Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Follow-Up: Breaking News on the Hotel Ivoire Incident - Le Figaro Counterattacks

Responding to the allegations made by Ivorian Colonel Georges Guiai Bi Poin in his November 28 interview with AFP, the French daily Le Figaro today published a sort of hit piece on the Colonel presenting him as a tool of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo. Indeed, the title of the article is "Laurent Gbagbo Rekindles his Polemic with Paris" with the sub-title "the President accuses the French Army" - as if Guiai Bi Poin was Gbagbo. Hewing obediently to the line established by the French government, Le Figaro thus tacitly placed Guiai Bi Poin's AFP interview in the context of an alleged campaign of "disinformation" that French defense minister Michèle Alliot-Marie - even while now making major concessions to the Ivorian version of events - continues to insist is being conduct by the Ivorian government. The suggestion that Gbagbo had orchestrated the AFP interview as part of this campaign is particularly bizarre in light of the fact that, as the Figaro article itself notes, the Colonel first went public with his charges in an interview published in the Ivorian press on November 17 [link in French]. If the French new agency nearly two weeks later finally decided to devote a story to his allegations, it is hardly plausible to assume that this is somehow Laurent Gbagbo's doing.

The Figaro article describes Guiai Bi Poin as a "loyal follower of Laurent Gbagbo" who "counts in the eyes of the French Army as a regime hardliner" - with only the "eyes of the French Army" being offered as proof of this characterization. The second to last paragraph, continuing to employ the conceit according to which Guiai Bi Poin would, in effect, be nothing but a Gbago proxy, reads as follows:

In rekindling the polemic in the medias, President Gbagbo simply forgets a series of little prior details: the aerial bombardment of the French camp at Bouaké (9 dead), the firing of a RPG7 [rocket] on a Transall [French military aircraft] on the runway at Abidjan airport, the pillage of homes, the rape of some French women by Ivorians in uniform, the sacking of French schools, etc.

Whether or not all or some of these "little details" are true, they have nothing to do with the question of whether French troops opened fire on unarmed civilians at the Hotel Ivoire. The fact that the Figaro author, Renaud Girard, lists them here thus strongly suggests not an attempt to discredit Colonel Guia Bi Poin's allegation that such took place, but rather one, in effect, to justify its having taken place.

The article concludes: "For the moment, it is, to say the least, curious that Gbagbo, after having irremediably compromised his country's economy, continues to indulge in such little games in the media...."

Note that this is supposed to be a news item.

(P.S. For more on Le Figaro in this connection see my remarks in the comments section.)

Breaking News on the Hotel Ivoire Incident: Ivorian Gendarme Accuses French Troops of Firing on Crowd

A colonel of the Ivorian gendarmerie interviewed by Agence France Presse (AFP) has affirmed that French forces on November 9 fired directly and without warning upon the crowd of protestors gathered in front of the Hotel Ivoire in Abidjan. Colonel Georges Guiai Bi Poin, who was in charge of a contingent of Ivorian gendarmes dispatched to control the crowd and coordinate with the French troops, says that the order to fire came from the commander of the latter, colonel D'Estremon. An English version of an AFP report containing some of the details is reprinted here. Note that these details concerning the Hotel Ivoire incident are, in effect, buried in a report whose title refers rather to the prospect of the Ivory Coast filing a complaint against France with the International Court of Justice in the separate matter of the French destruction of the Ivorian air force. The relevant passages of the report begin with the words “meanwhile in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan….”

Colonel Guiai Bi Poin is quoted saying: “French troops fired directly into the crowd. They opened fire on the orders of their chief Colonel D'Estremon. Without warning.” Note that the last sentence in the French original implies more precisely that there were not warning shots [“aucune sommation”] – and thus explicitly contradicts the version of events still being defended by French officials. The AFP report, dated Sunday November 28, continues:

Guiai Bi Poin said the crowd at the Hotel Ivoire was yelling insults but was unarmed.
"Not one of my men fired a shot," he said. "There were no shots from the crowd. None of the demonstrators was armed -- not even with sticks, or knives or rocks."
He said that when he reported to the French commander on the day of the riot [sic.], he was told: "Colonel, my barbed wire has been crossed, and the crowd is getting excited. If they do not let us leave within 20 minutes, I am going to shoot."
"Suddenly," said Guiai Bi Poin, "there was a movement on our left and my gendarmes were pushed violently by the crowd. They fell back a meter or two. D'Estremon then said to me, 'Colonel, the red line has been crossed. I am going to open fire. FIRE!'"
The officer said the French troops began shooting. "It was not a haphazard fusillade. It was carried out on the orders of their chief. And there was no warning."
Guiai Bi Poin said he yelled at the French officer to fire in the air, to aim higher, "He did this but some of his men did not obey and some continued to fire on the crowd. I saw lots of people falling, but I do not know how many victims there were."

In a more complete AFP report published on the website of the private French television network TF1, Colonel Guiai Bi Poin adds: “At the same time we distinctly heard much more powerful detonations coming from upper floors in the hotel. It was one of these detonations that blew off the head of one of the protestors.” According to Guiai Bi Poin, six masked members of French special forces leaving the hotel then ran by his own troops.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Follow-Up III: Outrageous Intolerable Incitement - More Gbagbo

In an interview published today in the Senegalese paper Le Soleil [link in French], Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo had the following to say about the de facto partition of the Ivory Coast into a rebel-controlled north and a government-controlled south:

...What does the partition of the country mean? I say that those who have led us into this partition of the country have made a mistake.... The institutions of the country are all functioning. It is necessary to see to it that their effects apply to the totality of Ivorian territory. It is at the interior of the Ivory Coast and within the framework of its institutions that we can try to treat the country’s ills. Coming from the exterior, if anyone proposes solutions to me that do not fit within our institutions, I say in advance “no”. Because this [implementing such solutions] would be the most certain manner of bringing about the death of this country, and by extension of all other African states.... Many think that what is happening in our country only concerns us Ivorians. But it is an African problem. My obligation is to explain to the people of the African continent [devant l’Afrique] my attitude in this war. Yes, the country is partitioned. I want this partition to end. I’ll try all possible methods to bring this about. But at the same time I insist that the solution be found within our institutions, within the rules that the Ivorians have given to themselves.

It should be noted that representatives of the Ivorian military, which at least before most of the Ivorian air force was destroyed in a French attack on November 6 enjoyed a clear advantage over the rebel forces, have accused France of preventing the re-establishment of the territorial integrity of the Ivory Coast.

Put under pressure by France, in January 2003 the Ivorian government entered into what is, in effect, a power-sharing agreement with the rebel forces: the so-called Marcoussis accords. Reports in the French press at the time suggested that French government officials – then Minister of Foreign Affairs Dominique De Villepin was mentioned in particular – threatened to prosecute Laurent Gbagbo or, respectively, his wife Simone before the International Criminal Court if he did not agree to the proposed accords. (I discuss the episode, as well as the, to put it mildly, “ambivalent” – if not to say, hypocritical – attitude of France toward the ICC in my article “A Lawless Global Court”). On the Marcoussis accords, Laurent Gbagbo had the following to say in his interview with Le Soleil:

Yes, I am applying Marcoussis, even if I find that it is a bad document. Indeed, it is even a dangerous document…. [I] say that it is dangerous and bad so that all Africans will understand that this should be the last time that Africans, instead of solving their problems among themselves, go looking for solutions from the exterior – and then one asks them to change their rules with a gun pointed at their heads. This is unacceptable from the point of view of law and, above all, from the point of view of dignity.

