Monday, January 21, 2008

Berezina

Attack on all fronts simultaneously. Fire to all azimuths. Advance rapidly, before the defense has a chance to organize. These are the hallmarks of the Sarkozyan style. Yet it has begun to be obvious to nearly all observers that the attacks are often followed by rapid retreats, that the fire is often more sound than grapeshot, and that the advances do not actually move the front forward but leave the troops scattered in confusion.

A minor but telling example of this unfolded over the past few days. First, there was Sarko's visit to Boulogne-sur-Mer to calm the grumbling fishermen (see my previous post on how the image of that encounter drew on classical iconography of the forceful, generous, and beneficent ruler). At that time, Sarko said, "The first thing [to help fishermen] is this quota business. We've got to get out of it, and we have an opportunity to get rid of it, because France is going to preside over the European Union from July 1 to December 31." Yes, but Europe is not ruled by fiat, any more than France is, so today Michel Barnier was obliged to issue a dispatch explaining the hasty retreat: "France does not intend to advocate an abandonment of the [quota] system. It does, however, want to initiate ... a reconsideration of how the system is managed in order to overcome the current difficulties and correct certain of its weaknesses."

How many times have we seen this same scene repeated? To give just one almost identical example: Sarko confronting the railway shop steward and making a concession on the special regimes that his own negotiators had not made and were unwilling to make.

Firmness can be a quality in a leader, as can willingness to compromise. But faking firmness is as counterproductive as faking a willingness to compromise.

For an excellent discussion of the quota issue, see here.