05/15/2012 03:22 pm ET Updated Jul 15, 2012

Sarko: Nothing Became Him Like the Manner of His Leaving

"Sarko the American," as Nicolas Sarkozy was known rather pejoratively in France (such a nickname, however, going down rather well in the United States), conducted himself with calmness and grace after his close, but decisive, defeat in the French presidential election of May 6th.

The moment Sarkozy saw that he had lost, he recognized the verdict of French democracy and French "republican values" and wished his successful opponent, François Hollande, well. The only "down" note in Sarkozy's concession speech was his mention of the opposition's (preposterous) assertion during the campaign that compared Sarkozy's language to the proto-Fascist figures of the Vichy regime during World War II.

Sarkozy's comportment was in sharp contrast to the moment of the victory of the only other Socialist under the French Fifth Republic -- François Mitterrand in 1981. The loser, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, unprecedently, walked away from the Elysée Palace after a brief, perfunctory speech by an obviously embittered incumbent president.

On May 8th, Sarkozy invited Hollande to be at his side at the lighting of the eternal flame at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Place d'Etoile in Paris, in commemoration of V-E Day. It was an interlude of correctness, if not unity, in the eternal struggle in France between the Left and the Right.

For all the downsides of style and temperament, which in the final analysis did him in, there were moments during the Sarkozy presidency -- Georgia, G20, Libya, the Euro Crisis -- when he made France count on the world scene.

In a ceremony on May 15th, Sarkozy formally handed over power to his victorious opponent, François Hollande.

Editor's Note: Charles Cogan had a 37-year career in the CIA, culminating in Paris as chief, 1984-1989. He is an Associate at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is the author of French Negotiating Behavior: Dealing with 'la Grande Nation (United States Institute of Peace Press, 2003).