Saturday, April 26, 2008

France-Bashing from Within and Without

The Internet is a strange place. In looking for additional information about Gen. Desportes (see previous post), I came upon two curious sites, this and this, which may interest readers of French Politics. The first is indicative of the depths to which the hatred of France can sink in some quarters of America--the depths, and the depravity. The second is a purely Franco-French curiosity.

Lyautey Lives

One French general seems to have been studying the American military's "lessons learned" file rather closely. In an interview published today in Le Monde, Gen. Vincent Desportes, commander of the Centre de doctrine des emplois de force, waxes lyrical about the military as an instrument for building "social contracts," the global right of intervention and "violence prevention," the humanitarian role of the military and the need for "reversibility" (between combat and nation-building roles) in military training. He gives a French twist to a program that would no doubt win the imprimatur of David Petraeus by invoking the ghosts of Lyautey and Gallieni as builders rather than destroyers (the imperial context of their construction is left out). Desportes makes his own the idea popular among American neoconservatives that World War II drained the martial spirit from Europe and sees this as a problem in maintaining support for defense spending in European democracies. That the obverse of this difficulty--the obsession with military solutions to the problem of "evil," which Tony Judt ponders here--does not similarly concern him is perhaps to be put down to the nature of his professional focus.

Nevertheless, I find Desportes' "Thomist" criterion for intervention rather chilling: "One has the right to intervene if one is almost persuaded in one's soul and conscience that the good to come is greater than the temporary evil one is going to create." This is a standard--even if one deletes the "almost" modifying moral certainty as an unfortunate slip of the tongue--that can be and has been used to justify anything.

Retrieving the "Other"

Reacting to my comments about Sarkozy's remarks on Afghanistan, Justin wrote:

And I don't think mentioning the nasty Taliban as the main reason of the fight was so smart. They are pretty nasty indeed, but they're not al Qaeda, they are a local political force which will not disappear, and linking them to al Qaeda makes any negotiation impossible - or at least uncomfortable. If we want to "win", we'll have to talk to them -- or, rather, Karzai will have to, and we'll have to somehow include them while preventing them from reimposing their rule. At this point Sarko would be in trouble.

Junco replied:
Tactical negotiations with the Taliban have been a feature of British operations in OEF since the outset. The problem is that sometimes they choose the wrong guy to negotiate with. Either this representative has no real power or he proves to be treacherous. This is the problem with nonstate actors--there is no appreciable power structure with which to negotiate.

It's perhaps worth noting that Sarkozy's rhetorical strategy for "othering" the Taliban relies heavily not on their threat to the West but on their alleged threat to their own women. His two stated reasons for refusing to talk to "ces moyenâgeux" was that they refuse to educate their women and they stone adulteresses to death. Yesterday at Harvard, in a brilliant contribution to a symposium on "Sex, Politics, and Culture in Contemporary Europe," Éric Fassin (professor of sociology at the École Normale Supérieure) made the important point that sexual difference has increasingly become a preferred device for "othering" the enemy. "We" are sexually "modern" and enjoy what Fassin terms "sexual democracy" (equality between the sexes, "liberal" attitudes), while "they" are moyenâgeux, hence out of bounds for negotiation. They can only be eliminated.

Curiously, in dealing with the question of Tibet, the president's imagery was quite the reverse. A rebellion led by monks--what could be more moyenâgeux? But the Tibetan rebels were wrapped instead in the thoroughly modern garb of national liberation. The education of women and punishment of adultery were no longer relevant to the discussion. Here the language was narrowly confined to les droits de l'homme, not further specified, and friends of human rights were chastised for their selective support of Tibet while neglecting the women of Afghanistan (in this rhetorical foreshortening, those who protested the passing of the Olympic torch were conveniently identified with those who object to France's involvement in Afghanistan).

Fassin noted that "sexual modernity" has become such an integral part of Sarkozy's version of France's national identity that in one speech he even claimed the right to abortion as one of its defining characteristics--an interesting move for a president who prides himself on being an honorary canon of Saint John Lateran and whose government includes Christine Boutin (but who, it is true, also enjoys the support--most of the time--of Simone Veil). But Éric went on to say that such rhetorical maneuvers, which are inevitable in political discourse, should not be dismissed as hypocrisy but rather used as political instruments to force action on other fronts. If Sarkozy is so concerned with the oppression of Afghan women, for example, he can be challenged on the fate of women deported back to their countries of origin by his Ministry of Immigration and National Identity.