Friday, July 29, 2005

American "Wolves" and German Shepherds?: The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and Iraqi Reconstruction

Regular readers of Trans-Int will remember the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES): the publicly-funded foundation of the German Social Democratic Party that disposes of an annual budget of some 109 million euro. The annual budget of the National Endowment for Democracy, from which both of the analogous American party foundations - The National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) - draw their federal funding, was recently increased to $80 million. At current exchange rates, the budget of the FES alone is still nearly twice this amount. As previously noted on Trans-Int, no less an authority than former German President Roman Herzog has described Germany's publicly-funded political foundations - of which there is one for each party represented in the German parliament - as "the most effective and reliable instrument of German foreign policy". Apparently, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung is functioning as such in the context of Iraqi reconstruction, with German Social Democracy taking on the airs of the "protector" of the ostensibly aggrieved Sunni minority in its battle against the American "occupier".

Thus, some weeks ago the FES hosted a "round table" on the Iraqi Constitution in Amman, Jordan. One of the participants was Kamal Allou, a Sunni representative on the constitutional committee of the Iraqi National Assembly. Mr. Allou seems to have appreciated his no doubt all-expense-paid visit to Amman and the support offered by his German hosts. The following is from yesterday's edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung [link in German]:
With their propositions concerning the constitution, the Germans count in the meanwhile as independent observers. Some even regard them as the guarantee that, as Mr. Allou says, "we won't completely have the rug pulled out from under us by the Americans". "The occupiers are like wolves. But what we need are shepherds."

(Note: For general background on the FES [including the source of the above-cited Herzog quote], see "Geert Ahrens, German Foundations, and 'Conspiracy Theories'". On the FES and the NDI, see "Who Supports the National Democratic Institute?"; and on the - outside Germany - little-known role of the FES in Ukraine's "Orange Revolution", see "Who Supports Yushchenko?: Leftist Fanatasies and German Realities".)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Franco-Israeli Détente?

Ariel Sharon, in Paris for three days of talks, met with French president Jacques Chirac yesterday and both leaders marked the occasion by emitting conspicuously friendly noises. The word in the traditional French media is that Franco-Israeli relations have entered a period of “warming”. Emmanuel of Politique arabe de la France, one of the sharpest observers of French Middle East Policy on the web, believes it might just be so and even suggests that in the apparent rapprochement is to be seen the beginning of “The End of France’s Relentlessly Pro-Palestinian Policy” [link in French]. Here is the core of Emmanuel’s explanation:

The turning point was the second Intifada. Of course, France took the side of the Palestinians in this ferocious war of attrition.

But for the first time France’s relentless pro-Palestinianism had disastrous consequences for France itself. Encouraged by the French positions, carried away by the hatred of Sharon expressed in the medias, many French Arabs permitted themselves to pass over… to an active anti-Semitism. There was an explosion of anti-Semitic incidents, hundred of French Jews were attacked, synagogues were set on fire, etc…

Paradoxically, it was these wretched creatures – who so thoroughly identified with the Palestinians – who finished off the extremist pro-Palestinianism of French policy.

The great majority of French political leaders and journalists recognized the outrage that the explosion of anti-Semitism represented for France: it was unacceptable that French citizens were attacked in this way; France stood accused, notably in the United States; one feared a clash between [religious] communities. They reacted firmly and the attitude of the French government, notably, has been exemplary, as Sharon acknowledged today [yesterday]….

I’m afraid I do not share the optimism of Emmanuel’s assessment. There are important indices suggesting that the entire visit is being exploited by the French government as a publicity stunt designed precisely to highlight the alleged “success” of its supposed efforts to combat anti-Semitism. Thus, just one day before Sharon’s arrival in Paris, the French Ministry of the Interior announced that anti-Semitic incidents in France had fallen by some 48% by comparison to the first-half of 2004. Incidentally, the official organism charged with collecting such statistics – the Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) – does not publish any mid-year report, so we have to take this piece of information on faith. In any case, the release of the statistic had the presumably desired effect, it being cited in virtually all the reporting on Sharon’s visit, including – which is no doubt of greatest importance for the French government – in the English language reports. (See, for instance, this Reuters article.) Following his meeting with Chirac, Ariel Sharon dutifully praised France’s “very decided combat against anti-Semitism” and even suggested that France could be a “model” for other countries in the matter.

But the problem with all this diplomatic good cheer is that the 48% drop in anti-Semitic incidents represents a highly relative “success” – notably in light of the fact that the first half of 2004 saw a massive spike in such incidents (which already were on the decline again in the second half of 2004). This is to say that with the 48% drop, what Emmanuel calls “active anti-Semitism” in France has merely returned to the already alarmingly high level of 2003 (during which, according to the official statistics, some 601 such incidents were recorded). Moreover, there is nothing to suggest that the recent decline has anything to do with any policy of the French government. For the last five years, since the start of the second Intifada, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in France, although showing an overall rising tendency, has oscillated from year to year. These oscillations presumably reflect changes in the more general political climate and not any specific measures taken by the government. Below is a relevant chart taken from the CNCDH’s latest yearly report [pdf-file; link in French]. The grey bar represents anti-Semitic incidents; the black bar, other racist incidents.

It is also worth noting that in his official declaration prior to the meeting with Sharon, Jacques Chirac welcomed the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, but placed the latter within the framework of the "road map". Ariel Sharon, by contrast, insists that the "road map" cannot even begin to be applied until "there is a total stop to terrorism" (these his words in a recent interview with Le Monde). The withdrawal from Gaza thus forms part of a "preliminary phase". Chirac's divergence from Sharon on this point is more than just a nuance. It expresses a continuing indulgence of Palestinian terror on the part of Chirac and the French government - who, of course, can far more easily afford such indulgence than Ariel Sharon and the Israelis.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Yogurt Fever: Epilogue

On Monday, the French Financial Market Authority (AMF) announced that it had received assurances from the PepsiCo Corporation that, contrary to widespread rumors, the latter was not in fact preparing a takeover bid for Danone. The announcement seems to have brought to a close France’s recent bout of “Yogurt Fever”. Indeed, already before the announcement, certain French media – notably Le Figaro – had regained lucidity and were posing skeptical questions about the rumored bid and even about the origins of the rumor itself. Perhaps because somewhat fevered is its normal condition, the temperature at Le Monde, however, evidently remains high. Thus the opening of a brief article on the affair in yesterday’s edition (dated 27 July):
After a week of reactions by the political class to the possibility of a stock market raid by PepsiCo on Danone, a number of questions remain unanswered. On Monday, 25 July, the latter issued a communiqué indicating that it “took note” of the declaration by the American group to the Financial Market Authority (AFM). PepsiCo does not envisage “at the moment an operation of this sort” with respect to the jewel of the French foodstuffs industry.

Note the use of the expression “stock market raid” in the opening sentence: a term which, as I pointed out in “Yogurt is a Strategic Industry”, would be factually inappropriate even supposing that PepsiCo was preparing an offer and hence only serves here to dramatize. Note too the description of Danone as a “jewel” – fleuron (literally, “floweret”) – of French industry. It will be recalled that this was the expression used by French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin last Wednesday in announcing the intention of the French government to “defend” Danone. If Le Monde would like to retain any credibility, perhaps it should make efforts to take a bit of distance from the Quai d’Orsay – or at least to appear to do so.

