Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sarkolatry

Boz at Sarkozy the American responds to my query about irrational anti-Ségolisme by asserting that she could not have accomplished what Sarkozy has allegedly accomplished, "especially on the international stage." Explicitly, he cites Sarkozy's role in halting the Russia-Georgia War, "leadership (albeit haphazard) in the financial crisis," and "getting the greatest foreign access to the next American administration." Domestically, he mentions university, pension, and minimum service reforms.

My views on these achievements are probably already known to readers of this blog, but perhaps it's worth rehearsing them here. The Russia-Georgia War ended because Russia knew that it could not oust Saakashvili without damaging its long-term interest in a cooperative economic relationship with the West. It ended when the Russians were good and ready to end it, and the limits to their incursion were self-imposed. Sarkozy merely showed up with a piece of paper on which he had hastily scrawled some conditions that ratified the situation on the ground and were consistent with intentions Russia had already formed.

Sarkozy's leadership in the financial crisis has been erratic. Gordon Brown's has been quieter but more consistent. As I explained the other day, I think Brown will become the primary European interlocutor after the G20. He understands the technicalities of finance; Sarkozy doesn't, and Sarkozy doesn't have the confidence of central bankers.

Boz's evidence for Sarkozy's "access" to Obama is the fact that the French president's telephone call with the newly elected president is said to have lasted 30 minutes, compared with at most 15 for other foreign heads of state. Sarkozy may well have struck up a close relationship with Obama, for all I know, but I am not persuaded that these extra fifteen minutes of fame catapult Sarko into the role he aspires to play. More important, Sarkozy had sought with Bush to position France as a privileged intermediary, with Europe, especially Eastern Europe, and with parts of North Africa and the Middle East to which France has historical ties. He pushed for talks with Syria. This strategy, which Obama might well find congenial in his quest for renewed multilateralism, could serve France well, but I doubt that Obama would want to invest too heavily in any privileged interlocutor. It makes sense to welcome France's support but not to tie US policy too closely to French mediation. Furthermore, it is not at all clear that Sarkozy's supposed relationship with Bush served French or European interests. We still do not know whether the Bush administration encouraged or tacitly approved Georgia's provocation of Russia, which France certainly did not want. And Sarkozy was unable to prevent Bush from pushing ahead with missiles in Poland, provoking another Russian response, which France cannot welcome.

In short: Sarkozy seems to have wanted France to replace the UK as the US's partner in a "special relationship." There are benefits to such a strategy but also clear limits.

Would Ségo have fared any better or worse in these situations? I don't know. In Georgia the outcome would have been the same, however. She might have antagonized China over the Tibet situation, something that Sarko avoided. Boz omits the Lisbon treaty from his list of Sarko-accomplishments. Would she have pushed it through? No, that wouldn't have been her style, but pending a reversal of the Irish vote, I'm not sure that Europe would have been any the worse.

On domestic issues, I disagree with Boz. Ségo would have attempted university reforms along the lines suggested by her advisors Philippe Aghion and Sauvons la Recherche. She would have promoted retirement reforms, perhaps along the lines suggested by her advisor Thomas Piketty (in conjunction with Antoine Bozio). She would not, it is true, have instituted the minimum service requirement, and what difference would that have made? Nor would she have promoted the paquet fiscal, and France might have been better off for that.

I would agree with Boz that Ségolène's campaign was erratic, that she lurched from idea to idea. I said as much yesterday. I still don't think that that accounts for the unprecedented scorn of her candidacy by so many prominent Socialists. Michel Rocard said that he asked her to step aside in his favor in the midst of the campaign. Lionel Jospin has similarly disobliging things to say. My question is why she arouses such hostility, and that is quite separate from asking whether she would have launched initiatives equivalent in ambition to, even if different in substance from, Sarkozy's. Still, I see nothing in Sarkozy's record to justify Boz's title, "Thank God for Sarkozy," as though he were somehow the providential leader that France needed in 2007 and still needs today. He is a politician, with his qualities, some of which have surprised me, and his defects, most of which have not.

As for Ségolène, she, too, has her defects, as does her party (I've abundantly commented on the latter in recent days). But she doesn't seem to me unique in that regard. Some of her critics speak as though her presence on a national ticket were an affront to decency. I would reserve that honor for Sarah Palin. Ségolène Royal is a politician of average skills who was certainly less well prepared than her opponent for the presidential campaign of 2007. But with more time to prepare, a more unified party, and more carefully thought out platform, she might prove more impressive in a rematch. I reserve judgment.

More on "Obama Effect" in Banlieues

From Charles Bremner:

In Sarcelles, a northern suburb, yesterday, I walked through a crowd of black children who were arguing which of them was "le plus Obama" -- the most like Obama.

...

Yazid Zabeg, an Algerian-born millionaire and the JDD Sunday newspaper have produced a "manifesto for real equality". Under the Obama slogan "Oui, nous pouvons" (Yes we can), the manifesto points to the "cruel contrast" between France's racially divided society and the lesson of inclusion that came from the United States. Bruni says in the JDD that she loves multi-ethnic France and that it is time to "help the elite to change".


If Obama's victory were to inspire some real community organizing in France and generate some bottom-up pressure for political change, that would be a very good thing indeed. Top-down pressure might also help.

Student Magazine

Etienne Wasmer calls attention to a new magazine, linterview.fr, put together by students at Sciences Po. The presentation and technology are indeed impressive, as Wasmer says (try the full-screen mode). I'm less keen on the content. The interview with Darrell Castle, vice-presidential candidate of the Constitution Party in the United States (what? you've never heard of the Constitution Party, let alone Darrell Castle?), is a head-scratcher. How in the world did they stumble on this obscure bit of Americana? The two-page spread of a racing yacht at sea isn't exactly what I expected in a magazine out of Sciences Po.

To the editors: the slick presentation is impressive, but watch out or you'll be working for Lagardère when you graduate instead of blogging in humble but honest obscurity.