Fraser Nelson

Sarkozy’s game

Sarkozy’s game
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I'm hearing more reports about the rather peculiar behaviour of Nicholas Sarkozy, and how he is playing the Libya campaign thus far. Obama wants to hand over leadership of this mission quick. He was never really into it, but the US Navy was overwhelmingly the best placed to do the first phase of the mission (ie, fire Tomahawks into 20 Libyan targets). The Tomahawk team constituted 11 US ships and submarines, plus one British submarine. Anything other than American leadership would have been a joke.

Phase Two is to take out Gaddafi's surface-to-air missiles as soon as he dares to move them. Obama wants to hand over the baton to NATO, with its bases in southern Italy and other Mediterranean nations. But Sarko objects. He likes the idea of US, UK and France as a triumvirate. NATO diminishes the stature of France. So the French, rather than the Turks, are currently the main obstacle to this being a NATO mission.

Already, Sarko has behaved oddly, arguing against acting on Friday and waiting until Cameron and Hillary Clinton were his guests in the Elysee to maximise the idea of France taking the lead. As the they met in Paris, he sent a French fighter into Libya on a supposed reconaissance mission.

Sarko has a presidential election next year and he's trailing behind the socialist and Marine Le Pen, who is leading the race. (Subscribers can read Janine di Giovanni's dispatch about all of this). But for Sarko, this Libyan mission has a very political purpose, one which is reassuringly absent from Cameron’s.

UPDATE: In response to CoffeeHousers, I agree that Sarkozy is perhaps the most pro-Nato president France has ever had. But the idea of Nato leadership of this Libya mission clashes with the idea of a Cam-Sarko-Hillary triumverate, the setup he prefers. I am told by American sources (who have been rather taken aback by Sarko's posturing) that Nato will almost certainly take leadership once we move into the tank-bombing stage. The Qataris have squared the Turks, I'm told, and the French are the greatest obstacle to this handover. I admire Sarko's diplomatic vision in this and other episodes. But as we seek to make sense of all of this, it's worth remembering that Sarko is an unpopular President facing a daunting re-election battle and local elections today.

As for Cameron, if he was seeking to make personal political capital out of this, he would not have advocated a no-fly zone when the idea had very little public or media support. As Blair demonstrated, oversees adventures are no surefire guide to electoral success and today's YouGov approval ratings show only slight improvement.