The Le Monde article goes on to repeat a rumor according to which an unnamed financial establishment is supposed to have purchased 3% of Danone shares on behalf of PepsiCo: “a purchase that would have permitted…the American group to deny… having acquired such an interest, since, in effect, it is not PepsiCo that held them!” The exclamation point is apparently Le Monde’s manner of expressing wonderment at “Anglo-Saxon” deceitfulness. The cited source for this story?: an unnamed “person close to Danone”.

In the meanwhile, following the request of Colette Neuville, President of the Association for the Defense of Minority Shareholders (ADAM), the Financial Market Authority has opened an inquiry into a possible manipulation of the Danone stock price. Interviewed last week by the cable news channel I-Télé, Ms. Neuville had the audacity to note that a PepsiCo bid for Danone would be in the interest of Danone shareholders. Alluding to the rumored bid and the fevered response to it by the French government and in the media, Ms. Neuville referred to a “campaign of intoxication”.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Charm Offensive

What better time than a bombing attack in a European capital for a charm offensive by the would-be preacher of a “moderate” European Islam, Tariq Ramadan? Since, the July 7 London bombings, Tariq Ramadan has been making the rounds of the press, dutifully mouthing words well-chosen to make clear his, let’s say for the moment, “rejection” of the attacks. His latest stop, as my friends at EURSOC bring to my attention, is the UK’s Independent, which yesterday ran an interview with Ramadan. The interview is also called a “profile” by the Independent: a detail which is interesting, since ordinarily a “profile” – or at least one that aimed at objectivity – should be based on something other than just the subject’s own words. It is prefaced by the knowing observation that another UK paper, the Evening Standard, had lately published a piece on Ramadan that “managed in the space of just 10 short lines to include no less than four mistakes”. The Independent’s reporter Paul Vallely does not deign to tell us what three of the “no less than four” mistakes were, but he does at least specify the fourth and, in his words, “most pernicious”: viz. [the claim that] “Professor Ramadan condoned suicide bombings when he vehemently condemns them.”

The insertion of the superfluous qualifier “vehemently” is symptomatic of the sort of partisanship under cover of journalism that has become so common of late in UK papers like The Independent or The Guardian and of which the NYTimes is, of course, in the US the unrivaled champion. (Indeed, the Independent’s Ramadan interview/profile resembles nothing so much as the Ramadan interview/profile published last October by the NYTimes and whose claims I examined in detail in my “Tariq Ramadan, Non-Violent Man of Peace”.) At what point, after all, has the threshold of “vehemence” been reached? Must visible steam be perceptible escaping from the ears? The real question is simply whether Tariq Ramadan has condemned suicide attacks or not. And to this question, contrary to the impression given by the Independent, there is no simple answer. It is entirely possible, furthermore, that Mr. Ramadan – who is nothing if not a master of nuance – condemns such attacks in certain instances and does not condemn or even condones them in others.

Now, it is true that Mr. Ramadan took the occasion of the London bombings to issue a statement on his personal website with the title “To Condemn Absolutely”. “Our condemnation is, once again, absolute,” he wrote. Mr. Ramadan’s choice to lend emphasis to his condemnation of the attacks with the qualifier “absolute” itself represents an interesting and revealing rhetorical strategy. Is there such a thing as a “relative” condemnation? The statement “our condemnation is absolute” – I am not sure for whom besides himself Mr. Ramadan claims to be speaking – is logically equivalent to “our condemnation is a condemnation”, which is to say, it is not really a statement at all but merely an allusion to another (possible) statement: i.e., “we condemn x”, with x in this case being the London bombings. But that Mr. Ramadan should unambiguously condemn a terrorist attack is worthy of note and he has good reason to want to to call attention to the fact - because in the past he has precisely not been able to bring himself to do so. In effect, Mr. Ramadan's explicit condemnation of the attacks is – contrary to the impression created by the adverbial phrase “once again”, which thus has a certain guilty quality (“once again”: i.e. at least this time) – something of a novelty.

Thus, as cited by Daniel Pipes and previously discussed in my “Tariq Ramadan, Non-Violent Man of Peace”, when Mr. Ramadan was once asked about whether it is acceptable for Palestinian militants to kill Israeli children since they will someday become soldiers as adults, he responded:
I don't believe that an eight year old child is a soldier. These acts are condemnable; therefore one has to condemn them in themselves. But I say to the international community that they are contextually explicable, and not justifiable. What does this mean? It means that the international community today has placed the Palestinians in a situation where they are delivered [to? - JR] political oppression, which explains (not justifying it) that at a certain point people say: we don't have arms, we don't have anything, and so we cannot do anything other than this. It is contextually explicable but morally condemnable.
As I noted in my earlier post:
Despite the fact that Tariq Ramadan is careful here to use repeatedly the word "condemn" and its variants, a "condemnation" which treats the ostensibly "condemnable" acts as, in effect, inevitable - and remember what is at issue is the assassination of children - is clearly not in fact a condemnation, since the very notion of condemning some act implies that the agent who performed it could have acted otherwise. It is also notable in this quote that Mr. Ramadan never says in the first person that he himself condemns the acts in question, but merely that in the abstract they are "condemnable" and that "one" has to condemn them.

The fact that Mr. Ramadan speaks of “our condemnation” in connection with the London attacks does, then, represent a certain evolution in his discourse. ("Our condemnation" presumably includes also his condemnation of the attacks, though it its interesting that Mr. Ramadan chooses here to efface his own individual responsibility for his words in imputing some collective response to his presumed "community": whether the latter be understood - rather implausibly under the circumstances - as all Muslims or, say, if tautologically, as all “like-minded" Muslims.) Indeed in his statement, as cited by The Independent, he even says “The authors of such acts are criminals and we cannot accept or listen to their probable justifications in the name of an ideology, a religion or a political cause” - a position which would seem to exclude finding at least the London bombings “contextually explicable”.

But while Mr. Ramadan ostentatiously prohibits the mere act of “listening to” the "probable justifications" of the London attacks among his chosen "community" ("we cannot accept or listen to..."), he tacitly recommends doing precisely the opposite - and then some - when addressing the larger European public: viz, not only "listening to" their justifications, but even practically taking the latter into account. And so the attacks must indeed be "contextually explicable", after all.

Thus, in an interview that Mr. Ramadan gave to Global Viewpoint nine days after the bombings (and that has since appeared translated into German in Die Welt), he notes:

Tony Blair has said it is up to the Muslims to do something about stopping these killers that came from their communities. He is partly right, as I have said.

But the situation we face today is like that of a family. When a kid does wrong, his two parents are also responsible. These kids that committed the London bombings were born in Europe. They are not just the sons of Muslims, but also the sons of European society. One parent is the Muslim community, and it needs to do something; the other parent is European society, and it needs to do something.

We need to ask what fault lies with the European parent with respect to the failures of social integration or with respect to supporting the war in Iraq, which millions and millions of Europeans opposed.

Since the explicit context for these remarks is what has do be done by European governments to avoid further attacks, these words amount to an implicit threat: either change your policies - notably, as concerns Iraq - or the attacks will continue. Once again - even after he has upgraded it to an "absolute" status by comparison to his earlier evasive or not-quite "condemnations" - Mr. Ramadan’s “condemnation” of the London bombings does not bear scrutiny. Although in logic the rule of non-contradiction applies, Tariq Ramadan is quite capable of condemning and not condemning at the same time.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Banalizing Terror

The above-the-crease headline in today's edition of Le Monde (dated 26 July):

"Governments faced with the challenge of terrorist harassment" [Les gouvernements au défi du harcèlement terroriste].

