Thursday, March 31, 2011

On the Decline of Public Services

Over the past few weeks I've considered the influence of the decline of public services on the rise of the Front National. Some commenters deny that public services have in fact declined under Sarkozy. This article, based on observations in one Parisian quartier, takes the opposite view.

How low ...

... can French debate sink? Not only have we learned that the famous "debate on laïcité" so coveted by Copé will unfold, beginning to end, in just two hours--another aborted effort, exactly like the debate on national identity that preceded it. But of course the "debate" was never the point, which was rather to divide the sheep from the goats of the UMP and signal to the voters of the extreme right.

But now we also learn that poor Bernard-Henri Lévy is under attack by the unspeakable Dieudonné, Kadhafi's last defender, and the unsavory Depardieu, BHL's latest execrator. Quelle honte!. And who is rising to the defense of beleaguered Bernard-Henri? Why, L'Express and Jean-Paul Enthoven, his bosom buddy and ex-amant of the First Lady. The latter writes in La Règle du jeu, whose editorial director is ... Bernard-Henri Lévy, a collaborator of L'Express, as is JPE. L'inceste germanopratin is nothing new, to be sure, but rarely has it been so close to the center of French foreign policymaking. Curious, that when Kadhafi was considered salvageable, it was the president's ex-wife who served as his emissary, but now that the dictator is to be jettisoned, it is the friends of his current wife who vouch for the trustworthiness of the rebels.

Summing Up an Era

In a review that is itself self-parodic, George Steiner, godfather of the portentous pronouncement, looks back on the era of high French theory, encylopedically summed up in a book by Pierre Bouretz:

As one puts down this inevitably mandarin diagnosis of quarrels that already seem dated, a thought intrudes. How remote is the English guise and atmosphere of philosophy from its Continental and North American counterparts. Is that due to parochialism or good sense?
"Quarrels that already seem dated." Sigh. How true. Living long is indeed the best revenge, but still it is sad to see one's youth immolated on the twin altars of "parochialism" and "good sense." (h/t Sam Moyn)


So, says here that DSK told Cohn-Bendit that it's all up to Martine Aubry: if she wants to run, he won't run against her. But why should we believe this carefully placed leak rather than the previous ones about a meeting in Marrakech in which Aubry agreed to become PM under President DSK? I'm not sure who's manipulating whom here, but geez, it's awfully tiresome. Maybe it's DCB wanting to keep DSK's name in the news on a day when Hollande is expected to announce that he, at least, is actually running for office rather than engaging in a fan dance of présidentiables.

And Bauberot Is Right ...

I'm just agreeing with everybody today. Here's Jean Bauberot:

Le Nouvel Observateur.– Le mot « laïcité » est devenu une espèce de mantra. Tout le monde aujourd’hui s’en réclame, même ceux qui l’ont jadis combattue. Comment expliquer cette conversion ?Jean Baubérot.– Quand il y a un usage inflationniste du terme laïcité, c’est toujours pour masquer autre chose. A la fin du 19e et au début du 20e siècle, c’étaient les partisans d’Emile combes qui s’en servaient pour combattre le catholicisme et pourchasser les congrégationnistes… De même aujourd’hui, ceux qui veulent renouer avec cette laïcité de combat utilisent le mot comme un terme politiquement correct pour habiller leur agressivité envers l’islam.

Joffrin Is Right

Or at any rate, I agree with him. (h/t Anonymous)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Le culte de l'humanitaire"

Dominique Vidal reviews Didier Fassin's Le culte de l'humanitaire. I haven't read this book, but it sounds as though it ought to be read in conjunction with Sam Moyn's The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History.

Copé, tapis

If politics were poker, Jean-François Copé would be "all in," as we say in English, or tapis, as one says in French, on his bet that the way to capture the presidential nomination in 2017 is to make Islam the central issue of French politics. Of course Copé is too intelligent to say any such thing, so instead he makes the most of an opportunity like the upcoming debate on "laïcité" to demonstrate, in the face of criticism from the likes of Fillon and Juppé, which ambitious politician of the Right will fight hardest to hold the line on Muslims. If the voters who are currently drifting or even running from the UMP to the FN want a reason to return, Copé is determined to give them one and to attach his name to it.

To be sure, he hides his game--maladroitly, but not without chutzpah. Consider his "Letter to a Muslim friend," written at the behest of L'Express. For the most part, it's sweetness and light. He pretends that his Muslim friend shares his "concern" that Islam has been misrepresented in France. His only desire is to help correct the record. But eventually he comes to the point, which is to say that, of course, Islam doesn't intend  to reduce itself to "the burqa, prayer in the street, or the rejection of mixité." And there, of course, he manages to echo the very images that Marine Le Pen has been hawking as the essence of Islam. Instead of considering the injuries done to Muslims by French policies and behaviors that have led to residential segregation, employment discrimination, and educational side-tracking, Copé suggests that the plight of Muslims is their own fault. If only they would embrace the separation of church and state imposed by the Law of 1905, if only they would dress as the French dress, if only they would cease their alleged oppression of women, all would be well. He neglects to observe that most Muslims do accept separation, do not hide their faces, and have no greater problem sorting out relations between the sexes than their non-Muslim counterparts yet still face problems not of their own making in their struggle to achieve full assimilation.

Disingenuousness is a fault that Copé shares with many other politicians. But this letter strikes me as particularly disingenuous. Copé is no Chantal Brunel, the UMP deputy who proposed to "put them back in boats." He is in full control of what he says, and measures his words to the millimeter. If he chooses to include in his thoughts about Islam the very images that the Front National wants to stand for all Muslims in France, very few of whom wear the burqa, pray in the streets, or keep harems, then you can be sure he has a reason for doing so. And that reason does him no credit.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Laurent on Nuclear

Éloi Laurent in L'Express:

En France, le PS réagit sur le nucléaire davantage comme l'UMP que comme les Verts. L'alliance entre le social et l'écologie ne s'arrête-t-elle pas dès qu'est abordée cette question cruciale, rendant dès lors illusoire l'idée d'un nouveau programme commun entre Verts et socialistes?
Je crois que tous seront d'accord pour un débat démocratique surle nucléaire, désormais inévitable. Mais il faut en préciser la teneur. A mon sens, il faudrait au moins poser deux questions, dans des forums publics réunissant experts et citoyens: les risques pour la santé et les scénarios énergétiques, en particulier le coût économique d'une éventuelle sortie du nucléaire. Il faudra ensuite faire de douloureux arbitrages et prévoir notamment des compensations financières pour les plus modestes. Il y a largement de quoi "changer la vie"! 

Sur le fond

Henri Weber gives a substantive response to the FN's economic program:

Après neuf années de gouvernement de droite, la France souffre d'un déficit annuel de sa balance commerciale de 53 milliards d'euros, et d'une dette publique de 1 500 milliards, détenue à 69 % par l'épargne étrangère. Fin 2012, elle sera de 2 000 milliards d'euros, soit 90 % de notre produit intérieur brut (PIB). Cette dette est libellée en euros, nos échanges commerciaux s'effectuent en euros et en dollars. Une dévaluation de 25 % de notre monnaie nationale alourdirait d'autant le niveau de notre endettement et celui de notre déficit commercial. Notre taux d'emprunt, aujourd'hui historiquement bas (3,5 %, contre 6 % pour l'Espagne et 12 % pour la Grèce), s'alignerait sur celui des pays qui présentent un risque de défaut de remboursement. Le service de la dette atteindrait un niveau himalayen et contraindrait l'Etat à prélever un emprunt obligatoire.
It's about time, and the PS needs to hit hard on these themes if it wants to make headway in regions where voters have been fleeing to the FN.

"The Dis-Integration of Europe"

By Justin Vaïsse and Jonathan Laurence, here.

Pécresse at Harvard

French minister for higher ed Valérie Pécresse will be at Harvard on April 11. Any questions you'd like me to ask her?

