Romano Prodi and George W. Bush make an unlikely pair. One wouldn't have thought that a technocratic former professor of industrial policy and industrial organization would have hit it off with a brush-clearing, sports-loving president. To make things worse, Prodi defeated a man who used to boast about his friendship with the president. But this unlikely double-act just tag-teamed Jacques Chirac into coughing up another 1,600 troops for the beefed up UN force in Lebanon.
Prodi strode into the breach when France made its initial offer to send only another 200, pledging a serious Italian contribution of 3,000 soldiers and letting it be known that Italy would be happy to lead the force. Soon both the Lebanese and the Israelis were expressing their approval of Italy taking command. This morning, Bush called Prodi to tell him that he had a "positive" view of Italy's offer.
At this point, it was clear that if Chirac wanted to preserve France's special diplomatic role in Lebanon—and French leadership of UNIFIL—then he was going to have to put more boots on the ground. In his statement announcing the enhanced French commitment, Chirac noted that he had "obtained the necessary clarifications from the Untied Nations: regarding the chain of command, which must be simple, coherent and responsive; and the rules of engagement, which must ensure freedom of movement for the force and its ability to take action if faced with hostile situations." If France's dithering really has ensured a more robust command structure and rules of engagement, then everyone - not just Prodi - might have benefited from it.
French politics may be getting a little dirtier - or at least a bit more intrusive. James caught us all up recently on Bikinigate: paparazzi photos of French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal in her bikini on a beach near Cannes. Now comes the revelation that while Royal was vacationing, her family's flat in Paris was ransacked - and not a thing was stolen. With the race to succeed Chirac next year heating up, Royal thinks supporters of her main rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, are behind the break-in.
Mme Royal, 52, said: "This was not a burglary, but an intrusion and a full-scale search of my home in which nothing was stolen. Everything was turned upside down, the cupboards were emptied." Police said that the intruders had broken in through a window in the ground-floor flat and ripped the telephone wires out of the wall. ...[Royal] added that she had asked for the security of the telephone lines to be checked, implying that they might have been tapped.
At least one police officer has played down the possibility that it was an official job, remarking:
When a secret service carries out a job, it doesn't leave any trace behind, or it makes its intervention look like a burglary."
What is more important: collective memory or private property? That's what is at issue in a heart-wrenching legal case in France that will conclude next moth. Last year, Michel Levi-Leleu attended a Holocaust exhibit in Paris. There, he saw a suitcase that had belonged to his father, who had been murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz. The luggage even had his father's name and address still on it.
Monsieur Levi-Leleu understandably requested that the curators hand his father's property over to him. But they refused. The suitcase had been loaned by the Auschwitz museum and they argued that these clearly personal objects are essential to the museum's work:
These items are of huge importance if the names of their owners can still be seen, as there are only a very small number of these. They are concrete proof that real people who can be identified and portrayed died in the camp."
This position strikes me as wrong-headed. As Daniel Finkelstein points out, the Auschwitz museum's view is "that their rights to the stolen property of a murdered man are greater than those of his son." That can't be right. Ultimately, where the suitcase can do most good should be irrelevant in legal terms. It is the property of the Levi-Leleu family and if they want it they have a clear and unambiguous right to it. Documentary evidence at places like Auschwitz is important. But considering the evil history of the place, it is imperative that it is freely given, not expropriated.
It turns out that the French were planning to announce that they were only sending a token force last night. But then the UN—fearful of the "devastating effect" this would have on other potential contributors—secured a postponement of the announcement. (All the quotes here are from this Le Monde article, which a kindly Frenchman has translated for us.) The shift in France's position is...
...motivated, according to a senior military official, by "the trauma of Bosnia" and "fears of retaliation from Syria or Iran" - two regimes which support Hezbollah and against which France is leading diplomatic battles."
To an extent, the French position is understandable. The mission won't be under Chapter 7, its purpose is fuzzy, and the Lebanese army isn't planning to disarm Hezbollah. That means either the French will have to perform this task—which won't be easy—or there's a good chance that hostilities between the IDF and Hezbollah will resume, leaving the French army "having nothing but hits to take," as a military source put it to Le Monde.
Today, after a begging call from Kofi Annan, Jacques Chirac announced that France will dispatch 200 more troops to Lebanon. But France won't decide on whether to deploy in large numbers until the mission, the terms of engagement, and the proposed composition of the force have been clarified. That creates a classic chicken and egg situation because—as a UN civil servant told Le Monde—"European countries and the Muslim countries, everyone is waiting for France."
