Monday, December 31, 2007
And here are Sarko's New Year's greetings. It was an echt Sarkozyan performance: pugnacious, delivered rapidly with consummate self-assurance, filled with signature formulas, in your face. The usual hallmarks of Henri Guaino's style were abundantly on display, especially the characteristic anaphora: Je pense à vous ..., À ceux qui ..., Urgence de .... (e. g. here). This technique of marking each point by insistent repetition of an introductory phrase seems molded to Sarkozy's personality: it's a punchy style, a way of establishing a firm rhythm, a pulse that raises the expectation of a point to come and thus slightly deflects attention from the point being made at the moment, as if to ensure that none of the glittering generalities--"a politics of civilization"--will come in for uncomfortably close scrutiny. There was a rather unpleasant smugness to the speech: if you think I didn't do enough, I nevertheless did everything it was possible to do; if you think I did too much, you've refused to face squarely the predicament we're in.
Le style, c'est l'homme même--Buffon (that's him in the picture, not Sarko)
Since Ségolène Royal claims that her bourdes were magnified by the press while Sarkozy's were played down, it should be noted that Sarko made one rather remarkable pataquès: "... pour que les mesures mise-t-en-oeuvre puissent ..." But this is merely the continuation of a long tradition:
Pour parler en littérature aristocratiquement des êtres et des choses, il ne connaît que Chateaubriand et moi, (...) les autres commettent à tout moment des pataquès effroyables (Goncourt, Journal, 1888, p.794).
This is the sort of fine ethical judgment one would expect from a politician who in 2006 was indicted along with Charles Pasqua in the Hamon Foundation Affair: wealthy sculpture collector Jean Hamon had a museum built to hold his collection in Issy-les-Moulineaux, the town of which Santini is mayor. Public funds went into the project, and Santini is charged with having acquired an "illegal interest" in a business connected with the construction. He also serves as secretary of state for civil service under the minister of the budget.
A chrestomathy of pungent quotes attributed to the Bard of Issy can be savored here. Sample: "The difference between a cuckold and a deputy is that the cuckold isn't obliged to attend the session."
Santini also enjoys the distinction of being the founder of a club of deputies fond of Havana cigars. He once boasted that he spent 1000 euros a month on cigars--a SMIC's worth of Havanas, if you will.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Friday, December 28, 2007
Of course this revolution, like most revolutions, would not have been possible in law had it not already occurred in mores. The younger generation, whether brainwashed, as some say, by American propaganda concerning the ravages of secondhand smoke or persuaded by Alan Brandt's The Cigarette Century that tobacco companies are not their friends, no longer denounces the idea of banning smoking as "fascist." The next L'Être et le Néant will probably be written on a laptop in Starbuck's rather than in a Cartesian-ruled carnet in a smoke-filled Deux Magots (I sacrifice here to the myth, while fully aware of the reality--poetic license, I assure you). Ainsi va le monde. Personally, I won't miss the smoke, and I expect that café culture will survive, even if the old men in the back of the café-bar-tabac in the forlorn rural bourg must chew Nicorette as they contemplate their next discard in the perpetual game of belote.
Incidentally, buraliste is an interesting word. Its etymology reveals that its root is bureau, but its kin are journaliste, criminaliste, and naturaliste rather than bureaucrate. The buraliste merely occupies his office (dispensing tobacco en l'occurrence) rather than ruling from it. Perhaps that makes me un bloggiste rather than un bloggeur.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
The Lambert Report is hardly a model of clarity, nor could it be, given the wide range of services, from schools to security, from industrial sponsorship to traffic management, for which "local collectivities" are responsible. And the number and variety of "local collectivities" contributes to the impression of ungovernability. The very ambiguity of the term is an index of the regnant confusion. The report doesn't pretend to solve the problem but does remind people of its existence.
CORRECTION: Instead of "recently-passed law," I should have said "recent decision by the Conseil Constitutionnel ..." Apologies for the error.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
I think the "racines chrétiennes de l'Europe" has been a theme that, during and since the campaign, has been both central to his public discourse and almost entirely ignored in the American press' discussion of Sarkozy.