Follow-Up II: Outrageous Intolerable Incitement – "Sedition"

Still on the subject of the Ivory Coast crisis, Adam at Free Will cites a Reuters report :

ABIDJAN/OUGADOUGOU, Nov 26 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast angrily pulled out of a summit of French-speaking countries on Friday after police in the host nation Burkina Faso confiscated CDs and documents from the minister leading its delegation.

African Integration Minister Theodore Mel Eg said the CDs containing images of recent violence in the West African state and his speech were seized after his bags were searched upon arrival in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou on Thursday.

The summit, which opened on Friday, will focus on the latest crisis in Ivory Coast....

It is interesting to note that Agence France Press (AFP) in reporting the same episode, and without mentioning the images, refers to the seized material as "anti-French documents". An unnamed official from Burkina Faso is quoted by AFP describing them, more precisely, as "seditious documents against France" (including a text titled "France's War in the Ivory Coast"). Hardly anything could be more symptomatic of the neo-colonial character of the relation that apparently obtains between France and several of its former African colonies than the odd use of the notion of "sedition" in this context. For sedition is, of course, the crime of fomenting rebellion against a state: which is to say, namely, among its subjects. But last heard neither the citizens of the Ivory Coast nor those of any other African country are subjects of the French state.

The Reuters report further notes:

Frederic Tongo, a senior official at the integration ministry, said Mel Eg had brought the CDs to present the Ivorian government's position on the violence and fend off possible sanctions by other Francophone community members.

Ivorian authorities have accused French soldiers of firing on protesters who staged four days of anti-French riots.

"The Francophone ministers adopted a draft resolution on the crisis in Ivory Coast and this resolution seemed unfavourable to the Ivorian authorities. The integration minister's job was to present Ivory Coast's position and to defend it," Tongo said.

In the absence of the Ivorian representative and following a speech by French president Jacques Chirac, on Saturday the assembled heads of state at the "summit of the francophonie" in Ougadougou unanimously passed a resolution [link in French] condemning the actions of the Ivorian government in the current crisis and threatening sanctions against it.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Follow-Up: Outrageous Intolerable Incitement – What Gbagbo Said

In light of what has been made of them by French Defense Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie and by the media that has pliantly disseminated her denunciation of Laurent Gbagbo’s alleged “outrageous” and “intolerable” disinformation and incitement, it is worth citing in full Mr. Gbagbo’s remarks from the Internet forum on Nouvelobs.com and providing the context. Here then is a translation of the exchange between an anonymous visitor to the forum and Mr. Gbagbo:

“Question: On November 11, Monsignor Bernard Agré declared on Vatican Radio that he had seen in the hospitals of Abidjan the bodies of young people decapitated by the French army. What do you think of this claim? What do you plan to do ?"

“Laurent Gbagbo: The account given by the prelate has been repeated by all the persons who were at the siege of the Hotel Ivoire by the French army and by all those who have been in the hospitals. I was not myself there and I have not been in the hospitals, but everybody who has gone says it. One can consider that this testimony given by multiple persons is true. For the moment, what I am doing is to seek to calm things down, so that normal activities can start again. In one or two weeks, I will speak with my advisors to see what we will do.”

Note that it is the questioner who uses the expression “people decapitated by the French army”, which can easily be construed as implying an intentional act. Note too, as I have pointed out in the comments section to “Outrageous Intolerable Incitement”, that French has just one word – décapitation – for both the hands-on “beheadings” with which we have become grimly familiar from the practices of Al-Zarqawi et al in Iraq and (sorry, but this is what we are talking about) the action of removing a head from a body by whatever means. It is a form of this word – “jeunes gens décapités” – that is used by the questioner.

Gbagbo’s response does nothing more than lend credence to the reports that some of the victims of the Hotel Ivoire incident were “decapitated” in the general sense of the term. He does not say how and he nowhere suggests – which would indeed be “outrageous” because wildly implausible – that French soldiers wielding machetes or long knives, and leaving behind the relative protection of their barbed wire and armored vehicles, entered the crowd to do the deed. Moreover, a report which aired on Radio Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI) on November 11 explicitly speaks of French fire having “blown off the head” of a protestor (a “young girl”). There is no mention of any archaic hands-on beheadings. This report, incidentally, seemingly figures among the examples of “hate speech” and “incitement” in the Ivorian media denounced by the French authorities and the UN Secretariat. It does openly accuse the French military of “murder” and, more specifically, it accuses French army snipers of having fired upon the crowd from rooms on the 7th floor of the Hotel Ivoire. Whether this last charge constitutes “incitement” should presumably depend upon whether it is true or false, and, to my knowledge, the UN Secretariat has not announced findings of any investigation of the matter or even if it has undertaken any investigation.

President Gbagbo mentions “multiple persons” corroborating the reports of decapitated bodies. We have already come across the testimony of one high profile witness in the person of the Archbishop of Abidjan Bernard Agré. Moreover, in a November 14 report broadcast on Télévision Suisse Romande (hat tip again Seewen commenting on the Free Will Blog), a witness who is identified as “neither Ivorian nor French” and who claims to have viewed the events from the 21st floor of the Hotel Ivoire, also speaks of having seen a “women with her head torn off”. The same witness, incidentally, confirms the Ivorian charge that French snipers fired on the crowd from the 7th floor of the hotel. Then there are the videos and, on the site of RTI, still shots, some of which apparently taken from the videos. Be forewarned that these are extremely grisly. Two photos on the site (viewable here – again warning that other photos on the page are graphic and grisly) also appear to depict French ordnance. The caliber is such that it is, regrettably, not difficult to imagine it having the effect claimed. Perhaps all of this visual material does not depict what it seems to depict. But, then, the burden is surely on the French authorities and the UN authorities to demonstrate this before dismissing its broadcast as “incitement”.

In short, President Gbagbo’s remarks on the Nouvelobs.com forum appear to have been factual statements, not “outrageous” “intolerable” disinformation and incitement. The French authorities' stylization of these remarks into “outrageous disinformation” has served, in effect, to create a smoke screen behind which the less spectacular, but plausible charges of the Ivorian authorities against the French military have passed largely unnoticed by the media. Whether this outcome was calculated, of course I cannot say.

For a discussion of some truly outrageous disinformation and incitement, see my earlier report on “American Beheaders (or How a Publicly-Financed Franco-German ‘Cultural’ Channel Creates Moral Equivalence between America and its Enemies)”. (Yes, I am trying to get new visitors to the site to go back and read this piece.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Outrageous Intolerable Incitement: the Ivory Coast and France, France and America

In an interview with France Inter radio last Sunday, French Defense Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie dismissed as “outrageous” reports that French troops had “decapitated” Ivorian protestors in Abidjan. “The outrageousness of the terms employed strips them of all credibility,” she said. “Such remarks consist of disinformation,” she added. More specifically, Mme. Alliot-Marie was responding to Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, who, while noting that he had not himself visited the Abidjan hospital where the headless corpses of protesters are supposed to have been held, said that on the basis of the testimony of “several persons” who had done so “one could consider the reports as true”. The original report of decapitations came from the Archbishop of Abidjan Bernard Agré, who, interviewed on the French-language service of Radio Vatican, said: “I’ve just come from the hospitals. It’s intolerable: these young people decapitated by the French Army, these bodies lying on the ground.” So if there is a campaign of disinformation, the Archbishop is apparently in on it and Radio Vatican has been one of its conduits. In her interview with France Inter, Mme. Alliot-Marie also noted that the “climate of hatred” toward the French in Ivory Coast was “extremely disturbing” and added that “the racist remarks, the xenophobic remarks that we have heard from Ivorian leaders are intolerable,” thus implying that the Ivorian leadership was conducting a campaign of incitement. (The charge that Ivorian media were employing “hate speech” to incite hostility to the French had already been made by French authorities to the UN bureaucracy, which dutifully adopted the charge as its own and issued a warning to the Ivorian authorities.) Calling on President Gbagbo to “take the measure of his responsibilities,” Mme. Alliot-Marie concluded that his remarks on the allegedly decapitated corpses belonged “in the register of the manipulation of the mobs in Abidjan in the absence of any free and independent press” – thus, in effect, personally accusing President Gbagbo of incitement. In this connection, it is worth noting that President Gbagbo’s remarks were made not on Ivorian airwaves, but rather in an Internet forum hosted by the prominent French news weekly Le Nouvel Observateur and in response to a question from a visitor who asked him directly what he thought of the Archbishop’s charge. According to the Nouvel Observateur’s website, nouvelobs.com, more than 2500 questions were posed to Mr. Gbagbo.