Ivory Coast

With French forces occupied in Libya, they are unlikely to intervene in the Ivory Coast, where another civil war is about to erupt. In humanitarian terms, however, the two situations are quite similar. Not so long ago, France was making overtures to Laurent Gbagbo. Then Ouattara won the election, Gbagbo refused to accept the result, and Sarkozy strongly supported Ouattara. The country divided, a stalemate ensued, and now civil war looms, with the possibility of tremendous carnage. But neither France nor "the international community" seems greatly engaged by the problem. Yet it would be hard to distinguish in either political or humanitarian terms between the desire for democratic reform in the Ivory Coast and the desire in Libya.

At One Another's Throats

The UMP is tearing itself apart:

Cette sortie de leur ancien président de groupe, qui était pourtant apprécié, a fortement déplu chez les parlementaires de l'UMP. "Copé, il pète un câble ; on n'a pas besoin d'un deuxième Sarkozy à l'UMP, il faut qu'il se calme vite", s'agace un élu dans son bureau du Palais-Bourbon. "Plus ça va, plus on est dans l'invective, voire la vulgarité. Les électeurs se détournent", dit-il, citant en exemple la défaite dimanche soir aux cantonales de la très sarkozyste Isabelle Balkany dans le non moins sarkozyste département des Hauts-de-Seine.
This would be a greater pleasure to watch if the Front National were not waiting in the wings.

Sarko to Japan

Nuclear power has often been linked to President Sarkozy's travels. There was a point in his presidency where he seemed to have a reactor to sell at every stop. Then came Fukushima. Sarkozy is now headed for Japan to show "solidarity" with the suffering Japanese. More ominously, experts from Areva and the CEA will also be going to Japan, traveling separately, unlike in the past, when Areva execs often traveled with the president, contracts in hand.

Fukushima puts France in a bind. 80% of its electricity comes from nuclear power. New power plants are scheduled for construction. The partially state-owned firm Areva is a major player in the nuclear power field and is hoping to earn a positive return on its massive investment in a new generation of reactor, the EPR, which has been touted as a "safer" alternative to earlier reactors. But public opposition to nuclear power is strong and growing rapidly, as Sunday's election results in Baden-Württemberg suggest. So Sarkozy has a very tricky role to play.

France is strangely schizoid on the subject of radiation. The country has seen a fairly large movement in opposition to cell-phone towers, accused of being sources of dangerous radiation, yet it has lived for generations with relatively muted opposition to nuclear power. Fukushima, which has revived memories of Chernobyl, may change that.

Obstacles for the PS

Laurent Bouvet warns that the PS faces four obstacles to winning the presidential election, despite its modest success in the cantonals and other recent elections. First, the high abstention rate indicates that although Sarkozy has been rejected, voters still do not adhere to the PS program. Second, Europe Ecology-Greens competes for the same demographic (urban, educated, mid- to upper-status professions) and may, as the Greens in Germany did, attract new voters in the wake of the nuclear disaster in Japan. Third, the Front de Gauche has made significant progress under Mélenchon, and this could eat into the PS first-round vote (but will not matter if the PS candidate makes it to the second round, because these votes will not go to either Sarkozy or Le Pen). And fourth, if Marine Le Pen survives to the second round, she will claim some of the UMP's voters, who no longer refuse to cross the line to vote for the FN.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Identity Crisis

The battle lines are rapidly taking shape in the UMP: Copé thinks the laïcité debate is a good idea, Baroin and Fillon don't, and Sarkozy is backing Copé. So the former Séguiniste and the former Chiraquien are squaring off against the former Balladurien and Brutus, who will flatter Caesar while awaiting an opportunity to stab him in the back, gut, or behind. Juppé is quiet for the moment, but I imagine he is squarely on the side of Baroin and Fillon. We await the Night of the Long Knives.

How Much French Contribution?

How much has France contributed to the operation in Libya? As these slides show, more than I might have guessed, but it is still clear that the operation probably could not have been mounted without the US for surveillance, aerial refueling, cruise missile capability, and more than half of all sorties. (h/t Steve Walt)

Normalized, but still losers

Gérard Grunberg argues that Marine Le Pen's strategy, though quite successful in one sense, was in fact a failure in its own terms. Under MLP, the point is to gain power by holding office, he contends, not simply to make a statement or represent a point of view. And despite substantial gains in votes in many cantons, the FN won few seats.

This is true, and yet it somehow misses the point, I think. The Front National can't gain power until it becomes "coalitonable." Despite Sarkozy's refusal to issue a consigne de vote to UMP electors, there is still enough reticence in UMP circles to lock the FN out of any effective alliance. But how much longer can this stance hold? The UMP is in danger of being reduced to one of two major parties on the Right. Already one hears the argument from symmetry: if the Left could win in '81 by making the Communists clubbable, why can't the Right win in the future by doing the same for the FN? There is clear evidence that in some quarters of the Right, the Left--even the Socialist Left--remains less fréquentable than the FN. If the runoff in 2012 is between a Socialist and MLP, the Socialist will not get 80 percent of the vote, as Chirac did in 2002. Too many on the Right simply will not vote for any leftist candidate. The UMP is going to have an identity crisis over this issue: this will be the real national debate on identité, unlike the abortive pseudo-debate of last year.

I failed to see this coming. One of my reasons for following the Sarkozy presidency was to track the evolution of the Right. I thought that Sarkozy had transformed the party, which he totally controlled, and reduce the FN to manageable proportions. I was wrong on all counts. His control was less thorough than it seemed, the party remains as fractious as ever, and the FN, though initially it seemed to be weakened, has only been strengthened by Sarkozy's tactics. The next year should be interesting.

A Party Like the Others

In the cantonals, 55% of the eligible French didn't vote. Fact no. 1. Of the 45% who did vote and who found themselves in cantons where the FN candidate survived to the second round and faced an opponent of the Left or the Right, the FN candidate improved his or her score over the first round by an average of 10%. In short, disappointed voters of both the Left and the Right were willing to vote FN. For many people, the party is no longer taboo. Whatever else the FN represents, this figures marks a significant success for Marine Le Pen. Her strategy of dédiabolisation (de-demonization?) has worked. Or, to put it another way, in France in 2011, it is far more socially acceptable to express overtly anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-elitist attitudes than it is to be overtly anti-Semitic, deny the Holocaust, or argue that Algeria should still be French. But of course the same (mutatis mutandis) is true in the United States, where among numerous people on the extreme right the curious notion has taken hold that shari'a law is about to be established by a foreign-born chief executive of Muslim extraction abetted by "activist" judges, ACORN, NPR, and a host of other fifth columnists.

A Mug's Job

The job of "spokesperson" or press flack is in the best of circumstances a thankless one. In the US it is therefore assigned to an expendable flunky, who is permitted to feign stupidity, mangle the language, or pretend to suffer from hardness of hearing, the better to avoid unwanted or embarrassing questions from the press. Only on West Wing is the role elevated to one of witty repartee and high-level intellectual fencing with the representatives of the Fourth Estate. Robert Gibbs was no C. J. Cregg (thanks, Kirk, for the correct spelling of C. J.'s last name!)

In France, however, the role is assigned to a working politician, who is obliged to dissemble with grace and intelligence. I can't say that François Baroin fills the bill. His matinee idol looks are supposed to detract from the vapidity of his answers to questions. But who even notices the vapidity, since his delivery is so seductive? He manages to give the impression of an actor playing a press flack who believes himself to be so far above the role that he doesn't need to disguise his contempt for the silliness of the exercise in which he engages daily. Yesterday he was in fine form, fending off the obvious questions with even more obvious answers and with an aplomb that suggested he couldn't wait to get back to the tennis court.

Today, however, Baroin broke with convention and broke news as well by calling for the UMP to suspend the upcoming debate on laïcité. Sarkozy promptly called him to order. But here we have, from the loyal Chiraquien, yet another sign that the UMP is fissuring in every possible direction. Villepin for president, anyone?

