Monday, September 17, 2007

Austrian FM, IAEA, Respond to Kouchner

After Bernard Kouchner's bellicose remarks on Sunday, the Austrian foreign minister has reacted: "My colleague Kouchner is the only one who can explain what he meant. It is incomprehensible to me why he should have resorted to martial rhetoric at this time." Meanwhile, Mohammed El Baradei of the IAEA said that he "would ask everyone to stay calm until we have completed our verification procedures" in November or December.

Interestingly enough, the NY Times today published a somewhat disparaging story about El Baradei. Déjà vu, anyone?

Tough Workout

Yesterday I thought I'd make my daily workout a little tougher than usual, so I dragged the TV in front of the weight machine and exercise bike and switched on Jean-Pierre Elkabbach on Le Grand Rendez-vous d'Europe 1 (sometimes called la télé de Sarko). His guest was Jean-Claude Mailly of Force Ouvrière, which back in the day used to be known as le syndicat des patrons. But times have changed. Mailly was talking a tough line. Bernard Thibault of the CGT has promised some "sport" if Sarkozy tries to push through retirement reforms without consultation. Of course Thibault is built like a rugbyman, whereas Mailly looks more like the accountant he once was, yet he too was making ominous noises, even if he refused to go quite as far as Elkabbach tried to goad him to go: he would not endorse Thibault's threat of "sport." Instead he kept coming back to the need for consultation and the unwisdom of a passage en force.

Weight-lifting is a good thing to be doing while listening to this langue de bois, which was rendered particularly wooden by the fact that Mailly had met with Sarkozy the day before, so we may assume that he had a pretty good idea what Sarko intends to say tomorrow and Wednesday. François Chérèque, who also met with Sarkozy, more or less confirms that Sarko's words were reassuring, but evidently the union leaders promised not to tip the president's hand, and Mailly was merely keeping his word. Elkabbach had probably also been let in on the secret, so it was only those of us foolish enough to watch this shadow-boxing who remained in the dark.

What to do in such a situation but pump iron? It's the only way to let off the steam that builds when one is taken for an imbecile. It was of course pointed out that the devoutly to be wished "consultation" with the unions about the special regimes has been going on for two years now and that eventually a decision will have to be made. But Mailly kept a straight face as he continued to insist on consultation, while Elkabbach could hardly veil his wish that Tuesday were already upon his so that he could unveil the next phase of the Sarkozyan reform, whose talking points he undoubtedly had already in his pocket. I could stand it for ten sets of 20 reps before finally shutting the thing off.

Gog and Magog

Thomas Römer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne, has revealed that Jacques Chirac made inquiries about the meaning of Gog and Magog after George Bush, attempting to persuade him to join the invasion of Iraq, told him that the pair were at work in the Middle East.

Bush's apocalyptic proclivities of 2003 and Chirac's biblical innocence would matter little now if End Time rumblings were not again in the news. Bernard Kouchner made headlines yesterday when he said that, with respect to Iran, "we must prepare for the worst," and when pressed to say what he meant, he indicated: "War." Sarkozy had previously indicated that an Iranian bomb would be unacceptable to France and that the alternative was "an Iranian bomb or the bombardment of Iran." And the rumor from diplomatic circles is that Sarko, on his return from his Kennebunkport meeting with Bush, let it be known in Europe that Washington is serious about "preventing" Iran from obtaining the bomb. Whether this saber-rattling is intended to rally Europeans into supporting sanctions against Iran or to prepare the public to brace for a decision that Bush has already taken, as was the case in 2002-3, remains to be seen. But Paris is not the only place where the rumor of (expanded) war is growing louder:

See here and here and here, for example.

A Sad Day for Socialism

Libération has published excerpts from Lionel Jospin's book L'Impasse in advance of publication. It is hard to know what tone to take in speaking of the Jospinian onslaught. I've been critical enough of Ségolène Royal's political skills to have earned rebukes from one or two readers, who take a more favorable view of her. But I criticize from a distance, as an outside observer. Jospin's attack is vicious and personal and steeped in acid: having offered her his nominal support during the campaign, he tells us now that he was certain she could not win, "not because she was [sic] a woman but because I had been able to form a fairly precise idea of her well-known qualities and her very real inadequacies." He goes on: "Having made an error in nominating her in no way justifies repeating that error" by allowing her to lead the party.

I have met Lionel Jospin, sat across a table from him, chatted with him, listened to him speak, watched him debate over lunch his own political errors and defend the 35-hour week against the criticisms of two renowned economists, Nobel prizewinner Robert Solow and Olivier Blanchard. My impression was that he is a rather melancholy man, too reserved to make a good politician but thoughtful enough to have made a good professor. I wouldn't have thought him capable of such a personal attack. Who knows what slights and indignities and humiliations may have prompted it. In private terms it may even be justified, but in public and political terms I cannot think of it as anything but a monumental error. Jospin, along with Rocard, is the elder statesman of the party. He was Mitterrand's designated heir and a presidential candidate. He has a reputation for stolid probity. Yet now, with his own words, he denounces the party's representation of itself to the people of France as a fraud. He indicts himself as a party to that fraud and a man unscrupulous enough to have endorsed, however tepidly, a woman he considered to be incompetent and, reading between the lines, morally unfit for the presidency. Yet he begs us to believe that his endorsement of a future leader of the party should matter.

I can't believe that this book will help Jospin, the Jospinists, or the Socialist Party. In fact, I'm not sure that the Socialist Party can or should survive this profession de manque de foi. I had somehow been persuaded that the mauvais caractère in this past election was Sarkozy. I see now that I was wrong. Les mauvais caractères abounded. It's a sad day for the Socialist Party and a sad day for France.

Libé's editorial comment is here, slightly more measured than mine.

Other reactions:
Hollande: It's time for the PS "to put an end to the settling of scores." The party's failure "cannot be reduced to a question of personalities."
Gilles Savary: The book "dishonors" Jospin and "insults the 16.7 million French men and women" who voted for Royal.
Arnaud Montebourg: "What's the use of this permanent venting?" Jospin's own poor performance in 2002 "should have encouraged somewhat more modesty in his criticisms. We could turn some of the criticism back on Jospin, who is one of our great wise men."
Still more:
Jean-Marc Ayrault: "Polemics do not facilitate the work of the Socialist Party." "Renovation is not just settling of scores among friends and endless rehashing of old bitterness."
Benoît Hamon: "If we put another euro in the machine every month, this is never going to end."