Yes, the word chosen by Le Monde is « harassment »: harcèlement in French - the same word that would be used, for instance, for sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


My apologies to the regular commentators on Trans-Int, whose contributions I have much appreciated. My decision to close the comments section for the time being obviously has nothing to do with you. I would still very much welcome suggestions, corrections, etc., to the site e-mail.


Saturday, July 23, 2005

Yogurt Fever

(Note: For background, see “Yogurt is a Strategic Industry”.)

Thursday, 14 July

Jacques Chirac: in the President’s annual Bastille Day interview alludes to “the risk of foreign capital taking control of French enterprises”.

Sunday, 17 July

According to Le Figaro, Michel Calzaroni, advisor to Danone CEO Frank Riboud, puts in “several calls to Parisian editorial offices” – including presumably Le Figaro’s. His message: “What Chirac said is very important. Several major firms are going to be the target of takeover bids and will pass into foreign control if one is not careful.” (source: Le Figaro) Le Figaro also reports that the previous week Frank Riboud had “made known his fears” about a possible PepsiCo bid for Danone to French Minister of the Economy Thierry Breton. Thereafter, as Le Figaro puts it, Riboud “spends a pleasant weekend at his house in the South-West.”

Wednesday, 20 July

Dominique de Villepin: “The Danone Group is one of the jewels of French industry and, of course, we are going to defend the interests of France.” (source: LCI)

Thursday, 21 July

Jacques Chirac: “I don’t want to comment on rumors in the financial markets, but, nonetheless, since it is a matter of a big French firm like Danone, I am, like the government, particularly vigilant and particularly mobilized.” (source: Le Figaro)

Thursday, 21 July (published)

Nicholas Sarkozy, interviewed by Le Monde: In case there is a hostile takeover bid for Danone, “the public authorities should do everything possible, along with the principal shareholders, including the Caisse des dépôts [a public bank], and mobilize their power of influence [capacité de conviction] in order to block the offensive”. (source: Le Monde)

Thursday, 21 July

Françoise Hollande, Socialist Party Chair: “There needs to be a mobilization of public and private actors: the banks, the Caisse des dépôts, certain private shareholders, and also the unions.” Hollande adds that “It needs to be made clear to possible buyers that they are not coming to friendly territory [en terrain favorable].” (source: Le Parisien via AFP)

Thursday, 21 July

Frank Riboud, CEO of Danone, at a press conference to announce the group’s mid-year results: “There has not been any contact. There is nothing – neither imminent, nor distant, neither official, nor unofficial – from anybody.” (source: Le Figaro)

On Thursday, following Frank Riboud’s remarks, the share price of Danone fell by 6% - n.b. despite the fact that Riboud at the same time announced better than expected results for the first half of 2005. During the previous two days, at the height of France's yogurt fever, the Danone share price rose by 16.5%.

According to several reports in the French media, Colette Neuville, President of the Association for the Defense of Minority Shareholders (ADAM), either has submitted or is preparing to submit (sources: Le Figaro and a complaint to the French Stock Market authorities, requesting that they investigate the possibility of a deliberate manipulation of the Danone share price.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Yogurt Is a Strategic Industry

(With Two Updates)

The above-the-crease headline in today's Le Figaro: "Villepin Takes Over the Defense of Dannon". The story refers to reports of an impending takeover bid for Danone - one of the "jewels" of French industry, in the words of the French Prime Minister - by the American PepsiCo Corporation. De Villepin has pledged to "defend the interests of France" in the matter.

To Le Figaro's credit, it points out that the reports of a planned takeover bid by PepsiCo concern mere rumors: "before even being launched - supposing such a project really exists - PepsiCo's takeover bid has become a veritable affair of state." It also points out that despite the Prime Minister's pronouncements seeming to suggest the contrary, Danone "does not figure within the category of so-called sensitive or strategic industries such as the defense industry".

The German government recently undertook considerable efforts to guarantee German control of German shipyards. The French Prime Minister has come to the defense of... yogurt.


Despite the moments of lucidity in its frontpage presentation of the rumored PepsiCo offer, Le Figaro's extended coverage reflects the general hysteria. Thus, for instance, an article titled "Hostile Takeover Bid: Four Key Questions" [link in French], classifies PepsiCo as a "raider" in asking: "What are the 'means' that the French government could mobilize to block PepsiCo - or any other raider...?" Now, of course, in financial journalism the term "corporate raider" typically refers to an investment firm that purchases underperforming or outright unprofitable firms with the intention of selling off some of their assets - otherwise known by German trade-unionists and Social Democrats as "locusts". Obviously, this has nothing to do with any potential PepsiCo-Danone scenario.

It is also interesting to note that the French media in desperately searching for a potential European "White Knight" to save Danone from the clutches of PepsiC0, aka "the Americans", has hit upon Nestlé. Now, in the first place, while from the point of view of geography Nestlé is indeed a firm with its corporate headquarters on the European continent, viz. in Switzerland, from the point of view of law it is no more a "European" firm than is PepsiCo, i.e. Switzerland is no more a member of the European Union than is the US. So, even supposing what in European law is referred to as a "community preference" would be admissible in this case, the preference for Nestlé over PepsiCo does not reflect any such preference but pure and simple anti-Americanism.

In the second place, Nestlé already has a substantial presence in some of Danone's most important markets: notably, dairy products and mineral water. Hence, as Le Figaro points out, the acquisition of Danone by Nestlé would risk giving the latter a monopoly position in the markets in question. An acquisition by PepsiCo presents no such problems. One Danone employee interviewed on French television about the rumored takeover bid sighed: "Anything but the Americans...". Could French and EU authorities, in much the same spirit, prefer the creation of a "European" monopoly? Their recent sanctioning of the acquisition of Vivendi Universal Publishing (VUP) by Hachette-Lagardère suggests the answer is: "yes".

(Note: No, the "Jean Rosenthal" who wrote the highly enlightening account linked just above of the VUP acquisition by Hachette-Lagardère is not me. If you are not familiar with the affair, it is much recommended that you have a look!)

Update #2:

EURSOC provides much useful background - recounting how Danone went from the bete noir of French industry to the current damsel in distress threatened by the "American ogre" - in "Yoghurt War".

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Still More 9/11 as "Protest"

The link to the French school exam topic - "The United States, A Contested Superpower" - that was not working when I first posted on the subject is now working. You can see the complete exam topic here, including two further accompanying "documents" in addition to Plantu's famous cartoon depiction of Islamist "contestation" of American power on 9/11.

Two remarks:

In document #1, a map supposed to illustrate the "financial and military power" of the United States, note the arrows meant to depict the flow of foreign direct investment from the United States and the especially thick and menacing arrow pointing at Europe.

This will no doubt strike fear into the heart of many a French adolescent who has been properly indoctrinated into believing that foreign investment - or rather specifically American foreign investment - is a threat to their liberty or "values" ... or something at any rate. But it is far less awe-inspiring when one realizes that EU investment in the US in fact exceeds US investment in the EU: in 2002, for instance, by €889 billion to €650 billion. If French schoolchildren were properly informed about the relative importance of the EU and the US in the global economy, would not their view of the scary "superpower" be altered? (In the same vein, note too the star in the symbol key, which is supposed to stand for "nuclear power". But there is only one star placed on the map, namely over the US, as if there were not any other nuclear powers - such as France, for instance....)

