run away, run away

Posted on January 17, 2008

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It must be the essential lesson in Politics 101 for all heads of states, presidents and prime ministers – when your poll numbers are suffering at home and nothing is going well domestically, pack your bags and focus on foreign policy.

Two leaders who have taken this lesson seriously are the US and French presidents, George W Bush and Nicolas Sarkozy, respectively.

The famously travel-phobic US leader has lately taken a shine to chalking up air miles on Air Force One.

Bush’s just-ended Middle East tour took a staggeringly-long eight days, almost an eternity for the man who hates traveling and disruptions to his predictable routine.

He was photographed holding the hands and arms of kings and religious leaders, awkwardly wielding swords presented to him as presents and laying wreaths at shrines.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the man who had spent the last seven years of his presidency playing the tough, go-it-alone cowboy suddenly turned over a new leaf and succumbing to this tedious little thing called diplomacy.

Bush is a lame duck president with appalling approval ratings at home, in desperate need to find some way to salvage his legacy while stealing some column inches — especially as the presidential primaries of both the Democratic and Republic parties rage on and suck up all the media attention at home.

In truth, Bush’s trip to the Middle East will be remembered as being futile.

The Arabs, while making nice to Bush, are unlikely to give him what he wants – progress on the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and support against Iran, which Bush still insists has nuclear weapons ambitions, despite last November’s report by the US National Intelligence Estimate stating otherwise.

So even though there are no results or breakthroughs worth reporting, other than photo opportunities, the Middle East trip wouldn’t be all for the US president this year. He will also be visiting China for the Olympics, Japan and a few African countries. What better way to forget his troubles at home and look statesman-like than to be standing with other foreign leaders amid fanfare and pageantry?

French president Sarkozy, though no lame duck, has also been constantly on the move, country-hopping through various regions. In fact, Sarkozy was a step ahead of Bush, landing in Middle Eastern countries such as Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia just a week before Bush.

Sarkozy, on his part, is trying to detract from growing discontent, increasing impasse and floundering approval ratings at home. Recently, only 45 per cent of his countrymen told pollsters that they approved of his performance, the first time his ratings are below 50 per cent. Those who had a negative opinion of him similarly rose, with his negative rating climbing up to 48 per cent, from 43 percent previously.

These feelings were likely to have stemmed from the accumulation of bad news in the past few months, from the public transportation strike that caused Paris to come to a standstill and the unrest with immigrant youths, to the continued weak economy and rising prices.

Perhaps he is also feeling the whiplash to his excessively public (and thus very un-French), relationship with former supermodel turned singer, Carla Bruni, which had the French media in a tizzy of speculation over whether the couple have already secretly married. The paparazzi had chased them down when they vacationed recently in Jordan and Egypt. Next, they would be jetting off to India, yet another overseas jaunt.

Ah, all perfectly understandable, of course. Because when the going gets tough, don’t the tough usually get going and spring for a change of scenery?

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Posted in: france, politics, US