Yesterday evening, it appeared that the French were going to step up to the plate and lead the beefed up UN force in Lebanon. This was unquestionably a positive development. No other country has the military capacity and the relative trust of both sides needed to pull off the mission. A substantial French deployment would ensure that this would be a robust military presence - not the usual UN rent-a-force.
But this morning it appears that the French might make a purely symbolic contribution. The Wall Street Journal is reporting chatter that the French intend to dispatch only ten officers and 200 engineers. The UN is desperately trying to get the French to change tack, realizing that such a gesture would doom the mission.
In other bad news for the force, the Germans have confirmed that they will not send troops. While one cannot help but understand the German sensitivity about dispatching soldiers to Israel's borders, a German presence would have reassured the Israelis. (Germany was one of only four EU nations to oppose demands for an immediate cease-fire.) Meanwhile, the Turks are understandably dragging their feet about committing themselves to the mission.
All of which begs the question: How on earth will UNIFIL get up to a 15,000-strong presence? What is unfolding now is all too typical of the way that resolutions are passed at Turtle Bay to great acclaim, but then when it gets down to actually getting something done, everything breaks down. The failure to commission a full-strength force to southern Lebanon will be another blow to the UN's already dented credibility as a peace-making body. It is essential that the member governments of the UN prove that its resolutions are worth the paper they're written on.
You know things are heating up in French politics when even les grandes vaccances are not sacred. This is the last summer before the 2007 presidential election and the two front runners are both indulging in some seaside electioneering. First, Nicolas Sarkozy, the likely candidate of the right, published Témoignage, which both sets out his political credo and deals—unusually for a French politician—with his personal life, including the breakdown and revival of his marriage. The book shot to the top of the best-seller lists and became the must-have beach read of the summer.
Sarko bested his likely opponent Ségolène Royal, whose book is due out in September, by pushing forward the publication date to take advantage of the fact that "the only time the French talk politics with their family is during the holidays." Sarko has even headed onto the dunes to sign copies. All this was combined with a blitz of the beaches by his UMP party.
But now Ségo has stolen some of Sarko's thunder: She's been snapped by the paparazzi in her bikini. Seeing as Ségo is apparently the 6th sexiest woman in the world, this isn't likely to harm her numbers. The intriguing question, as The Times’s man in Paris, Charles Bremner, points out, is will she sue? Under France's privacy laws she's entitled to. But seeing as Sarko isn't shy of using the snappers to get his message across—recent shots of him and his wife kissing confirmed their reconciliation—Ségo might be happy to let this fly. The recent sacking of the editor of Paris Match for publishing photos of Sarko's wife with her lover, though, shows that these things can cut both ways.
Bernard Henri-Lévy is an inviting target for mockery. With his trademark white shirts open past his chest, his movie-star wife, and his overly rich prose style, he is the caricature of the Parisienne intellectual made flesh. Garrison Keillor took him to the woodshed in his infamous New York Times review of American Vertigo. (The last laugh is on Keillor, though, as the review actually demonstrated that he had failed to grasp the central point of the book.) But we should resist the temptation to poke fun at BHL because he is a genuinely deep thinker. When I interviewed him for FP, I was struck by how much he really cared about ideas.
Anyway, that last paragraph was a rather long-winded prelude to urging you to read BHL's essay about the war between Israel and Hezbollah in the New York Times magazine this Sunday. It is an intensely empathetic account of how Israelis feel about the war. He also gives the lie to two accusations common in European discourse. First, if Olmert was spoiling for this fight, why did he appoint the trade unionist and peace activist Amir Peretz as his defense minister? Second, why on earth would Israel deliberately target civilians? "[D]istressed as we may be by the suffering of the Lebanese civilian population, the terrible deaths of hundreds, you cannot conclude that the Israelis have the strategic intention or the will to harm civilians." Indeed, the fact that the claimed civilian death toll of 40 from this morning's Israeli air strike turned out to be 1 should remind us that there is a propaganda war going on and that all too often, as the saying goes, the lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.
Israel did not go to war because its borders had been violated. It did not send its planes over southern Lebanon for the pleasure of punishing a country that permitted Hezbollah to construct its state-within-a-state. It reacted with such vigor because the Iranian President Ahmadinejad's call for Israel to be wiped off the map and his drive for a nuclear weapon came simultaneously with the provocations of Hamas and Hezbollah. The conjunction, for the first time, of a clearly annihilating will with the weapons to go with it created a new situation. We should listen to the Israelis when they tell us they had no other choice anymore.
Last night's Israeli raid on Hezbollah facilities in Baalbek was a sign of things to come. The Israeli Defense Force has a doctrine that Israel cannot afford to lose a single war. They believe that a defeat, or even the absence of a victory, would invite attack from all of Israel's enemies. So, the Israelis will not accept a cease-fire until they have scored an unequivocal triumph. I think this is what explains Israel's decision to launch such a daring raid last night and why we will see more such activity over the next few days.