Secondly, note that of the three "documents" to which students are supposed to make reference in formulating their responses, two are taken from Le Monde: the Plantu cartoon and an excerpt from an article by Alain Franchon (whom Trans-Int readers will have previously encountered here being misidentified by - who else? - Thomas Friedman). Franchon has recently co-authored a book, L'Amérique messianique or "Messianic America", on scary American "neo-conservatives" and their alleged "Messianism". The excerpt from him included in the exam topic is supposed to illustrate America's "economic and cultural power". (Yes, the Ministry of Education did indeed devise an exam including one document ostensibly touching on American "financial" power and another on American "economic" power - just in case French school children were not confused enough already.) The excerpt ends with the for impressionable youngsters no doubt reassuring observation that "Hollywood exercises an absolute domination over world cinema - hence 'over our dreams and our minds', as one says in Europe." Franchon does not specify who exactly the "one" in question is supposed to be.

The exam topic provides a perfect illustration of how, despite a relatively modest circulation, a single newspaper can pollute the public discourse of an entire nation. But Americans will surely be familiar with the phenomenon...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

For Whom Is Worse Better?: More on French Media and Iraqi Violence

Following the murderous suicide attack in Moussayeb over the weekend, yesterday’s editions of both of France’s major dailies featured remarkably similar headlines above the crease on their front pages. “Iraq Under Threat of Civil War” read the headline in Le Monde. For once less circumspect than its crosstown rival, Le Figaro pronounced a civil war to be no mere threat, but already underway. “Iraq: the Civil War Rages” blared the Le Figaro headline. It might seem unsurprising that two newspapers should employ similar headlines in reporting the same events. But what is symptomatic about the headlines is that they precisely do not report the events, but rather propose a virtually identical and by no means obvious interpretation of them. What happened, after all, in Moussayeb and three days earlier in Baghdad, when the explosion of a car bomb killed 32 children, were attacks against civilians: what would otherwise be known, though not apparently in the pages of Le Monde or Le Figaro, as terrorist attacks. (Thus, France’s third daily, the alternative “left” Libération, ran the equally spectacular, but more pertinent and accurate headline “War on Civilians”.) To stylize such acts into episodes in a “civil war” requires a considerable leap.

As with some of the immediate reactions of Le Monde to the 9/11 attacks that I recently re-visited in “French School Exam: 9/11 as Protest”, this precipitate abandonment of facts for questionable interpretations of them – the possible relevance of which could, in any case, only be assessed in the far longer run – presumably reflects a sort of wish fulfillment. In fact, ever since the beginning of the US-led intervention in Iraq, the alleged threat of a civil war among Iraq’s “ethnic and religious communities” has been brandished by French commentators as a reason for opposing the toppling of Saddam Hussein – whose brutal regime was thereby tacitly, and sometimes not so tacitly, given approving recognition as the guarantor of Iraqi unity and public order. (In his La guerre à outrance, subtitled “How the Press Has Misinformed Us about Iraq”, the journalist Alain Hertoghe provides a detailed day-by-day account of the doomsday scenarios that passed for reporting in the French press during the three weeks of hostilities between the regular Iraqi Army and Coalition troops - for his trouble, as reported here, he was fired from his own employer, the Catholic paper La Croix.) Nearly two years later, in January 2005, when Iraq held free elections for its transitional National Assembly, the trope had lost none of its appeal for the French media. On the very night of the elections, the publicly-financed French-German channel Arte conducted an interview with a Middle East “specialist” from France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) who, in effect – and this is a measure of just how twisted French reporting on Iraq has been – “reassuringly” opined that even this event was a bad thing, since democracy in Iraq would only entail civil war.

It would seem that the priority for France’s two most influential papers nowadays is not to report developments in Iraq, but rather to exploit them in order to prove that, all along – i.e. despite occasional “setbacks” like the Iraqi elections – they were “right” about the Iraq "quagmire". But whereas the papers and indeed the French government – whose obstructionist Iraq policy the papers have, in effect, dutifully served – pretend merely to be following events in Iraq with sincere concern, the fact is that both – not only the French government, but even the French press – have been active players in the Iraqi drama. Look again at the chart relating ransom payments to spikes in Iraqi terror that I published at the end of June (see "Ransom and Terror in Iraq").

(click on image for larger version)

Note the three arrows, representing presumptive ransom payments in May and June, bunched together toward the right-hand extreme of the chart. It was entirely predictable, after this massive infusion of financial resources for the groups perpetrating the attacks, that July would be a particularly bloody month in Iraq. Regrettably, we can expect more of the same in August. And remember that one of those arrows represents a reported $15 million ransom payment by the French government to obtain the release of Libération reporter Florence Aubenas.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Debating Islam After the London Bombings

The NYTimes’s Thomas Friedman has been getting much credit in the sphere for his latest column: mostly, as far as I can tell, for having had the audacity to suggest that Islamic terrorism might just have something to do with Islam of all things. But Friedman’s column also finds him performing the same logic-defying feat in the face of terrorist attacks as we have previously seen performed on Trans-Int by the likes of George Galloway and Tariq Ramadan: viz. that of “understanding” the attacks, even while ostensibly condemning them – or rather, as Friedman puts it, in characteristically more convoluted terms, understanding, but not “accepting”, them. (I am not sure who has asked Tom Friedman to “accept” a terrorist attack). Friedman writes:

I can understand, but never accept, suicide bombing in Iraq or Israel as part of a nationalist struggle. But when a British Muslim citizen, nurtured by that society, just indiscriminately blows up his neighbors and leaves behind a baby and pregnant wife, to me he has to be in the grip of a dangerous cult or preacher….

Thus in the midst of arriving at a plain truth that anyone in their right mind should find unproblematic – such as “Blowing up your neighbors is bad” – Friedman manages to banalize assumptions that are outrageous and have hitherto only been associated with extremists: like blowing up your neighbors in the name of a “nationalist struggle”, that at least is “understandable”. Note that Friedman expresses his “understanding, but not acceptance” of suicide bombing in Iraq in an article published just two days after a suicide bomber killed some two dozen children in Baghdad. How such an act is supposed to be any less sick when committed in the name of a “nationalist struggle” than it is when committed in the name of an ostensibly religious one - this an insight to which I guess only very dedicated readers of Friedman are privileged.

Moreover, Friedman's remark is doubly (or triply) twisted – as much in the factual assessment that underlies it, as in the normative distinction that Friedman seems to believe follows from the latter – since neither the terrorist groups in Iraq, nor those in Israel act strictly or even predominantly in the name of an ideology that can be accurately described as “nationalist”. Rather, in both cases, precisely religious, i.e. Islamic, motifs are massively and obviously in play. If these motifs do indeed co-exist with or even reinforce certain “nationalist” ones, the nationalism in question is, more exactly, Arab nationalism (and not specifically “Iraqi” or “Palestinian” nationalism, even if the latter might appear as a pretext). And, in any event, the perpetrators of the London attacks were presumably motivated by exactly the same set of "grievances" - against the Anglo-American "occupation" of Iraq, etc. - as those of the Baghdad ones. So, what exactly is Friedman's point?

Even if he had in mind, more precisely, the tortuously convoluted quality of Friedman's metaphors, I cannot help but be reminded of Matt Taibbi's observation in "Flathead" - his review of Friedman's latest opus The World is Flat - to the effect that "Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It's not that he occasionally screws up.... It's that he always screws it up." Taibbi might be a man of the anti-Bush "left". But he is spot on in his withering assessment of the Friedman "method".


This is how the London-based blogger Colin Meade introduces himself:

Until recently, I was a committed supporter of the Left. For some years before 9/11 I had been studying modern French and German foreign policy, which had led me to ask some hard questions about the real goals of European integration and its relation to the dark side of the European past. I went on the first antiwar demonstrations, but was shocked by the hysterical and obsessive hostility to Israel and the strategic alliance between the Left and Islamists underpinned by that hostility. Things started to come together in my head. A radical rethink was clearly in order….