Laïcité : "Il faut mettre un terme à ces débats"... by FranceInfo

Sarko Lashes Out

The president is unhappy with centrists, like Borloo, whom he accuses of not having fought hard for a rightist victory in the cantonal elections, and with one of his own, Christian Estrosi, who spoke yesterday of a "failure" of the UMP owing to a faulty "line and strategy." That remark was aimed squarely at Sarko by one of his own former ministers--a minister whom I once baptized here le roi des cons. But I must now take this designation back. Estrosi deserves credit for saying openly what many in the UMP are saying privately: that Sarkozy has led them straight into the wall, and many are now looking at their own elimination in 2012. The gallows concentrates the mind, and Estrosi's mind seems to have been positively illuminated. Being sacked in the last remaniement also probably helped him discover his inner light. So he is no longer le roi des cons. That honor now belongs to Claude Guéant, the interior minister with three left feet, who had the brilliant idea of characterizing French action in Libya as a "crusade." Thanks to M. Guéant for making it easy to decide on a successor to M. Estrosi.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Le Canard noticed

Le Canard enchaîné has been noticed by The New York Times. It deserves the attention for its particularly important scoops this year, one of which led to the resignation of the foreign minister. Alas, I cannot follow Le Canard directly from here in Cambridge, Mass., because it does not publish on the Web. I do read it whenever I'm in France, however.

"La droite prend une tannée"

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, reacting à chaud to the first results of the cantonal elections: "La droite prend une tannée." The announcer on France Culture described this language as "très mélenchoniste," but to my ear it sounds like a direct translation of what Barack Obama said about the Democrats last November: "We took a shellacking." The only difference is that Obama was describing his own party's failure, while Mélenchon is describing his enemy's failure. Early signs are that the UMP has done very badly indeed, and this will lead to calls for Sarkozy to step aside as candidate in 2012. The mood in the Élysée tonight must be rather dark. À suivre.

UPDATE: Le Monde 
Le PS a recueilli 35,05 % des voix au second tour des élections cantonales dimanche, devant l'UMP (18,89 %), tandis que le Front national en a récolté 10,01 %, selon les premières estimations du ministère de l'Intérieur.

Symbolic FN losses: Louis Aliot, Marine Le Pen's compagnon, and Steeve Birois, another party heavyweight, both lost. It seems that UMP voters stayed home and did not vote for these FN leaders.

The Tactical Situation in Libya

The estimable Jean-Dominique Merchet keeps us up to date.

Grass-Roots FN Voices

Yesterday I said that it would be interesting to know what FN voters are saying to themselves about the party's remarkable resurrection under Marine Le Pen. Le Monde obliges to a certain extent. We find a little of everything, from the frankly racist:

"Tous ces bougnoules, ils ne font rien. Ils ont tous les droits, vous savez, ceux qui sont un peu "panachés". Ils roulent en BMW qu'on peut même pas se payer. Il faudrait tous les mettre dans un bateau avec un trou dedans. Tous ces "ben-boulas", ça me bouffe." Elle votera FN au second tour.

To the socially abandoned:

"Depuis la fermeture des houillères, il y a un problème d'emplois et de logements,note M. Schuler. On était pris en charge du berceau au tombeau. Ce ciment a disparu. Il y a un sentiment d'abandon. Il y a aussi une réaction de rejet face au comportement de certaines populations, pas forcément immigrées d'ailleurs. Les autochtones sont déçus, ils ont perdu leur emploi." Et le candidat UMP, condamné en 2007 pour concussion, d'évoquer des "incivilités", des "populations qui ne veulent pas faire comme tout le monde".

To the competitively displaced:

Ici, beaucoup de gens - élus compris - évoquent "les Turcs" qui investissent et"rachètent les bars""Avec les houillères, des étrangers sont arrivés. Il y en a peut-être 30 % qui sont partis. Les autres sont restés. Surtout les Turcs. Ils ont beaucoup d'argent, on les laisse faire ce qu'ils veulent", affirme un artisan d'une quarantaine d'années, qui ne veut pas donner son nom.

To the careerist seeking advantage:

M. Gourlot, 51 ans, agent de maîtrise SNCF et syndiqué CFTC, lui, n'utilise pas ce genre de rhétorique. Il fait campagne en tractant dans les centres-villes et en faisant du "boîtage" dans les lotissements. M. Gourlot se présente comme "le candidat de Marine Le Pen""C'est mieux que de dire Front national", avoue-t-il. S'il essuie quelques refus, d'autres personnes sont très intéressées par son discours. Comme ces quatre amis rencontrés à Carling.

To the CGT trade unionist who retains a bit of the old marxisant social analysis coupled with racist talk from a coworker:

Tous disent qu'ils ont voté et qu'ils voteront pour le FN. L'un d'entre eux affirme être cégétiste, travaillant sur la plate-forme chimique voisine. "Je vote FN pour le social, la défense de la Sécurité sociale. Pas sur les immigrés. La gauche a peut-être pas assez fait ses preuves sur ça. Il faut savoir goûter à autre chose." Un avis que ne partage pas son ami. "La gauche ? ! Et pourquoi on est dans la merde ? Ils ont ouvert les portes, ils sont venus par wagons (les étrangers). Avec tout ce qui traîne derrière, ces jeunes qui ne font rien." Il affirme qu'il vote FN pour "la France aux Français".

To resentment of both immigrants who have risen to positions of responsibility and those who are perceived to be less hard-working than their elders:

Le patron, d'origine algérienne, ne cache pas sa préférence pour le candidat UMP. Comme l'ensemble des gens présents d'ailleurs. Beaucoup sont des fils d'immigrés venus travailler dans les mines. Mais, à demi-mot, ils expliquent le score du FN. Pour Bogdan, 56 ans, "les vieux immigrés se tenaient à carreau. La troisième génération ne travaille pas. Les gens ici sont républicains. Il n'y a aucune adhésion aux idées du FN. Ce n'est qu'un ras-le-bol. Au second tour, ils voteront UMP." "Le seul bulletin que l'on peut mettre contre l'UMPS, comme ils disent, c'est le FN, ajoute un de ses amis. C'est vrai, c'est la même chose l'UMP et le PS. Je pourrais voter FN pour ça."
In any case, it seems clear that "immigration," in one guise or another, is a major theme. Interestingly, Theda Skocpol, in her analysis of the Tea Party that I discussed here yesterday, noted that immigration is an important theme for Tea Partiers as well, but it is not always overtly xenophobic or racist; rather, the complaint is that the immigrants are newcomers who obtain government benefits that "rightly belong" only to those who have "worked all their lives to deserve them." The idea, somewhat confused, to be sure, seems to be that belonging to the longer-implanted group transfers some cumulative merit to the individual, so that if you and your ancestors worked in, paid taxes to, and (perhaps) fought for the nation, be it France or the US, then you are somehow "more deserving" of social benefits such as unemployment insurance, retirement income, medical care, etc. than more recently arrived citizens, even if they too work, pay taxes, fight, etc. And of course if the arrival is illegal, that only compounds the offense in the eyes of the aggrieved.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Informal Sociology chez le FN

In an earlier post, I asked for sociological studies of the FN similar to the Skocpol et al. study of the US Tea Party. Rue89's article doesn't quite fill the bill, but it has its entertaining moments. In particular, it emphasizes the "retail politics" of local FN candidates, which pleases young voters turned off by "le type socialiste" who shakes their hands and then forgets about them. The remoteness of the elite is a theme common to all populist movements of both left and right.

FN Still Has Some Purging to Do

Marine Le Pen may have cleaned up the FN's rhetoric, but she still has a way to go with the party base. Le Nouvel Obs published a photo of an FN candidate in Rhône-Alpes posing in front of a Nazi flag and giving the Nazi salute. Secretary-general Steeve Briois says he will be expelled from the party--an expulsion facilitated by the fact that the candidate in question, Alexandre Gabriac, is a supporter of Marine Le Pen's rival Bruno Gollnisch.

