That Sarkozy was always going to eviscerate France's tenuous military and political neutrality once he took office should have been obvious to all. Long before he somehow managed to win the 2007 French elections, he was already known as 'Sarko the American' not to mention 'President Bling Bling'. It seems it's just not possible for a French politician to truly admire the American empire builders (as Sarko seems to) and not grovel at their feet.

After all there are great personal advantages to be had from aligning oneself and one's nation (whether they like it or not) with the last great empire. There is the sense of being on the "winning side" (who now can stand up to the US juggernaut?). There is immediate access to the massive resources, influence and intelligence assets of the empire through which previously impossible goals become not just possible but a matter of policy.

Up until Sarkozy's nomination as President last year, France had a 40 year long history of staunch opposition to the type of US diplomacy that has brought us the ludicrous yet deadly "war on terror". As long as there was a major world power that was still relatively independent, there was still a third option - that if small yet strategically important nations weren't "with the US" they weren't by definition "with the terrorists". They could be "with France".

In 1966 President de Gaulle removed France from the constraints of the NATO military command and booted out all foreign military forces. De Gaulle realised that NATO, despite the talk of "allied powers", was little more than the HQ of US military expansionist plans in Europe and naturally wanted little to do with it. Today NATO, and its Supreme Headquarters of Allied Power in Europe, or "SHAPE", based just north of Mons in Belgium remains the cover through which US hegemony is exercised over all European nations, particularly the former Soviet republics. Consider the nature of NATO's military command:
NATO's military operations are directed by the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, and split into two Strategic Commands both commanded by a senior US officer assisted by a staff drawn from across NATO. The Strategic Commanders are responsible to the Military Committee for the overall direction and conduct of all Alliance military matters within their areas of command.

Before 2003 the Strategic Commanders were the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT) but the current arrangement is to separate command responsibility between Allied Command Transformation (ACT), responsible for transformation and training of NATO forces, and Allied Command Operations, responsible for NATO operations world wide.

The commander of Allied Command Operations retained the title "Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR)", and is based in the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). ACO is headed by SACEUR, a US four star general with the dual-hatted role of heading US European Command, which is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany.
All of which could be said much more plainly with the words "The US government and military control NATO". It is natural therefore that any self-respecting political or military leaders of a sovereign European nation would want to keep NATO at a safe distance. France once had a series of such proud-to-be-French leaders, now they have "Sarko the American" and with him the beginnings of the destruction of French sovereignty.

It was with little surprise then that last month we read of Sarkozy's plan to radically reform the French military in order to face "new, diverse and shifting threats", political speak for "crazed Islamic terrorists".

Speaking like a true empire builder, Sarkozy said:
"From now on, France's defense is as much at stake within France as thousands of kilometers away"
Which again is political double speak for "I'll have a piece of that imperial pie too please".

Sarkozy's defence ministers Henri Morin also got in on the act:
"There is no risk of an invasion today ... but on the other hand we need to be able deploy forces to participate in the stabilization of regions or zones in crisis."
Noble words indeed, but I can't help wondering what the people of those yet to be determined "zones in crisis" might think of the French government's new found concern for them. After all, they need only look at newly liberated Iraq to get an idea of what the future may hold.

Sarkozy's plan, entitled "The White Book on Defence and Homeland Security" (sound familiar?) will cut 54,000 military posts, while simultaneously committing more French troops to the ongoing carnage in Afghanistan. According to Sarkozy the point is to free up money to pay for increased intelligence gathering, greater spending on satellite and airborne drones, space-based monitoring systems, long-distance radar for ballistic missile threats and new technology to prevent cyber attacks.

Sarkozy said:
"Today, the most immediate threat is that of a terrorist attack, the threat is there, it is real, and we know that it can tomorrow take on a new form even more serious, with nuclear, chemical, and biological means."
Essentially, Sarkozy has made something called "homeland security" a core part of France's defense strategy to confront what he described as "threats from terrorism, cyber-attacks and natural disasters."