I share your reaction and encourage you to pursue this further since some of the same who are been among the most avid promoters of Sarkozy as representing the "new France" with a new orientation towards the world, especially towards the US and towards the middle east, have lauded Sarkozy in part because he promised to reject the supposed "nouvelle judéophobie" that was supposedly a result of "left-wing intellectuals" (and more specifically the PS) tilting towards "anti-semitism" by not reacting strongly enough against the "Islamic menace" to the French tradition of laïcité.
This is an impeccable unpacking of one set of Sarkozyan religious references. The problem with interpreting Sarkozy as sign-maker is that he is such a prolific generator of symbols, and, if I may put it this way, he wears his symbolism so lightly, that it's hard to derive a univocal intention behind his polysemic presidency. What is one to make of the emphasis on "Christian roots" as a signal to those who feared the alleged "Islamic menace" to laïcité on the part of a Minister of the Interior and Religion who also pursued Chevènement's opening to the Muslim community, funding of Muslim projects, dialogue with Muslim leaders, etc? And if Sarkozy appealed to Alain Finkielkraut and the like with his defense of republicanism, Finkielkraut can hardly have been pleased with the evocation in Rome of France's special relationship to the Catholic Church or with the use of a phrase like racines chrétiennes, which obviously resonates with the Polish insistence that the European constitution include a reference to Europe as une civilisation chrétienne--a major stumbling block in the constitutional negotiations precisely because of the opposition of countries like France. Sarko no doubt preferred not to agitate the question of religious identity in European negotiations while perhaps sharing the Polish attitude that Turkey with its "racines musulmanes" would be an alien presence in Europe. Meanwhile, Finkielkraut has been critical of Sarkozy for his affronts to other republican traditions such as the quasi-sacred presidency, whose dignity Sarkozy is supposed to have compromised by his ubiquity (not to mention his jogging shorts, which caused Finkielkraut to groan--philosophically of course--on television).
Sarkozyan symbol-manipulation cannot be analyzed as if it were an element of rational and coherent enunciation of policy precisely because it operates at the level of the id. Sarko instinctively bobs and weaves with his signs, just as he instinctively bobs and weaves with his head as he speaks (his movements as a speaker have more in common with the movements of a boxer than with the gestures of an orator). It is hard to pin him down, because his symbolism is polysemic, and its analysis calls for Freudian cleverness. It seldom makes sense to confine attention to a single utterance. There is a complex corpus, to which new signs and gestures are added every day.
Today we shall be treated, no doubt, to images of the pharaoh and the goddess among the relics of a civilization without Christian roots, or Muslim roots either. Sarko's choice of America as a first vacation destination evoked abundant commentary, but his choice of Luxor as a second getaway is less easily interpreted.* Is it Tony Blair's presence that drew him, as George Bush's proximity to Wolfeboro was said to have drawn him there? Was it the prospect of a photo op among the antiquities and the opportunity to pay homage to an age of Middle Eastern hegemony sufficiently remote to be safe? Or was it simply the warm waters of the Nile as an appropriate and exotic backdrop to presumably steamy romance (if hand-holding may be taken as metonymy for the rest)?
Meanwhile, he flew to Egypt on a Falcon provided by the same Vincent Bolloré who provided the yacht for his post-election idyll. The language of humility that came so easily to the president's lips at Saint John Lateran (like you, he said to the priests, I am but a humble servant called to an immense and transcendent task) was no longer needed to convey a story-book romance that can be captured sufficiently for political purposes in a series of still images: the descent hand-in-hand from the private jet, the ascent hand-in-hand to the nuptial bedroom of the grand hotel, and the stroll hand-in-hand along the ancient river, all of course in the strictest privacy, ensured by thirty carloads of barbouzes and the entire Egyptian army, which is apparently incapable of repulsing a platoon of paparazzi armed only with long lenses.
For François Bayrou's response to Sarkozy's conception of religion and the state, see here.
*Le Monde treats it as a presidential ritual: Mitterrand spent five Christmases in Egypt.
Monday, December 24, 2007
And speaking of ideological commitments, in La Tribune the "Person of the Year" is retrogressively altered to "homme de l'année."