Now, of course, the charge that French troops decapitated Ivorian protestors is indeed highly implausible. Unlike in the case of certain Islamic forces, there is no notable French tradition of beheading prisoners of war, much less of engaging in decapitations in the field, such as are seemingly implied by the charges being leveled in connection with the Ivorian protestors. More to the point, why should the French troops have decapitated protestors? What would be the purpose of engaging in gratuitous hands-on savagery, when the “normal” use of deadly force at a relatively safe distance will do the job? The context for the beheading charges is a confrontation that took place on November 9 between Ivorian protestors and French troops having taken up heavily armed positions in front of the Hotel Ivoire, not far from Laurent Gbagbo’s Presidential residence. The French forces are accused of having fired into the crowd. Depending on sources, from 7 to 11 Ivorians are said to have been killed in the incident, with many more wounded. (The much higher number of upwards of 60 killed that is sometimes cited in this connection refers to the total number of Ivorians that the Ivorian government claims have been killed by French fire in various episodes since November 6.) Not only is this allegation in itself plausible, but a spokesperson for the French army admitted in an November 14 interview with the Swiss television channel TSR that it is true. Here is a link to the TSR interview (hat tip Seewen commenting on the Free Will Blog). Colonel Gérard Dubois justified these actions as “legitimate self-defense” in response to fire coming from pro-Gbagbo “Young Patriot” militia members allegedly using the crowd as cover. There is, moreover, video apparently depicting the incident (among other things) available on the Free Will Blog here. I should say that I have not myself watched the entire video. The parts I have seen are already sufficiently grisly and heart-rending. Aaron writing on the Free Will Blog notes that the footage does indeed include images of headless corpses. I will take his word for it. Given this footage and given the testimony of the Archbishop of Abidjan, who under ordinary circumstances would surely be considered a reliable witness in the matter, it would seem that there are, then, such corpses. I will not venture to speculate here on how they got that way.

The Hotel Ivoire incident has attracted much comment in the blogosphere. Probably the most extensive coverage and discussion are provided on Free Will (hat tip Instapundit). By contrast, the traditional mainstream media have largely ignored it. Bloggers have pointed out the hypocrisy. It does not require a very elaborate demonstration to be able to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if it were not the French, but rather the American military that was caught on videotape firing into a crowd of civilians, it would be all over the airwaves 24/7.

Whether it was “legitimate” for the French troops to have opened fire on the crowd, as the French Army spokesperson suggests, does not only depend on whether they had themselves come under fire from militants. It also depends on whether they had any business being in Abidjan in the first place and, more generally, on whether the increasingly aggressive action taken by the French forces in the Ivory Coast, including the November 6 destruction of much of the Ivorian air force, is compatible with their specific mandate under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and with the basic principles of international law as laid out in the UN Charter. Depaul University law professor Jeremy Levitt, writing in the November 21 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times, concludes that the French escalation of its military involvement on November 6 was illegal and, in effect, transformed erstwhile French peace-keeping forces into a party to war with the Ivory Coast.

Finally, let us suppose, for sake of argument, that President Gbagbo’s and Archbishop Agré’s remarks concerning the headless corpses are part of a campaign of incitement against the French. In any case, their seeming attribution of responsibility for beheadings to the deliberate actions of French forces appears entirely unfounded. Well, as I have discussed at length here, on October 6 the publicly-funded Franco-German television channel Arte ran a report in which American troops were repeatedly accused of having beheaded Vietnamese civilians during the Vietnam War: a report indeed that creates the impression that this must have been a relatively normal occurence. Is this not “outrageous”, “intolerable” incitement? Should not the French government and the German government “take the measure of their responsibilities” in the matter? Should not the UN Secretariat notify them that they should cease using public airwaves to disseminate such anti-American “hate speech”?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Germany's Palestine?

Apropos the debate in the comments section to “Europe’s Palestine” between Ralf and Niko, in a June 2004 lecture, the text of which (in German) is available in full here, Matthias Küntzel notes: “Just two months after the start of this [the second] Intifada, in November 2000, Gerhard Schröder, in close consultation with the then French presidency of the European Council, was the first EU head of government after the failure of Camp David to travel to the Middle East and meet with Arafat…. Germany and the EU occupied a key position: since the Red-Green government took office, Germany had become the most important funder of the Palestinian Authority. In per capita terms, no other population group in the world receives more substantial German support. When, however, Chancellor Schröder visited Yasser Arafat in November 2000, he did not demand Arafat’s return to the negotiating table. On the contrary, he, in effect, gave the PLO-chief the green light for his Intifada. 'Schröder does not want to put pressure on Arafat to return to the negotiating table,' a member of the German delegation was quoted as saying, 'It is not sensible to link future development aid to the willingness to compromise of the Palestinians.' (Archiv der Gegenwart, 9 November 2000, p. 44580.) On that first of November 2000, Schröder’s visit to Arafat set a course. Using the leverage of development aid, one could have forced Arafat to make peace with Israel und thus markedly improved the conditions of life in particular of the Palestinians. Despite all lip service paid to such goals, evidently this was not wanted and instead the suicide-Intifada was given free reign. Indeed…, with the increase of the suicide attacks financial assistance to Arafat was also increased.”

Matthias Küntzel adds: “By February 2004, Gerhard Schröder was still holding to the course he set in November 2000 and he made clear to the Palestinian Authority his commitment ‘to maintain German aid at its present level and to maintain the support of the EU, of which one third is contributed by Germany, also at the current level.’” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 18 February 2004).

Unfortunately, Matthias Küntzel’s lecture (titled “‘Stop the Terror’ oder ‘Stop the Wall’?”) is only available in German. It richly deserves to be translated into English. For more on the Middle East policy of the current German government, see too Matthias Küntzel’s article “Eine reife Leistung” (“A Brilliant Achievement”) – which is also available in English here.

I must say I find it somewhat curious that a ringing defense of German involvement in the Middle East should have been provoked by a post where I said not a word about contemporary Germany. But be that as it may...

Saturday, November 20, 2004

EU Funding and Palestinian Terrorism: An Essential Link

For a vast collection of resources on the issue of EU funding and Palestinian terrorism, visit EU Funding.org. I would cite some extracts here, but it is ALL worth citing. The site also includes a section on the EU and the issue of incitement in Palestinian school textbooks and one - bearing the title "Realpolitik" - on the broader political dimension of EU support for the "Palestinian cause". In the section titled "Terror", it makes available a full chapter from Rachel Ehrenfeld's book Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It.

(Note: Thanks K.A.!)