Again, does this sound familiar? Note also the inclusion of defense against "natural disasters".

Most significantly, it will also herald a French military return to one of the vacant crevices under the jack boot of NATO (read U.S.) military command. Rejoining NATO military command is most significant because all of the other measures are more or less predicated upon it. It's like saying that you are planning on buying all sorts of Bondage and S&M gear, and then adding, almost as an afterthought, that you just signed up as a life member to the Bohemian grove club, who coincidentally began their 3 week love in last weekend.

In essence, the goal of Sarkozy's white paper is to transform France's defence infrastructure to an offence infrastructure and place it at the disposal of the US war on terror-mongers.

Unsurprisingly, there was widespread dismay in response to this broad attack on French military and political independence. The political left called it "evidence of the continued shift towards a pro-US policy under Sarkozy". Labor unions said it constituted a "destruction of the country's defense structure" and called on civilian defense ministry personnel to implement "work stoppages and hold demonstrations ". Even members of Sarko's own party attacked the plan, with a dozen UMP politicians signing a petition demanding that the plan be put on hold or that the government provide compensation for the regions whose bases will be closed down.

The greatest outcry however came from the military itself. Immediately after Sarkozy announced the plan hundreds of officers attending the briefing refused to sing the national anthem. Two days later a group of officers from across the armed services anonymously lambasted the reforms in an op-ed published in French daily newspaper Le Figaro. In the op-ed the officers stated: "We are abandoning Europe's military leadership to the British, who, everyone knows, have a special relationship with the U.S." and decried the lack of "competent military personnel" in drawing up the "amateurish" document. In response, Sarkozy reportedly called on the intelligence services to root out those responsible, which prompted the army's most senior command to warn against a "witch hunt".

It is clear by now however that Sarko has little respect for those who disagree with him. The political left in France were effectively dealt with (at least until 2012) at last year's Presidential (s)election, and Sarkozy has recently shown his contempt for the power of the labor unions and the threat of strike action stating: "it seems to me that when there are strikes, no one notices". For Sarko, the only opinion on the further Americanisation of France's defence structure that is worth worrying about is that of the military top brass. Firstly because military leaders must be on board if his plan to be implemented and secondly because, unlike politicians, the French military are well respected by the French public and are considered civilians first and military personnel second. Outspoken resistance from the military leadership to Sarkozy's plan would therefore be liable to strongly influence a French public that is still lucid enough to realize that military men know more about military matters than politicians. So as much as he would have liked to, Sarkozy could not just blithely dismiss the objections of the military to his new plan and forge ahead regardless.

But Sarkozy had already made it clear that from the moment he ascended to the Presidency, a new era had begun, that the old democratic France was gone, and would be replaced with a France crafted solely from his personal vision, or as he dramatically stated at in his inauguration speech, "my France" - or at least the France of those that so deftly shunted him into the Elysee Palace.

So what to do about those generals and the wider French public? Previous French administrations had always capitulated in the face of strong public opposition to a piece of legislation, but this was Sarko the American, an able student of empire who by the beginning of this summer had already learned the essential ingredient in helping the public around to your point of view - fear and trauma.

And so it was that just two weeks ago on Sunday 29th June something inexplicable and very traumatic happened at a military show in the city of Carcassone in the South West of France.

The Lappereine barracks in Carcassone, home of the 3rd marine infantry parachute regiment was hosting an open day attended by about 1000 people, mostly the families of military personnel. The 3rd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment is among a small number of units specializing in being the first to intervene in times of crisis. It has taken part in many high-profile operations for France in recent decades, including actions in Lebanon in 1978, Chad in 1983 and Kosovo in 1999.

