The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Monday, April 30, 2007

Tactical premonitions...

"[W]hen it had to be decided whether to accept SaddamHussein's surrender and to ceasefire, or to refuse it and push on until Baghdad, the President [Mitterrand] clearly told George Bush [Senior] that he was for the first solution. His reasons? To not make the Iraqi leader a marty in the eyes of an Arab public opinion already convinced of the unfairness of the Westerners. To not throw ourselves into an urban guerrilla war with unpredictable consequences. To not play with Iraq's breaking up. Indeed, the elimination of Saddam Hussein would lead to a Kurdish declaration of independence and, as a consequence, wars implicating Turkey, Syria, Iran, as well as Iranian maneuvers into Iraq's Shiite South." - Hubert Vedrine (former French foreign minister) in Les Mondes de Francois Mitterrand (1996) p. 537

I'm so used these days to being cynical about politicians and assuming that every argument they makeis a tactical one. That is, they have committed themselves to this or that position, so they'll use every known argument to back it up, even when new information emerges or there's simply a lot of uncertainty involved. Politicians will use completely contradictory arguments over their careers. Yet, I'm struck by how prescient some arguments can be.

France opposed pushing to Baghdad in Gulf War I for basically selfish reasons, among others, France didn't want US domination of region or to abandon their profitable relationship with Saddam (a history of arms and nuclear deals, as well as unpaid debts towards France). France had tactical reasons to argue against gong to Baghdad. Nonethless all those arguments seem remarkably prescient, every one of Vedrine's predictions has become big news: a martyred Saddam, urban guerrilla war, Iraq's breakup, Iranian Shia influence. The only exception is the lack of an independent Kurdistan (we may have to wait a little longer).

It seems the arguments that are made for tactical reasons can nonetheless be perfectly true!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Dissertation's DONE

I just handed in two copies, plastic-bound. It's done. No more research, no more endlessly fiddling, no more Attali (my main source). In fact, I've removed his blog from my bloglines feeds, his often messianic and/or self-righteous tone has gotten on my nerves. The importance of any old topic he's talking about is always inflated with phrases "this is the first time ever that..." and "if we fail to act here...". Blah blah. He's a good source, but an annoying writer.

The end of the dissertation doesn't mean I'll have much free time though as exams are in two weeks. Doing the final edits to my dissertation and finally printing it off really made me feel there was a lot more I had to say. Space is a bitch. On the other hand, it got me thinking I really could do this sort of thing for a living. There's some topics, like the Chad War or Mobutu, I could write loads about assuming I had access to enough of the literature. I could even give them pretentious potentially sell-able titles like "Scorched by the Sahara: Libya's Military Adventure in Chad" or "Vampire King: The Rise and Fall of Mobutu's Zaire". Preferably with some ghastly dark-eyed version of Qaddafi and Mobutu leering from the cover.

Not sure about the necessary readership though..

Sunday, April 22, 2007

French elections

A lot of the English-speaking press has had a few misconceptions during these elections.

1) Sarkozy: "France's last last chance". Some words the Economist associates with Sarkozy which are misleading: "outsider", "reform". I'm not an expert on French domestic policy but this post takes aim at the Economist's assumptions. Suffice to say that Sarko has been part of the ruling clique for a long time and that "reform" has almost never been the domain of the Right. It was Mitterrand who implemented the economics of "austerity" (beat the deficit) which Giscard failed to do. It was Jospin's government a few years ago who was the most avid of privatisers. It's one of those things... The equivalent of "only Clinton could reform welfare": the Left changes things, the Right, erm, conserves them. That's been the trend so far anyway, remember, Chirac was thought of as a young radical reformist before he took office.

2) The second idea is that Sarkozy is "pro-American", whatever that means. Bayrou has also said he is pro-American, but Clinton's America, not Bush's. Sarko's use refers to American society as a model (capitalism, "law and order", etc.). I think Americans are misled if they think Sarkozy will change Franco-US relations. Ever since de Gaulle, Americans have assumed that it was individual personalities (rather than clashing interests or a broadly-shared French desire for independence) that caused France's loud obstruction. They have tended to assume that as soon as de Gaulle, or in this case Chirac, passed things would get back to normal and France would start acting like a meek European country, ideally the UK. The entire French political class is "Gaullist" in wanting an independent France (including, because Americans were misled about Mitterrand at first, the Socialist leadership). Sarko is, whatever his faults, clearly a nationalist and patriot. This naturally entails he will defend French interests as hard as de Gaulle, Mitterrand or Chirac. France will continue to oppose US policies when it in her interests to do so, Sarko or no Sarko.

3) The anglophone press has been shamelessly spouting crap about the French economy. Even the BBC have been using false numbers and ignorant statements to portray France as being the worst in the developping world, which it simply isn't. French growth has been better than Germany and Italy. French productivity is superior to the US's and the UK's. The only really worrying number is unemployment. The French economy isn't spectacular, but it's basically unremarkable, it doesn't deserve the epithets which make it seem it's the one economy in the developping world suffering from some trouble.

