Saturday, January 26, 2013

Franco-American Fictions

So what else is new? Americans are grousing about French foreign policy, and the French are complaining about grudging American support. The immediate issue is Mali where
Mr. Obama’s aides say that the model under way in Mali now — with the French taking the lead, and a force from the region backing them up — is exactly what they want to encourage. But some officials say they believe the French went into Mali hastily, in the words of one official “before they understood exactly what they were biting off.”
Indeed, both assertions are true. The US has encouraged other countries to take the lead in providing regional security, and the French acted in Mali under the pressure of rapidly evolving events, which left them between a rock and a hard place: stand by and watch Bamakou fall to Islamist insurgents, or act before the implications for the long term could be fully assessed. But the die has been cast, and both Washington and Paris must deal with the situation as it is. Although Washington complains about the cost of the Malian operation, it can't amount to much compared to the cost of other operations in which we are engaged. I suspect that the greater fear is that the French can't manage the increasingly complex international aspects of the conflict, which has drawn in many neighboring states and threatens to destabilize the whole of north and central Africa, in which case the cost of holding the line in Mali will seem insignificant. But is there any reason to believe that the US can manage things better than France, or than international institutions? France has deeper knowledge of the immediate region, although its bitter history there may complicate matters unnecessarily.


In defense of the mother tongue, a French commission has decreed that the word "hashtag," which, as everyone knows, is a word or phrase preceded by a hash mark (thus: #yourhashtaghere) and used by Twitter to organize gazillions of random tweets, should not be used in France. Instead, they propose "mot-dièse." But as Scott Sayare points out in the Times, dièse is the the musical sharp symbol, so that mot-croisillon might be a better choice in French.