The typical cowardice of French journalists has prevented us from knowing the full details of that off-the-record chat between Nicolas Sarkozy and President Barack Obama — until now. Hitherto we had to make do with Sarkozy’s rather boring attack upon the Israeli leader Benyamin Netanyahu: ‘I cannot bear Netanyahu, he is a liar.’ To which Obama replied: ‘You’re fed up with him? I have to deal with him even more than you.’ Well, so far, so so-so. It is an exchange which will certainly have Netanyahu laughing his head off, largely on account of Obama’s connivance (I don’t suppose he could give a monkey’s what Sarkozy thinks about anything, any more than the rest of us should). But even this stuff was late in coming; the French press kept it to themselves for a few days, too scared to run it in case Sarkozy shouted at them again, like he is prone to do in press conferences, whereupon they all look nervous and try not to catch his eye. They are a strangely deferential lot, the French press.
However, I’ve had passed on to me, via valuable sources, a few snippets which have not yet been reported at all. It seems that Obama kicked the conversation off, as he always does — to break the ice — by saying, ‘so come on, tell me what world leaders do you really hate?’ Sarkozy didn’t even have to think before replying: ‘That German hag. You know, I half believe those internet rumours that she was created from the frozen semen of Adolf Hitler. And have you seen her at dinner? Watch later on. She eats like a dinosaur, a big dinosaur, cramming stuff into that fat German gullet like they’ve just abolished rationing. Keep an eye on your filet mignon, Barack.’
Obama responded by laughing diplomatically, before concurring that where Merkel was concerned he ‘wouldn’t, I really wouldn’t’ and commenting that she was ‘on the turn, if you get my meaning’. Obama then mentioned that, for his part, he ‘didn’t have much time for that Latin-ish guy’, who he said ‘smelled strongly of dried fish’ and had ‘bummed half a packet of cigarettes from me’. This is believed to be a reference to the former Portuguese prime minister José Sócrates, which would explain Sarkozy’s rejoinder: ‘Well, he’s gone. They’ve got another half-wit in charge now.’
Sarkozy then did a poor impression of the outgoing Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, by drawing a moustache on his face with a biro and then repeatedly punching himself in the head. This was apparently a game of charades, with Obama having to guess the world leader (‘Hey, hey, I know this one, it’s one of the Africans, isn’t it? Mugabe?’) before Sarkozy gave the game away by opening a wallet and showing that there was nothing whatsoever inside and looking theatrically despondent. ‘Ah yes, clever,’ Obama grinned. ‘It’s you, isn’t it, Nic? Or that Spaniard. Or Berlusconi.’
Truth be told, even the above exchanges are scarcely more damaging than the stuff Sarkozy says sort of on the record. Such as his intemperate little hissy fit at our own Prime Minister: ‘We are sick of you criticising us and telling us what to do. You say you hate the euro and now you want to interfere in our meetings.’ ‘Well, yes, that’s because we pay an awful lot of money to keep your ludicrous vanity project afloat, M. Sarkozy,’ Cameron should have replied, or just punched him in the kidneys and then tried to pull his wife (who must be getting bored by now). Sarkozy also described the Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as being ‘not very intelligent’, which is quite possibly an accurate assessment but probably not the sort of thing one should say about the leader of a neighbouring country, even one as bereft and inconsequential as Spain.
There is something wonderfully music-hall about Sarkozy and his big French gob; he is a little like an incontinent Max Wall, gurning and spitting out globules of spite and, were the situation not so serious, giving us all a good laugh into the bargain. I assume the situation is serious, by the way. Everyone seems to think that it is. Much as Hugo Rifkind wrote the other week, though, it is hard to get a fix on the parameters of the business, and just what calamity precisely will befall us all. The latest report I read suggested that if the euro collapsed entirely, then we’d have a bit of a recession for a short while and then come back stronger than ever, with a vibrant and rejuvenated economy. But then that report was written by economists, who are, I would suggest, less reliable prognosticators than a septuagenarian Haitian woman scrabbling through the entrails of a chicken. It could be, in the end, that we are all done for and that we will pay dearly for having allied ourselves so closely with these clowns — Sarkozy among them — from the indolent south of Europe.
But back to my initial point, and that conversation between Sarkozy and Obama, overheard by the world’s least vigilant press. Who ends up most damaged, do you suppose? One presumes it must be the US president, whose Republican opponents already allege that he is busy selling Israel down the river. The suggestion that he finds the Israeli leader a somewhat prickly customer will be greeted with unmitigated delight by the US right and will make it more difficult for Obama to continue pursuing a sensible middle East policy, and slightly more likely he will clobber Iran. Thanks for that, Sarkozy.