It's best to remain ambivalent, I think. If there are two shores (one thinks of Herzen's From the Other Shore as well as Gracq's Le Rivage des Syrtes), the better sort are familiar with both and hug their edges closely. To plunge too far inland in either direction is to be lost--the choice is frank perdition or the eternal purgatory of excessive purity. Gracq to my mind comes close to the latter and will therefore remain eternally in the bosom of Abraham, in the tight embrace of those dazzled by the example of a writer who in all probability was never as tempted as they are by the rewards they believe it cost him so much to renounce, because they substitute their values for his.
Those who don't see the relevance of this necrology to politics may ignore it without loss. But I thought it was worth saying.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
On the one hand, he seeks to discomfit the official left (by borrowing some of its vocabulary, references, and people), while on the other he does not hesitate to appeal demagogically to the extreme right with subliminal xenophobia.
Corcuff's observations are clever, and they are typical of a spate of recent second-order high-brow decipherings of what any number of commentators have begun to refer to as the "TV serial presidency," in which Sarko renews his image week after week with yet another coup, adventure, or escapade. For instance, Le Monde yesterday featured an interview with a semiotician reflecting on Sarkozy's manipulation of signs and symbols. Yet I can't help feeling that all this cleverness--the latest round of which has clearly been inspired by the outing with Carla Bruni, about which everyone wants to find a way to talk while pretending to be above talking about such things--is somehow wide of the mark.
For me, the most significant touch that Sarko attempted to add to his image in the past week was not the Disneyland adventure but the quasi-ordination at Saint John Lateran. Although many in France have commented on the affront to laïcité, few have mentioned Sarko's attempt to sacralize the presidential function. Becoming president, he said, is like "entering religion," that is, taking holy orders. It is a calling for which one prepares oneself with all of one's life. This conceit of course recalls the unkept promise to retreat to a monastery in the days after the election to prepare himself, in a marathon of askesis, for the function he was about to assume. In the event, to be sure, he chose to prepare himself aboard a yacht rather than in a cloister. Yet the conviction that he was called to the office he now occupies, that it was his destiny to bear this burden (as he frequently calls it), is I think closer to his conception of himself than the child-at-Christmas delight with which he revels in his glittery array of expensive toys, airplanes, homes, yachts, friends, and other regalia of office. His deepest conviction is that he has the right fiber for the job. This fiber is compounded in his mind of audacity and will. It compensates in his own estimation for his admitted deficiencies ("Je ne suis pas un intellectuel, M. Poivre d'Arvor, mais ..."). It justifies his defiance of precedent and convention. It authorizes his more impudent moves (the congratulatory call to Putin, the invitation to Qaddafi). And of course it continues in the finest Gaullist tradition ("je me suis toujours fait une certaine idée de la France").
Ségolène Royal has been mocked for seeming to compare herself to Jeanne d'Arc, but the real Joan of Arc in contemporary French politics is Nicolas Sarkozy. Still, I recommend that he read Max Weber's Politik als Beruf.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Are there really that many votes to be had in appeals to les talas (ceux qui vonT-A-LA-messe)? Sarko gave the Pope a copy of his book, which Ron Tiersky reviewed in this space a while ago. At Saint John Sarko repeated a thought he expressed in the book, that the well-spring of religion is hope. But hope is also the well-spring of politics, which looks for a better life here and now rather than in the hereafter, and as Sarko in the throes of spiritual transport may have forgotten, the deferred hope proffered by religion has often been used to encourage passivity and resignation here below. He would do better to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and leave otherworldly hope to the professionals. Indeed, France's latter-day Caesar has a surer hand when it comes to dispensing bread and circuses to the masses in the form of photo spreads in Match and Closer of his excursion to Disneyland in the company of a decidedly uncloistered Italian.
It is odd that the leading theorist of "Schumpeterian growth," Philippe Aghion, who is French, is not cited in an article that might have been entitled "creative destruction," to borrow Schumpeter's phrase, instead of "Délocalisations." A small change of emphasis connotes an important difference of outlook. A number of economists are cited in the article. Pierre Cahuc emphasizes the importance of career-long job training. Nicolas Véron points to the value of France's human capital as its trump card in international competition. The headline belies their measured judgments.