This would be an excellent time to get to know Colin's blog, which today features a long and interesting post on the pusillanimous attitude of the British media toward supposed “representatives” of Islam. It begins:

Over the past week since the London Islamist terror bombings, the airwaves have been clogged with interviews with representatives of the "Muslim community" and diverse Muslim organisations. The interviewers have treated the Muslim guests like precious porcelain that will shatter if a hard question is asked. As a result, no hard questions have, in fact, been asked of these people, who have instead been given free airtime to promote their programme, which is: Islam is the answer to all problems including terrorism.

The rest is here.

The French Model of Serfdom

In his televised Bastille Day interview yesterday – one commentator on French cable news channel I-Télé remarked derisively “Two days from now, no one will remember what he said” – Jacques Chirac took the time to defend the “French model” against its inner-European British rival. “If you take all the major elements of social life,” Mr. Chirac said [link in French], “…you’ll see that we are much better off than the British.”

Here is Ivan Rioufol, under the heading the “New Serfs” [link in French], from his indispensable weekly “Notebook” in Le Figaro (15 July):
A propos the French model, which Jacques Chirac again defended yesterday: according to an official report released Monday, between 1982 and 2003, public employment [in France] increased by 24%. At the end of 2003, some 5 million people were state functionaries or, in other words, every fifth employee. According to the calculations of the association Associated Taxpayers, the French devote 196 of the 365 days in the year – or, in other words, every year until July 16 – to financing the public sector. They work, then, every other day for the state. The association remarks: “In the Middle Ages, a man was considered a serf when he owed more than 40 days to his lord.”
To pre-empt the wags: to provide a more realistic picture, one would, of course, have to adjust the association’s calculations for the average number of days the French actually work – which a notably hardworking French friend of mine maliciously estimated at 90, but in any case is well short of 365. So, if nothing else, at least the burden of French serfdom has lightened since the Middle Ages.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Briefly Back to Spain: There is No War

Just before the London bombings, I took note of an article by John Vinocur in the IHT suggesting - on the basis, frankly, of scant evidence and ample speculation - that Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero might be preparing to switch allegiances from the Franco-German "axis" to the more "pro-market" and Atlantist block in the EU led by the UK. In spite of his employment by a news organization that is so frequently and sometimes wildly wrong on European matters, Vinocur enjoys a good reputation as a commentator on European politics, and on the strength of it, his article raised expectations in the pro-Atlantist sectors of the sphere. I noted that with allies like the Spanish Socialists, one would not need enemies... and promised more forthcoming.

Following the London attacks, Zapatero dutifully expressed his condolences and magnanimously pledged "the complete solidarity of the Spanish people". But leaving aside the Spanish people as such and concentrating, more modestly, on just the present Spanish government, what kind of "solidarity" can be expected from the latter? It was, after all, the present Spanish government that by satisfying the Islamists' demands and withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq following the March 11 Madrid bombings - and doing so, indeed, as quickly as possible, as if to underscore that there was a connection between the two events - effectively opened the way to further such attacks against continuing Coalition members. Moreover, in the context of a so-called War on Terror - which on the evidence of the carnage in London deserves indeed to be called a "war", but in which the enemy is obviously not terror as such, but the Islamist extremists who systematically employ the latter as a weapon - what kind of "solidarity" can be expected from a government that would, ostensibly "on principle", deny itself the possibility of even speaking of war?

For such indeed was the gist of a proposal made by Spanish Minister of Defense José Bono before the Spanish parliament's Defense Committee last month. Claiming, in effect, that the UN Charter prohibits even the empirical existence of war - this being a, to put it mildly, extravagant interpretation of Article 2.3 of the Charter - Bono proposed to have three references to war in the Spanish Constitution struck from the text. The Spain Herald briefly summarizes the details here. It can hardly be doubted that, in making his proposal, Bono was, above all, playing to the anti-Iraq War gallery. Golan, at the time guest-blogging over at Barcepundit, usefully summarized the deep meaning of Bono's theoretical ramblings as follows: "That's how it's done, you unilateralist Yanks!".

See too the incisive and amusing analysis ("The Ministry of Defense could change its name to the Ministry of Peace") of the implications of "The Bono Doctrine" by the Spanish Strategic Studies Group (GEES) (brought into English courtesy of the Spain Herald).

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Stéphane Denis on Jacques Chirac or the Disappearing President

Tomorrow, Jacques Chirac will give his traditional Bastille Day interview on French television. In his “chronicle” in yesterday’s edition of Le Figaro, Stéphane Denis had this to say:
I do no want to seem presumptuous.... But if the President thinks that one is still listening to him, he is fooling himself.
As Denis put it, his assessment is “cruel”. But all signs indicate it is accurate. Already on the night of the French referendum, when Socialist Party spokesperson Julien Dray was asked what he thought of the President’s remarks following the announcement of the "no" vote, he responded nonchalantly: “Frankly, I don’t even listen anymore”. When, as I noted in a previous post, Chirac started to bang the drum about climate change in his press conference on the day of the London bombings, one French cable news channel simply cut away.

Some Pertinent Links

In a long and interesting post that develops some similar themes to those I discussed in "George Galloway and Friend", Arthur Chrenkoff points out that London mayor Ken Livingstone - "for all the praise he's been getting for his Churchillian rhetoric" - seems likewise to suggest that the London bombers merely erred in their choice of targets.

On July 17th, barely two weeks after the London bombings, Tariq Ramadan - who on occasion has almost brought himself to condemn terrorist acts, but virtually always has "comprehension" for their motives - is scheduled to talk at the Islamic Cultural Center in London. Most astonishingly of all, the Metropolitan Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers is partially footing the bill. The Times of London has the story here. Hat tip EURSOC!

Also on EURSOC, see the details of the latest whine by Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë over London's successful Olympic bid. As the headline in yesterday's Le Figaro puts it, "Delanoë Accuses Blair of Having Cheated" - and this just four days after the London bombings. Delanoë - whose most famous accomplishment to date is to have had sand deposited on the banks of the Seine and called them a "beach" - is sometimes mentioned as a possible Socialist candidate for the French presidency. He is clearly able to rival the current holder of that office in tactlessness - but that quality may have something to do with why the current holder will not likely be running again in 2007...

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

More 9/11 as "Protest"

I've added a third update to my post "French School Exam: 9/11 as 'Protest'". Scroll down for the newer material, including illustrations and some revealing responses from students.

Monday, July 11, 2005

George Galloway and Friend

Here are the first sentences of the statement issued by George Galloway on the day of the London bombings:

We extend our condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives today and our heartfelt sympathy to all those who have been injured by the bombs in London.

No one can condone acts of violence aimed at working people going about their daily lives. They have not been a party to, nor are they responsible for, the decisions of their government. They are entirely innocent and we condemn those who have killed or injured them.

Galloway thus manages all at once to “condemn” the attackers and to express tacit understanding for their motives. As Charles Johnson at LGF has noted, Galloway’s words imply that if the attackers had “merely” killed those who are “party to, and responsible for, the decisions” of the British government – i.e. on Galloway’s understanding presumably the members of the government, for instance – their actions might, then, indeed be condoned. In the same spirit, Galloway’s statement concludes with a plea for the British government to reverse policies that are assumed by him and other partisans of appeasement to lie at the source of the – on this view in effect – legitimate “grievances” of the terrorists:
We urge the government to remove people in this country from harms way, as the Spanish government acted to remove its people from harm, by ending the occupation of Iraq and by turning its full attention to the development of a real solution to the wider conflicts in the Middle East.

