Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Gliberal Internationalism

My friend Tony Smith has written an important book entitled A Pact with the Devil, in which he shows how a certain insouciance about armed intervention, common among some liberal internationalists in the 1990s, helped to bulldoze the garde-fous that once made American governments at least hesitate, if not always refrain, from ill-conceived overseas ventures. France lacks the means to get itself in as much trouble as the United States, but it has developed its own form of verbal rather than military adventurism, what might be called "gliberal internationalism."

Sarkozy is now hastily trying to make amends for the damage done to France's reputation in China, where nationalist feeling runs high (as Pierre Haski reports from Peking). To be sure, the Chinese government whipped up nationalist passions by selectively showing footage of the handicapped Chinese athlete being attacked by pro-Tibet demonstrators. But then what are we to say of the images of the Tibet violence broadcast in France? It's probably not a good idea to draw sweeping conclusions about the nature of justice in any society on the basis of televised images of police repression (what would one have concluded about France if one's only knowledge of its politics came from an event of the sort I described in the previous post?).

The Dalai Lama is now an honorary citizen of Paris, while Carrefour outlets in China are the object of boycotts. Sarkozy has sent his apologies to the athlete and "the people of China," carefully omitting from his letter any mention of the Chinese government, but the government has nevertheless "accepted" his apology on behalf of its people. A healthy number of deputies may have praised Tibetan resistance outside the National Assembly, but their voice has been offset by the equally healthy number of agents Sarkozy has dispatched to make amends to the Chinese (Poncelet, Raffarin, Levitte). Les droits de l'homme are the bread and circuses of today's high politics. When convenient they can be deployed to divert the crowd, but serious people occupy themselves with serious interests and don't confuse gliberal intervention with foreign policy. China and Tibet have a long history about which most of us in the West know very little. If we really care about the rights of Tibetans, it would behoove us to learn more and find better instruments than the Olympic torch follies (a "tradition" invented by the Nazis in 1936, by the way) to make our point to the Chinese.


Junco said...

Was the tradition really invented by the Nazis? If so, it seems perfectly fitting that the Chinese continue it (or at least not disturb it).

Oh but here comes France's civilizing mission again. Which is incoherent as it ever was. Now, should Sarkozy's words and omissions be backed a second aircraft carrier.... (My sources assure me that this is financially impossible at the moment).

To complete the ridiculous cycle, perhaps the Chinese will stop boycotting Carrefour, whose shelves are chuggy-jam with products of Chinese origin. Céline himself could not have invented a more rotten political scene.

Passerby said...

I would argue that the manifestations & actions around the flame are perfectly legitimate.
They are certainly based on an incomplete (inexistent?) understanding of the situation, but as long as no law is being broken, France remains a democracy where people can voice their opinions.
Chinese government may not want its perfect being disrupted, but that's life... Sure Tibetans are using the Olympics to promote their agenda, but so is Beijing. That's why they wanted the games in the first place.

Regarding, the "honorary citizen" issue: same thing; the Paris administration isn't doing anything illegal. But it's certainly an obvious political attempt by Bertrand Delanoë to surf on the current wave of sympathy for Tibet. One might wonder why the Dalai-lama wasn't good enough to become honorary citizen of Paris when he visited the city a few years ago (with the same mayor in place). In politics, as in life, timing is everything…

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Yes, the Nazis used the torch procession in the same way that the Chinese attempted to use it: to demonstrate "respect" for their international stature. The running of the torch was filmed for viewing by the home audience. Any relation to ancient tradition was purely incidental.

I don't deny the legitimacy of the protest, but how many protesters realized that Tibetans are a minority in Tibet? To be sure, the Han majority is a result of a deliberately imperial policy of the Chinese government, but which Western democracy has no similar blemishes in its history. I feel about the destruction of Tibetan civilization as Tocqueville felt about the destruction of the American Indian civilization: an unfolding tragedy, to be sure, but a tragedy that cannot be halted, much less reversed. So the protests have the elegaic value of the lost cause but are no substitute for foreign policy, which has to find another basis of legitimacy. You might find this article of Michael Walzer's interesting.

passerby said...

Thanks for the link, I'll read this article.

alexpri said...

The issue is not, it seems to me, that we in the West do not understand the situation in Tibet (or, as you say, “China and Tibet have a long history about which most of us in the West know very little”). I’m not an expert, but nothing I’ve read suggests that the standard Western take– that the Chinese are oppressing in various ways the Tibetan minority—is incorrect. Rather, the problem with Western protests is that China apparently tends to interpret them as manifestations of neo-colonial attitudes, and so their only effect is to create a nationalist reaction. There was an article in Le Monde, I believe, that made this argument very persuasively. The author felt that the Dalai Lama had made a strategic mistake when he decided to try to enlist Western public opinion for the Tibetan cause. As for your analogy between Tibet and the American Indians, it strikes me as misleading. Independence may not be a realistic goal, but some form of cultural survival seems not only worth fighting for but probable.

Anonymous said...

ron tiersky said:

Chinese imperialism in Tibet is indeed a fact, the Tibetans are now a minority in Lhasa, pushed into the Tibetan quarter. The Han run the city. (I saw this first-hand already when I was there 10 years ago; today the process is that much further along.) Beijing emphasizes its modernization of Lhasa, infrastructure, medical care and so on. China's leaders, and much of Chinese opinion, are not much interested in the question, who asked them to do it? (I put this point to a retired Chinese military man, who was astonished that such a question could even be conceived, let alone asked out loud.) But if you believe that Tibet is part of China and thus Beijing has responsibilities there, then it makes sense. In addition, there's still a lot of the old belief that "the Party" should be trusted in such matters.

On the other hand, for a first-hand report of how the riots began, who did the first and perhaps worst damage (the Tibetans don't look good, Han people and businesses in the city suffered many unprovoked attacks) - the Chinese accusation of vast bias in Western reporting from Lhasa is to some extent justified--see The Economist for March 22. An Economist China reporter happened to be in Lhasa when the violence began.

As for Sarkozy's letter and envoys: The fact is that more or less all governments want the Beijing Olympics to be a great success, and want the Beijing leaders to make no mistake about it. But Beijing at the same time can't expect to control the domestic politics and foreign policy of other countries. That Sarkozy sends a letter and envoys, and at the same time the Dalai Lama is made an honorary citizen of Socialist-controlled Paris,is a good combination; the best, or the least bad, of a bad situation.