Thursday, July 20, 2017

General Hullaballoo

It's a very simple story, really. General de Villiers, brother of the far-right politician with whom Macron flirted on the campaign trail, forthrightly told deputies he would "not allow [himself] to be fucked like that,"  meaning by Macron's announced budget cuts for the military. Macron just as forthrightly told the general he didn't appreciate such airing of differences in the public square, much less in such salty language, and reminded the old soldier that, despite his youth, he was his commander-in-chief. The general resigned, as was inevitable. And now all of Macron's enemies, from Mélenchon, who can hardly be suspected of wishing that generals should get as much money as they want, to Ciotti to Le Pen, are accusing the president of caesarist pretensions.

Let's all get a grip. Of course the general wants more money and says that the army's ability to carry out its mission depends on it. He may even be right, but that's no reason to take him at his word: generals always say that. Macron was right to forcefully reassert civilian supremacy over the military: this is a fundamental principle. Of course he may be a bit overfond of wielding the prerogatives of his office, but he wouldn't be the first president to become so intoxicated. A new chief of staff has been appointed. He, too, will insist that he needs more money to carry out his mission. He may even get some. And life will go on.

Tyranny has not yet come to France, though you'd hardly know it to hear the politicians flocking to microphones to seize what they perceive as a first major chink in Macron's armor. They're wrong. The Boy Wonder comes out of this looking more in command than ever. The dogs bark, the caravans pass.

20 comments:

Jacqui said...

Hey, perhaps before you accuse those off-put by Macron's authoritarian tendencies, perhaps do some work in looking into what he's actually said. I doubt your ignorance over the matters, which leads me down a very weird rabbit hole of how awfully one-sided your way of thinking is.

“Democracy is always presented as if it were incomplete, because democracy is not enough by itself,” says Macron, elaborating that there is always something missing in the democratic process; some sort of void.


“In French politics, this absence is the presence of a King, a King whom, fundamentally, I don’t think the French people wanted dead,” said Macron. “The Revolution dug a deep emotional abyss, one that was imaginary and shared: the King is no more!” According to Macron, since the Revolution France has tried to fill this void, most notably with Napoleon and then Charles de Gaulle, which was only partially successful. “The rest of the time,” said Macron, “French democracy does not manage to fill this void.”

People are well within their right to call him out. The point is not that people disagree over his budget, but how disinterested he was in listening to any sort of reasoning. During the talk in front of the other officers, his intention was to make it known that what matters is him, not them.

For God's sake, stop this blatant hypocrisy, Art.

Anonymous said...

Your line of rhetoric is constantly "Macron is doing fine, opposition is just mindless chatter" yet it is so obvious how authoritarian he's going; what with his speech in front of Parliament attempting to make it more so an approval platform, his comments on being a "Jupiterian" president, comments on democracy, even his "my thoughts are too complex for journalist" line. How you were close with Hamon's ideas, yet now let this pass, is mind boggling.

bernard said...

I had not realized I was now living in an authoritarian country. Thanks to the above commentors for pointing that out to me. I feel better already.

I had, surely idiotically, thought that President Macron was reasserting the authority of elected officials over the administrative officials as well as his authority as Chief of the Armies. The bureaucracy is not in charge: this must be the start of a dictatorship.

But, actually, the beauty of this episode is that Macron is simply squaring the 2017 budget, and has reaffirmed his decision to increase the military budget to 2% of GDP over the length of his presidency. Surely the, he is weak on defense.

Mitch Guthman said...

I tend somewhat to agree with Art on this specific instance. I should explain that my iPhone get notifications from the news apps so when I woke up this morning, there were a half dozen articles about this that I read at breakfast. It seemed to me that it was just another stupid instance of Macron blurting out something obvious but unnecessarily offense and creating a pointless, even trivial, conflict.

On the other hand, it would seem that others read more into Macron's remarks and also the fact that the general resigned than either Art or I have done. The language on both sides seems to be nuanced and each side also argues that the words of the other are fraught with hidden meaning. It's beyond my capabilities to sort out but if there was nothing disturbing to Art, who has the greater ability to understand what is really being said, I would say my initial impression that it's a tempest in a teacup is correct. Perhaps another example of the imperiousness of King Macron but a trivial one at most.

But clearly he's already grating on a lot of people. For the moment, Macon's power is total and his position unassailable. But it may be that even small incidents like this one will allow opposition parties to begin rebuilding, starting with the two parties that were largely undamaged but perhaps soon the right and the center-left parties will begin to use the reaction to "King Macron" as a linchpin around which to rebuild.

Anonymous said...