But George Galloway is not alone. A well-known French radical, who so happened to be in the UK at the time of the attacks on account of a prior appointment, made a remarkably similar statement. In it, he denounced:

A terrorist action that, once again, ignoring all human feeling, has caused dozens of civilian victims: victims who, of course, bore no responsibility of any sort or any nature and whose lives, whose bodies, and whose dignity have been struck by these savages.

The author of these words? Jacques Chirac. The occasion for them was Chirac’s press conference in Gleneagles on the afternoon July 7 [official transcript – link in French], i.e. likewise the very day of the attacks. Remarkably, after some brief remarks devoted to the attacks and the assassination of the Egyptian Ambassador in Iraq, Chirac then went on, entirely unprompted, to beat the drum at some length about climate change. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is not likely to win any awards for tactfulness. But when he was asked at his own press conference on the same day [official transcript – link in German] about the climate change talks, he had the decency to say: “It is a little difficult for me at the moment to switch to the agenda of today’s discussions. You understand....”

Either George Galloway and Jacques Chirac are insincere in their ostensible condemnations of the attacks or they both have difficulties grasping the nature of democracy. In a representative democracy, of course, ordinary citizens do indeed bear political responsibility, since it is to them that the government is answerable. If the word “condemn” is being used in its ordinary sense, it is no more possible to condemn the attacks and express understanding for their motives than it is to square a circle.

(Note: “We condemn but understand” is also a standard trope of allegedly “moderate” Islamists like Tariq Ramadan. I discuss an example in “Tariq Ramadan, Non-Violent Man of Peace”.)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

French School Exam: 9/11 as "Protest"

(With THREE Updates)

From yesterday’s (8 July) edition of Ivan Rioufol’s indispensable weekly “notebook” in Le Figaro:
The following figured among the essay questions in the final exam in history and geography given in French junior high schools [collèges] last week, i.e. to 14-15 year old students:

“How was American power contested on September 11, 2001?”

This amounts to presenting the Islamist attacks against the world’s greatest democracy ... as one form of contestation among others. A good illustration of the training in anti-Americanism provided by the Ministry of Education.

The original French version of the topic reads: “Comment la puissance américaine a-t-elle été contestée le 11 septembre 2001?” In order to provide the grammatically most similar English rendering and avoid charges of tendentiousness, I have used the English cognate "[to] contest". But in current French usage the verb contester bears a very strong connotation of political protest and, notably, protest against a given political order: it implies not just a “challenge” – a term which is politically comparatively neutral – but a challenge to legitimacy. Thus the question could just as well be understood as "How was American power protested against on Septmber 11, 2001?". The French expression for “protest” as a mass phenomenon is indeed la contestation. For instance, Le Monde Diplomatique titled an August 2002 article on the anti-G8 demonstrations in Genoa the previous July as “Criminaliser la contestation”: i.e. “Criminalizing Protest”. In a similar vein, Le Monde proper, in the passage from its editorial on the London bombings that I cited in my last post, speaks admiringly of the “anti-globalization” demonstrators’ “contestation de l’ordre établi”: “protest of the established order”.

Le Monde Diplomatique – an authoritative reference for “anti-globalization” militants worldwide – was, incidentally, one of the first French publications to present 9/11 as, in effect, precisely a form of “contestation”. As I have discussed in “The Legend of the Squandered Sympathy”, its first issue following the 9/11 attacks bore the thematic headline “Boomerang Effect”, implying in not so subtle terms that the USA had got what it had coming.

(Note: Though I have not been able to view the exam – the links to it, such as this one, that I have found on the web do not currently work – a contributor to a forum hosted by Le Figaro notes that the question was accompanied by an editorial cartoon by Plantu, Le Monde’s star cartoonist. This is very telling, since as I have had repeated occasion to document on Trans-Int – see here (“The Legend”) in connection with 9/11 and, more recently, here in the context of the London G8 summit – Plantu has long made anti-American incitement his specialty.)


Courtesy of the French-language site Primo Europe, here is an image of the relevant exam sheet:

The "document" with which the question is associated is indeed a post-9/11 cartoon by Plantu. The cartoon depicts the World Trade Towers as the legs of Uncle Sam. The plane crashing into the towers is, in effect, cutting the legs of Uncle Sam out from under him.

Update #2:

The same Plantu cartoon appears in a study guide supposed to help students prepare for the exam in history and geography:

(click on image for larger version and see here [pdf-file] for the full page of the study guide in question)

The Plantu cartoon, which was published on 12 September 2001 (Le Monde is published on the day prior to the date that appears on its masthead), provided the visual counterpart of a view that was given large and varied expression in the pages of Le Monde in the days and weeks following 9/11: viz., that American power had been, as the study guide puts it, "ébranlé" - "shaken" or "fragilized" - or, in other words, that the terrorists had, in effect, achieved their presumed objective and handed the American Colossus a "defeat". Thus, for instance, in the same spirit Le Monde ran an article in its 20 September edition titled "Shaken [ébranlés], New Yorkers question themselves about the basis of their lost grandeur". (See "The Legend of the Squandered Sympathy" for a discussion.) Of course, so soon after the events, it was by no means obvious that America had been "fragilized", much less that New York had lost its "grandeur". Hence, the oddly precipitate conclusion must have reflected a sort of wish-fulfillment. This perhaps explains the rage that was provoked within the same milieus when the US responded vigorously to the attacks.

Update #3:

In his cartoon, Plantu no doubt meant to allude to the proverbial clay feet of the giant in Nebuchadnezzar's dream: an allusion that makes the perverse wish-fulfillment all the more clear. A similar "inspiration" is seemingly at work in Plantu's latest effort for the weekly L'Express (yes, Plantu is so well appreciated in the French publishing world that he has multiple employers) that depicts a bearded Islamist stealing away with the banner "Dieu et Mon Droit" ("God and My Right") from the British Coat of Arms.

On the blog Mesperles [link in French], a French schoolteacher has recorded how some of his students interpreted the Plantu cartoon:

"Uncle Sam is in the process of destroying the World Trade Center."

"Uncle Sam is trampling on the Twin Towers"

"The World Trade Center was not destroyed by the planes, but because the Americans built it too high."

And perhaps most revealingly of all:

"It is not the plane that killed the thousands of people, but rather Uncle Sam."

Friday, July 08, 2005

First Indications

In the UK, as EURSOC reports, some of the usual suspects – George Galloway and “New Left” embarrassment Tariq Ali – have in the spirit of Lord Haw-Haw already found in the London bombings an occasion to plead for the satisfaction of the presumptive perpetrators’ demands. “The real solution lies in immediately ending the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine,” Tariq Ali writes in the Guardian. He thus manages to include three of the four contemporary frontlines of global jihad. Only Chechnya is left out, on which score the UK is presumably not in a position to offer satisfaction – short that is of redeploying British troops to the North Caucasus to help end the alleged Russian “occupation” there and pave the way for the establishment of the Imamate favored by Shamil Basayev and his Wahhabi friends. (Incidentally, once upon a time, in an op-ed in the Financial Times [“Crimes, Lies and Misdemeanours”, 1 April 2000], Tariq Ali demanded in a similar vein the withdrawal of US troops from Kosovo. He somehow managed to neglect that the large majority of foreign troops in Kosovo at the time were European – a strange omission that either tells us something about the extent of Tariq Ali’s knowledge or about the nature of his ideological motivations and, of course, possibly both.)