As part of the open day, hostage liberation exercises were being conducted in the sports area of the military compound. Five such exercises had already been completed and at around 5.30 in the evening the 6th and final exercise was underway in which a "hostage" was retrieved from captivity and the "terrorist" neutralised. Suddenly, as the 11 marines were making their "escape", complete with smoke and blank rounds from their Famas rifles, screams broke out and members of the public, who were watching from a safe 100m away at the end of the compound, fell to the ground. In all, 15 members of the public and 2 soldiers were wounded, some seriously, including a three year old who was hit in the heart and arm. All are however expected to make full recoveries.

Sarkozy wasted no time in responding and implicating the entire military command stating that it constituted "unacceptable negligence", promised a "rapid and severe response", that "this cannot go without consequences" and that "the entire chain of command would have to provide answers".

Two inquiries, one headed by the Army chief of staff General Bruno Cuche (appointed by Chirac) and the other by the public prosecutor were immediately opened, but Defence Minister Herve Morin made it clear that he was not interested in waiting and called for "immediate sanctions... without waiting for the conclusions of the judicial and military enquiries".

These are hardly the words of a rational man, unless he has a hidden agenda.

Later that evening Sarkozy met with the French military top brass, including General Cuche, and in a display of the impetuousness for which he has become infamous refused to greet General Cuche or salute any of the military men and, jabbing his finger at them, exclaimed "you are all irresponsible! You are not professionals, but amateurs!"

According to Le Point magazine General Cuche was appalled at Sarkozy's particularly disagreeable reaction to the situation. And who can blame him? One unnamed senior officer told Le Point that Mr Sarkozy was creating a "crisis of confidence between the Elysée and the military". Another stated that the incident underlined a "conflict between two cultures: one of immediacy and 'bling-bling' against another of restraint, modesty and a sense of responsibility."

In the end, (and it took a little over 24 hours from the time of the incident in Carcassone) General Cuche offered his resignation (which Sarkozy happily accepted) and several other officers, including the commander of the Third Marine Parachute Regiment, his deputy and an officer in charge of maintenance and logistics, were dismissed. The two units, comprising entire teams of troops, were also immediately disbanded, an opening salvo, it seems, ahead of Sarkozy's planned restructuring scheduled for September 2008.

Now, to the casual eye, all of this could be seen as the natural result of an unfortunate military accident which nevertheless someone had to pay for. But when looked at in the context of Sarkozy's military white paper and the resistance it was meeting, it takes on a very different hue. Especially when we look at the details of the "accident" itself.

As noted, 11 members of the Third Marine Infantry parachute Regiment were conducting a hostage release exercise on the sports track area of the barracks compound. Below is an image of the area. The spectators were about 100m from the action at the far end of the track area shown in this image:


The exercise involved a small tent structure in which a soldier playing the part of the hostage and a soldier playing the part of the terrorist were situated. The 11 rescuing marines approached the tent area from behind and killed the terrorist as seen here in a still from a video of the event.


The hostage was then taken with them as they retreated while two marines provided covering fire, as seen here in another still from a video taken of the exercise:


All of the soldiers involved were meant to be using blanks in their rifles which allowed them to safely shoot in the direction of the "terrorist", which also happened to be in the direction of spectators in the distance. Unfortunately, as one of the two marines that were providing cover fire reloaded his rifle he chose a magazine that somehow had real bullets rather than blanks. Blank bullets are a different color and much lighter than real bullets making it extremely unlikely that a trained soldier would mistake one for the other. Furthermore, to fire blank bullets from the average military issue rifle a 'Blank Firing Adaptor' or 'BFA' is usually required and if real bullets are fired from a rifle with this adaptor in place there is a good chance that the rifle will 'explode'.

In the case of the Carcassone incident it seems that the adaptor was in place and that when the real bullets were fired rather than destroying the rifle it served to slow the speed of the bullets and reduce their precision. It is for this reason perhaps that none of the injuries to the spectators were fatal. A report in the International Herald Tribune states that possibly only four people were hit with bullets, with the remainder being injured by bits of gravel propelled by bullets that hit the ground. It is also possible that the BFA was shattered and propelled towards the crowd causing injuries.

