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.