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Follow-Up: Europe's Palestine - Aid and Eyewash

In “Europe’s Palestine”, I allude to the fact that the European Commission in April 2003 announced the termination of its program of “direct budgetary assistance” to the Palestinian Authority. At the time, the program of “direct budgetary assistance” was replaced by a new program of “targeted” financial assistance with the cheerful if rather inelegant title “Reform Support Instrument”. Charles Tannock, a British Member of the European Parliament who played a leading role in the failed campaign to initiate a parliamentary inquiry into EU funding of the PA, responded favorably to this development. “The pressure we have been putting on the Commission has paid dividends,” Mr. Tannock remarked. Would that it were so. But I, very respectfully, beg to differ. On the Commission’s own account, the “Reform Support Instrument” includes “an €80 million finance facility targeted on the payment of arrears to small enterprises and social services.” In other words, the “Reform Support Instrument” continues to involve budgetary assistance, though it is no longer called “direct” assistance, but rather “targeted assistance”, since it is “targeted” to paying off the PA’s debts. Permit me to recapitulate the point about the “fungibility” of money that I made in “Europe’s Palestine”: “It lies…in the very nature of money – what economists call its 'fungibility' – that even if a financial contribution to a given budget is ostensibly ‘targeted’ to some particular expenditure, it necessarily frees up resources for all others. Given a range of expenditures, it is in fact meaningless to try to distinguish to which of them a particular revenue went. If, then, the PA has been financing terrorist attacks, the EU has been subsidizing them. And, given the massiveness of the evidence which has surfaced, no one seriously denies today that the PA has financed such attacks.”

In short, the EU’s replacement of its “direct” budgetary assistance to the PA by “targeted” budgetary assistance to the PA is nothing more than eyewash. If the EU is serious about wanting to assure that European taxpayer money does not go to the funding of Palestinian terrorism, there is only one thing for it to do: it must set as a condition for its aid that the PA cease sponsoring terror. In the short run, withholding aid until such time as this condition is fulfilled might worsen the lot of ordinary Palestinians in the territories. But it is hard to imagine that it would be more detrimental to their well-being than four years of Intifada have been.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Europe's Palestine: Introduction

On the occasion of the passing of Yasser Arafat – and the decision of European officials to place his smiling visage on the background of the EU flag on the homepage of the EU web portal – I am republishing here an unabridged and updated version of an article I first published in April 2003: “Europe’s Palestine”. The short version appeared on the website In The National Interest.

Europe's Palestine

European officials seem to have a strange idea of the powers of the euro. Following revelations in summer 2002 implicating the Palestinian Authority in suicide bombing attacks on Israeli civilians, critics objected that EU-financing of the PA amounted to a subsidy for terrorism. But the European External Relations Commissioner, Chris Patten, responded serenely. “We have found no evidence of EU funds being used for purposes other than those agreed between the EU and the PA,” he said, “So, there is no case for stating that EU money has financed terrorism.” Mr. Patten and his office have hewed to this line ever since. In an interview in the December 11, 2002 edition of the French daily Le Monde, Jean Brétéché, the European Commission’s “Representative for the West Bank and Gaza Strip”, remarked in the same vein that: “For the moment, we do not have even the beginning of proof that European money is being used for other ends than those for which it was allocated.”

Despite the apparent self-assuredness of these assertions, in February 2003 the Commission’s Anti-Fraud Office, known by its French acronym OLAF, opened an investigation into the matter. This came, no doubt, by way of deflecting the demand of some 170 members of the European Parliament that a parliamentary Committee of Inquiry be created. The credibility of the denials of Mr. Patten and Mr. Brétéché was, moreover, undermined by the fact that at the time of their being made the EU was paying some 10 million euros per month directly into the Palestinian Authority budget – that is, apart from the hundreds of millions of euros in project-related aid that the EU has been providing the PA for many years now. So, for some part of the European aid the “purposes” and “ends” of which Mr. Patten and Mr. Brétéché spoke had in fact not even been specified. This direct budgetary aid was terminated at roughly the same time as the OLAF investigation was begun. By its own account, “targeted” EU aide to the PA for the years 2002 and 2003 exceeded half a billion euros.

As of August of this year, the OLAF announced that its investigation, limited just to the since terminated direct budgetary assistance, was still ongoing. But the OLAF investigators could spare themselves the trouble, supposing they have been going to any. The disclaimers of European officialdom – massively reinforced by the pretense of opening an “anti-fraud” investigation – create the impression that the very shekels into which a euro contribution was converted would have to have gone to the purchase of the explosives used in an attack or to the payments of the operatives who planned it or of the family of the “martyr” who carried it out, before European responsibility could be established. But from an economic perspective it is self-evident nonsense even just to expect to be able to obtain such “proof.” It lies, after all, in the very nature of money – what economists call its “fungibility” – that even if a financial contribution to a given budget is ostensibly “targeted” to some particular expenditure, it necessarily frees up resources for all others. Given a range of expenditures, it is in fact meaningless to try to distinguish to which of them a particular revenue went. If, then, the PA has been financing terrorist attacks, the EU has been subsidizing them. And, given the massiveness of the evidence which has surfaced, no one seriously denies today that the PA has financed such attacks.[1]

EU attempts to distance itself from the PA in this connection ring especially hollow in light of the seemingly unconditional quality of its engagement on the PA’s behalf in recent years. Indeed, what is most striking about EU pronouncements on Middle East politics is the degree to which they tend to suggest a virtual identity between the Palestinian Authority and the EU itself. This tendency is clearly reflected in M. Brétéché’s December 2002 remarks to Le Monde. Thus, for example, he noted that his office had lately informed Yasser Arafat that “we needed four or five months to prepare transparent and irrefutable elections” and he speaks proudly of the reforms which – “in the last two years, despite the situation” – “we have accomplished..., notably the reform of the Ministry of Finance.... We are also working on the independence of the executive power and the judiciary.” For M. Brétéché, it is “we,” the officialdom of the European Union that is responsible for the reform of Palestinian institutions and not Palestinians themselves. This pretension is hardly compatible with European claims to be championing Palestinian “self-determination.”

It is, however, consistent with the marked preference that the EU has displayed for setting up de facto protectorates in “trouble zones” where it is diplomatically and otherwise engaged. Kosovo and Bosnia are obvious examples. Today, almost nine years after the signature of the Dayton Accord which brought an end to the Bosnian Civil War, Bosnia continues to be governed, in effect, by a “High Representative” who, for all intents and purposes, is appointed by the EU and who, in the person of Paddy Ashdown, now combines also the post of the EU’s “Special Representative” for Bosnia. Given persistent confusion on the matter, it is worth noting in this connection that the administration of the “High Representative” in Bosnia was not created by the UN and does not stand under the latter’s authority. The UN’s own “mission” in Bosnia was always a comparatively minor affair and was disbanded two years ago. The contrast, moreover, with post-war Iraq – which, if the efforts of what so much of the European media tellingly chooses to label “the resistance” are defeated, will have a sovereign elected government in two months – could not be starker.

The EU’s indulgence, if not in this case financial support, apparently extends not only to the Aksa Martyrs Brigades of the Fatah movement – now apparently renamed the “Brigades of Martyr Yasser Arafat” in honor of their fallen hero – but even indeed to the Islamist militants of the rival Hamas. Thus, beginning in November 2002, some weeks after reports first surfaced that it had itself taken up contact with Hamas,[2] the EU discretely “facilitated” a series of meetings between the latter and the PLO. These meetings were officially supposed to serve the purpose of dissuading Hamas from conducting further suicide attacks, at any rate within the “green line” demarcating Israel’s pre-1967 borders, but also indeed that of establishing a Palestinian united front in the conflict with Israel. It can be wondered if the latter purpose is wholly compatible with the first, and Hamas leaders quickly denied that a cessation of the attacks was in fact a central agenda item. “After all,” one is reported to have remarked, “people from the PA also perpetrate suicide attacks and other attacks within Israel....” But whatever purposes the meetings may have served, it is revealing that the EU should regard as a legitimate interlocutor an organization whose very Charter, among other things, denies Israel the right of existence, excludes in principle any peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict, and makes allusion to the infamous 19th century forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – the standard text of “Jewish conspiracy” theories – as if it were an authentic historical document. That the belated spiritual leader of this same organization, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, declared all Israelis, wherever they are to be found, as legitimate military targets, might also have led one to believe that Hamas would be off-limits for countries ostensibly cooperating in a “war on terror.”