The Evolution of the FN: Que Faire?

The always excellent Bernard Girard has a very interesting discussion of the evolution of the FN to date, what is likely to happen to the party's positions going forward, and what might be done to counter its gains. I won't try to summarize Bernard's argument here, but I do want to relate it to a lecture I heard yesterday about the Tea Party movement in the United States. There are many, many differences between the Tea Party and the Front National, so let me say that up front. But there are also similarities. Theda Skocpol, who gave the Tocqueville Lecture at Harvard yesterday, has been following the activities of the Tea Party since its inception and has attended many meetings of various Tea Party groups. She pointed out that the Tea Partiers are extremely good organizers and very knowledgeable about the political process, particularly at the local level. They are much less astute when it comes to the content of policy, she argues, contenting themselves with broad and often inaccurate characterizations and Manichaean symbolism.

The same is true of the FN, which is strongly implanted in many localities and has mastered the tactical level of political organization. The FN has a far more coherent national organization than the Tea Party, however. The latter is in fact suspicious of attempts to create an organization above the local level, whereas it is hard to imagine the Front National without its national leadership. Another difference is the role of what Skocpol calls "the roving billionaires" in the American movement. There are a number of very wealthy individuals in the US with long-standing ties to right-wing causes who have showered large sums of money on selected Tea Party candidates. In some cases (Utah, for example) they were successful in the sense that their chosen candidates defeated less extreme candidates in the primaries and went on to win House or Senate seats. In other cases their money resulted in the selection of an unelectable candidate (as in Delaware). I am not aware of any such financial backing for FN candidates. But Skocpol's point is that the billionaires and the Tea Party do not have identical interests, and the rank-and-file are well aware of this.

Another element in the Tea Party's success in the US has been the fascination of the media, especially Fox News, which has allowed the movement to build a national following without a national organization and despite wariness of co-optation by the rank-and-file. Now, there is nothing comparable to Fox News in France, but it is undeniable that the media--and even bloggers like myself--have been fascinated by Marine Le Pen's transformation of the movement. Indeed, there is a strange complicity between her detoxification of the FN's rhetoric and the alacrity with which journalists have seized on the theme of change vs. continuity on the extreme right. This complicity draws a veil over the beliefs and attitudes of the FN rank-and-file, because it is the leader's rhetoric that is most easily available for analysis. What the FN's électeurs de base say to one another in private is much more difficult to ferret out. This is what Skocpol and her collaborators have been trying to do for the Tea Party in the United States. Their findings are quite interesting. If anyone knows of any comparable work in France, please let me know.

Finally, Bernard observes that Jean-Luc Mélenchon has in a sense been Le Pen's most effective adversary by attacking her on her own populist and republican turf. In the discussion after Skocpol's lecture, it was pointed out that the absence of a left populist movement like Mélenchon's is one of the reasons for the current severely distorted political landscape in the United States. But Bernard also points to the need for persistent and consistent critique of the FN's policy positions. I would say that this is what is lacking in France, despite the presence of a vocal populist adversary.

Sarko Gives History Lesson on Holocaust

Alexandre Jardin, a novelist and grandson of Jean Jardin, who was Pierre Laval's chief of staff during the Occupation, has written a book indicting his grandfather for complicity in the deportation of French Jews. This has caused a furor in France (which totally escaped my notice until KirkMc called it to my attention--thanks!). Some claim that Jardin has little evidence against his grandfather, but Nicolas Sarkozy apparently disagrees. Here is Jardin's account of a recent lunch with the president:

"A few weeks ago I found myself around a table at the Elysée with [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy, at a lunch with three writers and a journalist and a historian," Mr. Jardin recounts. "The historian suddenly said to me: 'But you don't have a lot of proof against your grandfather; [Mr.] Sarkozy got up out of his chair, cut her off and said 'Madame, I have had a lot of chiefs of staff.' He gave her a lesson explaining that a chief of staff was nothing like a government departmental head. It was evident listening to [Mr.] Sarkozy that the prime minister's chief of staff could not but be intimately associated with the decision.

Rebels Advance in Libya

My pessimism about the rebels' military capabilities may have been overdone. With coalition airpower having cleared the way, they have retaken Ajdabiya. Rue89, echoing the Washington Post, reports, moreover, that France has been pushing to supply the rebels with arms, while the Obama administration, although dubious about the legality of such a move under the terms of the UN resolution, favors a "flexible" reading of that resolution to accommodate the more aggressive French position. Whether the Arab League will remain on board remains to be seen, but the news from Ajdabiya is a first sign that this conflict may not end in stalemate after all.

This is not the British understanding of the UN resolution, however:

“I think I am right in saying that the resolution is clear,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament on Monday. “There is an arms embargo, and that arms embargo has to be enforced across Libya.” Legal advice “suggesting that perhaps this applied only to the regime,” Cameron said, “is not in fact correct.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

Double Language

Cincinna, a regular commenter here, occasionally pretends to value my insights, but what she posts elsewhere about me puts me in mind of those politicians who specialize in double discourse, saying one thing in one place and another in another. On Free Republic, a mouthpiece of the American extreme right, or "small-state American conservatism," as Cincinna would no doubt characterize it, she is rather less polite than she is here.

He is so full of Leftist knee-jerk anti-Sarko venomous hatred it makes the author's anti-Libya intervention position unintelligible. He never mentions the total incoherence and lack of leadership in Obama's war in Libya. Psycho-babble is nonsense when discussing foreign policy & political motivation. All that is missing here is an analysis of Sarko's short stature. Napoleon complex? Why not?
Goldhammer's undisguised contempt for Nicolas Sarkozy, to the point of suffering from SDS blinds him. He has also written extensively, ranting against Conservatives, GWB & Sarah Palin at length on his Blog.
He is suffering from a severe case multi polar PDS - Political Derangement Syndrome, BDS PDS SDS & now MLPDS his fear and trembling at the possible election of Marine le Pen.
As a supposed historian, his misinformation about Sarko's political & personal history is mind-boggling.
His facts are all wrong about Sarko & the Human Bomb story. Obviously he was not there, never read the newspaper accounts, never watched the video on YouTube widely used in the 2007 campaign. It caught it all on tape.
Thanks, indeed, Cincinna, for this succinct summary of my failings. I did indeed make an error about the Human Bomb story, because I am, alas, fallible and was writing under deadline pressure. I neglected to check a detail, which I once knew but had forgotten. But given the many syndromes with which I am afflicted, it's a wonder that I can write anything at all, or that you bother to read and comment on what I do manage to write day after day. I assume, by the way, that the writer at Free Republic and the commenter on this blog are the same Cincinna, and that the Free Republic writer is not some crank signing your name to her rants. If there happen to be two Cincinnas obsessed with the same error in my piece, I apologize.

Incidentally, I'm curious about that remark concerning my "fear and trembling at the possible election of Marine Le Pen." Since you have on this site referred to Marine Le Pen, if memory serves, as a neo-fascist, anti-Semite, and Holocaust denier, would you not advise "fear and trembling" at the thought of her election? In fact, I don't believe that she is any of these things--indeed, her skill as a political tactician told her to abandon those aspects of her father's rhetoric that tarred the party with these accusations--but I still view her emergence as a genuine contender as disastrous for France. Don't you?

Fined for Dog Poop, Votes FN

I opined the other day that one reason for the rising FN vote is a decline of public services as a result of Sarkozy's decision not to replace one in two retiring civil servants. This hypothesis is confirmed by various statements collected by 20 Minutes. First-time FN voters say they switched because they've had it with government failures ranging from poor snow-plowing to ill-planned bus lines. There's one source of irritation I hadn't anticipated, however: one vote canvasser observes that "people get fined for letting their dog poop where it shouldn't and they vote FN."