At those kindred media spots on the Continent on which I keep an eye, the reaction has thus far been more subdued. An article in today’s Le Monde does manage to take to task American “right-wing television channels” (despite the hopeful plural, it only succeeds in naming one, i.e. you-know-who) and “conservative” NGO’s for allegedly attempting “to exploit the attack politically” – as if there was something untoward, even downright unfair, about emphasizing the need to combat terrorism after, of all things, a terrorist attack. And Le Monde’s unsigned editorial – seemingly meeting the editors' need to carp about, well, something – contains this odd passage:
There is, nonetheless, a cruel irony in the spectacle of the meeting at Gleneagles. In a challenge to the powerful, terrorists place bombs in the public transportation system in London and kill dozens of people, while wounding hundreds more. And, at the same time, the statesmen of the G8 are meeting in Scotland in a veritable fortified encampment, protected by thousands of police from the hordes of anti-globalization demonstrators, who certainly are not all pacifists, but who keep their protest of the established order within the limits permitted by the institutions of liberal democracy.
I will leave it to the reader to try to figure out what exactly the irony is supposed to be here. Would the editors of Le Monde have preferred that the riot police at Gleneagles were dispatched to surround London buses? But I believe I can infer from the last sentence that they regard some amount of use of violence in the pursuit of political ends – perhaps the amount employed by the Black Block, for example, or maybe the carefully measured salvos recommended by Evo Morales in Bolivia – to fall within the “permissible limits” in a liberal democracy.

For the moment, however, it seems that the partisans of appeasement in the Continental media - unlike their fellows across the Channel and in what is by their standards a sign of decency - prefer not to spell out all the reasons that the UK has, in effect, deserved its sort. Instead, they are relying on years of ideological conditioning of their audiences to permit them to insinuate the same point by way of the little word "causes". Thus at the conclusion of its editorial, Le Monde lectures us on how the "fight" (in Europe, it is taboo to say "war") against terrorism can be won: "The conditions for success are called vigilance, solidarity and lucidity about the genuine causes and genuine aims of terrorism."

Not surprisingly, the editors at Munich's Suddeutsche Zeitung agree. Thus, an editorial comment signed Bernd Oswald draws the following lesson from the bombings:
The London attacks show it: there is no such thing as absolute security. Even the security fanatics in the Union [the CDU] should be able to see this. Instead of devoting their fervor only to the symptoms, they would do well to look more closely at the causes of terrorism.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Postponement and Observation

In light of the attacks in London, I am postponing the previously announced post on the Spanish Socialists.

Shortly after the London bomb blasts, an anchor on the French 24 hour cable news channel LCI noted that George W. Bush had in a recent speech stressed the need to combat terrorism. Turning to a French security expert who had been invited onto the program to comment upon the unfolding events, he asked: "In effect, the President of the United States is right, isn't he?"

It is exceedingly rare to hear such words on French television. It is sad - and highly revealing of the mix of negationism and apologetics that reigns in the French media with respect to the terrorist threat - that it should require tragic events like today's attacks to elicit them. It remains to be seen whether the rest of the French media will tend to follow the instinctively, I dare say, human reaction of this one newsman - and not rather, as according to the ingrained habits, tend somehow or another to minimize or relativize the events: to blame Bush, blame Blair, blame the victims.

We'll no doubt have some first indices by tomorrow...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Forthcoming: Spanish Socialists Gone Wild!

An article by John Vinocur in the International Herald Tribune last week has apparently induced some observers into believing that Spain's Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is preparing to switch alliances from the Franco-German "axis of losers" (as Spanish opposition leader Mariano Rajoy has put it) to the pro-Atlantist camp in the EU led by Tony Blair. In the opinion of your humble servant, Vinocur's report is greatly exaggerated. In any event, consideration of recent Socialist behavior will lead one to conclude that with "allies" like the Spanish Socialists one would not need enemies....



In a comment to “The German State of Exception: From Carl Schmitt to Gerhard Schröder”, I have added some remarks on another wildly convoluted effort to connect Carl Schmitt to George W. Bush and the Republican Party: this being the would-be sophisticated academic variant on the “Bushitler” trope. The would-be sophisticated academic in question is Alan Wolfe of Boston University, who - while attempting to taint Bush with "Fascism" by way of the contrived association with Schmitt - is seemingly unaware of the widespread respectability enjoyed by Schmitt’s oeuvre in Europe, i.e. not only among trendy philosophers, but even – and this is the far scarier thought – among jurists. Here is the bulk of my comment:
The first sentence of Wolfe's essay reads: "To understand what is distinctive about today's Republican Party, you first need to know about an obscure and very conservative German political philosopher", viz. not Leo Strauss as has been so commonly suggested (you see, Alan Wolfe is an original thinker) - but Carl Schmitt. I'll leave aside the fact that Schmitt was a National Socialist and that National Socialism - a self-styled revolutionary ideology whose "socialist" aspects (as has been discussed on Trans-Int here and here) were more than merely nominal - hardly deserves to be described as a "conservative" ideological current. The only "evidence" Wolfe gives for his assertion is that Schmitt in The Concept of the Political developed the particularly hokey (me, not Wolfe) "politico-metaphysical" "theory" according to which the distinction "friend-enemy" is essential to politics... - and Republicans as a rule are not friendly to Democrats (whereas Democrats, on Wolfe's view, are friendly to everyone). That's it. Otherwise, Wolfe admits that virtually all (he manages to dredge up one exception) the contemporary intellectuals who display a sympathetic fascination with Schmitt are precisely self-styled "leftists" - and often indeed sworn enemies of Bush and the Republican Party. But somehow it is still supposed to be the latter who are the real Schmittians. To paraphrase the title of the Pirandello play, apparently it is so because Alan Wolfe thinks it's so.

Regular readers of Trans-Int will be interested to know that apart from his more abstruse theories about “friends and enemies” and the “state of exception” and whatnot, Schmitt was also a fervent supporter of the “völkisch” ideal. In my “Kosovo and the ‘Jewish Question’”, I note:
…writing just after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and shortly before the German invasion of Poland, [Schmitt] called the idea of ethnic-nationhood—of "each and every people [Volk] as a form of life determined by kind and origin, blood and soil"—the "great political idea" which it would be the vocation of the German Reich to disseminate throughout Europe. "The deed of our Führer," Schmitt concluded, with obvious reference to Hitler's "solution" of the "Sudeten question," "has infused this thought of our Reich with political actuality, historical truth and a great future in international law.”

The passage comes from Schmitt’s Völkerrechtliche Grossraumordnung: roughly, “The Great Spatial Order in International Law”. The work continues to exercise significant, if often unacknowledged, influence upon discussions of European integration today. The particular “great spatial order” that Schmitt had in mind was, in effect, Europe. The antagonism drawn by Schmitt between the would-be greater European order and the USA - the sub-title reads: “With a Prohibition on Interventions by Foreign [i.e. foreign to the "space"- Raumfremde] Powers” - has likewise lost none of its topicality. Or, perhaps more precisely, in light of the rhetoric of European leaders like Jacques Chirac, it has evidently become topical again.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Le Monde Celebrates The Fourth

The editors of Le Monde could not resist celebrating the Fourth of July with a generous frontpage helping of anti-American incitement from its star cartoonist Plantu.

(Click on image for larger version.)