It seems odd that a politician's brother wound up with such a high military rank, although of course there is nothing wrong with it in principle. The general clearly put himself in the wrong and had to be fired. Perhaps Macron could have handled the situation otherwise: if this sort of thing happens over and over it will start to reflect badly on Macron. As it happens Macron used the incident to show off his Jupiterian qualities, something that he seems to enjoy too well. I am not worried that Macron's presidency will be authoritarian: France is too firmly established a democracy for that. Instead Macron's airs risk becoming ridiculous once we get used to him.

Anonymous said...

"if this sort of thing happens over and over it will start to reflect badly on Macron."

Exactly that.

bert said...

Bacevich on MacArthur

Art Goldhammer said...

MacArthur is a good example. Or Obama and Gen. McChrystal. I am as baffled by the anti-Macron sentiment of several commenters as they are by my defense of Macron. Of such incompatibitilities of sensibility is politics made.

Anonymous said...

Macron's strategy is undeniably odd. Obama was right to fire McChrystal, but Obama also had no plan to deal with Afghanistan. Macron envisages an ever larger global role for France, and in particular the French military. Why, then, is he cutting the military budget? Particularly when he has made a show of his commitment to raise the military budget to 2% of GDP by 2024? It the plan to cut it sharply now and then raise it sharply in 2020 or thereabouts, all in order to meet a set of artificial targets, one from the Eurozone and the other from Nato? If Macron in fact does not plan on raising the military budget towards the end of his term, he owes it to the military to say so: they have to plan their budgets for the long term! The French military, unlike the German, has real capacities and responsibilities. It is not a sort of bucket that the government can pour money into to stimulate the economy, then take money away from to cut the deficit: it is expected to do things, and to do them it needs a long-term plan given by the political leadership of the nation.

I can't blame the soldiers for being disoriented by Macron's attitude of lording it around in armored cars and hosting huge military parades while cutting their budget. If Macron wants a smaller French military he should be honest with the nation about his plans. As for de Villiers: he appears to have deliberately made his position untenable in order to protest Macron's plan for the military. This is a senior civil servant's right, to be exercised with discretion. There is no real parallel to McArthur, let alone to '61. The issue is not political control of the military, but irresponsible budgeting.

Anonymous said...

Macron certainly has the right to do what he has done. One only wonders if he knows what he is doing. He likes to assert his authority and that is fine up to a point: if Jupiter's thunder seems to strike at random he will not be worshiped for long.

mpz13 said...

It is only a problem of culture and protocol. The Gl. De Villiers expressed himself in an expected movie like way ( I remember George C. Scott as Patton) in front of a restricted and limited audience. Macron could address the Gl. in a much more discreet and moderate way to remind him to shut the fuck up. Instead, he childishly choose to publicly humiliate the Gl. in a dumb Game of throne kind of scene.
There is no doubt from the start that the president decides and the Gl. Chef d'État Major des Armées has to obey. The way this comedy was politically dealt with and keeps to be handled in the media by Castaner after Macron's stupid Top Gun appearance, in Istres, is ridiculous.
No, Macron is not a dictator, he is just authoritarian because he is nervous and he lacks true authority.
For a man who claims a classic literary culture background, this is a poor show. I expected Cicero adressing Catilina : "Quousque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra ?" Instead we are in the middle of an episode of a popular Netflix TV series. I begin to understand the true complicity he has with Trump.

Anonymous said...

This business in itself may not be so important, and perhaps the crotchety old de Villiers simply disliked our young Jupiter and was doomed to be a thorn in the government's side. Everything before the labor reform debate is only scene setting, including this budget dust-up and Trump's visit. However, it has been enough to give the French an idea of Macron's style in office, and his declining popularity shows that they don't like it. (Sarkozy was wildly popular at this point in his term, however: his hyperactive was a welcome change from Chirac, and had not yet begun to grate. Early polls are no guarantee of future performance.)

ZI said...

" Instead, he childishly choose to publicly humiliate the Gl. in a dumb Game of throne kind of scene."

Precisely. The chief of staff probably would have resigned anyway because he was against these cuts on principle, but the public reprimand was entirely unnecessary and stupid. A private discussion in the office would have been much more appropriate. But Macron behind all the smiles is probably unsure of himself at this stage and perceives any disagreements as a direct challenge to his authority.

Anonymous said...

De Villiers started the fracas by saying, in response to the planned cuts, he wouldn't let himself get fucked by the president. He said it at a closed hearing but of course he knew that his comment would show up in the press right away. No French president could let a comment like that slide without a public response (or at least a "private" response that made it into the press as quickly as de Villiers' comments did.) Indeed, a general who publicly or semi-publicly defies the elected head of state ought to resign: I suspect that de Villiers, who was near retirement, understood what the likely consequences of his committee-room comments would be. The question is: could Macron have avoided the whole contretemps?

