President Nicolas Sarkozy is a big fan of the United States and makes no secret of his craving for the limelight. Enter Barack Obama, the perfect guest.
Obama will be the star visitor at Saturday's commemoration ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the D-Day Allied landings in Normandy that helped turn the tide of World War II. And the ambitious Sarkozy may be hoping some Obama luster will rub off on him.
So eager was Sarkozy to ensure Obama's attendance at the D-Day ceremony that he didn't bother to invite Queen Elizabeth II — Britain's head of state — even though British soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy alongside Americans, and the queen herself served in the war. His government spokesman said it was a "Franco-American event."
The monarch's subjects are in a huff over the perceived snub. Even the White House said Monday it wants Her Majesty to be present.
But the queen apparently stood firm. On Tuesday, Prince Charles' office said he will come instead.
Even before Obama, Sarkozy was enamored of the United States. His nickname is "Sarko l'Americain." He jogs, often wearing an NYPD T-shirt, and tries to imbue France with an American-style work ethic.
When taking office in May 2007, he pledged to heal a relationship between Paris and Washington torn asunder by the Iraq war, which France stolidly opposed.
Just months after his election, Sarkozy took a most un-French presidential vacation — to New Hampshire with a side trip to Kennebunkport, Maine, for lunch with then-President George W. Bush at the family compound. It was a risky move given Bush's unpopularity in France.
Later that year, Sarkozy publicly flaunted his love for American culture by escorting his soon-to-be wife, former top model and songstress Carla Bruni, to Disneyland Paris on their first public date.
Sarkozy sets sights on Obama
Unlike some other western leaders, Sarkozy has yet to be invited to Washington by the new U.S. president. No matter. He set about luring Obama to France.
Sarkozy tried unsuccessfully to get Obama to Normandy in early April, squeezed between a G-20 meeting of leaders in London and a NATO summit in Strasbourg, France and in Germany.
Sarkozy said in a radio interview May 8, when France marks the end of World War II, that he was "very touched that President Obama ... accepted to come to France" for the June 6 anniversary of D-Day.
"The president of the United States will arrive by the evening of the 5th" of June, Sarkozy said with evident anticipation.
Like so many French, Sarkozy carries heartfelt thanks for America's help during Nazi-occupied France's darkest hour. But this is also clearly about prestige, stature and the frenetic Sarkozy's own undisguised search for more of both.
Toning down the bling
First lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has toned down her husband's tendency toward flash that led many to call him "president bling-bling," and was the epitome of elegance when the couple called on Queen Elizabeth II during a London state visit last year.
But this year, someone flubbed the protocol. Sarkozy's rivals suggest the queen was left out on purpose.
The goal, said centrist leader Francois Bayrou, "is that only Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama be recognizable in the photo." Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry said the affair was a "media show orchestrated by the president."
France contends an invitation went out to the British and they can choose whom to send. "There will be other 6ths of June," Luc Chatel, French government spokesman, said last week.