Monday, January 18, 2010

Another Franco-American Contretemps ...

... in Haiti, where the French feel pushed aside by the American "invasion" (the word "occupation" has also been used). No surprise, of course, and never did the course of true humanitarianism run smooth, but cooperation rather than confrontation would be particularly useful here because of the language issue (although at this point I suspect that English is about as common in Haiti as French, owing to the Haitian diaspora). Still, the French pride themselves on l'humanitaire, American emergency assistance tends to take a military form ("How many divisions has Médecins sans frontières?"), and diplomatic sensitivity is not the forte of military logistics teams. The airport, a major bottleneck, is under American control, and French humanitarian flights need clearance to land and depart. Solving this problem will require intervention at a high level. I hope Hillary Clinton takes notice. But French petulance such as that displayed by M. Joyandet, who grabbed a mike from an air traffic controller's hand, is hardly likely to help. De Gaulle casts a long shadow (and Kouchner in particular has inherited aspects of his style), but some omelets can be made without breaking eggs, or balls. If this continues, Sarkozy's projected visit to the island is likely to become another flash point, and result in another pissing contest with Obama, at least as reported in the French press. La presse américaine s'en fout comme de l'an 40.


kirkmc said...

To be fair, one of the biggest problems in getting aid to the people in Haiti seems to be one of security, and soldiers are desperately needed to help. Since the US is the closest country of any size, with any reactivity, it makes sense that they send soldiers - and I'm impressed by the speed and number that they're sending.

But humanitarians generally don't get along with soldiers, and the French are seeing this as another Franco-American contest, in a way that seems unjust, unfair and futile. Since the French can't provide security, they should let the Americans get things started, and then do what they can afterwards. Given the situation, it's shameful to be washing their dirty laundry in public.

Unknown said...

A few points worth noting here:

one, I scanned the NYT online this morning and saw no mention whatsoever of tensions, eg. the NYT was only reporting on American efforts (which are large and welcomed to be sure);

two, French ONGs as well as those from a few non Anglosaxon countries are true ONGs: they don't answer to the French government or to any government for that matter, and are adamant that they not be a tool of anyone's foreign policy: this will by itself be creating tensions with the US governmental relief force in the coming period, it is inevitable;

three, Haitians speak mostly French, it would be smart from an efficiency point of view to prioritise in favor of francophone relief teams. Haiti is volatile enough that one should not add to the powderkeg that the population is the language barrier.

As for Joyandet's intervention, his problem, though I would suspect that there actually is something there.

kirkmc said...

I notice that Hugo Chavez, even the Chomskyan paranoid wacko, is saying that the US wants to occupy Haiti:

For what reason? What does Haiti have in natural resources that interest the US? It's stripped its forests, has no oil. Could this be a war about guano?

James Conran said...

It seems to me that high profile visits by high profile world leaders are not high on the list of things Haiti needs right now. That applies to Bill & Hill as much as to Sarko.

Philippe said...


The NYT does mention the tensions , see here:

Even as the United States took a leading role in aid efforts, some aid officials were describing misplaced priorities, accusing United States officials of focusing their efforts on getting their people and troops installed and lifting their citizens out. Under agreement with Haiti, the United States is now managing air traffic control at the airport, helicopters are flying relief missions from warships off the coast and 9,000 to 10,000 troops are expected to arrive by Monday to help with the relief effort.

The World Food Program finally was able to land flights of food, medicine and water on Saturday, after failing on Thursday and Friday, an official with the agency said. Those flights had been diverted so that the United States could land troops and equipment, and lift Americans and other foreigners to safety.

“There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti,” said Jarry Emmanuel, the air logistics officer for the agency’s Haiti effort. “But most of those flights are for the United States military.

The article seems well sourced and the reporters provide quotes from both sides - the NGOs and the U.S. military.

Anonymous said...

Imperialism is not just about material gain. There's an important ideological and psychological element.

Leo said...

To be fair, Kouchner distanced himself from Joyandet's statement:

"Le ministre a également réagi à la polémique lancée par le secrétaire d'Etat de la Coopération Alain Joyandet au sujet d'un avion français n'ayant pas eu l'autorisation de se poser par les Américains qui gèrent l'aéroport de Port-au-Prince. "Sur place, on a toujours envie que ce soit son avion (...) qui atterrisse". Mais "laissons tomber cette polémique, ce qui est important, c'est le sort des Haïtiens et leur avenir", a-t-il balayé. AP"

Anonymous said...

Just my two cents, but I don't think the critical reaction evoked in the post & in Bremner's article is very diffuse in France or of sufficient gravity as to warrant too much worry or even attention. From what I've been reading, hearing, watching via the media and elsewhere, I just haven't sensed much of a Franco-American dispute in the making. Maybe I'm just not "awaaaaare" as Jean-Claude van Damme says.