Europeans might consider treading more softly in the Middle East. The Israelo-Palestinian conflict is, after all, in large part a product of European history and, more specifically, of the history of European anti-Semitism. As recounted by the German political scientist Matthias Küntzel in his recent book Djihad und Judenhaß, before the coming to power of the National Socialist Party in Germany in 1933, yearly Jewish immigration to Palestine numbered in the low thousands and public attitudes toward Jews in the Arab world were generally moderate. A limited Jewish immigration was even welcome by certain Arab leaders. Just two years later, the number of immigrants had swelled to 60,000. The rise of National Socialism in Germany and the introduction of discriminatory policies designed precisely to expel Jews from German society, had, in effect, given practical confirmation to the Zionist hypothesis that a national homeland for Jews was needed. The demographic pressures created by the wave of new arrivals in the Middle East inevitably resulted in increased tensions with the indigenous population. The Mufti of Jerusalem – with, incidentally, Berlin’s financial and material support – was able to channel these tensions into a full-fledged “Palestinian uprising,” directed against the Jewish settlers and the British colonial authority, but also indeed against secular and liberal Palestinian factions still defending various models of coexistence with Jews. In the meanwhile, the genocidal turn taken by Nazi anti-Semitic policies during WWII and their exportation to the rest of occupied Europe, only served to reinforce the convictions underlying the Zionist project. The end of the war brought a new wave of immigration, now including hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors.

The residents of the Middle East, Jews and Arabs alike, are reaping the bitter harvest of this history to this day. In light of it, it would seem fitting for Europeans to show more understanding for the Israeli dilemma and less favor toward the sworn enemies of Israel, especially such as whose anti-Zionism is openly informed by anti-Semitism. Otherwise, observers will feel themselves justified in wondering whether European zeal for the Palestinian cause does not in some measure reflect Europe’s inability to lay to rest its own anti-Semitic ghosts.

[1] For more on EU funding and Palestinian terrorism, see the articles by Rachel Ehrenfeld here and here.

[2] See “Palestinian Paper Reports Meetings Between EU, Hamas Officials”, BBC Monitoring International Reports, 15 October 2002.

Europe's Arafat

Here is a screen capture of the home page of the European Union as it appears today (16 November 2004).

Here is a closer look of the picture that appears under the heading "IN THE SPOTLIGHT".

Thankfully, however, the EU is also engaged in the Fight Against Terrorism.

I will be back a bit later with some reflections on Palestinian terrorism and EU support for the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Kosovo Rising?

Back in July of 2003, an acquaintance from the UN forwarded me an article from the Boston Globe with the title “The UN Has Brought Peace and Stability to Kosovo”. The timing of the article’s appearance was not accidental. “Kosovo's capital has a boulevard named for Bill Clinton,” it begins, “A crude replica of the Statue of Liberty crowns a hotel on the city's outskirts. ‘Liberation Day,’ the anniversary of NATO's entry into the province, is a national holiday. Maybe this is how Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz dreamed Baghdad would be….” So, just three months after the fall of Baghdad to US forces and two months after President Bush declared an end to major hostilities in Iraq, the Globe was already offering an unflattering comparison between Iraqi reconstruction efforts, which had barely even had the chance to begin, and the alleged successes of a UN Administration in Kosovo which had been in place for four years. Note the tense of the last sentence cited: not “maybe this is how Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz dreams Baghdad will be”, but “maybe this is how Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz dreamed Baghdad would be.”

Since, perhaps not coincidentally, I am no longer in touch with the said UN employee, I do not think it would do any harm if I quote the first sentences of my reply to this missive: “Thanks for that. It’s not the sort of thing I’d come across usually. To be honest, the title practically made me fall off my chair. No one ever doubted that Kosovo could be ‘peaceful and stable’ if one of its two major ethnic groups was ‘cleansed’ from the territory and this is what has happened: I can’t see how it makes it better that it turned out to be Serbs rather than Albanians.” By the summer of 2003, the virtual entirety of Kosovo’s Serb population had been driven out of the parts of Kosovo’s territory under effective Albanian control: either into guarded enclaves or into the Serb-majority area north of Mitrovica or out of the province altogether. Much the same fate befell Kosovo’s Jews and Gypsies and other minorities. Indeed, as the Belgian doctor and humanitarian aide worker Eric Dachy discussed in an article published in the French magazine Les Temps Modernes (“La raison humanitaire au Kosovo”, Les Temps modernes, Nos. 615-616, septembre-octobre-novembre 2001.), this was already largely the case by the middle of 2001. According to a report by the government of the Republic of Serbia to the UN Security Council, over 1000 Serbs were killed in the course of the expulsions. As I politely mentioned to my erstwhile acquaintance from the UN, it thus reads as a sick joke when the Globe article cheerfully observes that “last year [2002] only one Serb was killed in an ethnically motivated crime” – and this whether or not the claim, for which no source is given, is true. By 2002, as a result of the massive violence against Serbs of the preceding years, Albanians and Serbs were no longer living together in Kosovo, but at best side by side. Little more than a month after the publication of the Globe article, gunmen would open fire on a group of Serb youngsters swimming in a river near the town of Gorazdevac, killing two and wounding several others. This was only one of several anti-Serb attacks that marked the last weeks of the summer. And then, of course, in March of this year, Kosovo would be swept by a renewed wave of anti-Serb violence on a scale sufficiently large that even those European and American media most enamored of the UN could no longer ignore it.

But at least Kosovo’s economy seems in the meanwhile to be picking up. Too bad that its principle staples are traffic in drugs and women respectively. Over at Chrenkoff, Arthur has posted translated excerpts from an article in the Polish magazine “Przekroj” on the matter. It is titled “Democracy and Prostitution” and notes, among other things, that:

"in the capital Pristina, over 200 brothels have sprung up right under the noses of international police and UN administrators. Women from all over the Balkans, as well as Romania, Ukraine, and Moldavia are marshaled into the brothels.

"Non-Government Organisations are accusing soldiers from France, United Kingdom, the United States, Russia and Pakistan of powering the illegal sex trade and even profiting from it. So far, not one person has been charged over the whole enterprise, as peacekeeping forces remain outside the jurisdiction of Kosovar courts.

"And as if that wasn't enough, Kosovo has now become a prime exporter in the flesh trade. Britain's Scotland Yard estimates that Albanian organised crime controls some 75 per cent of brothels in the United Kingdom."

Read all the excerpts, as well as Arthur’s reflections on the significance of the Kosovo "quagmire" which so little of the media in the US and Europe is willing to recognize as such.

I would only venture to add that the sorry performance of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) not only gives cause to pause regarding the competence of the UN to manage post-war transition situations, but also concerning the competence of the EU. For despite the UN imprimatur, the UNMIK has in fact been largely a European affair. Apart from the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was appointed on an interim basis to be the first “Special Representative” of the UN Secretary-General heading the UNMIK, all the heads of mission have been prominent politicians or diplomats from EU member states. There are even signs suggesting that Secretary-General Kofi Annan has tacitly accorded the EU a kind of advice and consent function in the matter. Were this so, it would arguably constitute a violation of Article 100 of the UN Charter prohibiting the Secretary-General from seeking or receiving instruction from “any government or from any other authority external to the Organization”. In June 2003, reports in the German press openly spoke of the EU “nominating” the Special Representative.

