Saturday, January 17, 2009

"La République des Tartuffes"

"La République des Tartuffes vient, encore une fois, de se faire taper sur les doigts."

This is Eolas's description of a decision by the Europe Court for Human Rights, which has vindicated the editorial staff of PLON for publishing the memoirs of General Aussaresses, in which the general acknowledged the official use of torture by the French army in Algeria. The Tartuffes of the Republic had tried to suppress the book, ostensibly on the grounds that it was an "apology for war crimes" but in reality because the powers-that-be felt that it would be better if that dark chapter in France's history were not revisited.

This decision is not without interest for the vigorous debate that is now taking place in the United States about what to do about torture ordered by the Bush administration. Eric Holder, the attorney general-designate, testified in Congress that he believes waterboarding is torture. Susan Crawford, who is in charge of military commission at Guantanamo, has said that she believes that at least one inmate there was tortured. The incoming administration now faces the problem of what to do about these acts. Will it prosecute them, or will it prefer to jouer les Tartuffes de la République?

The A400

Europe is a long way from a unified foreign policy. It is also a long way from possessing a unified military capability that could act beyond its borders independent of the US. Arguably, without the capability to project force, the need to come to agreement about policy is diminished. Everybody is entitled to an opinion, but action invariably selects one opinion from among many.

Europe's hope of developing an independent force-projection capability hinged on a new airplane: the Airbus A400M, a heavy-lifting turboprop transport of new design. But the plane is in serious trouble. The technical difficulties have proved far greater than Airbus envisioned. And there is talk of abandoning the project altogether.

Food Fight

The Bush administration, in a parting shot, retaliated against the EU ban on hormone-treated beef imports by imposing a 300% tariff on roquefort. Why roquefort? Why a French cheese? Why the refusal to accept that some safety-related bans may stem from honest disagreements about what is safe rather than devious designs to protect home producers? Compromise has never been the way of the Bush administration. You're either with us or against us (especially if you're French, Sarko the American notwithstanding).

Well, at least it wasn't Mont d'Or or Époisses. There are acceptable substitutes for roquefort.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to a pointer from reader Leo, I see that my friend Jacques Mistral has weighed in (entirely appropriately) on this crisis:

Jacques Mistral, head of economic research at the French Institute of Foreign Relations in Paris says Thursday's move reflects a last-gasp provocation by the Bush administration, which has never forgotten France's emphatic non before the invasion of Iraq. Mistral — who was economic adviser at the French Embassy in Washington during the stormy period from 2001 to 2006 — says the current swipe at Roquefort will prove less economically threatening than the Iraq-triggered American public boycott of France's wines in 2003 — and shorter-lived than the deportation of French fries from Congress' menu. "Even from this administration, I was astounded by such a grotesque, petty and inefficient gesture in its last hours in office," Mistral says. "No U.S. sector benefits from this, and there's no way the E.U. will reverse its ban on hormone-raised beef that consumers here don't want. I suspect we'll see this move reversed by the new administration as both obnoxious and futile."