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The Scottish referendum

Referendum on Scottish independence

I didn’t pay too much attention to it until the poll ten days ago that showed the ‘yes’ in the lead for the very first time. Now I have never set foot in Scotland—which is too bad for me, as I know for a fact that it is a beautiful and wonderful country—but am deeply concerned by the outcome of Thursday’s vote. Simply stated, I will categorically assert that a ‘yes’ victory would be a disaster: for Scotland, the United Kingdom, Europe, and the world. I am totally, unalterably, 100% distressed by and hostile to this eventuality. Period.

First, for Scotland, the consequences for which I am not overly preoccupied but still. As Paul Krugman has informed us, an independent Scotland would be a very bad deal for the Scots. Krugman insists that the Scots would, macroeconomically speaking, seriously regret their decision were they to vote for independence. There would be buyers remorse galore. I won’t repeat Krugman’s argument here. Just read what The Man has to say.

Secondly, for the United Kingdom. Regardless of how one feels about successive British governments over the past three decades and their embrace of neoliberalism and deregulated finance capitalism, it would really be terrible if Scotland were amputated from the UK. Politically speaking, a UK minus Scotland would lurch to the right. The Tories plus the UKIP would dominate, with an eventual Labour party government—even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats—nigh impossible in the short and medium term. For this reason alone, no one on the left side of the political spectrum in England or Wales can possibly wish for Scottish independence. And geopolitically speaking, the UK would be greatly diminished, as Gideon Rachman and Bernard Guetta have asserted, and with a possible departure of Northern Ireland in the cards. A UK without Scotland would eventually be downgraded to the geopolitical rank of Italy. The Brits would no longer be geopolitical players, at least not to the extent that they are, and with their permanent seat on the UNSC increasingly tough to justify. This eventuality is not in the interests of the UK. Nor of the USA, Europe, or most of the rest of the world.

Thirdly, for Europe, and this is the really big deal. First, a UK minus Scotland—with its pro-Europe voters—would almost certainly opt to quit the European Union. This would be a body blow to the EU and entire European project, needless to say. An EU without the UK would be amputated in the same way as the UK without Scotland. The EU would be that much less of a player dans la cour des grands (USA, China, Japan, Russia). Secondly, Scottish independence would have a certain demonstration effect on Spain/Catalonia and Belgium/Flanders, culminating in the breakup of two more core European states. In addition to the uncertain economic consequences—which would certainly not be positive—a Europe further fragmented would hardly be able to go toe-to-toe with the US or Russia as an equal. The power of the EU in global trade negotiations or as a geopolitical actor would be diminished. The EU’s status as a relative geopolitical dwarf would be set in concrete. This eventuality, it goes without saying, is not in the interests of anyone in Europe. Thirdly, a UK exit from the EU and breakup of Spain would consecrate Germany as the uncontested hegemonic power on the continent. The Germans would certainly be fine with this but would other Europeans?

Fourthly, for the world. The centrifugal demonstration effect of the UK’s breakup would be felt in several corners of Asia that I need not mention. A Scottish breakaway would be geopolitically destabilizing and profoundly so—and the last thing the planet needs right now is more instability. It would be a geopolitical earthquake, as more than one has put it. And in diminishing the already diminutive geopolitical role of the European Union, the geopolitical power of the USA, Russia, and China would increase ever more. Now this would not displease these three Great Powers but would it be in the interests of the rest of the world? Je ne crois pas.

A final point, and which—for me at least—is fundamental. Scottish nationalism is nationalism, and I hate nationalism. Now nationalism can be a progressive and/or understandable force in nations under occupation or that suffer discrimination inside multinational states. E.g. pre-1962 Algerian nationalism was utterly justified, as were all nationalisms in colonies against colonial powers. But such does not pertain to the Scottish nation, which suffers no discrimination whatever in the multinational state of the United Kingdom. And what is the problem with multinational states, so long as each national group is equally treated and with its culture respected? As Niall Ferguson—whom I would normally not link to favorably—has argued, the Scots have had a good deal in their four centuries-long marriage with England. The marriage has been one of equals. Cf. Quebec, whose separatists have had half an argument in view of the history of linguistic discrimination in the province until the 1970s, or Belgian Flanders, whose separatists have a quarter of an argument on account of their past humiliations when the Francophones were dominant. And Catalans in Spain have a semblance of an argument given their shabby past treatment by the Spanish state. Now I am not sympathetic to any of these separatisms but at least they’re based on a concrete history of past grievance and by nations that speak a different language from the dominant or other nation they wish to divorce. In the Scottish case, though, there is is no justification whatever. Scottish separatism is, as one political science wag aptly put it on social media the other day, petty bourgeois nationalism. Scots cannot claim that they are disfavored qua Scots in the multinational, linguistically united United Kingdom, particularly in view of the devolution of 1999 (and the increased autonomy that is sure to be granted them in the event of a ‘no’ vote in the referendum). Scottish separatism is pure egotism, as was, e.g., that of the government in Prague in 1993 when it cast out the poorer Slovakia. And the Scottish nationalist leader, Alex Salmond, is a two-bit rogue out for power, as Edinburgh political scientist Tom Gallagher reliably informs us. As for all the younger generation Scots who will be voting ‘aye’ on Thursday, they’ve simply bought into a stupid ass bullshit nationalist narrative and which has nothing whatever to do with their personal lives or life chances, which are every bit as good—or maybe not so good—inside the United Kingdom as they could possibly be in an independent Scotland. C’est affligeant.