Moreover, in an arrangement that Kofi Annan himself described as “novel” in first announcing it in 1999, the EU is recognized as a “partner” of the UN in the Kosovo mission, being officially responsible for economic reconstruction. But the EU itself - which refers to the "pillar" of the Kosovo mission it heads quite simply as the "European Union Pillar" - has interpreted its "mandate" in Kosovo more broadly than the narrow assignment of responsibility for economic matters would suggest. Thus, for example, it claims to “mentor” through EU-appointed “Principal International Officers” four of the eleven government offices in Kosovo’s provisional government – including the Office of the Prime Minister. Finally, it is worth mentioning in this connection that Kosovo's so-called "provisional institutions of self-government" are strictly subordinated in all essential matters to the dictates of the "Special Representative". It is thus the latter who is sovereign in Kosovo, not any elected representatives of Kosovo's people. That this sorry state of affairs obtains in Kosovo today, more than five years after the end of the Kosovo War, perhaps helps to explain why certain European politicians seem eager for the reconstruction of Iraq to fail.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Follow-Up: Wim Won't Go!

Despite George W. Bush's re-election, German director Wim Wenders has announced to the magazine Focus that he will probably not leave his “adoptive home”, the United States. As noted here, on a German television talk show two days before the elections, Wenders declared that America under Bush had become a “fundamentalist, totalitarian country” and predicted that under a second Bush administration “the country will implode like a giant balloon”. But fundamentalism, totalitarianism and the impending apocalypse notwithstanding, (adoptive) home is (adoptive) home. Incidentally, in an interview given to the German weekly Die Zeit a few weeks earlier, Wenders noted that upon returning to Germany in mid-September and learning that the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) had won nearly 10% of the vote in regional elections in Saxony, he found this “not so bad at all.” “When one comes here from America, namely,” Wenders continued, “German democracy, despite such a greeting, seems like political high culture.”

In his Focus interview, Wenders also offered an explanation for the Bush victory: “Bush perfidiously exploited September 11 for political gain and was able to assure that the country lives in fear for the last three years.” The fact that Osama Bin Laden in his recorded pre-election pitch offered “security” to those American states that voted to his liking - thus implicitly threatening any state that dared vote for Bush - suggests exactly the opposite explanation: i.e. that, if anything, Americans – and, more specifically, Bush voters - were in the face of threats moved by a spirit of defiance, not one of fear. Although most of the major media obscured this implication of the Bin Laden video through a dubious translation, thanks at least to some outlets controlled by evil media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, such as the New York Post, the story did come out. I can report, for instance, that I first heard of it on the eve of the election, when in a dark dismal corner of poor fearful America, a total stranger told me, “Osama says he is going to bomb any states that vote for Bush” – and then broke into peals of laughter. When I responded “Wha?!?”, my informant’s hilarity only increased and he repeated the scoop.

It might also be pointed out in this connection that in a survey of American military personnel conducted by Army Times Publishing in September, respondents favored President Bush over John Kerry by a 4-1 margin. If Wim Wenders believes that those people are motivated by fear, he well and truly is out of his mind.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Third Observation: The Meaning of Schäuble (II)... for Transatlantic Relations

Leaving aside what may indeed have been a touch of pandering on the matter of Christian “Fundamentalism” in the US, when one considers Wolfgang Schäuble’s remarks from ARD’s Sabine Christiansen show cited below, what is striking about them in the context of the current political climate in Europe is the depth of the commitment to the transatlantic relationship that they express with all that entails: among other things, notably, respect for the sovereign decisions of the American people. If Germany wants to insist on “multilateralism”, then it needs to show that it is a “reliable” and “relevant” partner. “A strong America is in our interest, an America that is at peace with itself and not so divided.” By way of comparison, sentiments of this order virtually never get a hearing in the equivalent French media: notably, the two French-French public television channels France 2 and France 3. (The private print media in France is a somewhat different matter. Le Figaro does open its editorial pages to “pro-American” opinion.) For a first-hand account from an American journalist of the prosecutorial atmosphere that currently reigns on France 3, see Kenneth Timmerman’s recent article on National Review Online. (Hat tip lmae, who suggests that the political talk show on which Timmerman appeared, “Pièces à conviction” – literally, “Trial Exhibits” or, let’s say, “Exhibit A” – might be better titled “Accusation” or “Stalinist Justice”.)

Does this mean that the German public media is more even-handed in its treatment of America and the American government than the French public media? Well, not necessarily. See again Sabine Christiansen’s introductory remarks to her show on the American elections: “Bush has made war, lost 2.7 million jobs, and not exactly made the world safer with his fight against terrorism…..” This too is the language of the prosecutor – and indeed of a prosecutor who would lose her case in anything other than a show trial. The 2.7 million was a democratic talking point during the election campaign. It refers just to the manufacturing sector, not to the evolution of employment in the economy as a whole, and indeed, as shown at FactCheck.org, the losses in manufacturing jobs under the Bush administration form part of a longer term trend that began already under the Clinton administration. As for the claim that Bush “has not exactly made the world safer with his fight against terrorism”, this too has been a Democratic talking point, as well indeed as a talking point of those sections of both the political and chattering classes in France and Germany that have led the European charge against Bush in the last year. It is a classic example of a claim that cannot be empirically falsified, since the contrary case – i.e. if President Bush had not engaged the war against Islamic terrorism – is obviously not available for comparison. It is, in short, pure propaganda.

No. I would suggest that the significance of Schäuble’s appearance on the Sabine Christiansen show is not that the German public media is more balanced in its treatment of America than the French public media (though it probably is, if only marginally, since nothing could match the hysteria of the latter), but rather that the German political class is itself significantly more divided in its attitudes toward the United States, and even indeed toward the Bush administration, than is the French. Unlike Deutsche Welle, whose express purpose is to present “the German attitude to important issues” to non-German audiences, ARD is a public broadcaster producing for domestic consumption and that hence should contribute to the process of political will formation in Germany which issues finally in some “German attitude” – or, in other words, some position taken by the German government. It cannot, then, fulfill its public function without at least to some degree reflecting the real heterogeneity of the political debate, however much journalists like Christiansen may try to spin matters in favor of one party or another. In France, there is simply no public figure of a similar stature as Schäuble who so persistently adopts “pro-American” or, I would say rather, “Atlanticist” positions. The closest one comes is Alain Madelin. But Madelin’s former party Démocratie Libérale, since absorbed into Jacques Chirac’s “Union for a Presidential Majority”, never represented more than a minor current in French politics. Schäuble, by contrast, arguably remains the major foreign policy voice of one of Germany’s two major “Volksparteien” (or “popular parties”) and the one indeed which, if recent trends hold, may well form the next German government.

I’d be very glad to have some input regarding the above from French or German visitors – not to exclude others, of course. The comments section is open.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Ghosts of the Future

For reasons unknown to your technically challenged host, two not yet published posts - "Exceptional Arte" and "The NYTimes and the Journalistic 'Axis of Weasels'" - are appearing on some pages of this blog in the "previous posts" column.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Second Observation: The Meaning of Schäuble (I)

Interestingly, Wolfgang Schäuble came in for harsh criticism from some of the watchers of German media posting comments over on David’s Medienkritik for his performance on the pre-election episode of the Sabine Christiansen show from which I have cited extracts. The object of the criticism was an exchange with Wim Wenders. Schäuble had made some characteristically calm and conciliatory remarks about the United States, stressing that it was up to Germany, if it wanted to insist on “multilateralism”, to show that it was a “reliable” and “relevant” partner. He finished with the sensible observation that “we can’t fix much about America from Berlin, but the errors that we have made, here in Germany we can fix those.” This provoked from Wenders another flurry of non-sequiturs in the form of a series of manifestly rhetorical questions: “But Herr Schäuble,…how do you feel then as a Christian Democrat when this President [President Bush] so obviously pursues an explicitly Christian policy? How do you feel when you have a look at Christian social policy? How do you feel with this Social Darwinism, the survival of the fittest, that is the survival of the richest? ...What do you say, then, when this man says ‘God’, is that the same God to which you pray, to which we pray?” And so on. Schäuble’s mistake, it seems to me, was to attempt to respond rationally to this tirade. When confronted with the discourse ad delirium, I would recommend as the most prudent response a simple: “Excuse me? I understood nothing that you said.”