On the other hand, see this post by Paul Krugman, implying negative effect of trade on US wages. His forthcoming paper should be interesting and spark some controversy.
"Il ne faut pas désespérer Billancourt." For those younger than I, this sentence may not carry quite the same nostalgic weight, but in case you're curious about its origin and significance, Le Monde's proofreaders recall the history in a post today on their blog. There's also a nice picture of Sartre standing on a "55-gal drum," as we call it in the US (what is the French equivalent?), to make his famous harangue outside the factory gates in his later gauchiste incarnation.
I once took a trip out to Billancourt to view the Renault victory just because of this sentence. It had already closed, but the buildings still loomed, low and forbidding, on their island. Somehow the factory and its setting reminded me of Alcatraz. That this should be the center of French capitalism seemed an important clue to the nature of French attitudes. More recently, François Pinault planned to turn the island into an arts complex. I'm sure Marx would have savored the irony of such a transformation, but the plans fell through, alas, and the museum will now be built in Venice.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
I have no intention of disputing the characterization of the president's tastes as "vulgar." Indeed, I think his vulgarity is one of the secrets of his success. Time magazine's recent piece on the "death of French culture" naturally provoked a good deal of comment in France, but of course this putative death is a regularly recurring event. The mistake, common to outsiders, is to suppose that the high culture of any country is its culture tout court. This is never true, but France had been more successful than many other countries in accrediting among foreigners, and especially Americans, the idea that its high culture simply was its culture. Of course no insider would make this mistake, and a few hours watching French television would be enough to convince one otherwise, but the Élysée is not Michel Drucker's sofa or Laurent Ruquier's platform. A certain decorum was expected of presidents, and if Jacques Chirac, representative of the Corrèze, was comfortable patting the behinds of cows, he also collected Japanese art, and François Mitterrand sought refuge from the tumult of Socialist meetings with the novels of Ernst Jünger.
Sarkozy is a different breed of president. His vulgarity is authentic, and people who share his tastes sense this and are delighted by it. Those who don't share his tastes are repelled by them, but they shouldn't on that account dismiss his political instincts. It is one of the challenges of democracy that people of different tastes must temper their judgments. There is a tendency among cultivated elites to underestimate the politically gifted vulgarian. The classic case is Andrew Jackson, a president whose election horrified his self-styled betters but whose political shrewdness remade American politics. It is too early to say whether Sarkozy's presidency will mark a similar watershed in French politics, but it is not out of the question. And if it does, his predilection for flashy watches and flashier women will not have been the least of it.
I say this as a consumer of the on-line version. Obviously I could not maintain this blog without the many electronic sources, including Le Monde, that have made it possible for an observer in the US to be on top of breaking news in France. I remember the days when I had to trudge down to Harvard Square to buy my Le Monde 3 days late; I remember subscribing to the édition hébdomadaire, printed on flimsy onion skin and shorn of 3/4 of the news; and I am still usually a day or two ahead of some of my colleagues at the Center for European Studies, who, as men of their generation, read the stale printed news in the paper edition still displayed in the building's lobby. Nevertheless, I am acutely aware that the news that is now so rapidly disseminated still requires journalists to compile and make sense of it.
The recent proliferation of on-line sources in France, and the continuing financial crises at several major papers, suggest that we are in the midst of a change whose end point is not at all clear to me. I have already expressed my doubts about Edwy Plenel's launch of a new paid on-line-only news outlet, MediaPart. Its staff, though made up of distinguished journalists, is small, and its focus has been described as both "generalist" and "investigative," which are hardly the same thing. It seems unlikely that MediaPart can replace Le Monde. Nor can Le Monde replace itself with an on-line-only operation.
So who will pay for the news? Because if no one pays, we are likely to be reading a good deal more about presidential outings to Disneyland and audiences with the pope and a good deal less about decisions of the European Court like the one in the Laval Case (which, as the previous post makes clear, I should have read more carefully than I did--but then, as David Bell pointed out, my labor is bénévole, so I relied imprudently on someone who was paid to do the job, whose biases I failed to take into account).
Thanks to Éloi for the pointer and the instruction.