Another final point. Author Emile Simpson writes of the injustice he feels as a Briton in helplessly watching as Scots set about dismantling the United Kingdom and without anyone in the UK outside of Scotland—including the hundreds of thousands of Scots who live south of the border—having anything to say about it. Now this is ultimately the fault of David Cameron, who stupidly agreed to the referendum and the terms under which it is being organized. But still, it is just crazy that the breakup of Great Britain should be decided by a simple majority in a single ballot by less than ten percent of its population.

For the record, I predict that the ‘no’ will carry the day, with 53% of the vote. Inshallah.

Obama & ISIS

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A faithful reader—my mother—asked me in an email the day before yesterday why I hadn’t commented on Obama’s speech on ISIS. I replied that I hadn’t paid much attention to it, being occupied as I was with getting my daughter set up in Istanbul, where she’s spending an Erasmus year. Now that I’m back in Paris, I’ve been able to take a few minutes to read into the matter. This commentary by CFR Fellow Steven A. Cook, “ISIS and us: No way to go to war,” gets it right IMO. The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch also had a worthwhile comment on “What Obama didn’t say.” And I will take the liberty of cutting-and-pasting journalist Craig Pyes‘s pertinent Facebook status update of two days ago

It’s appalling how so much of the press and pundit corps are so wrong in their criticism of Obama’s actions on ISIS (although there will be plenty of mistakes, little he can do, and a real danger of a prolonged war). Most journalists hunt in packs, and they follow each other rather than discern their own truths. This is true on the ground and in their thoughts. It’s why each newspaper reads like the others. Obama’s reaction has little to do with terrorism, and to draw up arguments of why it won’t be an effective CT tool, totally misses the point. Secondly, this is not Iraq in 2003, and marshaling the arguments against being overly credulous then — which you all were (Strobel and Landay exempted) — you’re, as they say, fighting the last war. Now is not then. Not only do these reporters think they’re right because their colleagues are writing the same critique, but it conforms to a pool of common sources, most of whom are no longer in the government. Very, very few of these reporters actually know anything about underlying realities of the Middle East, and so are captive to their sources.

The Middle East is unraveling — there are serious bad scenarios that can emerge — and for the US to do nothing about ISIS will insure that the political climate turns even more poisonous there than it is now, with thousands of innocents being butchered. The political reality is not good now, there is a huge possibility that the US will not be able to influence what it is becoming, but those aren’t arguments for sitting back and doing nothing. Nor are they arguments to put boots on the ground.

Affaire à suivre, évidemment.

(photo: AFP/Getty Images)

(photo: AFP/Getty Images)

[update below]

Yesterday was the 41st anniversary of the coup d’état in Chile, that other 9/11. I want to use the occasion to post a fascinating article that appeared in the July-August 2014 issue of Foreign Affairs on “what really happened in Chile” in 1973 and, specifically, what was the precise nature of the US role in the coup that overthrew Salvador Allende. The article is authored by Jack Devine, a now retired CIA career officer who was in the agency’s Santiago station at the time. In short, Devine makes clear that, contrary to popular belief, the CIA did not foment the coup; not only was the Chilean military 100% sovereign in its decision that fateful September but it did not even inform the Americans of the plot it was hatching. The CIA station only got wind that the coup was imminent two days beforehand and from its local assets. Devine’s account is detailed and totally persuasive. I have no reason to doubt it—and, dear reader, nor do you. It makes total sense that General Pinochet & Co would not bring the Americans into the loop, as there was no reason to. The Chilean military, like the Egyptian military—or the Turkish military, or the Thai military, or any old, proud military establishment out there—, cannot be manipulated or told what to do by great power patrons, and certainly not when it comes to its country’s internal affairs. Do read the read the article. All of it. For those too lazy to click on the link, here’s the text (with passages I found noteworthy highlighted in bold).