This of course tends to have a snowball effect: as more and more people vote FN in order to protest declining government service (or overzealous animal control officers), their neighbors look around and see that some FN voters aren't racists, xenophobes, and nostalgics for le Maréchal. The party gradually loses its toxic image. Indeed, at the moment, Marine Le Pen is sounding a good deal less toxic than any number of people around Nicolas Sarkozy. Is it any wonder that the Right is in disarray? (h/t FLN)

Sarko and the Intellectuals

The president is once again meeting with "intellectuals," the headline runs. But when we look more closely, we discover that the "intellectuals" in question are Eric Zemmour, Denis Tillinac, and Yann Moix. This is an odd selection, to say the least. Of course the presence of Zemmour among the three is no doubt meant to signal that the president is fully on board with the extrême-droitisation of the party already promoted by Jean-François Copé, Sarko advisor Patrick Buisson, and interior minister and former secretary general of the Élysée Claude Guéant. We are a long way from the lunches with intellectuals that Sarko used to organize with the help of Emmanuelle Mignon.

But if Sarko wants to play Marine Le Pen, he'll need better material than what Zemmour and Tillinac can supply him. And I don't think he'll be very convincing in the role in any case. Bernard Girard is harsher than I am, however. He suspects that Guéant's recent dérapages reveal what is actually thought at the highest levels of government. He may be right. I prefer to believe that what we are seeing is ineptitude born of panic. The old tactics for co-opting the extreme right no longer work, and the pretorian guard is desperately searching for something new, some improvised collection of petites phrases that will somehow signal to skittish voters that the president shares their nightmares and will somehow contrive to make the sun rise earlier than predicted. Of course, when panic becomes a chronic condition, as it seems on the verge of doing in France, it has a way of turning into conviction. If so, we're in for real trouble.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Front de Gauche Also Rejects "Front Républicain"

The UMP is not the only party refusing to indicate that its candidates should stand down where necessary to block the election of a Front National candidate. The Front de Gauche (consisting of the Parti de Gauche, the Communists, and the Gauche unitaire) is refusing to support UMP candidates, even if necessary to block the FN.

NATO Will Control Military Ops in Libya

The impasse over command and control of military operations in Libya has been broken. NATO will run the show, but there will be a "political directory" composed of participating states to set the parameters of overall policy, whatever that means. Face-saving, most likely, for the French, who don't want this to look like a neocolonial project. But of course participating states were always free to withdraw from the coalition and will not be making operational decisions, so this gesture is little more than cover.

Guéant Step

It would seem difficult to do a worse job as minister of interior than a man convicted of inciting racial hatred while holding the post, but Claude Guéant, in a few short weeks on the job, has deprived Brice Hortefeux of the honor of being the worst interior minister imaginable. His latest gaffe--or was it a feature, not a bug?--was his assertion, unsupported by any law, that not only are public servants forbidden from wearing religious symbols on the job, but so are the users of public services--in short, everybody. This is untrue, and either Guéant knew it to be untrue when he said it, or else he has a rather shaky grasp on the law for someone who has served as chief of staff to a minister of the interior, secretary general of the Élysée, and now minister of the interior in his own right. Le premier flic de France needs to hit the statute books. It is also a bad sign, with the "debate" on laïcité about to kick off in less than two weeks, that once again we have evidence that the term, whose meaning has always been contested, has now distended to the point where it can be used as a bludgeon to forbid almost anything that the powers-that-be want to forbid. Écrasez l'infâme! 

"Bathed in the universe of Charles Maurras since childhood ..."

I've discussed Patrick Buisson before. Here is another depiction of his influence on President Sarkozy. We learn that Buisson has "bathed in the universe of Charles Maurras since childhood"--Charles Maurras, who described the accession of Pétain to power as a "divine surprise" and was pleased that the defeat of France by the Nazis in 1940 "rid us of our democrats." This is the man who has advised Sarkozy to move closer to the positions of the Front National on immigration issues. Scandalous.

Dictionary Lover

As an inveterate lover of dictionaries myself, I cannot wait to get my hands on Alain Rey's Dictionnaire amoureux des dictionnaires. For those who don't know, Rey is "le papa des Robert," that is, the lexicographer-in-chief of the incomparable and indispensable collection of dictionaries published by Robert. These are the tools of my trade, and I am especially indebted to the Robert Dictionnaire des expressions et locutions. So it is a pleasure to read of Alain Rey's pleasure in the history of the dictionary. I have a collection of French dictionaries from various epochs, and, like Rey, I sometimes amuse myself by examining the ways in which the Grand Larousse, of which I have a late 19th-c. specimen in my basement, treats words like nègre and crétin.

I should perhaps add, however, that I find myself relying increasingly on the marvelous electronic dictionary maintained by the Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales, as well as the electronic Oxford English Dictionary. Despite my love of paper dictionaries, the advantages of the electronic dictionary are overwhelming.

Times Editorial on France and Libya

The New York Times:

Now, Mr. Sarkozy needs to step back and let NATO take the lead. After a phone conversation with President Obama on Tuesday, he seems ready to do so, but the details need to be finalized quickly. French efforts to appear the leader and prime coordinator of that intervention have needlessly strained relations with other participating countries. This is a time for the military coalition to come together, not to splinter. It is irresponsible that the command sequence was not decided before the military operation was launched.
Mr. Sarkozy had his reasons for taking such an aggressive stance on Libya. His government had badly bungled the peaceful democratic revolution in Tunisia by clinging to that country’s brutal and venal dictator. He saw Libya as a chance to recoup French prestige in North Africa, a region France has long considered important to its economy and security. And he jumped at the chance to look like a world leader in the run-up to next year’s hotly contested presidential election.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Marine Le Pen doesn't like UMPS. No, the leader of the Front National has not taken up the American national pastime. UMPS is rather her pseudo-clever amalgame of the sigles of France's two other major parties, the UMP and the PS. Since Le Pen's fonds de commerce is the contention that there is no real difference between the two "legitimate" contenders for the presidency, the only genuine alternative is--herself. The UMP's sotto voce justification for its reluctance--to put it kindly--to endorse a "republican front" in the second round of the cantonals is that to do so would only reinforce the FN's charge that its opponents are simply the Janus bifrons of une pensée unique.

Alas, all too many voters seem to be buying this argument. Last night's France2 news showed a driver accosted by an FN candidate who announced that he was only too glad to vote for the extreme right because "il faut que ça change." After four years of Sarkozy, nearly a quarter of the French seem ready to vote for change whether they can believe in it or not. Indeed, they seem to have stopped asking themselves the question whether or not the proposed change is believable. When that happens, the doors are open to all sorts of political mischief.

Foreign Policy article

My article on France and Libya at Foreign Policy. Not my title, though!


For early birds in the US, I will be on NPR discussing France and Libya at 6:35 AM.

You didn't miss anything. Instead of asking me about French domestic politics and its relation to the operation, as planned, they asked me to comment on differences among the allies, not my subject. You never know with these interviews.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

No Boon for Marine

Well, maybe Sarkozy and Copé won't call upon the French to vote for the PS rather than the FN, but Dany Boon, who is more popular than either, will. To be sure, Marine Le Pen was ready with one of her patented one-liners, in which she remarked that artists who make their money in France go and hide it elsewhere to avoid French taxes. Dany Boon isn't Johnny Hallyday, but, hey, why inhibit yourself with the truth when you can score points with slanderous inuendo.