But Schäuble politely tried to respond, which required him to look for some rational kernel in the delirious shell of Wenders’s ravings. Schäuble interpreted this rational kernel to be a criticism of the influence of Christian fundamentalism in American politics and he thus answered: “What we are picking up from America in the fundamentalist protestant domain has little to do with my understanding of Christian Democratic politics. There is no monopoly in the matter. We have a different conception.” Schäuble then went on to elaborate a bit on this conception, noting that he had just come from a “Reformation Day” celebration in Pforzheim and again emphasizing dialogue rather than confrontation with America also in this area. In fact, despite the repeated references to “Christian policy” that indeed could give this aura to Wenders’s outburst, it is not clear that Wenders meant principally to be attacking religious fundamentalism in the States. It seems equally plausible that he thought he was being cute by presenting himself as a God-fearing man in order better to denounce the “Social Darwinist” policy that in the fevered recesses of his mind is laying waste to America. It is not impossible either - however contradictory this would be in light of the fact that your average “Fundamentalist” not only rejects “social Darwinism” but even the biological kind - that Wenders imagined he was somehow cleverly doing both. Be that as it may, given this context and from what I can make out from the transcripts, I really don’t find Schäuble’s response to be a cave in, as some of the commentators on David’s have suggested. So, a friendly and respectful shout out to those guys: it might be better to go easy on Schäuble on this one. Just ask yourselves: would you like to be closed in a room talking to Wenders?

Note 1: Many, many thanks again to our Germanophone French correspondent for the tremendous contribution in transcribing portions of the Christiansen show!

Note 2: To be followed by a third observation on “The Meaning of Schäuble (II)”.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

First Observation: Wim Wenders and the "Argumentum ad Delirium"

A first rather banal and obvious observation on the extracts from ARD’s pre-election debate reproduced below. Note Wim Wenders’s response to Rudolf Scharping’s remark that one should not always adopt the pose toward America of the “moral superior” or, as the French would say, of “the giver of lessons”. (The expression “Besserwisser” means literally “one who knows better”.) Apart from the vacuous and pissy retort “No, it’s the President who thinks he’s morally superior”, Wenders’s response consists simply of a string of non-sequiturs that have no more obvious connection to Scharping’s point than they do to one another. Perhaps the proposed trip to the clinic would not be a bad idea. This style of what I propose to call “argumentation ad delirium” has, regrettably, become extremely common place on the so-called “Left” in both Europe and the Americas. I would venture to suggest that its ascendancy as a major factor in political debate dates from the first weeks after 9/11, when “proof” was required by so many on the “Left” that the United States was somehow itself responsible for the disaster that had befallen it. Marie-José Mondzain’s September 18 op-ed in Le Monde, from which I cite large extracts in “The Legend of the Squandered Sympathy”, represents a locus classicus. It should someday be studied by the historians, sociologists, and psychologists of a – let us hope – calmer epoch as a cultural artifact of the highest importance.

"Artist" and Statesmen: Wenders, Schäuble, Scharping and Burt on ARD

In the meanwhile, I have received some more materials from our Germanophone French correspondent, who has done a great service in transcribing large extracts from last Sunday’s episode of the Sabine Christiansen show: touted by German public broadcaster ARD as “the most important political talk show in Germany”. There are also extracts from each participant’s remarks available on the show’s website. I’ve compared the two sets of transcripts and it is interesting what the editors of the Christiansen site prudently opted to leave out: notably, Wim Wenders’s description of the United States as a “fundamentalist totalitarian country”. What follows are some translated extracts from the extracts. Besides the host, the cast of characters are again: German film director Wim Wenders, CDU/CSU foreign policy expert Wolfgang Schäuble, Former German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, and Former American Ambassador to Germany Richard Burt. (Journalist Peter Scholl-Latour was also present, but is not cited here.) I will be back tomorrow with related comments and a bit of speculation on the place and extent of anti-Americanism in the German media versus German politics more generally, as well some comparisons with the French media and French politics.


Sabine Christiansen: Bush has made war, lost 2.7 million jobs, and not exactly made the world safer with his fight against terrorism…..


Wim Wenders: I love this country [the US] deeply...its generosity, its easygoingness. And this country, which I deeply love, will soon no longer exist. It is already on the way to disappearing. Four years of Bush have turned this country into almost the opposite. They have made this country into an evil mixture [ein ganz böses Amalgam] of big business, petty bourgeoisie, and right-wing religion…. I still live there, but four more years of Bush I won’t live there, I won’t survive it. And the whole country won’t survive four more years of Bush. Before the end of these four years the country will implode like a giant balloon….Poverty in America is so heartrending, 40 million people live under the threshold of what is considered humane. It’s a powder keg….This powder keg will explode in the next four years if Bush continues in power…. This solar explosion… this black hole… will sweep us all away [wird uns alle mitreissen]….That’s why for me there is no choice whatsoever between Kerry and Bush. Kerry must win. Anything else is a catastrophe for each of us sitting here


Wolfgang Schäuble: We will have to live with the result [of the US election]. And because I feel responsible for German politics, I find that we should show restraint. Everyone has an opinion. But, in the end, the Americans must decide. Of course, there is much cause for concern. Above all, it is a cause of concern that the country is so divided, and if they again have an election result that is in doubt, that is also not in our interest. A strong America is in our interest, an America that is at peace with itself and not so divided. And it is in our interest to have a rational working partnership, one that functions to the greatest extent possible. A lot has gone badly, on both sides of the Atlantic. We should not continue like that.


Wenders: [on Osama Bin Laden] …Who knows where he lives, maybe not in the lion cave, maybe in a villa in Switzerland….He’s always watching television and then he doesn’t believe his eyes: Bush goes into Iraq….The whole army is in Iraq and is fighting someone who is not even his ally. He must rejoice every day like a fool. And his biggest triumph: his fanatic fundamentalist politics [sic.] has driven this free country to become also a fundamentalist totalitarian state....

Rudolf Scharping: One can’t say that America is a fundamentalist and totalitarian country. It’s a misleading exaggeration, no matter of what America you are speaking. We should guard against always appearing before America in the role of the moral superior [moralischen Besserwissers].

Wenders: It is the President who thinks he is morally superior. He treats the world as if he were morally superior. Just look at television in America. The press, the media, the judicial system have all laid down. One day in front of Fox TV, and then my brain goes soft, then I need to go to a mental clinic.

Richard Burt: I give interviews on Fox. I hope you haven’t seen me. I hope I haven’t contributed to the softening of your brain....

Friday, November 05, 2004

Post-Election Euro Round-Up: Tears, an Entomologist, and a Sign of Hope

Here are a few items which I have either happened upon or which have been brought to my attention by correspondents and which I thought could be of interest in the aftermath of the elections.