Perhaps: De Villiers could have been handled better, and military budget plan seems to have been ill thought out: the government has already begun to retreat from it. Perhaps not: like all of the minor storms brewing (plus the major one brewing over labour laws), this dispute has its origins in Macron's efforts to meet his 3% deficit target. To do this Macron will have to squeeze the French state quite a bit, and the army is just one of the pips that will start to squeak.

Anonymous said...

He strikes me here as a sort of Jimmy-Carter-with-a-stiffer-back. Carter was appreciated as talking truth to truth...until the bottom fell out of the economy. If Macron can turn around the economy, he'll be able to lead the parade. If not, he'll suffer the same fate [as Jimmy], charactured as a bumbler, lecturing everyone else on how to do their job.

Anonymous said...

I can't say that I see any similarities between Macron and Carter, beyond the fact that both won the presidency unexpectedly, without the support of a party establishment. Their personalities and family lives couldn't be more different. If Macron resembles a recent American president it is Kennedy: he is young, accomplished, well-connected and handsome; he is beloved of the intellectual-media establishment of his country and can make its conventional wisdom seem like a radical break with the staid past.

The politician whom Macron really resembles, however, is Giscard. And VGE wasn't *so* bad, was he?

Anonymous said...

Many of your points are accurate, particularly about their personalities. And surely by comparison, Macron is "well-connected and handsome." But both Jimmy and Manny [and The Donald] came to their capitols with a contempt for the establishments in place, a contempt that was/is readily reciprocated. Voters may be enamored of outsiders, but by the nature of things, when the outsiders fail, there are plenty of already-sharpened knives waiting. As I said, when the economy tanked, Carter's lecturing the American people became kind of pathetic, allowing a Cum Laude graduate of the Naval Academy to be mocked [by Reagan and Ted Kennedy, of all people!] as an incompetent. People want to be lead, not lectured. All the latter does is raise the stakes if you fail. As for Macron: Wake me when he bests the unions.

Anonymous said...

I still don't see it. In spite of the fact that he founded his own party, Macron is far less of an outsider than Carter ever was. He is backed by Attali, was the protégé of Hollande, and has the backing of the Juppé faction of the right. The majority of the current Assembly owes him everything (whereas Carter was completely unable to control the Democratic majority of the US Congress). Macron is not remotely anti-establishment: he the French establishment personified. Or to be generous: he personifies the establishment's ideas about how France must reform itself. This both in his ideas and his very person: he is exactly the sort of dynamic upwardly mobile person that France is expected to produce in order to get out of its slump.

I suppose you could say that Carter tried to be this. I remember his ridiculous slogan "why not the best?" Ultimately he was too Southern, too rural, too corny and earnest, too religious to embody America's idea of its future. Perhaps this speaks well of him. Bill Clinton, the next southern Democrat to become President, moved to New York after he left office and went on make an obscene amount of money. Jimmy Carter moved back to his farm in Georgia. He shows by example - to the deep shame of Blair and the Clintons - that it is possible for a retired public figure to devote himself to charity without having his good works mysteriously generate hundreds of millions of euros in personal income.

Anonymous said...

I would add to the comment above that I hope very much that Obama learns a lesson from the Clintons' bad example (and Carter's good example) not to chase after dollars too shamelessly once he leaves office. The manner in which retired politicians turn their connections into cash is disgusting. Of course this sort of thing is as old as the hills, but in most major western nations it has gotten measurably worse generation by generation since the war. For understandable reasons it discredits the left more than the right (though it brought down Fillion). They all seem to be absorbed into an itinerant class of rich people who get rich introducing other rich people to one another.

The personal greed of retired center-left politicians - I don't mean the jobbers but the former heads of government - has played a big role in the current discredit of the center-left. One has to think not just of Blair and the Clintons but Gonzales and the PSOE machine in Spain, or Gerhard Schröder's Gazprom connections, or the execrable Dominique Strauss-Kahn. (Italy is a case by itself.) Remembering such people makes one want to erect a shrine to St. Jimmy Carter. Macron will be ridiculously young whenever he leaves office, and I think that ordinary grifting would bore him. I hope that he tries to become Secretary-General of the UN or President of the European Commission. The thought of him earning millions running the Macron Initiative is depressing. Perhaps he will move to California and run a start-up.

brent said...

@ Anon 27/7
Perhaps he'll be exiled to Elba.