Mélenchon Assesses the Cantonales

Front de Gauche : Conf. de presse 1er tour... by lepartidegauche

Libya, cont'd

Claude Guéant should never have been let out of the Élysée:

Le ministre de l'Intérieur, Claude Guéant, s'illustre une nouvelle fois par des propos maladroits. Après ses paroles assumées sur l'immigration, il explique lundi 21 mars au pourquoi Nicolas Sarkozy a eu raison de prendre "la tête de la croisade pour mobiliser le Conseil de sécurité des Nations unies et puis la Ligue arabe et l'Union africaine" concernant la Libye. "Heureusement qu'il était là. Parce que le monde entier s'apprêtait à contempler à la télévision des massacres commis par le colonel Kadhafi, heureusement, le président a pris la tête de la croisade pour mobiliser le Conseil de sécurité des Nations unies et puis la Ligue arabe et l'Union africaine", a-t-il exactement déclaré hier dans l'émission le Talk du site.
What a disaster he has been in his short tenure as interior minister. Who would have thought we'd be regretting Hortefeux and Alliot-Marie so quickly?

Meanwhile, all is not sweetness and light between David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy. Cameron wants the Libyan incursion to become a NATO operation when the US lays back; Sarkozy does not.

Britain wants NATO to take over but France does not, and Italy is threatening to rethink its participation unless NATO takes command.
In London, Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that the intention is to turn over command for the international force implementing a no-fly zone to NATO. “Let me explain how the coalition will work — it’s operating under U.S. command with the intention that this will transfer to NATO,” Mr. Cameron said. That would allow all NATO allies who wanted to participate to do so. “Clearly the mission would benefit from that and from using NATO’s tried-and-tested machinery in command and control,” he said.
But France objects to turning Libya into a NATO operation, arguing from the start that Arab countries do not want a NATO label on the mission. Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said in Brussels on Monday that “the Arab League does not wish the operation to be entirely placed under NATO responsibility. It isn’t NATO which has taken the initiative up to now.” 
Translation: Sarkozy is enjoying his star turn on the international stage and does not want to be pushed out of the limelight. (Apologies for the formatting: Blogger has messed things up, and I don't have time to plunge into the HTML. You get the picture, I hope.)

"The FN Is Progressing Everywhere"

That is today's depressing headline. Indeed, the FN scored its impressive 15% despite running candidates in only 1,400 of 1,850 cantons. If you count only the cantons in which the party fielded candidates, its score was 19.7%. In the south, a traditional bastion of FN strength, the results are, as always, alarming:

Le Sud méditerranéen, des bastions repris à Sarkozy. Comme toujours, le FN réalise dans le Sud certains de ses meilleurs scores : 27,54 % dans le Var, 26,86 % dans les Bouches-du-Rhône, 25,85 % dans les Alpes-Maritimes, 25,84 % dans le Vaucluse, 24,51 % dans le Gard et 20,76 % dans les Pyrénées-Orientales. Dans les Alpes-Maritimes, le FN est en tête dans 5 des 26 cantons renouvelables. Il reste en course pour le second tour dans 14 cantons.
But things are no better up north:

Le Nord-Pas-de-Calais, "épicentre de la vague bleue marine". "C'est une région où Marine Le Pen s'est investie personnellement depuis longtemps. Elle est aujourd'hui l'épicentre de la vague bleu marine", estime Jérôme Fourquet. Le FN atteint 23,09 % dans le Nord et se maintiendra dans 17 cantons. Il obtient 22,86 % dans le Pas-de-Calais, et est présent dans 20 cantons au second tour. Sa présence est particulièrement forte dans le fief historique de la fille de Jean-Marie Le Pen, autour de Hénin-Beaumont, de Lens, mais aussi de Valenciennes, souligne l'analyste : "Là, le FN est souvent la seule alternative à la gauche." 
And on and on goes the awful litany. Just incredible.

Here is Pierre Haski's take.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fillon Calls for Republican Front

François Fillon, unlike J.-F. Copé and Nicolas Sarkozy, has called upon UMP voters to vote for the Socialist candidate rather than the Front National candidate if the UMP is out of the race. A clear gauntlet thrown down to Copé, his likely rival for the UMP nomination in 2012, and a clear rebuke to Sarkozy, his present "collaborator" at the head of the country.

Moïsi on Libya

Dominique Moïsi:

The Sarkozy factor is fundamental. The French president loves crises, with their concomitant surge of adrenaline. For him, this is what power is about: taking hard decisions under unfavorable circumstances.
Of course, domestic considerations are not absent from Sarkozy’s thinking. In 2007, when he played a key role in the liberation of Bulgarian nurses imprisoned by Qaddafi, Libya’s leader was rewarded with what looked like a legitimacy prize: an official visit to Paris. He was no longer a pariah, but an eccentric partner.
Today, by contrast, it all looks as if intervention may re-legitimate Sarkozy in the eyes of French citizens, whose votes he will need in next year’s presidential election. An energetic and daring gambler, Sarkozy is taking a high but legitimate risk that he can retake the moral (and political) high ground.
France has a common history and geography with the countries on the southern Mediterranean shore. The duty to intervene – and the cost of indifference – is probably higher for France than for any other Western country.
Indeed, France has a very large immigrant population that originated in the Maghreb, and for which the “Arab spring” is vitally important and a source of fascination and pride. And today, with France taking the lead in an international effort to protect the Libyan people from their leader, they can feel simultaneously proud of being French and of their Arab roots. These positive identities constitute the best protection against the sirens of fundamentalist Islam.
Of course, an ideal scenario implies that the intervention “goes well,” and that it does not incite confusion or chaos in Libya or the wider region. France, together with Great Britain, and with the more distant support of the US, is undeniably risking much, for it is easier to start a war than it is to end one. But it is a worthwhile risk. The cost of non-intervention, of allowing Qaddafi to crush his own people, and of thus signaling to the world’s despots that a campaign of domestic terror is acceptable, is far more menacing.
Sarkozy has chosen the right course. In fact, he has chosen the only possible way forward.

"Le service publice ne porte plus son nom"

"Le service publice ne porte plus son nom": This is the harsh judgment of the Mediator of the Republic. The government has always presented its policy of non-replacement of 1 in 2 retiring civil servants as a "reform" rather than a "degradation" of administrative services, but no justification was ever given for believing that a truncated civil service could perform the same function that a more fully-staffed civil service had been capable of. Perhaps the overuse of the adjective "bloated" convinced too many people that it was so. Perhaps stereotypes of the typical civil servant as "lazy" and "inefficient" made it possible to believe that they really were useless. Perhaps the reflexive use of images such as "dégraisser le mammouth" planted false ideas in people's minds. In any case, the Mediator now calls attention to the reality of what has happened.

It seems possible, moreover, that this decline in public service might have something to do with the decline in support for the party that has governed France more or less alone for the past decade. I don't have time to analyze the results of the cantonals in detail, so I will wait for other commentators to ponder the results. But one possibility is that we can read this election as a sanction vote. The UMP's losses are significant, but they did not result in gains for the PS, which has been dominant at the departmental level. The gains went rather to extragovernmental parties: not only the FN but also the ecologists and the parties of the extreme left. For many ordinary citizens, government is not working. It may be as simple as that. Of course the distribution of the protest vote is not meaningless. There are many diagnoses of the problem, and therefore many ways of protesting, some of which may seem aberrant. But if the governing parties want to improve their image, the first thing they have to do is improve the quality of government services.


Michael Walzer makes the case against intervention. Meanwhile, the intervention proceeds. Although France took the lead and was the first, apparently, to drop bombs (reportedly without prior coordination with its allies), the brunt of the attack appears to have been carried by American forces. The French and British did not use cruise missiles, so far as I know, and have been flying planes from European bases rather than carriers, with aerial refueling, limiting the number of sorties. The French did apparently stop a Libyan armored column near Benghazi, however. If American forces limit their participation after several days, as promised by Obama, the French and British will be left to carry on, but Libyan air defenses have been eliminated, and Libyan forces deployed in the eastern part of the country have been decimated. The strategy, insofar as there is one, seems to be this: hope that Kadhafi's mercenary forces will see the wisdom of returning to whatever African countries they came from, while Libyan troops will see the handwriting on the wall and cease to protect the dictator. This may or may not be a sound calculation, but for now, eastern Libya seems to be safe, and a number of small towns around Tripoli are in rebel hands. But the rebels, lacking weapons and above all leadership, haven't been a very effective fighting force. So the endgame depends on the collapse/defection of Kadhafi's forces.