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) expressed its disappointment on the "challenge" that the judgement "poses to the very successful flexible Swedish system of collective bargaining and those of certain other Nordic countries – the models for flexicurity currently being promoted by the European Commission".
ETUC added: "It will necessitate reviews in those countries of the implementation of the posted workers directive. There could be negative implications for other countries' systems from this narrow interpretation of the posted workers' directive. There could also be implications for unions' ability to promote equal treatment and protection of workers regardless of nationality and there will also be concern that unions' ability to guarantee these objectives is threatened by the free movement of services principle."
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
There is progress, however. The judiciary would become more independent, as the Superior Council of the Magistracy, now presided over by the president of the Republic, would be taken over by the premier président of the Cour de Cassation, and the minister of justice would no longer have an ex officio seat. And Parliament's powers would be increased somewhat, most significantly by an explicit requirement for legislative approval of any troop intervention lasting more than six months.
Of course it's obvious that the cumul des mandats would cease to be an issue if deputies had enough to do, and sufficient power and influence, that they didn't feel the need to acquire actual power, money, and staff by running for local office. On the other hand, they might discover the time-honored American device of the "local earmark" and quickly drain the French treasury of its remaining sous.
The Gautier-Sauvagnac affair may be entering interesting territory. The "financial police" conducted a search yesterday at Tracfin, the "money laundering police" arm of the Finance Ministry. Financial police? Money laundering police? Well, never mind the arcana of the French bureaucracy. The point is to follow the money, quite a bit of it, which, as you will recall, Denis Gautier-Sauvagnac, until recently the head of the metals industry association UIMM, withdrew from the group's slush fund for still unexplained purposes over a period of many years. It seems that the financial police suspect that Tracfin had been alerted to these withdrawals by the banks involved but that its investigation into the affair went nowhere until recently, when Tracfin finally transmitted its information to prosecutors. The Canard enchaîné reports that it was Nicolas Sarkozy, when he was finance minister, who ordered Tracfin to put a lid on the inquiry. Initial reports had suggested that Gautier-Sauvagnac was funneling cash to the trade unions, but, in the referenced article, Le Point, of all sources, hints darkly that "investigators are considering all possible avenues, including payments to political parties." More info here. À suivre ....
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Goldhammer's style can be a bit dry, but let's face it, there's more than enough blood and guts and manic speculation flying around elsewhere on the Web.
A bit dry? Isn't that a compliment in British English? Well, indeed, let's face it, a little sobriety is in order when you're writing about a country run by a guy who's sleeping with an ex of Mick Jagger's. Anybody can play to the gallery with that kind of material. It takes a real wonk to keep his eye on the policy ball.
And then the Washington Monthly's excellent Kevin Drum was also kind enough to relay the Bell plug. As a regular reader of Drum's "Political Animal," I am particularly pleased to have been noticed there.
The problem is that the two schemes are essentially both incentives to employers to offer work time beyond 35 hours per week, but the incentives are different in the two cases, and the RTT buyback is much more favorable to employers than the overtime tax exemption--anywhere from 16 to 50 percent cheaper per hour. I'll spare you the details of this calculation, which would require a spreadsheet and a tax attorney in any case. Suffice it to say that the result is perplexity, complexity, and a dawning sense that maybe these reforms haven't been thought through all that clearly in the haste to do something, anything, to prove that this government, unlike previous governments of the right, isn't simply fiddling while the MEDEF does a slow burn.
"The Sarkozyan method has reached its limit," Le Monde editorializes.
Monday, December 17, 2007
It will be useful to recall this episode the next time a "friend of Sarkozy" with newspaper connections is accused of spiking an article unfavorable to the "Hyper-President." As Sarkozy himself has not been loath to point out, meddling with the media in France is a sport that everyone plays. Indeed, I would say that it is as French as jogging, if the New York Times had not already seen fit to attribute to me the opinion that "jogging is un-French." It's a good idea to remember that the media are not at all like the mirror to which Stendhal likened the novel.
