's and at ease with the Internet revolution. They promise to modernize France and equip it for the twenty-first century. But Royal still embraces the Socialist Party's traditional anti-Americanism, calling, for example, for a strong Europe in order to counter "the American hyperpower," as Hubert Védrine, the former Socialist foreign minister, once put it. Sarkozy, on the other hand, sounds like nobody else before him.
CHARM ON THE OFFENSIVE
Testimony, the first of Sarkozy's books to be published in English, is partly an unapologetic charm offensive aimed at a U.S. audience. Most of it is a translation of Témoignage, a best-selling proto-manifesto published in French last summer; the rest includes chapters from Libre, a chronicle of Sarkozy's political awakening from his student days onward, as well as some fresh material. Two elements in the book startle. The first is Sarkozy's stated admiration for the United States, which is unorthodox for a French politician. The second is his equally unusual candor about France's
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