Copé Refuses "Republican Front"

Jean-François Copé, leader of the UMP, is an ambitious man who wants to be president someday. He knows that, as a hardcore rightist, he will need the votes of the xenophobic right to realize his ambitions. And he thinks he knows how to get them. He has taken the lead in pushing the debate over laïcité, which, whatever it may have meant historically, has become the code word for resistance to the Muslim presence in France. He invited Eric Zemmour to speak to the UMP, a gesture intended not as a defense of free speech but as a provocation to those offended by Zemmour's exercise of his fundamental rights. And now he is refusing to call for a "republican front" to block the progress of the Front National in the numerous cantons where it could be elected.

This is all the more remarkable because of Copé's own background. Although he describes himself as a "non-practicing Jew," that certainly wouldn't have mattered back in the days when the leader of the FN was making anti-Semitic puns on the name of Michel Durafour. Copé's ambitions have amputated his memory, apparently. Perhaps, if France is lucky, voters in the presidential election of 2017 won't forget Copé's behavior in 2012.

FN Advances

It's tedious to summarize electoral statistics, so I'll just point you here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Just a quick reaction: the Socialists have done very well, and the Left, if you add the votes of the PS, Europe Ecologie-Les Verts, and the Front de Gauche, and other parties, has done very well indeed, with a score around 50%. But the turnout was abysmally low, with 63.6% abstentions, the worst in the history of the Fifth Republic. The various rights, which include UMP, renegades from the UMP, and divers droite, are at around 30. And the FN is running 15-17, which is two points ahead of where it was in 2004. A good showing, but not overwhelming, except that the FN will be in the running in numerous constituencies for the second round, and there will be a united left front to block the party of Marine Le Pen.

UPDATE: The abstention rate has been revised to about 55%. The PS got 25 and divers gauche 4.8, which shows little progress in the core of the left vote. EELV had 8.3. The Front de Gauche approx. 9. The UMP got 16, "crypto-UMP" another 6, divers droite 11. The FN has 15.

Ignoring Democracy in Order to Establish It

Two great western democracies, France and the United States, went to war yesterday without the slightest democratic debate. The fateful decision was taken by the executive acting alone. In a third democracy, the UK, David Cameron at least took the precaution of seeking a vote of confidence in the House of Commons. Forms were respected. Perhaps the executives in France and the US felt that there was no need to respect the forms because a favorable vote was certain. Perhaps, but a terrible precedent has been set. In this case, unlike in Iraq in 2003, Afghanistan in 2001, and the Gulf in 1991, there was not even a pretext--however flimsy--of imminent danger to the homeland. The immediate justification was "humanitarian intervention," as in Bosnia and Kosovo. I share the emotional response to the threat of civilian slaughter in Benghazi, but I note that there are also threats, already realized, to civilian lives in Yemen and Bahrain, yet there is no talk of intervention in these places. The difference is easily explained in terms of Realpolitik, and Piero Garau does an admirable job here. I also share James Fallows' misgivings about the circumvention of Congress, as well as the failure to think through the question of what happens next.

This is a difficult issue, a very hard case to decide. I do not want to say that humanitarian intervention should never be a reason to go to war, but I think that we--France and the US for starters--need to develop a more reasoned doctrine, a set of criteria to decide when the risks of non-action outweigh the risks of action. And that decision should not be left to heads of state alone. It is ironic that democratic procedures should be most consistently flouted when the objective is ostensibly to establish democracy in places where the likelihood of success in such a mission seems open to question.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

France Attacks

French planes are in action over Libya and have already "neutralized" one Libyan Army vehicle. The war is on. Where it stops is anyone's guess. Although the stated objective is humanitarian--to prevent a massacre in Benghazi--it is hard to imagine that anyone--rebels, western powers, Arab powers--will be content to leave the wounded lion in place. But no one that I am aware of has enunciated a clear strategy to accomplish that goal. To be sure, if Kadhafi has committed his best forces in the east, and they are decimated by foreign air power, he may be considerably weakened in his strongholds in the west. But the rebels have not thus far proved to be an effective fighting force, and no outside power has yet committed ground troops, nor have the rebels invited them to do so. So we may be at the beginning of the usual engrenage: limited initial objectives soon have to be widened, and before you know, you're in a war whose strategy has not been clearly thought through and whose exit may prove to be quite elusive.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Consecration of the Front National

Jean-Luc Mélenchon makes a good point:

Dimanche soir vous verrez une soirée d’un genre nouveau : pas d’émission sur l’élection sur les plateaux des deux plus grandes chaines de télé. Le service public est le premier à avoir annoncé qu’il y renonçait ! Bravo pour l’encouragement civique ! Mais le plus dommageable est l’annonce qui sera faite a vingt heures. A ce moment là, seul seront annoncés les résultats globaux, de la façon suivante : droite gauche et Front national ! Sa soupe est servie. 

This manner of announcing only global results, without breaking down "left" and "right" by party affiliation, in a year when many candidates of the Right are hiding their UMP affiliation for fear of suffering from Sarkozy's unpopularity, really does play into the hands of the FN. It is now officially consecrated, at least for televisual purposes, as the third political force in France. MoDem, les Verts, the NPA, the PG, and all the other points on the political spectrum are folded either left or right, leaving the FN seeming as though it occupied the center, or as Marine Le Pen would prefer to say, la position ni droite ni gauche, left and right in fact being the same in her vision of the world. It is a pity to have this idea endorsed by the mass media.

France Goes to War

Sometimes boldness, foolhardiness, or whatever it is pays off. Sarkozy is a hero in Benghazi as French warplanes prepare for combat. I'm not at all sure that this will end well, but it is hard not to feel elated that in the short run a massacre may be averted. What happens in Libya after that is impossible to fathom. We have yet to see who exactly will get into the act of toppling Kadhafi. I can envision all sorts of scenarios and am not sufficiently expert to speculate. But if Kadhafi is overthrown, Sarkozy will deserve credit, and even BHL, much as it pains me to admit it. The Lord works in mysterious ways (and sometimes chooses unlikely agents).

WAIT, Hold the presses! Libya just declared a unilateral ceasefire. So now what? Does France attack anyway? Clever move on Kadhafi's part: he's got the oilfields back, Benghazi is isolated and can be strangled by Tripoli, and if outside powers attack, they're "colonialists" ganging up on a Libya whose leader can turn out large crowds chanting their support. Your move, Coalition of the Willing.

Put a Sock in It

I had assumed that removing Brice Hortefeux from the ministry of the interior could only lead to improvement. I was wrong. Claude Guéant, who had seemed for the most part cautious and careful when he was locked up inside the Élysée, now sounds like Le Pen--and I mean the old Le Pen, Jean-Marie, not the new and much slicker Marine. Here is Guéant:

 "Les Français à force d'immigration incontrôlée ont parfois le sentiment de ne plus être chez eux, ou bien ils ont le sentiment de voir des pratiques qui s'imposent à eux et qui ne correspondent pas aux règles de notre vie sociale", a-t-il lancé. "Nos compatriotes veulent choisir leur mode de vie, ils ne veulent pas qu'on leur impose un mode de vie", a insisté le ministre.

This is about as raw and crude as it gets. Next thing you know, we'll be hearing about sheep being slaughtered in bathtubs and unpleasant smells in staircases. The suggestion that Guéant was dispatched to make sure that the "debate" about laïcité would suffer no dérapages now seems off base. Clearly, he is going to make things worse, whether by design or by clumsiness. This will be disastrous.