( Note: The depicted edition of Le Monde is dated 5 July 2005. Le Monde is published, however, on the afternoon of the day prior to the date on its masthead.)

The title above the cartoon reads: "Environmental Warming: Bush Under Pressure by the G8". But the details of one of the associated articles unwittingly give the lie to the image of the USA as the recalcitrant global polluter whose greenhous gas emissions alone cast a shadow over its G8 partners and their hapless protégés from the developing world. (Note Plantu's signature "little black Africans", who are charitably afforded a seat at the G8 table.)

Thus an article on the negotiations for a post-Kyoto climate change agreement ("Les négociations climatiques sur l’après-Kyoto ont déjà commencé") notes that India - like the US, not a party to Kyoto - has criticized "the rich countries" (this the rendering of Le Monde) for "continuing to increase their emissions" (this apparently a direct quote). "This criticism is not entirely unfounded," the author begrudgingly admits:

even Europe, which presents itself as the model student in matters of climate change, has not managed to reduce its emissions sufficiently. According to statistics published in June by the European Environmental Agency, the emissions of the 25 EU countries increased by 1.5% in 2003 and at this rate will not respect the engagements made in the protocol.
Note the unexplained contradiction in the Le Monde article between the observation that Europe has not managed to "reduce its emissions sufficiently" and the statistics cited in the very next sentence that show that the emissions of the EU countries have in fact increased. Regardless of the rate of increase, how in the world could the EU countries respect their obligations under Kyoto - which are reputedly obligations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions - if their emissions are rising?

The solution to this riddle lies in the fact that Kyoto, as so happens, does not oblige the EU countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but only to "reduce" them in relation to the level of emissions that obtained in 1990. More precisely, and in less deceptive terms, Kyoto obliges the EU countries to assure that by 2012 their level of greenhouse gas emissions is inferior by a certain margin to that which obtained in 1990 (according to a calculus of so-called "burden-sharing" among the EU member states that can be consulted here by those interested). Depending on the actual level of emissions, of course, this does not imply any reduction whatsoever. And, indeed, as Jeremy Rabkin has discussed in a Fall 2000 contribution in The University of Chicago Journal of International Law ("Is EU Policy Eroding the Sovereignty of Non-Member States?"), it turns out that the 1990 base date was chosen precisely to coincide with significant declines in greenhouse gas emissions in two major EU countries that came about as unintended consequences of other events:

EU delegates came to Kyoto with a spectacularly ambitious agenda - based on a characteristic European political arrangement. The European Union arrived in Kyoto advocating that all developed nations agree to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent from 1990 levels. Britain and Germany were anxious to use 1990 as the baseline, because, for different reasons, each of these countries began to decrease its carbon emissions in that year. In Britain, the Thatcher government was consolidating its victory over the miners union by privatizing the coal industry and encouraging a nationwide transition to more efficient oil and natural gas. In re-unified Germany, the government began closing down dirty and inefficient coal-powered plants in the former East Germany. So both Britain and Germany could expect to make sizable reductions in carbon dioxide emissions without much pain. Other European states were persuaded to go along with German and UK ambitions by a plan that would have the European Union as a whole reduce emissions by 15 percent, though each individual state would not have to do so.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The German State of Exception: From Carl Schmitt to Gerhard Schröder

In an excellent article in last weekend’s Neue Züricher Zeitung ("Energien einbinden und die Mechanik durchbrechen", 2/3 July), Uwe Justus Wenzel points to some disturbing precedents for the rhetoric employed by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his sympathizers to justify the Chancellor’s successful call for a no-confidence vote to bring about early elections. Such a move – which involved Schröder requesting of members of his hitherto perfectly functional parliamentary majority that they refrain from voting in his favor – is clearly contemptuous of the spirit of the German Constitution, and since a 1983 judgment of the German Constitutional Court in a similar case, it is also confirmed to be contrary to its letter. Here Wenzel:

One is reminded a bit of the rhetoric of the “state of exception” that in Germany was cultivated above all, but not only, by the dubious jurist Carl Schmitt. In the state of exception, Schmitt wrote in 1922, “the force of genuine life breaks through the crust of a mechanism grown torpid [erstarrt] in continual repetition.”

...Sections of the half-hour speech with which the German Chancellor attempted yesterday in the Bundestag to justify the holding of the no-confidence vote moved entirely within the field of resonance of this political romanticism of the “state of exception”…. Schröder called upon his listeners to “depart from business as usual” [“Abschied von Gewohntem” zu nehmen] and to break from “the customary rules of the political mechanism”, in order to “develop further” the red-green social model. To hold on to what has been, he said…, leads to “torpor” [Erstarrung].

…There is another element in all this, to which the Green party parliamentarian Werner Schulz tried – unsuccessfully – in a personal declaration before the vote to call attention: whoever measures the “mood in the country” on a daily basis and tries to integrate it into the conduct of politics, whether in the parliament or in the government, risks substituting public opinion surveys for representative democracy.

A “democracy of the popular mood” is well suited to undermining the institutional rationality of a parliamentary system. With it, one would well and truly have returned to Carl Schmitt, who did not hide his contempt for liberal democracies.

Carl Schmitt was arguably the leading legal theorist of Nazi Germany – a state that was notable for its elevation of the supposedly healthy “Volksgeist” or “spirit of the people” above the “mere” rule of law. In a sort of intellectual legerdemain reflecting either remarkable bad faith or ignorance and possibly both, certain academic commentators – first and foremost, the ultra-trendy Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben – have tried to connect Carl Schmitt and his theory of the “state of exception” to none other than George W. Bush. There is about as much chance of George Bush having been influenced, whether directly or indirectly, by Carl Schmitt as there is of Gerhard Schröder being influenced, say, by James Madison. In Germany, however, Schmitt remains a standard reference in academic discussions of law and legal theory. Schmitt’s works are widely available in sober new editions (for example) brought out by the Duncker & Humblot Verlag, a highly reputable academic publisher. Indeed, Schmitt is increasingly becoming an authoritative reference on law throughout Europe. Thus, for example, Schmitt’s analysis of constitutionality is recommended by Philippe Manin, a professor at the Sorbonne, in his manual of European "constitutional" law - much indeed in the spirit of Schmitt, it did not seem to bother Manin that the EU did not in fact have a constitution at the time of its writing - Droit constitutionnel de l'Union européenne.

Friday, July 01, 2005

More Contempt from the Poet

On Wednesday, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin published a plea for the construction of a “new political Europe” in Le Monde and five other European papers, including the Financial Times. The opening paragraph reads as follows:

Europe is in crisis. Yet never have its peoples so forcefully expressed their hope to see a Europe of values and determination, capable of addressing their social imperatives, being built. True to our continent's history and our vision of the future, France wants to move forward with them on the path mapped by Jacques Chirac, French president.

(Disclaimer: The crappy translation - inhale after "determination" - is apparently the work of the French Foreign Ministry, with seemingly not a lot of help from its friends at the Financial Times. In any case, it is not mine.)

“True to our continent’s history and our vision of the future, France wants to move forward with the peoples of Europe on the path mapped by Jacques Chirac, French President.” Now, wait a minute: Didn’t 55% of French voters just reject the so-called EU Constitution, which “Jacques Chirac, French President” advocated as the way forward – indeed, the only way forward – toward a “political Europe”?

Speaking of constitutions, evidently the constitutional thinker most admired by de Villepin and Chirac must be Louis XIV, who is famously supposed to have exclaimed: “L’État, c’est moi” – “The state – that’s me!”

(Note: For background, see "'European Man' to the Rescue".)