Toujours de l'Audace!

"Be bold, always!" This is one of the mottos of French culture. But there is a counterpoint slogan, which comes out of the cynical bouche of Prince Talleyrand, the club-footed but elegant lothario who was a survivor of the Revolution in France: "Above all, not too much zeal." ("Et surtout, pas trop de zèle").

Nicolas Sarkozy, French to his fingertips despite his heteroclite background (two parts Hungarian, one part Greek/Jewish and one part French/French), seems to have absorbed the first, but not the second, of the above two maxims.

As a British civil servant put it, as I interviewed him for my book on French negotiating behavior, the French like to take the floor first, come up with a grand idea or concept, and then let others to fill in the details. This was evident when M. Sarkozy came up with a proposal to create a no-fly zone over Libya but also to engage in surgical strikes. This he did, with the French penchant for secrecy and for creating a surprise effect, without consulting his European allies (except, perhaps, David Cameron), and even, it seems, his new foreign minister, Alain Juppé.

M. Sarkozy may not be on the wrong side of history, but he seems to be on the wrong side of the tactical situation. Muammar Gadhafi, with his superiority in equipment and in trained forces, seems to be wrapping up the opposition to his regime. Much as our hearts go out to the anti-Gadhafi forces, our heads see another outcome, at least in the short run. We should rely on our heads, on cold reason, despite M. Sarkozy's well-intentioned effort to force the Western allies out of their phlegmatic attentisme.

P.S. What is Egypt, this country of 80 million plus, next door to Libya, with six million plus, doing, except standing idly by, while the Arab League calls for a no-fly zone to prevent Qadhafi from further slaughter of his people. Might not the Egyptian Army, buttressed by years of American assistance, move in at least to save Benghazi?

N.B. In 1977, when Qadhafi ordered an artillery strike against Egypt as a gesture of protest against Anwar Sadat's intent to sign a peace treaty with Israel, Egyptian forces retaliated and overcame Libyan forces in just four days.