MELISSA BLOCK, host:
French President Nicolas Sarkozy pushed for military action against Moammar Gadhafi from the start of the uprising in Libya. Some of his critics have suggested that Sarkozy is trying to revive his flagging domestic popularity.
But Eleanor Beardsley reports that for the most part, Sarkozy's bold actions have earned him a rare respite from the usual barrage of criticism.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: The words you most often hear the French use to describe their president are: overbearing, hyperactive, impetuous, paranoid. But these terms have been missing from the national vocabulary, ever since Nicolas Sarkozy became Libya's liberator last weekend.
President NICOLAS SARKOZY (France): (Through Translator) Peaceful Libyan citizens who are only asking to choose their own destiny are in danger of dying. We have the duty to reply to their anguished call, in the name of a universal conscience that cannot tolerate such a crime.
Mr. FRANZ OLIVIER GIESBERT (Editor, Le Point): When there is a crisis, you know, he knows how to decide quickly. You know, he takes his phone. He calls and convince. And he's very good at this job.
BEARDSLEY: Franz Olivier Giesbert is editor of the weekly magazine Le Point. He says Sarkozy masters complicated international crises but bungles the small things.
Mr. GIESBERT: He's awful when things are doing well. He's just awful. But when there is a crisis, there he's always good. So it's a very strange personality which needs trouble - big problems - to be at his top.
BEARDSLEY: Giesbert names the world financial crisis and the Russia-Georgia conflict as two crises Sarkozy handled well. His failures, he says, are too long to list.
Another columnist, Alain Duhamel of Liberation, says there are two Sarkozys: one solves problems, the other creates them.
(Soundbite of jets taking off)
BEARDSLEY: All week, French television has been showing French Rafale and Mirage jets taking off for missions to Libya. Polls show more than 60 percent of the French approve of the Libyan intervention. That's a huge turnaround for Sarkozy, whose poll numbers are usually at rock bottom.
Mr. DOMINIQUE MOISY (Founder and Senior Adviser, French Institute for International Relations): The French like their president to be the inheritor of the sun king or of Napoleon. To be flamboyant, to be highly visible, is a plus in a country like France.
BEARDSLEY: That's Dominique Moisy of the French Institute for International Relations, who says international status is key to the French sense of national identity.
Unlike with Iraq, all the mainstream political parties support the Libyan operation, and Moisy says that's because there's a clear U.N. resolution and because the Arab nations are on board.
(Soundbite of music)
BEARDSLEY: Four years ago, Nicolas Sarkozy invited Moammar Gadhafi to Paris, and even allowed him to pitch his Bedouin tent near the Elysee Palace. But this month, France was the first Western government to break ties with Libya and the only one to recognize the rebels' transitional government.
In an angry response, the Libyans claimed Gadhafi had helped finance Sarkozy's presidential campaign. Sarkozy's aides denied that, and the Libyans have provided no proof to support their allegation.
Anyway, says magazine editor Giesbert, Sarkozy has more pressing issues on his mind.
Mr. GIESBERT: There are two good times in a war: it's when you start and when you finish. The problem is: When are we going to finish?
BEARDSLEY: Giesbert says the French loathe Gadhafi and feel he is beatable. So for now, they're supporting their president. But if the mission doesn't end quickly and successfully, he says, all that will change.
For NPR news, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
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