Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Women

At a dinner tonight in honor of Ségolène Royal, an eminent economist who reads my blog regularly told me that he thinks I have become "deterministically more negative" about Sarkozy in recent weeks. I think there is some truth to this, although I am still pondering what the determining mechanism might be. Nevertheless, I thought perhaps I should rectifier le tir by mentioning a positive move of Sarkozy's: he has kept his promise to raise the minimum old-age pension and increase survivor benefits.

In any case, I also received today my author's copies of the Georgetown Journal for International Affairs, for which I wrote an article some months ago assessing Sarkozy's main social and economic reforms and their chances for success. I was somewhat chagrined to read my own words, since I was rather more optimistic at the time, and I'm not sure whether the wavering is more on my side or Sarkozy's.

More on Ségolène tomorrow, though I will say that she looked lovely and elegant at dinner, spoke well, and moved Stanley Hoffmann, the doyen of French studies in the US, with her evocation of the marvels of the French public schools in which both she and he were raised. She defended the morality of l'instituteur as against that of le clerc, whom Sarkozy in his speech at Saint John Lateran had placed on a higher plane. It was a moving tribute to the republican spirit, expressed with simplicity and directness. Of course it avoided the thorny question of whether today's republican schools can be expected to perform for a greatly expanded cohort the miracles that the old republican school once performed for the relatively restricted elite that took the bac. There is a way in which paeans to les hussards de la République can sometimes mask a rather conservative approach to education. But I don't level that criticism at Ségolène Royal, who made her remarks in the context of an after-dinner Q&A and wasn't making a policy statement. Tomorrow at the Kennedy School she may say more. (Unfortunately her appearance on WBUR has been canceled.)

Hanging Chad

Chad hangs in the balance, Paris would have us believe, while French defense minister Hervé Morin sends a "message of support" to the government in place. Foreign minister Kouchner issued a new "warning" to the rebels and invoked a supposed "duty" of France "to protect, perhaps now in a more decisive way if need be, the legal government." Mind you, of course, that in exercising this "duty," France would not be behaving in the bad old imperial ways but would merely be enforcing the will of the "international community," offered in a unanimous Security Council resolution (solicited by the French).

Of course in the great scheme of imperial adventures, this one has its comic aspects, much as the Arche de Zöé affair had in the great scheme of humanitarian adventures. The French contingent in Chad consists of perhaps a thousand men, a few fighter jets, and some helicopters; the rebel "column," of perhaps a hundred pickup trucks and lightly-armed guerrillas. The rebels have already accepted in principle a cease-fire, while denouncing the French intervention, since in this clash of titans the conclusion is known in advance. Perhaps in gratitude for his survival M. Déby will grant clemency to the repatriated but still incarcerated Zoenauts, so that the French courts can release them without undue harm to international law. In any event, "victory" in Chad will yield little glory, which perhaps explains why M. Sarkozy has thus far maintained an unusually low profile in the matter, pushing his pawns ahead of him and hoping that this will be enough. This dust-up does not even rise to the level of the Falklands imbroglio; it's more like the American invasion of Granada.