The White House denies the visit of French President Nicholas Sarkozy and his wife is a make-up for a snub that didn't happen, last June in France. But if it is, the French aren't getting their money's worth. There will be no pictures of Sarkozy and his former super-model wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, standing beside President Obama and First Lady Michelle. The dinner will be a private affair. White House officials aren't even releasing the menu.
Last June, at the 65th anniversary celebration of the D-day invasion, the Obamas turned down an invitation from the Sarkozys for dinner after the ceremony. Paris was horrified. The White House, however, was recovering from fixing the French faux pas of not inviting Queen Elizabeth or any member of the British Royal Family to the ceremony. US officials wangled a last minute invitation for Prince Charles, but for the British it was not the same.
The French media said Sarkozy's aides wanted a grand evening with a US President who was, in Europe, a hugely popular successor to the unpopular George W. Bush. But in the eyes of French pundits, the five foot five inch Sarkozy had little chance of measuring up to his towering wife and the even taller Obamas. One French commedian said Sarkozy "had only two days to become tall, handsome and elegant." On the first score, at least, he didn't make it.
This US visit has been something of a vacation for the Sarkozys. The French leader's party lost 21 out of 22 regional elections earlier this month and his public approval rating is down to 30 percent. The usual prescription for a politician under pressure is to take a trip abroad. Bonjour America. Meanwhile, for Bruni the joys of being the French First Lady may be fading. She told Le Madame Figaro she'd just as soon Sarkozy not run for re-election, saying "as a spouse, I don't really want it. Perhaps I'm afraid that he will harm his health, perhaps I want to live what we have left to live in a certain peace?" Here in Washington, she and her husband stopped by a Washington institution, Ben's Chili Bowl, to sample the local fare. He had a half smoke. She didn't touch her turkey burger.
And then there are the reports of marital problems in the gossip magazines and Europe's mainstream press. The couple held hands before and after President Sarkozy's speech at Columbia University and they were photographed kissing in front of their hotel and in the Boathouse restaurant in Central Park. European papers, earlier this month, accused the couple of having affairs and recalled Bruni saying before their marriage “I am easily bored with monogamy.” Sarkozy called a reporter who asked about the matter an "idiot."