The would-be master chef in the Elysée Palace appears to be cooking up a lethal concoction, writes Eric Walberg
7/2/8 -- There is no question that President Nicolas Sarkozy is a master political manipulator. On the domestic front he trumped both left and right, bringing Socialists into his cabinet, setting them at each others' throats. At the same time, showing his true colours, he moved quickly to confront the unions and students over early retirement, probationary work guarantees, university places for all who want them. Note how his "reforms" are all about taking away rights, not giving people more. He also cleverly borrowed a soupçon of Le Pen's anti-Arab jingoism for his broth.

In a recent debate between Marine Le Pen, vice president of the National Front of France and heir to her notorious father, and Tariq Ramadan, the Egyptian-Swiss intellectual dubbed the Muslim Martin Luther, both agreed that Sarkozy and his ilk pose the biggest threat to Europe's social fabric. Le Pen grumbled that they steal arguments and votes from the NF; Ramadan complained that they make Le Pen's ideas acceptable to the average voters.

Ex-Mossad agent Sarko is able to piggy-back on the Zionist stranglehold in European intellectual life to cow the likes of Le Pen into dropping their anti-Jewish rhetoric and focus their racist instincts on Muslims. At the same time, he is able to build on the Thatcherite legacy to undermine the welfare state. In less than a year in office, he has thrown together this poisonous stew and serves it up as his new programme to meet the demands of 21st century France.

Ramadan is one of the few media personalities who is given a chance to counter this slide towards a Euro-Reich, arguing that forcing Muslim immigrants to abandon their traditions, capitulating to the likes of Sarko, merely reinforces racism. "What we need is a new narrative, a new 'we', a mutlicoloured, multicultural European identity. Europeans need to psychologically integrate that into their world view." This is light-years from the subtle but inherently racist project that Sarko is busy trying to implement. By the way, he is not always subtle, as his hate-filled reference to Arabs as scum when minister of interior in Jacques Chirac's cabinet revealed.

On the international scene, Sarko has been even busier, if that's possible, despite the lack of any clear foreign policy programme in his election campaign. In addition to his reputation as a latter-day Jourdain -- Molière's le bourgeois gentilhomme -- Sarkozy is also being called a reincarnation of Pétain, the general who governed Nazi-occupied France from 1940-44, allowing the Germans (read: Americans) to carry out their imperial agenda without any French resistance. This rather startling parallel of current European politics with the 1930s has also surfaced, of all places, in the Czech Republic, where citizens are strongly against one of Sarko's pet schemes -- to tear Kosovo away from Serbia, seeing it as a reenactment of the Munich agreement of 1938, when Britain served up Sudetenland to the Nazis, which was completely illegal not to mention immoral. Strikingly, Russia played and is now playing the role of the only major power to oppose such submission to the imperial bully du jour.

So far opposition to the present world bully is weak. While France, Germany and with some delay Spain refused to tow the line on Iraq, the election of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and now Sarkozy has undone this feeble protest. However, Russia's resistance to US world plans has begun to gain respect around the world, even in once hostile Eastern Europe, with Poland and Bulgaria being the latest to begin thawing their relations with Russia, responding to popular pressure, despite unremitting anti-Russia US/ European media.

One startling development -- remember, Sarko's been at the helm of state less than a year -- is either a pièce de résistance or a recipe for disaster, depending on your culinary tastes. During a visit 15 January to the UAE, he unveiled his plan to set up France's first permanent naval base in the Gulf, just across from Iran. The base will be built in Abu Dhabi, and is intended to put France in the big league alongside the US in the Middle East. The agreement is a "sign to all that France is participating in the stability of this region of the world," Sarko told reporters. "France responds to its friends. France and the Emirates signed a reciprocal defence accord in 1995. Our friends from the Emirates asked that a base with 400 personnel be opened." Earlier accords were signed with the threat of Iraq under Saddam Hussein in mind; today it is Iran that is the bête- noire, awaiting invasion by the US and France, to be served up as Sarko's latest cordon bleu monstrosity. Or so this megalomaniac imagines in his wild fantasies.

The closest French military base to the Gulf is in Djibouti, a former French colony on the Red Sea. That base will be scaled back as a result of the new one. "This is quite a revolution," said an anonymous French government official. "We are no longer in our historic sphere of influence. Now we're in a country we never colonised." Out with the old imperialism, in with the new.

Does he need a reminder about the bloody wars for Algerian and Vietnamese independence? Dien Bien Phu, anyone? How clever -- arm Hussein to the teeth (good for the French arms industry), frighten his UAE neighbours into giving you bases, then use them to attack Iran. Is this really happening?

It is in this context that we must consider his supposedly enlightened offer to compliant Arab states to provide nuclear energy cooperation. The Emirates will soon start construction on a $6 billion nuclear reactor with the generous assistance of France's EDF. Egypt has been offered a similar radioactive white elephant. Another brilliant coup -- bring coals to Newcastle and sell them for big bucks. In the land of the eternal sun, floating on a sea of oil, get your "friends" to pay you billions of euros to build radioactive furnaces which produce eternal waste. The quintessential snake-oil salesman. I rest my case.

Quelle affreux. There are a few cracks in his many dishes, however. His inimitable ex-wife Cecilia did her level best to stab him in the back, leaving him very publicly at a crucial moment in his political intrigues -- her stand-up of not one but two US presidents at Kennebunkport last autumn is the stuff of legend. She recently published tell-all memoirs revealing his 4 am Karaoke and booze-laced shenanigans with ladies of the night while France was burning, the result of his stand-off with the unions. He has shown his inner Tartuffe more than once on his numerous frantic visits to Russia, America and Africa. He was forced to flip- flop on his plan to scuttle the 35 hour work week, one minute saying it was toast, the next -- the bedrock of the state's understanding with labour.

Despite a flurry of appointments and speeches about a new relationship with Africa, demanding less corruption and more democracy, etc., there is little likelihood that his southern neighbours will pay any attention to him. His diplomatic coup of saving Bulgarian nurses in Libya and of retrieving adoption agents kidnapping Chadian children left him with more egg on his face than on his platter. As a cook he is just too ambitious, introducing spices and turning up the flame in a seemingly chaotic manner as he tries to win approval.

And just as he is able to manipulate liberal left and chauvinist right to forge an unholy alliance and pursue his Petainesque neocon- neoliberalism, he is stirring up leftists, true French patriots and anti-neocon conservatives into a new French résistance. And just as he is using the Islamophobia card to gain a base in the Gulf, he is pushing Iran and Egypt into finally renewing diplomatic relations after almost 30 years.

Pétain or Jourdain? Whatever he is, we are sure to be in for more indigestion and continued efforts by us -- his victims -- to find bromides.

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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