What happens elsewhere matters to the U.S.
Imagine if Interstate 70 were blocked for days by protesting truckers, the police refused to intervene and houses were burning because the fire department failed to respond.
In France such a situation would be considered “business as usual,” with millions supporting strikers and protesters and blaming civil unrest on a government that was only trying to save taxpayers from paying for an ever-increasing and unsustainable support of civil servants, bureaucrats and strong unions.
So, what may be different now is that France has a new president who appears to be flexing his muscles and prepared to face a show down with striking transit workers, protesting students and rioting minorities?
Elected with a mandate to reform unrealistic pension arrangements that unduly favored civil servants and transit workers, President Nicolas Sarkozy has just survived a first test of wills as transit workers went back to work after a strike that was hugely unpopular and lost the strikers much of their previous public support. Sarkozy expressed the hope that in the future, unions “will always prefer negotiations to confrontation.” In this he may be taking inspiration from President Ronald Reagan’s success against the air traffic controllers and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s defeat of the coal miners.
But immediately following the transit strike, Sarkozy has been faced with renewed riots in Paris and Toulouse by minority youths protesting alleged police brutality after two Muslim teenagers riding an unlicensed motor bike died in a collision with a police car. The events were reminiscent of the previous riots that arose from the death by electrocution of two young people who took refuge from the chasing police by hiding in a high voltage metro station.
Sarkozy responded to the latest violence by calling the rioters a “thuggocracy” and saying that: “I reject the kind of naive wishful-thinking that makes every delinquent a victim of society and every riot a social problem.” And his urban affairs minister, Fadela Amara, herself a minority with Algerian origins, commented that “what happened is not a social crisis. This is anarchic urban violence carried out by a minority who tarnish the majority.”
At the time of writing this article, it appears that the riots have stopped and that Sarkozy’s resolve not to be intimidated by thugs is having positive results.
Why should we be concerned or even interested in this clash of wills thousands of miles from the peaceful Vail Valley? For one thing, it is in our interest to see that the rule of law prevails in other democracies.
Margaret Thatcher persuaded British public opinion to support her when the unions threatened to bring the United Kingdom to its knees. Her years as the British leader saw a renaissance of the economy and a renewed influence in world affairs that justified continued permanent membership in the United Nations’ Security Council.
Under President Jacques Chirac, France was a thorn in the side of the United States and played a disastrous and mischievous role in secretly supporting (and taking bribes from) Saddam Hussein.
But now former President Chirac is being formally investigated as part of a probe into the improper use of city funds when he was mayor of Paris, and his successor is making speeches in favor of a closer relationship with the United States, and a more positive role in NATO.
But of the greatest importance for the United States is the serious attention that France is now giving to the Iranian nuclear bomb development program, with Sarkozy taking a firm position on the question of “bombing Iran or an Iranian bomb.” If France, Germany and the United Kingdom can join the United States in a firm and credible opposition to Iranian nuclear adventurism, then there is a chance that diplomacy backed by an effective threat of future sanctions can end irresponsible Iranian activity in this area.
We should all hope that President Sarkozy and the rule of law will prevail in France and that France, as an important ally, will now play a more responsible part in world affairs.
Peter Leslie is a former director and chief financial officer of the United Nations Development Program and lives in Vail.