France "decided to assume its role before history," said Sarkozy, none too modestly, on Saturday at the Elysee Palace just before his fighter jets struck Gadhafi's air defenses.
So who's a cheese-eating surrender monkey now?
True, Sarkozy's approval ratings are at one of their all-time lows in France and he took a lot of heat for a tepid response to the revolutions in Tunisia and Libya. But even if his hawkish new posture is in large part PR, it's working.
"All of a sudden it's the Americans who look, well, prudent and Sarkozy is like the hero of the Alamo," Antoine Sfeir, a professor of international relations at the Sorbonne in Paris, told AOL News today.
"Sarkozy is the one who seems not to be afraid and who pushed the rest of the world into moving ahead on Libya. It's the Americans who have the image of being more reserved now."
What a difference almost exactly eight years makes.
In March 2003, Fox News' O'Reilly seized upon the growing animosity against the French for their opposition to the Iraq war and called for a boycott of French products.
It was an era that featured splashy New York Post headlines such as the "Axis of Weasels" and images of French dignitaries at the United Nations pictured with weasel heads.
French fries (even though they originated in Belgium) were renamed "freedom fries." The term "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," coined in 1995 on an episode of "The Simpsons," was resurrected.
Though O'Reilly did lift his boycott in 2007, he's now given his blessing, sort of, to the once-reviled country.
"France has changed since Sarkozy took over," O'Reilly told AOL News today. "It is correct in taking aggressive action against Gadhafi."
Even Richard Z. Chesnoff, author of "The Arrogance of the French: Why They Can't Stand Us -- and Why the Feeling Is Mutual," grudgingly admitted that Sarkozy has brought some badly needed sense of macho to France's image.
But although Chesnoff says he thinks Americans will always be "suspicious of France," he, too, admits that Sarkozy has helped his country's image abroad.
"Behaviors send a message, and a shot has been fired in a double way to say this is the game and we're in it," said Philip DerMargosian, a professor at Paris' prestigious Sciences Po. "France is showing its macho side and it's surprising. This is not about reading Proust."
But Gino Raymond, a professor of modern French studies at the University of Bristol in the U.K., said Sarkozy will never be able to restore France to its glory days as a powerful and respected global force.
"The driving force behind Charles de Gaulle was to restore France's place in the world after the two world wars, and it's been the goal of every French president after that," Raymond said.
"There is some perception that Sarkozy is desperate to attract attention and is posturing to gain an image of great leadership. Unfortunately for the French, Germany has the economic power and no matter what France does, it's Germany's Europe now."
Those economic realities, Raymond said, are what irritate the French, who in turn have a tendency to rub the rest of the world the wrong way.
But calling the French surrender monkeys or weasels misses the finer points of a complex country.
"The French score high on risk aversion compared to other national cultures, which could promote this perception," said Monique Valcour, an American-born professor of management at the EDHEC business school in Nice.
"There's a big difference between the U.S. and France. The French don't like uncertainty, which is neither good nor bad in and of itself. One reason that France suffered a lot less in the economic crash is because they didn't have a subprime issue. French lending is much more conservative."
"There's a strong national pride," said Valcour. "They have this wonderful culture -- food, wine, beautiful women, a beautiful language -- and they aren't shy about letting you know they're proud of it."
They're not shy about telling you when they're right either.
"I don't know if the jokes about France will stop or not," Corine Lesnes, the Washington correspondent for Le Monde told AOL News today.
"But keep in mind, when it comes to Iraq, the French were right."