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Arnaud Montebourg, to whom I recently had the opportunity to recount a bit of New England history during a stroll about Beacon Hill, will no doubt appreciate this remark by the great Transcendentalist, now that he has decided to contradict his own denunciation of le cumul des mandats, the great bane of the Republic, to run for a seat on the conseil général of Saône-et-Loire. The decision is "an act of resistance against Sarkozyst absolutism," no less. Indeed, "the National Assembly has been emasculated by Sarkozysm," he says, and he cannot imagine an existence as a "pure tribune" of the people. "The organization of a new opposition" will require the Socialists "to concentrate our territorial forces."
The provinces organize against Parisian tyranny. This narrative will have a familiar ring to students of French history. M. Montebourg represents, among other things, Bourg-en-Bresse, the center of the French poultry industry and home to the famous poulet de Bresse (pictured above). How will le coq gaulois de Neuilly respond?
My friends at nonfiction.fr seem to read The New Republic. They think I've become a bit "Sarko-centré." One does in fact face a dilemma in writing topical commentary on politics when one's instincts and training suggest that what matters is deep structures and long-term trends. I try to pay attention to those things in the blog as well, but the medium of instant commentary is also an opportunity to ponder the more ephemeral factors of personality, energy, the ebb and flow of popular interest--the passionate side of politics, which will always be a matter of the heart and gut as well as the head.
Main Entry: sar·doo·dle·dom
Inflected Form(s): sar·doo·dle·doms
Etymology: sardoodle- (blend of Victorien Sardou died 1908 French playwright criticized by G. B. Shaw died 1950 English playwright for the supposed staginess of his plays and English doodle) + -dom
: mechanically contrived plot structure and stereotyped or unrealistic characterization in drama : STAGINESS, MELODRAMA Sardoodledom -- John Mason Brown>
It strikes me that this word is not altogether inapt to describe Sarkozy's presidential style. The simplification of France's economic problems to the slogan travailler plus pour gagner plus might well be characterized as a "mechanically contrived plot structure," and the proposed remedies, as outlined in the previous post, are certainly stereotyped and may yet prove to have been unrealistic. Perhaps, in keeping with other recent neologisms associated with the French presidency, the word should be revised to "sarkodoodledom."
But the reforms are less audacious than they appear. The end of the special regimes, which is not yet fully negotiated, merely takes the overhaul of the French retirement system one small step further. The process has been under way since Juppé first proposed the blueprints in 1995. Detaxing of overtime is really a less ambitious incentive to employers to increase the supply of work than countless previous incentives targeted at more needy categories of workers such as the young, the long-term unemployed, and the relatively unskilled. The university reforms merely mark the beginning of a long process. The Lisbon Treaty patches up European institutions for the moment but hardly redeems the promise of the original constitutional idea.
So what if the condition of the patient doesn't respond quickly to these mild doses of medicine? Will Sarkozy lose support? In this respect, the municipal elections loom large as a referendum on Sarko's first year, which is precisely the way François Hollande described them this weekend. Sarkozy, he said, will be the candidate of the right in every city in France.
For Girard, the left is not defined, as BHL would have it, simply as "republican, laïc, anti-racist, and anti-colonialist." It also has to be "on the side of the popular classes, those who work, suffer, are exploited and alienated." What has changed therefore has to be sought in the popular classes themselves.
Girard begins this part of his analysis by asking why a significant fraction of the popular classes voted for the Front National. He prefers a "rational voter" explanation and finds it in a protectionist reading of the FN slogan "Les Français d'abord," which he reads not as a racist rejection but as a protest against outsourcing, capital outflows, etc. He then offers a tripartite typology of the popular classes: those who benefit from globalization, those who suffer from it, and immigrant workers (an increasingly large share of this social category), whose chief problem is not globalization but discrimination. Because of this fragmentation of the popular classes, Girard believes that the left has had difficulty formulating a unified message that makes sense to all three constituencies.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
The formula might have pleased me more had I not recently heard Arnaud Montebourg speak at MIT during his visit to the United States. There, Montebourg compared globalization to a medieval torture in which a prisoner is placed in a cell too short to stand up in and too narrow to lie down. This, he said, is the situation of France with respect to globalization: permanent pain no matter what you do. If this is the gloss to be placed on the phrase "in globalization," I doubt that the PS will have advanced very much farther toward "economic realism" than it did in 1983.