Ehud Olmert knows that, whatever he says about Israel's success in destroying terrorist infrastructure, if Hezbollah can fire a record 220 rockets into Israel in a day, a cease-fire now would be viewed as a victory for Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, the reputation of the French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy took another blow when, days after he declared that Iran is "a great country, a great people, and a great civilization which is respected and which plays a stabilizing role in the region," the Supreme Leader in Iran pronounced that the "American regime must expect a hard slap and a destructive punch by the Islamic nations for its support of Zionist criminals." And then there's this: The German newspaper Die Welt is reporting that Iran has freed Osama bin Laden's son and sent him to the Syrian-Lebanese border to recruit terrorist cells. One dreads to think what a country intent on destabilizing the region might do next.
The crisis in Lebanon is putting French diplomacy front and center. As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, the former colonial power - and the likely leader of any international peacekeeping mission in Lebanon - France must be an integral part of any solution. Even the Weekly Standard is running articles about how important France's role is. But sadly, the current foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, is no Cardinal Richelieu. He's not even a worthy successor to Dominique De Villepin and Michel Barnier, which is saying something.
Le Monde did a devastating take-down piece on the Foreign Minister back in April, including details on how Jacques Chirac has a civil servant follow Douste-Blazy with a tape recorder to capture any missteps, Douste-Blazy's tendency to confuse Taiwan with Thailand, and other diplomatic bloopers. The IHT has a great summary of the piece and translated this tragically comic anecdote:
[A]t the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem last September, Le Monde said, Douste-Blazy stopped at a map recording the Jewish communities in European countries before and after World War II.
"Were there no Jews killed in Britain?" he asked. "But Mr. Minister, Britain was never occupied by the Nazis," the curator replied. To which Douste-Blazy shot back: "But were no Jews expelled from Britain?"
And this is one of the people the world is relying on to stop the current fighting from spiraling out of control! For once I find myself hoping that Jacques Chirac takes personal charge.
As calls increase for a multinational force that could police the Israel-Lebanon border, there appears to be less hand-raising and more finger-pointing. The US and UK won't send troops because they're overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Israelis won't accept the usual UN rent-a-force full of untrained soldiers just out for a paycheck. And no matter who goes, the timing and size of the deployment is sure to be a political minefield in most countries. So just who will step up and monitor a possible cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israeli soldiers? In this week's List, FP takes a look at the countries that might supply the boots on the ground.
Reading between the lines of Bush and Blair's unintentionally public conversation, you get the impression that they might have been "strategerizing" about how best to gang-up on their old adversary, Jacques Chirac. According to the Sky News transcript their exchange on the Doha Round went like this:
Bush: Who is introducing the trade
Bush: Tell her to call 'em
Bush: Tell her to put him on them on the spot. [sic]
Now, combine this with today's story in the Guardian about how Blair was looking to put renewed pressure on Chirac to cut farm subsidies and you can have a pretty good guess about who Bush wants his new best friend Angela to put "on the spot."
The other revealing exchange is when Blair makes clear that he's prepared to go to the Middle East in Condi's place because there's less pressure on him to actually broker a deal. Check it out after the jump.
French President Jacques Chirac used his Bastille Day interview to criticize Israel's response as "totally disproportionate." Yet in a speech earlier this year, Chirac announced that France was prepared to nuke any country that sponsored a terrorist attack against its interests. In the interview Chirac also declared: "But I have the sentiment, if not the conviction, that the Hamas, the Hezbollah could not have taken these initiatives completely alone. And therefore, that there is support somewhere from this or that nation." So, logically he couldn't call even an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran and Syria disproportionate. Unless that is, there's one rule for France and one for everybody else. Guess those French principles aren't so universal after all.
French football star Zinedine Zidane has apologized for headbutting Italian player Marco Materazzi during Sunday's World Cup final, an infraction that sent Zidane off the field with a red card just minutes from his retirement. But does he regret it? Nope. Zidane stands by the move because, though he won't reveal exactly what Materazzi said, the Italian apparently insulted Zidane's mother and sister. And for this chivalric explanation, the French love Zidane once again.
