Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sortons de ce soap opera!

I take my title from Bertrand Delanoë's splendid text in today's Le Monde. Enfin! At last, a Socialist leader who has mustered the will to respond to Sarkozy on substance rather than form, who avoids sniping at his comrades, who recognizes the party's failure as above all intellectual, and who has begun to take stock of the world as it is.

The blogger Lancelot reports that Delanoë will hold a major rally on Sept. 4, but clearly he has ambitions that extend well beyond Paris. This is a manifesto for leadership of the Socialist Party. I haven't time to analyze the text in detail, but I'll surely get back to it. In the meantime, have a look. If you don't have a subscription, try Le Monde's open site. Note, too, that Delanoë is wisely avoiding not only bickering with his fellow Socialists but also mingling with them in endless hand-wringing meetings. He will approach the party via the media, as the party must be approached these days. He has a strong organization in Paris, but he will expand his influence by commanding national attention with statements on the issues, not on personalities. In short, he is following the trail blazed by Sarkozy. And he's off to a good start.

FT opposes DSK

The Financial Times has published an editorial opposing Europe's backing of Dominique Strauss-Kahn to head the International Monetary Fund. For the editorialist, DSK lacks the intellectual credentials as well as the necessary temperament, which the FT believes should be that of a central banker. Since Russia has already announced its opposition to DSK's candidacy and is backing a Czech banker, Joseph Tosovsky, and since Third World countries are growing restive about the European lock on the position, DSK's future is suddenly looking less certain. One wonders, of course, if the reported Yasmina Reza connection has anything to do with this surprising turn.

For the latest head count, see here.

More Foreign Policy (Response to Françoise)

Françoise posted the following comment to my previous post on Sarkozy's foreign policy speech yesterday:

Je découvre votre blog avec grand plaisir. Il est extrêmement intéressant d'avoir l'opinion d'amis "non-français" sur notre pays.

Je retiens votre petite remarque (sarcastique ?) : "Was the word "failure" mentioned in Kennebunkport?"

Je ne sais pas ce qui s'est dit (dans "l'intimité") à Kennebunkport, mais tout ce discours de politique étrangère m'apparaît plein de contradictions, dans le texte lui-même et par rapport à l'attitude du président français pendant son séjour aux États-Unis.

Quelle est votre analyse à ce sujet ?

Thanks for your comment, Françoise. Your question provokes a somewhat lengthy response, so I'm putting it here in the main thread. First, I agree that Sarkozy's speech is full of contradictions. Indeed, it's quite interesting to read the innumerable reactions it has provoked, since each of the many commentators seems to focus on a different aspect of the speech as the most important point, suggesting that the address is something of a Rorschach test, which tells us more about the reader's preoccupations than about the president's. The New York Times, for example, emphasized the threat of force against Iran. European commentators were far less interested in this aspect of the speech, and while several mentioned Sarkozy's "strong" statement on Iran, none saw a threat to use European force. Indeed, what Sarkozy said was that negotiation was the only way to escape from "a catastrophic alternative: the Iranian bomb or the bombardment of Iran." Was he thinking of an American bombardment of Iran? Of an Israeli bombardment of Iran? Or of a French/European bombardment of Iran? He didn't say. What he did say was only that an Iranian bomb was "unacceptable" to him, leaving the rest highly ambiguous. (For François Heisbourg's rather more appreciative take on the Iran statement, see here.)

Now, ambiguity is sometimes useful in diplomacy, but it can also be very dangerous, particularly when the ambiguity involves the use of force. Le Figaro characterizes Sarkozy's policy in a headline as "voluntarist" and draws a parallel with what is sees as his "voluntarism" in the domestic arena. I'm not quite sure what is intended by this adjective, unless it is to suggest that Sarko means to be an active presence in the foreign policy arena, seeking to anticipate and perhaps precipitate events rather than responding to them. So, for example, rather than wait for an opportunity to display lessened hostility to the United States, he chose to vacation in New Hampshire to make a point of the reorientation. But if this is voluntarism, he may be overdoing it. He could have indicated his willingness to help the United States out of its current impasse without fawning over a discredited president, to the point of rubbing his shoulder affectionately--I believe that the body language of the Kennebunkport encounter mattered more than the diplomatic language of the two leaders. Yet having thus aligned himself with Bush, he proceeded in his speech yesterday to describe the Bush policy as un échec, a failure, which is quite accurate, only to proceed to an ambiguous statement about Iran, leaving observers to wonder whether he is now aligning himself with Bush's increasingly bellicose pronouncements on the Iranian question or persisting in the previous Franco-European course of mounting sanctions coupled with negotiations. The ambiguity strikes me as deliberate, and insofar as it encourages the va-t-en-guerre faction in the United States, regrettable.

Much more interesting is the proposal for a Mediterranean Union, which came in for considerable attention in his speech. Sarkozy seems to have it in mind to foster a bloc of moderate Muslim states in North Africa as a counter to the "failed states" of Syria, Iraq, and Iran. He would like to join Turkey to this bloc as a substitute for Turkish membership in the European Union. And he sees Europe--but more importantly, France, with its longstanding cultural ties to the Maghreb--as the principal interlocutor with this new bloc, a stable regional counter-power to the turbulent Crescent. It's an interesting proposal, and one which I think will receive much development shortly under the leadership of Jean-David Levitte, who, far more than Kouchner, will I think be the key man in the emerging French foreign policy. Kouchner is the showman; Levitte is the strategist. Kouchner will figure in the splashier initiatives. Levitte will articulate the grand dessein. Kouchner's recent faux pas after his Baghdad visit demonstrates that he is still a neophyte in foreign policy, but it scarcely matters, since Sarkozy is in effect his own foreign minister.

That's all I have time for just now.

The Court Pronounces

Le Figaro reports that a court in Nanterre has awarded damages of 15,000 euros to a person whom it chastely identifies only as "the young woman appearing in photographs with François Hollande" on a beach in Malta. The court refused, however, to order the withdrawal of copies of the "people" magazine Closer containing the photograph and already in circulation.

One wonders if the story will be covered by Valérie Trierweiler, who reports on the Socialist Party for Match and who bears a certain resemblance to the aforesaid young woman. It might help boost the flagging fortunes of the Socialist Party and its leader. As the Telegraph, less chaste than Le Figaro, noted some time ago in an article about how bloggers revealed information that French newspapers cannot print:

But, according to a new book about sex and French politics, Sexus Politicus, internet revelations might even assist politicians.

"Far from being a flaw, to cast yourself in the role of seducer is without doubt an important quality in our political life," said its co-author, Christophe Deloire. A recent French opinion poll found 83 per cent of the electorate would still vote for a candidate if he had cheated on his wife.