France is abuzz with the rumor that former center-right French President Nicolas Sarkozy is set to re-enter public life. Could the era of the chill bros be over already?
The world has been worse off since Sarkozy left -- for the very same reason the French public voted him out of office.
Sarkozy was seen as overbearing, meddling, bold and brash to the point of vulgarity. It's well-known within Sarkozy's inner circle that he didn't believe in decisive action alone, but rather action followed by the announcement of action. The result was a perception of hyperactivity that exasperated the French public. They wanted to wake up in the morning without Sarko's face being the first thing they saw in the media -- whether it was Sarko jogging, Sarko chewing out a European Union official over poor immigration controls, Sarko announcing the deployment of French troops in Libya, or Sarko proposing another reform of the French state.
The French like their leaders to resemble swans on the surface of a pond: The little feet can be paddling like crazy underwater, but there should only be the appearance of grace above the surface. French President Francois Hollande fits that description perfectly, as did Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac. Both men effortlessly juggled wars, women and the backstabbers in their own political parties. In France it's considered high art to be busy while appearing to be doing virtually nothing. The problem is that sometimes it's hard to tell if French leaders are getting the first part of the equation right.
With Sarkozy, there was no doubt. It was like watching the French adaptation of a George W. Bush cowboy swept into power on the tide of global concern over radical Islamic terrorism and related immigration issues. Sarkozy told a woman at a town hall event that France expected Muslim immigrants to stop slaughtering sheep in their bathtubs (a ritual that's often part of the Islamic festival of Eid al-Fitr). He promised to pressure-wash the scum right out of the hoodlum-plagued suburbs.
Sarkozy and Bush had something in common: the strength to unapologetically pursue a decisive course of action in the face of criticism. And while other world leaders might not have agreed with their positions or styles, their strength was respected. No one was going to push or provoke them without first carefully weighing the consequences of doing so and taking into account their propensity for action over words.
The leadership vacuum left by the likes of Bush and Sarkozy has since been filled by indecision, insecurity and timidity, poorly disguised as intellectualism and diplomacy. The last leader left of that ilk is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been trying to unilaterally reframe the global debate because Western leaders these days can't seem to find the real fight. (Hint: It's still in the Middle East, against radical Islamists.) Putin is standing in the boxing ring with his gloves on and shirt off, flexing his pectorals, while Western leaders are at a bar across the street, kicking back with beers and throwing darts at a map of Ukraine.
A multipolar world only works if the various "poles" are present and engaged. Without leaders like Sarkozy in Europe and Bush in America, a multipolar world cannot exist. It will tend to drift into chaos without the exertion of pressure to hold everything together.
Constant indecision and postponement of significant action -- typified by U.S. President Barack Obama vis-à-vis the Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria -- is not leadership. It's simply a cowardly way to do nothing. I could sit at home for an entire year "weighing my options" to leave the house, and it would just mean that I've effectively decided to stay home.
Granted, leadership can sometimes consist of covert action. One's actions don't always have to be announced to be decisive and effective. But you should at least be able to point to the results as justifying the means. Otherwise, you could claim to be the greatest statesman in history, and that your greatness eludes the public because you just happened to run your entire mandate covertly.
Even then, it may not be enough. The pendulum could very well be swinging back in favor of leaders who not only have the political sense to pick appropriate priorities, but who also make a point of clearly articulating their positions before following up with concrete action. We may get tired of their hyperactivity, but it beats the alternative of yelling at the TV for a head of state to get off his behind.