With everyone's attention focused on Germany for the World Cup, it's easy to forget that there's another world-class sporting event about to take place just across the border. The world's greatest cycling race, the Tour de France, begins this Sunday in Strasbourg. With seven-time champ Lance Armstrong retired, there's been great excitement to see who else can don the yellow jersey. Now, the field has opened even wider for someone truly unexpected to win. Just a few hours ago, two of the favorites were banned from racing. Germany's Jan Ullrich and Italy's Ivan Basso are embroiled in a doping scandal. In May, Spanish police carried out raids, seizing drugs and frozen blood that was thought to be used in doping. This week, various teams withdrew competitors whose names have surfaced. The plus side: someone truly unexpected will win this year's Tour. The down side: Is there no sport anywhere that's untainted by drugs? It's all so depressing, really.
Not very long ago, it looked like European airline manufacturer Airbus was trouncing American behemoth Boeing. Now, Airbus is in the midst of a damaging production delay for its huge A380. Launched with fanfare last year, the jumbo plane has always been a gamble. Nobody was certain there was a market for a plane that can carry as many as 800 passengers. Boeing briefly contemplated competing directly but opted instead to push its smaller, quieter and more fuel efficient 787. That aircraft is now selling briskly and it increasingly appears that Boeing's choice was a wise one. It's an odd twist that the American manufacturer is featuring a small, fuel efficient plane while Europe is frantically peddling what amounts to the Escalade of the skies.
The French political establishment will be choking on their brioche this morning. Not only will the next presidential election likely be a contest between a woman and the son of an immigrant, but the masses find the female candidate to be as attractive physically as she is politically. A poll in the French edition of FHM places Socialist Ségolène Royal as the sixth sexiest women in the world. The Daily Telegraph reports that the "52-year-old mother of four" beat out Penelope Cruz and Jennifer Lopez.
Royal's success is evidence of the buzz surrounding her possible candidacy, and it is only going to get louder. I was chatting to a Paris-based journalist last week and there is real excitement about how fun it would be to cover a "Sego" v. "Sarko" race—it is the match-up the media crave. The polls show that it's also the contest the public wants. But, as The Economist notes, in the history of the Fifth Republic, no poll has correctly predicted the final two candidates a year out.
All the signs, though, suggest that France is at long last ready for real change, perhaps validating the thesis that the rejection of modest labor liberalization earlier this year was, counter-intuitively, good for the reformist cause. 2007 is shaping up to be a vintage year for French politics.
Today marks Slavery Remembrance Day in France. Created this year, the holiday is the first of its kind in Europe and is viewed by many as another important step in France’s current dialogue with its African residents. Chirac announced the new holiday in January shortly after the weeks long rioting across the country by North African residents of the banlieues produced images like this one.
Those riots have spawned a few important legislative changes, including the overturning of a controversial law mandating that French colonial history be given a positive spin when taught in public schools.
To my mind these are just small efforts of what should be a larger initiative to reassess the French unicultural model of citizenship. Unlike many commentators, I don’t believe that the republican model of integration has failed, but I do think it requires some serious retooling to make it work in the contemporary context. Still, these small steps are good ones, and hopefully they will help create an environment where reforms can be made thoughtfully instead of reactively.
I really should be writing an item for the magazine's Inbox section right now, but this de Villepin story is just too juicy not to blog. For those who want to get caught up on what they’re unimaginatively calling the "French Watergate" (to the certain dismay of the Académie française), the BBC have a handy timeline.
De Villepin has come out fighting, denying all the charges and telling the National Assembly: “I've been the victim in recent days of a terrible campaign of slander and lies, a campaign which has profoundly shocked and wounded me.” Meanwhile, Sarkozy has signed onto a law suit by those named in the forged document claiming “slanderous denunciation.”
Ironically, if de Villepin does have to resign, Sarko could be the real loser. As Charles Bremner, The Times (London) correspondent in Paris who has been all over this story, points out, a new PM could steal some of the limelight away from Sarko ahead of the ’07 presidential election. And who knows, maybe even become a viable rival to him which de Villepin, who is edging ever closer to having the lowest approval rating of any prime minister in the history of the fifth republic, is certainly not.
If I told you that the unelected Prime Minister, a protégé of the President, was spying on his popular—and populist—political rival in an attempt to derail his presidential run you would probably think that I was talking about goings on in a corrupt developing country (no offense, but). But you’d be wrong. I’m actually talking about what is happening in the land of liberté, egalité, and fraternité.
French PM Dominique de Villepin stands accused of telling the French intelligence services to investigate a bogus charge that Nicolas Sarkozy had an illegal bank account stuffed full of bribe money. The genesis of the charge is a forged document and it is being suggested that the forger might be someone not far from the Elysée and the friend of a poet and Bonaparate enthusiast. The Times of London reports that de Villepin might soon be questioned by the judges investigating the case.
How far France’s notoriously closed establishment are prepared to go to prevent the upstart son of an immigrant from becoming president will be one of the more compelling stories of the next twelve months. Stay tuned.
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