I haven't been following these elections very closely but I note a few things:

Sarkozy - he is clearly fishing for the racist vote. Ostentatious language about "law and order" aimed at ethnic youthes, "controversial" attempts to kick out illegal immigrant squatters, police grabbing the children of illegal immigrants as they leave schools... These are symbolic, spectacular. I don't know if that means Sarko really is going to model of race relations in France on those in the US... You never know until they're in office. I'm not taking his economic reforms seriously at all:
1) There is no correlation between a competitiveness and "small government"
2) He wants to both lower taxes and the deficit (ring a bell?)
3) There is a correlation between privatisation and economic efficiency in many cases, something the Left has often done.
4) I don't believe in there can be a droite liberal (or in US english, real conservatives). As soon as so-called conservatives are in power they will meddle in the lives of citizens, be beholden to special interests, and tax (or deficit-spend) as much, or worse, than their rivals.

Segolene - She really hasn't said anything interesting has she? Did I miss it? I think it would be interesting to have the Left in charge:
1) they would have to deal with the problem of reform seriously, with a loud right-wing opposition telling them to spend less, balance budgets and be efficient etc. (a bit like having the Republicans force Clinton to balance the budget (principled) instead of having them in actual power (filthy godless hypocritical pork-barrel deficit spenders))
2) The Left has a long history of innovative and radical reform (going both ways, nationalisation, privatisation, tax increases, tax cuts etc.)
3) The Left would have a much better time convincing unions and other vested interests of necessary reforms, (think Mitterrand and austerity) whereas Sarko would be extremely easy to demonize. She's also pro-gay marriage, goes back to the Socialists' libertarian roots.

Bayrou - Centre-right, hmm, whatever. He's voiced interest in knocking off the Fifth Republic for a parlimentary Sixth. I think that's silly. The presidency is what makes foreign policy special, it gives France a pulpit and personalises her foreign policy, it makes it indepedent of domestic politicking. When we're talking about France's "voice" in the world, and that's all she really has, the Fifth Republic's presidency is fundamental.

The election could go anywhere. I'm leaning for Sego although, admittedly, i haven't followed the election as close as I should and, to be honest, it probably doesn't even matter that much.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

CHARACTERS: Frantz Fanon

I came across this good documentary on Frantz Fanon (English-language to boot).

Frantz Fanon was an educated Martinican who fought for France in the Second World War. Facing racism in metropolitan France he used his training as a psychiatrist to understand the subconscious of racism, especially the denial of sexual desire and personhood.

Frantz Fanon

Disenchanted with France and Martinique, he found a new homeland in Algeria, then in the throes of the Algerian War. He fell in love with that revolution, finding an equation between the denial of personhood inherent in racism, and France's denial of the Algerian nation. He became the most eloquent defender of the Algerian Revolution and an advocate of violence as means to liberation. To have one's independence merely "given", "granted" by the colonial overlord could not lead to self-respect. Truly free people were not dependent on others for that freedom, they took it themselves, if necessary through revolutionary violence. He finished his most famous book "The Wretched of the Earth" as he was dying in 1961 which has become the bible of numerous nationa liberation revolutionary and terrorist movements since then.

De Gaulle in liberated Paris 1944: "Paris outraged, Paris broken, Paris martyred, but Paris freed! Freed by herself, freed by her people with the help of the armies of France, with the support and help of all France, of that France which fights, of the sole France, true France, eternal France."

I see some eery parallels with Gaullism. De Gaulle's obsession during and after the Second World War in the idea that France had freed herself from the Nazis, not through English or American help. Later, when he undertook the politics of grandeur in the 1960s, there is the same theme. It didn't matter that America protected France from the Soviet threat. France's self-respect required that France herself defend her independence through the withdrawal from NATO and the French nuclear deterrent. They both seem to share this obsession not with the what of freedom and independence, but the how of self-help as the only means for either to be genuine.

A bus bombed during the Algerian Civil War (1997)

Algeria was not freed as Fanon might have hoped. He thought that to eliminate colonialism might have allowed a "New Man" to be created, surpassing colonized and colonizer. Though the Algerians wrenched their independence from France through violence, they have known only secular left-wing tyranny since. Algeria's economic failure has meant that as that country sought independence from France, thousands of Algerians continue to seek visas for work in France. A conservative Islamic Algeria grew frustrated with the failures of the Marxist revolutionary leadership that Fanon was so enamored with, leading to the disastrous civil war between secular military and Islamic terrorists from 1991 to 2002. Radical revolutions seem to have this irrepressible tendency to disappoint. The man and the society revolutionaries have in mind never seems to match up with what man is actually capable of, and the society they really inhabit.

The doc is well-worth watching despite it having a few cuts and glitches. It has a few bits of the Battle of Algiers woven in and interviews from his family and intellectuals. Stuart Hall especially having some very eloquent and incisive commentary.