By Jack Devine

On September 9, 1973, I was eating lunch at Da Carla, an Italian restaurant in Santiago, Chile, when a colleague joined my table and whispered in my ear: “Call home immediately; it’s urgent.” At the time, I was serving as a clandestine CIA officer. Chile was my first overseas assignment, and for an eager young spymaster, it was a plum job. Rumors of a military coup against the socialist Chilean president, Salvador Allende, had been swirling for months. There had already been one attempt. Allende’s opponents were taking to the streets. Labor strikes and economic disarray made basic necessities difficult to find. Occasionally, bombs rocked the capital. The whole country seemed exhausted and tense. In other words, it was exactly the kind of place that every newly minted CIA operative wants to be.

I ducked out of the restaurant as discreetly as I could and headed to the CIA station to place a secure call to my wife. She was caring for our five young children, and it was our first time living abroad as a family, so she could have been calling about any number of things. But I had a hunch that her call was very important and related to my work, and it was.

“Your friend called from the airport,” my wife said. “He’s leaving the country. He told me to tell you, ‘The military has decided to move. It’s going to happen on September 11. The navy will lead it off.’”

This call from my “friend”—a businessman and former officer in the Chilean navy who was also a source for the CIA—was the first indication the agency’s station in Santiago had received that the Chilean military had set a coup in motion. Not long after, a second source of mine, another prominent businessman Continue Reading »

9/11 + 13

national-9-11-memorial-june-2011-credit-joe-woolhead-91-4

I hadn’t planned on posting anything on it today, the 13th anniversary, but came across, via social media, these amateur photos taken from Queens of the Twin Towers collapsing on that calamitous day. The link was posted on FB by engagé historian and MENA specialist Mark LeVine—whose attitude toward US foreign policy is rather more negative than mine—, who wrote that he watched the catastrophe almost from the same spot in Queens where the photos were taken and had tears streaming down his face. I did too, almost. I watched the second tower collapse on live TV—in France—and was traumatized—by all that happened that day—, shedding more than one tear over the subsequent days and with trouble sleeping on account of what had happened in New York City. That’s all I have to say. For all those who lost their lives that day, R.I.P.

Valérie and François

(image credit: BFMTV.com)

(image credit: BFMTV.com)

[update below]

What a miserable affair. Worse than pathetic. One can hardly believe that French politics has descended to this level. And with everything else happening in France and the world, that this is the talk of the town. I, for one, refuse to read Valérie Trierweiler’s book. I won’t even pick it up. I have learned as much as I need to know about it from the media coverage, plus these choice morsels published in Les Inrocks. Now I have no sympathy with François Hollande in this sentimental psychodrama, as I made clear in my posts of last January when the thing first broke (here and here), but now have even less for Valérie T., who, in her manic—and likely successful—effort to politically assassinate her ex-companion and permanently sully his character, has only further discredited herself—and sullied the institutions of the Republic in the process.

This does indeed seem to be the consensus at least among journalists. E.g. Ariane Bonzon—whom I know for her excellent enquêtes on Turkey—has a good commentary in Slate.fr on “La triple faute de Valérie Trierweiler,” which thus begins

Lors de l’affaire DSK, un de mes amis, qui n’avait pourtant rien à voir directement avec cette histoire, m’avait dit qu’il se sentait lui aussi touché: «J’ai honte à trois titres: en tant qu’homme, en tant que juif et en tant que libertin.» Chacune de ces identités impliquant chez mon ami une certaine exigence, éthique. Comme si l’opinion qu’il avait de lui-même avait été bafouée par DSK, homme, juif et libertin.

En lisant le livre de Valérie Trierweiler, j’ai ressenti le même sentiment que cet ami: ce livre me fait honte en tant que femme, en tant que citoyenne et en tant que journaliste.

Renaud Dély of Le Nouvel Obs had a similarly entitled commentary on Thursday, “La faute de Valérie Trierweiler,” in which he asserted that

Le livre de l’ex-Première dame n’est pas seulement un brûlot anti-Hollande, c’est une attaque contre l’esprit civique et une menace pour les institutions.

Rue 89’s Pierre Haski was on the same longueur d’onde in his commentaire à chaud, “Grand déballage de Trierweiler : la vengeance est mauvaise conseillère.” For his part, France Inter political editorialist Thomas Legrand—who is one of the smartest, most insightful analysts of French politics around—, in speaking of VT’s book, deplored “L’arlequinisation de la vie politique” in his commentary the day before yesterday. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, in an interview on Europe 1, called VT’s book a “moral suicide” of the ex-première dame, and in which he quoted from an editorial by La République des Pyrénées’s Jean-Marcel Bouguereau, who observed that

L’image que son “ex” donne de François Hollande est terrible au point qu’on se demande comment elle a pu rester une décennie avec personnage qui apparaît sous sa plume comme menteur, arrogant, infidèle, veule, lâche et surtout cynique.

Indeed. Mme Trierweiler does not smell like a rose in all this. Loin s’en faut.

One thing I need to assert—and that I have been doing since Wednesday—is that I do not believe for a split second that Hollande uttered the bit about “les sans-dents” in the first degree, i.e. in a literal sense. If he indeed said such a thing about poor people, there was certainly a context, or he was being ironic about someone else who may have said it, or something like that. As Libé’s Laurent Joffrin said on France Inter this morning, no one who has known Hollande personally over the years and spent time with him—as has Joffrin and so many other journalists, politicians, and public personalities—gives the slightest credence to VT on this. For this smear alone, she deserves permanent banishment from public life—and certainly from the journalistic profession.

If all this is not the coup de grâce to Hollande’s presidency, it’s not far from it. I don’t know how he and his entourage at the Elysées will pick up the pieces from this but they’ll no doubt soldier on nonetheless, as Hollande will certainly not resign. Unless he commits a crime or misdemeanor, or some really gross indiscretion, there is no reason for him to do so. He just won’t do it. And almost no one outside the Front National wishes for him to, or for him to dissolve the National Assembly at the present time. As the latest TNS-Sofres baromètre reveals, every political party in this country—including the FN—is presently judged negatively by public opinion. C’est du jamais vu. And the latest baromètre of L’Observatoire Politique CSA shows only two national political personalities—Alain Juppé and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem—to have higher positive than negative numbers with those polled. I mentioned this in my post last week on Valls II and it’s being confirmed with every poll that’s coming out. If neither the PS nor UMP has an interest in going to early elections, then they won’t happen. Period. Moreover, alarm at the damage to the political system and institutions of the Republic is sure to be expressed by increasing numbers on both left and right, as has Sophie de Menthon in a tribune in the right-leaning webzine Atlantico, in which she calls for a “Halte au feu! Pourquoi il faut sauver le soldat Hollande malgré lui.” As she puts it

A trop critiquer François Hollande, nous contribuons à mettre plus bas que terre la fonction de président de la République, ce qui finit par être mauvais pour la croissance et le moral de la France.

If one hasn’t seen it, Art Goldhammer had an incisive analysis yesterday of this weeks’s events (and in which he offered a tidbit about me, which I clarified in the comments thread).

Triste France, c’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.

UPDATE: Magistrate Philippe Bilger—whose political views are solidly on the right—has read Valérie Trierweiler’s book and written a commentary on it, entitled “François Hollande en compagne!,” on his Justice au Singulier blog (September 6th). On “les sans-dents” business, which right-wingers are going to town with on social media, he has this to say

La version de VT est-elle d’ailleurs exacte? L’Elysée dément et conteste ces allégations. On comprend que François Hollande soit «atterré»: on le serait à moins, sans que cela valide en quoi que ce soit les coups ciblés de VT.

Même si elle a mis en lumière les ambiguïtés de l’histoire amoureuse et politique entre Ségolène Royal et François Hollande, j’attache cependant infiniment plus de crédibilité à celle qui a été sa compagne durant longtemps, la mère de ses enfants et qui est autant imprégnée d’humanisme que la journaliste. Ségolène Royal a formellement contredit cette image d’un François Hollande sarcastique et dédaigneux des affres de la misère en se fondant sur l’expérience qu’elle a eue de l’homme et du politique.

Bilger’s review is interesting and well worth the read.

Le baromètre des partis TNS-Sofres de septembre 2014

Le baromètre des partis TNS-Sofres de septembre 2014

Can Marine Le Pen win in ’17?

(photo: AFP/Joel Saget)

(photo: AFP/Joel Saget)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

Faithful reader and regular commentator Mitch Guthman, responding to my post of last week, thinks she can and likely will. I say no way. Here’s why.

Five reasons. First—and this isn’t really a reason, just a preliminary point—, I am very reluctant to handicap an election three years down the road, as all sorts of things will obviously happen between now and then to changer la donne. It’s fun to speculate but is, objectively speaking, a waste of time.