Meanwhile, in what might be seen as a related development, Pierre Jeantet, the president of the Le Monde Group, suggested that Le Monde Diplomatique, which is in financial difficulties, might want to consider taking its distance from altermondialisme and reorienting its editorial line to appeal more to the "plural left." Le Monde Diplo, which played a role in the founding of the altermondialiste group ATTAC, has apparently suffered from the disarray in the leadership of that organization and in the anti-globalization movement more generally. Jeantet insists that his advice is offered "on a purely personal basis" and is not intended to weigh on the choice of a new president of the paper's "directorate."
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I should perhaps make it clear that I think Sarkozy was right to receive Kadhafi in France. Kadhafi's evolution is to be encouraged, and it is usually a mistake to humiliate an adversary. But I also thought it was right for Yade and Kouchner to voice a protest against the decision, and I thought it was a mark of maturity that the French government was capable of tolerating such open dissension within its ranks. The war between morality and raison d'État is perpetual, inevitable, and may as well be conducted in the open. It's a step backward, I believe, that the whip has been cracked over Rama Yade and unfortunate that she thought her job sufficiently worth clinging to that she renounced her principles to keep it.
Rama Yade is a very popular subject of searches on this blog. Other articles can be found by clicking here.
ADDED LATER: This post has not gone unnoticed--from the blog log:
18.104.22.168 (International Monetary Fund) imf
Virginia, Vienna, United States, 0 returning visit
|13th December 2007||10:58:37||No referring link|
French Politics: Sarko Has a Friend in Washington
|13th December 2007||11:01:07||No referring link|
French Politics: Sarko Has a Friend in Washington
|13th December 2007||11:04:33||No referring link|
French Politics: Sarko Has a Friend in Washington
|13th December 2007||11:05:38||No referring link|
French Politics: Sarko Has a Friend in Washington
Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!
1. What does the release of the NIE tell us about the internal workings of the Bush administration?
It is really quite an extraordinary thing for an intelligence estimate to transform so suddenly and completely the tenor of debate on a major issue of US foreign policy. Nevertheless, as Justin lucidly explains, considerable ambiguity remains about Iranian practices and motives, ambiguity deliberately soft-pedaled by an intelligence estimate that seems to have been designed precisely to take the war option off the table. Yet as Justin remarks in his answer to his own question 3, ambiguity has its uses in this kind of situation. So one has to ask why the intelligence community would take such consequential action on its own. Justin mentions the need to redorer le blason of the intelligence community after the Iraq fiasco, as well as a history of veering from pessimism to optimism in its assessments. But one has to ask whether unstated judgments might also be involved. High intelligence officials privy to internal debates are in a position to know when their own doubts and caveats are being ignored by policymakers. Was it alarm that an administration noted for its rashness was about to sin again? Note, too, that the CIA revealed its destruction of interrogation videotapes shortly after the release of the NIE, in effect (if not in intention) availing itself of the positive reaction to its reversal on Iran to soften the anticipated negative reaction to its destruction of self-incriminating evidence.
2. Why did the US intelligence community apparently reveal sources and methods in the latest NIE?
On the day after the release of the NIE, The New York Times published a front page article detailing some of the reasoning on which the stark change of view since the 2005 NIE was based. The article included a discussion of specific sources and methods, including interception of internal Iranian military communications, information that could only have come from US intelligence officials. Yet when questioned about such matters, intelligence officials usually give a ritual answer: "We never discuss sources and methods." Why, in this case (as in Colin Powell's presentation to the UN), were specific sources and methods apparently revealed? Was this done to bolster the credibility of the NIE? Was it disinformation intended to throw Iranian counter-intelligence off the track or to conceal other sources, including a reported defector who fled to Turkey? Or was it to answer critics who have contended that US intelligence has failed to develop necessary capabilities? This follow-up release was at least as extraordinary as the release of the NIE itself.