The official inquiry concluded that the 28 year old Sergeant who fired the shots must have kept a magazine of live ammo from a training exercise a few days previously and that prior to the exercise when he was loading magazines containing blanks into his belt he did not notice that there was one already there containing real bullets. This means that, assuming the Sergeant returned the belt to the armory (as he was required to do), the person in charge of the armory did not notice that the belt that was returned after the previous exercise contained a magazine of live bullets and that he reissued this belt on the day of the public exercise that called for blank bullets only.

If however the Sergeant knowingly ignored regulations and did not return the belt after the live-fire exercise a few days previously, then we must assume that he himself did not notice or remember that it contained a magazine of real bullets on the day of the public exercise. The Sergeant was immediately placed under arrest and is waiting trial and he has made no statement other than to agree with the official conclusion, and as noted the officers directly involved in the incident have already been dismissed.

The problem with all of this is that it is generally recognized that the Third Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment is one of the best trained in France and that the soldier in question was highly experienced with no hint of any psychological issues that might have led to such an unusual lapse in regulations and training. Sarkozy, Defence Minister Herve Morin and the public prosecutor have all repeatedly insisted that there was no deliberate intent to cause harm on the part of the young Sergeant and that it was a case of "human error".

In the end, the swiftness of Sarkozy's decision to blame the military command, arrest the soldier in question and dismiss all those involved, including the Chief of Staff of the land forces, and present a rather unsatisfactory conclusion means that the entire event will remain clouded in mystery - for anyone who doesn't read that is.

There is, you see, one very important piece of evidence that, for some reason, made it into precious few of the mainstream news reports about the incident, and that piece of evidence is presented below.

©2008 La Depeche du Midi
"A Strange Discovery"

The image above shows a box of condoms containing 10 real bullets that was found shortly after the exercise at Carcassonne by a reporter from the regional paper La Depeche du Midi (click here to see the image on the La Depeche site). The reporter said that he found the box lying on the ground and he had handed the bullets into the police station that was taking part in the investigation. The reporter stated that it seemed to him that someone was trying to "get rid of something". No mention of this discovery has been made in any official reports on the incident, all of which have insisted on "human error" as the cause.

So, do I need to spell out a possible alternative theory? Or is it that obvious? How easy is it for someone to get into the armory room of a military base anyway? Or how easy is it for someone in the military to get into the armory room of a military base?

For the last 9 months Sarkozy has been attempting to convince his detractors and the public that the French military and the defence establishment were suffering from a serious malaise and in need of radical restructuring. But few supported him and most, particularly in the military, were strongly opposed to his plan. Then a dramatic and traumatic incident involving members of the public occurs, and suddenly all bets are off and the Chief of Staff of the land forces and several high ranking officers, the "old guard" as it were, are gone. But more than that, Sarkozy is given a "public mandate" for change forged from a shocking and inexplicable blunt trauma to the public consciousness. Sound familiar?

An eyewitness at the incident at Carcassone who saw children covered in blood said:
"We see these kinds of things happening in America, an act of madness, but we never imagined that it could happen here. Take heed, it can, and to have 10 or 20 dead, it's terrible."
It seems that the nickname "Sarko the American" is not to be taken lightly.

July 14th is Bastille day in France, the commemoration of the uprising of the modern French nation against the tyranny of the royals. Sarkozy was there this year, on the Champs Elysee, but by all accounts he may as well have been there alone, at least from the point of view of the thousands of military personnel that traditionally make up the bulk of the parade. It was a "demonstration without banners" according to the daily La Liberation with most other newspapers recognizing that "the military's heart was not in it". And we agree. After all, it surely can't sit well with the French people in general that on the day that they celebrate their heritage of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen over elitism, cronyism and totalitarianism, they must also recognize that the "Princes of Paris" are back and it may take a modern version of the original French revolution to prevent them from turning back the clock and dismantling 218 years of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité.