Nicolas Sarkozy
<em>Time</em> 100

"What made me who I am now is the sum of all the humiliations suffered during childhood." Of all the statements by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, this is the most compelling. It's why he doesn't accept victimization as an excuse for failure, criminality or self-pity. But at the same time, it explains why he has shown compassion to those who he truly believes have been humiliated and has raised them to platforms they have rarely held in Europe. As France's Minister of the Interior, Sarkozy empowered immigrant women. As President, he has given three appointments in his Cabinet to women from African-immigrant families. In an homage to Simone Veil, the former President of the European Parliament, Sarkozy said, "Every time a woman is martyred in the world, that woman should be recognized as a French citizen, and France will stand at her side." In his compassion for the weak and outrage against injustice, he may sometimes overpromise--but so do all politicians.

Sarkozy, 54, has withstood mounting public disapproval since taking office. He disregards his critics and sometimes seems to thrive on such criticism. Perhaps based on the wisdoms of his childhood, he lives by a philosophy that can be summed up as: Do not whine; move on. When his wife abandoned him after his presidential victory, he accepted it, found the most beautiful woman in France and married her.

This man finds himself in power at a time of dramatic change, when the world might be pushed at any moment into a nuclear disaster by a rogue regime like Iran's or by the fatal anarchy of Pakistan. Sarkozy has always been open about his pro-U.S. sentiment; given his power and political skills, he could be America's best ally in Europe. Can Sarkozy be Europe's Churchill, or is he just another Frenchman with a dramatic childhood?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a resident fellow at AEI.

Photo credit: Downing Street/Flickr/Creative Commons

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