3. How does Sarkozy interpret the NIE?
In an earlier post I raised the question of Sarkozy's reaction to the release of the NIE. Did Bush tell him it was in the works when they met in August? If not, did he feel misled by Bush? What effect has the release had on his thinking about Iran? In an interview published yesterday in Le Nouvel Obs, Sarkozy made an interesting statement: "I was never for war. The problem for us is not so much the risk that the Americans might undertake a military intervention but rather that the Israelis will consider their security truly threatened." Does he believe that the Israelis have the military capacity to strike Iran on their own? How is France characterizing the NIE in its discussions with European partners about what to do next? Sarkozy's statement here, like his previous statements, can be read as a declaration that both an Iranian bomb and a bombing of Iran, whether by Israel or the US, would be catastrophic for Europe. If so, how does he intend to maintain European pressure on Iran in the face of the NIE, which complicates the effort for the reasons Justin sets forth?
For a few game-theoretic twists on the scenario, see here.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Current fantasies about the "privatization of the universities" are based on ignorance of existing practice and refusal to compare and evaluate. They will perpetuate an undemocratic, underfinanced system that offers students substandard training and the nation a level of research below what it could potentially achieve. They will further increase inequalities among students and increase the gap between the universities and the Grandes Ecoles and between French and foreign institutions. Future employment and growth are at stake. Let's have the courage to break the taboo.
I couldn't agree more.
Of course there is probably no choice but to greet Kadhafi with this high political version of the "good cop-bad cop" routine. The effort is under way to lure him back into the comity of nations by treating him as a dictator like any other rather than a demonized pariah, so the usual contradictions are in order. If one wants to sell airplanes and nuclear reactors and free hostages, one has to shake unclean hands. But whose hands are clean in these days of extraordinary renditions and videotaped "harsh" interrogations? So absolutes become relativized. Hence the usefulness of protests like Kouchner's and Yade's, however ineffective or even hypocritical they may seem.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
The student union UNEF has a new leader. Bruno Julliard, who earned his stripes in the anti-CPE demonstration but has been a moderating influence in the student movement since Sarkozy's election, has quit to run for municipal office in the 13th Arrondissement of Paris. His replacement, the only candidate for the post, is Jean-Baptiste Prévost, 23, a history student at the master's level at Paris I and in his 5th year at Sciences Po.
As always, it is interesting to see how sausage is made. And remember, most of what we know about the quotidian comes from eating this sort of sausage.
Friday, December 7, 2007
When I suggested that "listening to the people" was hardly a formula for arriving at a coherent policy when the people in general, and the people of the left in particular, are confused about where they want to go and do not speak with a single voice, and that a primary would surely reveal deep divisions in the left rather than do anything to heal the gashes, he said that "first we must listen, then we must decide." But what elements or principles might guide that decision did not emerge clearly from his talk. He does not like "neo-liberalism" or "globalization" but seems unconcerned with defining alternatives, perhaps because he also thinks that globalization will soon come to an end, defeated by its internal contradictions. He seemed sanguine about this prospect, which others might regard as catastrophic. In short, he offered an amiable account of the Socialist Party's current confusion. Indeed, he seems confused about where he stands himself, since, after years of railing against the cumul des mandats, which he would ban under the constitution of the 6th Republic that he has proposed, he is contemplating a run for the position of conseiller général in addition to the seat of deputy that he already holds.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
I wish I had not seen Sarkozy in Tipaza. It would have been easier to tolerate his readiness to deplore colonialism without apologizing for it had I not seen his desecration of Camus, whose writings on postwar famine and brutality in the colony might have served to show the president why an apology might be expected. You can read Camus's text in my translation.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
So what did Sarko know? Did Bush tell him about the then-secret NIE? Did he share other classified information with his newfound European friend? Although there is much speculation in Washington about the timing of the NIE release and whether or not there was new information that prompted it, it is quite clear that the US intelligence community had raised doubts about Iran's nuclear intentions before the Bush-Sarkozy meeting in Maine. If Sarkozy knew of this intelligence, why did he stick his neck out so far to support Bush? If he didn't know, will the possibility that Bush deceived him alter his attitude toward the current US administration? Thus far, the French reaction has been to continue to insist on the need for diplomatic pressure. But an alert opposition (if there is one) might want to ask for an account of information the US may or may not have shared with France.
Paul Krugman is less certain about what the Fed's next move ought to be--but of course the Fed has already lowered its Fed funds rate.