It's interesting in this light to read Gérard Grunberg's comments on the UMP's dilemma, which he compares to the dilemma of the SFIO at the beginning of the Fifth Republic. I don't think this is quite right. The SFIO's problem was structural, whereas I think that the UMP's is conjunctural--to a greater extent at least than Grunberg seems willing to admit. His analysis in general strikes me as somewhat strained, which perhaps accounts for the fact that it also seems less clear and more convoluted than most of his commentary. Still, it's worth pondering, if only for the suggestion that while many of us were worrying about the historic demise of social democracy, we were neglecting the concomitant decline of what I am tempted to call "the rational right." In the US, this process has gone very far indeed, resulting in impasse, paralysis, and a self-destructive spiral that leaves the state unable to govern rationally and hence vulnerable to the mindless mantra pioneered by the Great Communicator: "Government is not the solution, government is the problem."

France had been protected to some extent from similar degeneration, despite decades of feckless political leadership, by a tradition of government service as a high calling. Men and women of talent did not hesitate to become functionaries and were prepared for their roles by rigorous training and ruthless selection. But the politicization of the civil service and the lure of big money in the private sector have taken a toll. Claude Guéant is a graduate of the ENA, but he was drawn into the orbit of Charles Pasqua early in his career and then gravitated toward Nicolas Sarkozy. Now that he has been unleashed in a political role, we see that when forced to shed the circumspection of the énarque working behind the scenes as an éminence grise, he has absorbed the worst instincts of his two political mentors. His metamorphosis is a symptom of the degradation of the core of the French state.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Nuclear Disaster at the AN

The Assemblée Nationale yesterday discussed the Japanese nuclear disaster. NKM painted a stark picture of the crisis. Anne Lauvergeon, the head of Areva, whose job is coveted by Sarkofavorite Henry Proglio, took a dig at her rival:

La patronne d’Areva ne manque pas de tâcler Henri Proglio, assis à côté d’elle : « Certains jugeaient le réacteur EPR trop sûr. Sureté et sécurité ne se négocient pas . Il faudra rebâtir la confiance dans nos industries. » Proglio plonge dans ses notes… Selon le directeur de l’IRSN, Jacques Repussard : « Le nuage radioactif fait plusieurs dizaines de kilomètres. Dans quelques jours il fera plusieurs centaines de kilomètres.  Nous allons examiner les avions, les équipages et la passagers d’Air France en provenance du Japon» Pas de panique pour autant : « la radioactivité » sera inférieure à celle constatée après les essais nucléaires dans la Pacifique… »  

France la téméraire

The use of France as a repoussoir in American foreign policy debates would make an interesting study. The latest to invoke French behavior as an object lesson is Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina:

"One test in foreign policy - at least be as bold as the French," Graham, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a release Wednesday. "Unfortunately, when it comes to Libya we're failing that test."

The implication, of course, is that since even the notoriously wimpish French are paying lip service to action, President Obama's reluctance to engage American forces is simply incomprehensible. The potential negative consequences of military intervention are not discussed.

Sen. Graham's memory is short: the Suez War of 1956 is not exactly ancient history, and at the time France's "boldness" had to be restrained by "wimpish" Dwight Eisenhower. As for Graham, his boldness seems to end with a no-fly zone, as if that would be enough to decide the outcome. France la hardie ou France la téméraire? 

Sign of the Times?

20 Minutes appends the following notice to an article about Claude Guéant and the upcoming debate about laïcité:

En raison de débordements systématiques sur ce type d'articles, nous sommes contraints de le fermer aux commentaires. Merci de votre compréhension.

And there, perhaps, is a reason why the debate should not be taking place.

Juppé Nearly Resigned?

This story--unfortunately totally unsourced--claims first that Juppé nearly resigned as foreign minister over the incident in which Sarkozy, via the mouth of BHL, recognized the Libyan rebels without alerting his foreign minister, and, second, that Sarkozy did this deliberately to insult and humiliate Juppé, who had been stealing the limelight and was emerging as the new strong man of a sinking regime. Trop beau pour être vrai? The story is of course perfectly plausible, but that only makes one wish all the more that there were a few attributed quotes in it. I mean, anybody can make this stuff up, right? But reporters who get paid for a living are supposed to wear out their shoe leather, unlike us bloggers, who just wear out our underwear as we sit around fantasizing about the high and mighty.


The numbers make what everyone knows already stand out with stark clarity:

En préambule, le rapport collectionne quelques faits têtus. Par exemple, le quartier des Bosquets à Montfermeil compte 44 % de jeunes de moins de 20 ans. En moyenne, ces quartiers connaissent un taux de chômage de plus de 40 % et 29 % de leurs habitants vivent en dessous du seuil de pauvreté. À Clichy-sous-Bois, selon la démographe Michèle Tribalat, citée par Fabienne Keller, la proportion des jeunes de moins de 18 ans d'origine étrangère (1) est passée de 22 % en 1968 à 76 % en 2005.

The UMP deputy Fabienne Keller deserves credit for recognizing that there is a problem implicit in these numbers, a problem that too many on her side of the political divide, and on the other side as well, do not always recognize: the schools are hampered in their mission of socialization and assimilation by the lack of common historical and cultural references.  Keller proposes to remedy this by changing textbooks to reflect what she believes is the "common history" of the children of immigrants and Français de souche. There is a precedent: a Franco-German history to which both French and German historians contributed. Benjamin Stora, a historian of the war in Algeria, doubts that this can be done for France and Africa, however, because the views of historians on either side of the Mediterranean are far from converging in the ways that the views of European historians have converged about the European past:

"Un récit unique, non, ça, vraiment, je ne vois pas, déclare Benjamin Stora. Les conceptions sont trop diamétralement divergentes, et à ma connaissance, les intellectuels africains ne sont pas prêts au compromis. Ils ont une vision totalement négative de la colonisation, et la tendance est au ressourcement identitaire contre l'ancienne puissance coloniale. Évidemment, je comprends cette proposition et je la préfère au discours de repli sur l'histoire nationale et au refus des étrangers. Mais elle me paraît irréaliste."
An interesting debate: à suivre.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Caldwell on Le Pen

I linked a few days ago to an interview of American neoconservative writer Christopher Caldwell with Rue89. The piece he was writing on France, which led to that interview, is now up at The Weekly Standard, the flagship publication of American neoconservatism. For Caldwell, the primary reason for the FN surge is the EU, "The French people have more Europe than they want," he writes:

Once Europe is identified as the problem, a political program comes into view—one aimed at restoring powers, formal and informal, that have been relocated abroad. Ms. Le Pen likens her movement to the Tea Party. To an extent that would surprise those familiar with the old FN, Ms. Le Pen is comfortable talking about economics. She would withdraw from the European Union and from the euro, which she rejects on the grounds that it is not an “optimal currency area,” in the sense laid out by the economist Robert Mundell. Who can dispute that? Her reading of the austerity plans being imposed on Greece and Ireland is that “they are destroying the peoples to save the currency.”

But this seems to me rather limited as an explanation of the current situation. More interesting is an observation he makes earlier:

The number of French people who don’t naturally gravitate either to the Socialists or to Sarkozy’s UMP is large, and there is reason to believe it is growing. Hannah Arendt wrote somewhere that right-wing movements appeal to the “déclassé of all classes,” and Marine Le Pen is frank about wanting those votes. “The working class, the unemployed, young people” is Marine Le Pen’s first description of who votes for the FN, but she is quick to note that women are backing the party in greater numbers. 

The "déclassé of all classes" is an excellent formula, although MLP's account of the demographics of her party oddly leaves out the elderly, which I think is one of her core constituencies. Older voters, fearful of demographic and cultural change, set in their ways, with limited contact with new elements of French society: such people are in evidence at FN meetings. Marine Le Pen naturally prefers to emphasize the dynamism of youthful adherents to her party, and no doubt this bears watching. But the fearful older voter is one who is, as it were, naturally "déclassé," no matter what his or her class of origin. Displaced by the young and with more to protect from "insecurity" and the claims of the "state," this is a group that has been tapped by recent populist movements everywhere. A Times survey of Tea Party supporters showed that they were older and wealthier than the general population. Does anyone know of a similar study for France?