Sunday, February 20, 2011

New Political Party


Raffarin on DSK

Jean-Pierre Raffarin says he doesn't think DSK is the "most dangerous" of Sarkozy's rivals because he has a "profile rather to the right of the center of gravity of today's Left." He may be right, despite the current polls. So who would be the most dangerous opponent? JPR doesn't say, but if the "center-of-gravity" metaphor is taken seriously, I think it might be François Hollande. In fact, I would be at all surprised to see Hollande emerge as a compromise candidate, the least objectionable to all factions. Assuming that DSK doesn't storm his way to success within minutes of making a formal announcement, which is apparently his hope. As I've said repeatedly, I think that may be a miscalculation on his part.

Who would make a better president, DSK or FH? That's a different question. I wasn't much of a fan of FH as a party leader, but his defects in that post might become virtues in a consensus-building presidency. And DSK might be too much of an economist, too little a politician, and just a bit too intellectually arrogant for a president in the televisual age. (Sarkozy's arrogance is of a different kind: it invites identification with his combativeness, whereas DSK's makes the listener feel ignorant. Remember Mitterrand's "je ne suis votre élève"--one of the most effective debate retorts ever).

True Believers

Jean-Luc Mélenchon has the knack of arousing strong passions. Periodically, I receive comments from his adepts. Here is one that just arrived, although the post to which it was connected appeared a month ago:

As a French, I was really interested to see some Americans getting interested about French politics! Usually it is the contrary you know...
So, congratulations for being open minded up to the point to read about J-L Melenchon, who created the Left Party "Parti de Gauche" in France 3 years ago, following the German "Die Linke" from Oskar Lafontaine.
I spent almost 3 years in US. I know Melenchon's arguments must appear weird to most American people. However you should know that Melenchon, at first a philosopher, has been for many years one of the most interesting and thought-provoking men in French Politics. I think one of his central arguments is that a society that submits itself to "a body without a head" like the international free market, without inventing a new political power to counterbalance it, is actually gradually giving up democracy.

The assumption here seems to be that if one isn't French, one needs extra help to understand a thinker of Mélenchon's subtlety. The writer seems not to consider the possibility that I might actually be quite familiar with the thought of this "philosopher" and still disagree with him profoundly. If only I immersed myself more fully in the "World according to JLM," she implies, the scales would fall from my eyes and I would join the ranks of his supporters.

This is a curious attitude, and one that I don't detect in the brickbats coming at me from other parts of the political spectrum. But perhaps that is because they have already written me off as an irredeemable social liberal, left apostate, or crypto-Sarkozyste. In fact, although I am an American, je ne suis pas un Américain à l'image des banquiers d'investissement, des managers de hedge fund, et autres suppôts du corps sans tête qu'est "the international free market," to borrow a phrase from my would-be instructor in the ways of capitalism. I don't find Mélenchon's thinking in any way "weird." Indeed, it is all too familiar. But certain adherents seem to be discovering this particular critique of capitalism for the first time.

I assume that the writer is young. There is something rather touching about her faith, and it ill behooves me, as an aging intellectual whose radical passions have waned, to attempt to dissuade her from pushing on with it. I used to take a dim view of people in my position, before I became one of them. So I accept the criticism indulgently, though it doesn't in the least shake my conviction that to embrace Mélenchon would be a seriously wrong turn for the French Left.

Another Olivier Roy Piece on post-Islamic Politics


L'Image de la France

There has been much talk this week of l'image de la France ... celle qu'on aime, celle qu'on n'aime pas. In France's new ambassador to Tunisia, we have a little of both. Watch this clip:

The good news is that this young diplomat speaks Arabic. The bad news, which begins at about 3:00 of the clip, is that he seems to be à l'image du Président Sarkozy, who appointed him and whom he served previously at the Interior Ministry. The veneer of diplomatic politeness falls away, and we have a very Sarkozyesque confrontation with the press, puncuated with aggressive franchements, accusations directed at reporters for asking questions débiles, etc. etc. To judge by appearances, M. Boillon is very young and still unseasoned (although he served as ambassador to Iraq from 2009 to 2011). Perhaps we should allow him time to grow into his job and acquire the diplomatic niceties. But already Tunisians are demonstrating to have him recalled.

CIA Gets Scammed, France Blows the Whistle

This is an extraordinary story. A software scam artist sold the CIA software he said could detect secret messages steganographically encoded in Al Jazeera broadcasts. The CIA believed that this information was real, to the point where it may have been prepared to shoot down airliners. Things never got that far, but flights were turned back in the air, and others grounded. But French officials didn't believe these tales:

French officials, upset that their planes were being grounded, commissioned a secret study concluding that the technology was a fabrication. Presented with the findings soon after the 2003 episode, Bush administration officials began to suspect that “we got played,” a former counterterrorism official said.
Unbelievable! Score one for France. (h/t Henry Farrell)