A correspondent watching the German public broadcaster ARD from across the border in Alsace describes the following scene from one of ARD’s most prominent political talk shows:
“Sunday, on ARD, the weekly debate hosted by Sabine Christiansen was dedicated to the American elections. There was [German film director Wim] Wenders, who was enraged (ridiculous and troubling). He said that he would not be able to stand another 4 years of Bush in his “Wahlheimat” [adoptive homeland], that he was proud of Germany – and that the United States is a fundamentalist and totalitarian country. [Former German Minister of Defense Rudolf] Scharping said that wasn’t true. There was also [Christian Democratic Foreign Policy specialist Wolfgang] Schäuble and [former US Ambassador to Germany] Richard Burt, who was very good and looked at Wenders with the gaze of an entomologist”

(Note: In the interest of providing a balanced view of German political debate and German public broadcasting, I will follow-up shortly with a post translating some of Wolfgang Schäuble’s remarks on this same show. Comprehending Wenders may well require an “entomologist’s gaze”. But Wolfgang Schäuble is another matter entirely. This post will also have bearing upon some comments made regarding my criticisms of Deutsche Welle in “Hello World. This is Not Your Election”.)

I-Television is a relatively new 24 hour news channel available on French cable and satellite. The highly interesting French blog with the lyrical and apt title “Le Monde à l’envers” [The Inverted World] describes – not without a certain relish - the following election night scene: “the correspondent of I-Television in the headquarters of the Republican Party who starts to cry while announcing that Bush will be president for another four years. Ah, what a delight. Her hateful snarl as she points her finger at the delirious crowd singing “Only in America”, at the American flag, at the portrait of Bush that appears in the background projected on a giant screen….and the tears….Ah, what a moment of intense joy!”

A correspondent from the Netherlands provides some cause for optimism. On the Saturday before the election, the Dutch newspaper Trouw published a translation of the Norman Podhoretz essay “World War IV, how it started, what it means and why we have to win” from the September issue of Commentary magazine. Our correspondent translates the editor’s introductory remarks: “ We are all so very sure: Americans are superficial and Bush is dumb. Do we really want to hear more than clichés? We don’t really try to deepen our knowledge of America, let alone of Bush. Who knows his speech of 9/20/2001? Who knows his state of the Union-speech of 1/29/2002, his speech in West Point at 6/1/2002 and his declaration on the Middle East of 6/24/2002?” Who knows indeed? The Trouw editors seem to have been prescient. Now would be a good time for many a European to read these speeches and to become familiar with what the man says in his own words rather than the extraordinarily deformed version of them that circulates in so much of the European media – which have, incidentally and as will be discussed in a later post, been aided and abetted in their work of deformation by America’s own NYTimes. For those wanting finally to discover that “BUSH DID NOT LIE!”, but provided a rationale for the Iraq War which was compatible with the best available knowledge at the time – including, most importantly, the UN’s own published reports on Iraqi weapons programs – and which is indeed fundamentally compatible with what has been discovered since, I would also recommend President Bush’s speech before the UN General Assembly of September 12, 2002 and, of course, his State of the Union Address of January 28, 2003.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Post-Election Pause

Taking a small break to rest, recover and soak it all in. Will be back with more by Friday night at the latest.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Elections, Interference, and International Law - or "Hello World. This is Not Your Election."

Last week, the German site Medienkritik, issuing a ringing endorsement, offered sound advice for Americans in this election season: vote. In limiting itself to endorsing democracy, Medienkritik had this to say: "As a German publication, Medienkritik feels that it is not our place and it is not our job to interfere in internal American political affairs or to try to exercise influence on the election by endorsing one side or the other. Frankly, we feel that foreign attempts (such as the Guardian letter-writing debacle) to influence the outcome of the US election are despicable."

The last few weeks have indeed seen an unprecedented attempt by foreign media to interfere in the American elections. Astonishingly, such efforts have even included public media, as this article from Deutsche Welle (another hat tip to Medienkritik) makes clear. Deutsche Welle is a publicly funded German radio and television broadcaster, whose function is to broadcast to foreign audiences and the purpose of whose programming, according to the 1997 "Deutsche Welle Law", is to "provide listeners and viewers abroad with a comprehensive account of the political, cultural and economic situation in Germany" and to "present and explain the German attitude to important issues." In more vulgar terms, Deutsche Welle is the external propaganda arm of German public broadcasting.

It is not only despicable, as Medienkritik aptly puts it, for Deutsche Welle woodenly to rehearse all the distortions of the myth of "squandered sympathy" - "Despite a massive outpouring of sympathy for America immediately following September 11, Bush's you're with us or against approach to international affairs quickly alienated the majority of the world's population" - in order to give support to John Kerry's candidacy. Inasmuch as Deutsche Welle is a German public broadcaster that explicitly targets foreign audiences, including Americans, it is also, in effect, illegal, violating the letter and spirit of international law. For many years now, the General Assembly of the United Nations, invoking the principle of self-determination as contained in the UN Charter and in the so-called "Friendly Relations Declaration" of 1970, has voted an annual resolution on "Respect for the principles of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of States in electoral processes". The 1998 version of the resolution, for instance, "reaffirms that any activities that attempt, directly or indirectly, to interfere in the free development of national electoral processes... or that are intended to sway the results of such processes, violate the spirit and letter of the principles established in the Charter and in the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States...". It is interesting to note that the most recent versions of the resolution have been considerably watered down compared to the earlier ones and that this last paragraph in particular has, in effect, disappeared or been altered beyond recognition - as if certain influential states in the General Assembly wanted precisely to free up their hands to interfere in the electoral processes of other states. If, moreover, a state is prepared overtly to defy the principle of non-interference as concerns the national elections of other states, how much more reason is there to expect that it will also covertly be doing the same? I suspect that the multiplication of 527 organizations in the US will have provided ample margin for such interference to occur.

Not so subtle attempts to influence the American elections began well before the Guardian's ill-fated letter-writing campaign. Already in early September, I received an e-mail bearing the unequivocal message heading "Warning to America": a message heading worthy of a missive from Osama Bin Laden, though the mail was in fact coming from an execrable British website misleadingly called "Open Democracy". The message linked to an article supposed to catalogue all the sins being committed by America under the leadership of George W. Bush: "Three years on from 9/11, what has America learned about the world - and itself? The wrong lessons, argues Anatol Lieven in 'America Right or Wrong'. The Bush administration responded to 9/11 in the name of American Nationalism. Today, its deeply rooted attitudes combine fundamentalist religious sentiment, belief in American 'exceptionalism', chauvinist contempt for other peoples, and embittered suspicion of the modern world as well as a love of its democratic creed [sic!]." Some weeks earlier I had pleaded to be removed from the mailing list of said site after receiving a message announcing an apparently "humorous" report from a fictitious consultancy firm. The report was supposed to advise Osama Bin Laden to permit himself to be captured just before the American elections, since " an 'incompetent' Bush administration actually benefits al-Qaida." My pleas went unheeded. In the meanwhile, the site has been offering "coverage of the US election from a global perspective" under the rubric "The World's US Election" (a rubric, incidentally, which - reflecting the trendy racism of the so-called "Left" - includes reports from "the African-American media (US)" and "the Latino media (US)", as if blacks and latinos in the US were somehow not Americans.)

Well, hello world. These are not your elections. Although not as obvious as Open Democracy's "Warning to America", the exaggerated attentiveness to the American elections displayed in recent weeks by the dominant media in various European countries - with Le Monde, predictably, having been working itself into a particularly fine lather - implies just as much a threat, since it suggests that these countries have or ought to have a sort of right of oversight of the US electoral process - and hence too, presumably, a right to intervene in some manner if they are not satisfied with the outcome. Such an attitude is obviously incompatible with the right to self-determination: in this case, more particularly, the right of America's citizens to such. I hope Americans will go to the polls today serenely, ignoring all such threats and attempts at intimidation - whether they come from Osama Bin Laden or from ostensible "allies" in Europe, who no doubt only threaten us for our own good - and that they will vote according to their conscience and indeed - why not? - their interests. We are not, after all, electing any government but our own.