Still I think that:
1) its very much the usual suspects that complain - from the fonctionnaires, hauts & bas, to the organs of the press whose job it is to complain about things.

and 2) it is mostly a case of French people complaining. Ils râlent. Tout le temps. The French in general, I mean. Not just Joyandet. And no, its no Francophobic reflex on my part. Rather, I see it as a matter of cultural differencs coming to the surface. The action of "râler", complaining, is a means of communicating on par with any other type of statement. For Americans, this may be off-putting since a complaint means that something is an "issue", meaning that something is "uh-oh", there's a problem. For the French, no. To "râler" does not presuppose that something is turning into a dispute or an issue of serious gravity which would lead to a crisis. It is part of normal debate and critical thinking. Emotions are cognitive, after all.

This is why, in my opinion, French are better able to handle arguments than Americans - they're bitter less often. The current contretemps is just a minor glitch in Franco-American communication because I also think that, in the end, all parties from either country are concentrating on the essential which is to help Haiti.

For sure, some critiques - and critics - are worth the listen but let's not get lost in wasteful banter. No shit the cocos at L'Humanité would complain! The best reaction to the serial complaining & whining, to those "râlent" & "rouspètent", for the simplest of pretexts is to put it in context, to not think its "that serious". Bref, to react the way your average Frenchman enjoying his "1664" at the bar zinc would and say "Ta gueule, p'tn."

Chris P.

Blistère said...

Please, the reference is mystifying-- what is the year 40 of which the American press fouts itself? I googled 1969 and 1970 and couldn't find anything that made sense.

Unknown said...

It's the Year 40 of the First French Republic, which of course never came to pass, whence the expression. I should have written de l'an XL, sans doute.

Unknown said...

See Robert, Dictionnaire des Expressions et Locutions, p. 31, which gives a somewhat different etymology and says that the origin of the expression is not really known, but that it dates from 1791.

Anonymous said...

My first google hit goes to a discussion on a web site called Expressio. It's maybe the year 1040 (the millenium plus roughly the age of Jesus at his crucifiction), the 40th anniversary of the revolution, or maybe the approximate age of Louis XVI when he was decapitated.

None of this explains it in a way that a normal human being should understand, but lacking any round-points in the star I finally dreamed that it means "as if the American press really gave a shit."

Unknown said...

Interesting news:
Haïti: un avion MSF empêché d'atterrir
Un avion de Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) transportant du matériel médical vital a été empêché d'atterrir à trois reprises à Port-au-Prince, a indiqué aujourd'hui un communiqué de l'organisation.

Un avion-cargo MSF transportant 12 tonnes d'équipement médical, dont des médicaments, du matériel chirurgical et deux appareils de dialyse s'est vu refuser par trois fois l'atterrissage à l'aéroport de Port-au-Prince depuis dimanche soir, malgré des assurances répétées quant à sa possibilité d'atterrir, a précisé MSF.

"Ces 12 tonnes faisait partie d'une cargaison initiale de 40 tonnes transportées dans un avion qui n'avait pas reçu l'autorisation d'atterrir dimanche matin". "Depuis le 14 janvier, cinq avions de MSF ont été déroutés de leur destination de Port-au-Prince vers la République dominicaine. Ces avions transportaient 85 tonnes de matériel médical au total.

"Cinq patients sont décédés au centre médical de Martissant à cause du manque de matériel médical qui se trouvait à bord de cet avion ", explique dans ce communiqué Loris de Filippi, coordonnateur d'urgence pour MSF à l'hôpital Choscal à Cité Soleil.

Plus de 700 personnels de MSF travaillent actuellement pour apporter une aide médicale d'urgence aux rescapés du tremblement de terre dans et en dehors de Port-au-Prince. Les équipes MSF travaillent actuellement à l'hôpital de Choscal, au centre de santé de Martissant, à l'hôpital de la Trinité, à l'hôpital de Carrefour, à l'hôpital de Jacmel et installent actuellement un hôpital gonflable de 100 lits dans le quartier Delmas.

Cincinna said...

I think Obama has done an excellent job of handling the Haiti crisis. Sending in the 82nd Airborne to deliver food, medicine, and water, and protect those items, as well as the civilian population from looting and pillaging by organized gangs is absolutely necessary.

Almost 40% if Americans have already contributed to Haitian earthquake relief via the Red Cross, DWB, Salvation Army or Catholic Charities.

Whether George W Bush, or Obama, when it comes to America, for many, unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished.

FrédéricLN said...

Whatever the origin of "l'an 40", "la presse américaine" is quite right here.

(French) TV news with French leaders pretending to be acknowledged as saviours by Haitians, when our help is microscopic today and has been microscopic since years, is the utmost ridiculous show.

That's kind of moment when you need the US way of designing operations.

The problem with the US way usually comes just three weeks after, when US decision-makers on the field do not perceive the need to leave the place to the very leaders that were powerless three weeks before.