That said—and secondly—I will continue to assert that Marine Le Pen has no chance—I repeat, no chance whatever—of being elected President of the Republic. I assert this because no candidate with negative poll ratings as high as MLP’s—i.e. in the 60s—can possibly win the presidency. It has never happened in the history of an advanced democracy and is not going to happen in France in 2017. Now if MLP’s negative numbers start to drop significantly—and, concomitantly, her favorable ratings rise—then I may change my tune. And I will definitely change that tune if the curves cross. But there is no reason to believe that this will or even can happen. The Le Pen name is radioactive—absolutely, totally toxic—for the entire left, center, and moderate right. As for those who have been casting protest votes for the FN in recent elections, a significant number would think twice about doing so if they actually thought the FN had a chance of winning (à propos, according to one survey in 2002 fully half of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s voters in the presidential election that year said that they would not have voted for him if they had thought he had a real chance of winning).

Thirdly, if there were a freak accident and with MLP somehow winning the presidency, she would be unable to govern. There is no way she would have anything close to a majority in the National Assembly (ergo, there would be no FN PM or government). And a significant portion of the haute fonction publique—where the FN has precious few members or sympathizers—would decline to cooperate with her. For the anecdote, back in 2002 I asked an énarque member of the Cour des Comptes whom I knew if he and his colleagues would have cooperated with Jean-Marie Le Pen had he won that year. His response was a categorical no. A Marine Le Pen presidency would thus not only be a fiasco from Day One but also bring about a constitutional crisis.

Fourthly, France is a mature democracy and the French citizenry is—appearances sometimes to the contrary—a mature electorate. French voters are not going to embark on some crazy adventure with a populist party of the extreme right, and that has no experience whatever in government to boot. The gravity of the French electorate has been on the center-right for most of the past century and remains so today. In this respect, it needs to be said that while the economic situation in France is bad it is not catastrophic. France is not Greece—as Paul Krugman has reminded us more than once—and is not going to be. Mitch’s assertion that France is being subjected to “murderous austerity” is hyperbole. The French are morose and fearful for the future—and many for good reason—but the majority of people are working and will continue to. As for the increasing numbers who are unemployed and excluded from mainstream society, they will retreat into political abstention rather than vote en masse for the FN.

Fifthly, if MLP makes it to the 2nd round of the election, she will most certainly face the candidate of the UMP (or whatever the UMP eventually renames itself). And the latter will win. Period. My dread fear is that that candidate will be Sarkozy (and rid of his legal problems). If so, we’ll have to live with the S.O.B. for another five years. The mere prospect of that depresses me to no end.

UPDATE: Slate.fr’s Eric Dupin, echoing my viewpoint, says “Non, le FN n’est pas aux portes du pouvoir.” (September 9th)

2nd UPDATE: A poll conducted by Odoxa—a new polling institute founded by a couple of former directors at BVA—for I>Télé-CQFD-Le Parisien-Aujourd’hui reveals that “65% des Français considèrent que le FN n’a pas la capacité de gouverner [la France]…” It indeed does not make sense, IMHO, that large numbers of Frenchmen and women would vote for a party to govern France that they do not believe has the ability to govern France… Ça n’a pas de sens… (September 13th)

3rd UPDATE: And then there’s the circus in FN-governed Hayange (here, here, and here). Does one really imagine that the French electorate will send these whack jobs to the Élysée and Matignon? (September 15th)

Turkey’s new PM

Resim_1409064302

There is much to say about Turkey these days—a country to which I am personally attached (and will be visiting soon for non-touristic reasons)—, particularly its recently elected president—the first-ever by universal suffrage—, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his plan to modify the constitution so as to transform his office into an elected sultanate. More on that some other time. I just want to link here to a couple of op-eds read over the past two days on RTE’s hand-picked replacement as prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, the erstwhile grand penseur foreign minister of “zero problems with neighbors” fame—and whose doctrine, at the end of his five-year stint as FM, should have probably been renamed “problems with all neighbors”…

The first piece, which appeared in the NYT (August 28th), is by Marmara Üniversitesi international relations prof Behlül Özkan, “Turkey’s imperial fantasy.” Özkan, who was a student of Davutoğlu’s and “has read hundreds of his articles and books,” knows of what he speaks. Money quote

[Davutoğlu] was a distinguished scholar of Islamic and Western political philosophy, and a genial figure who enjoyed spending hours conversing with his students. In his lectures, this professor argued that Turkey would soon emerge as the leader of the Islamic world by taking advantage of its proud heritage and geographical potential… Mr. Davutoglu’s classroom pronouncements often sounded more like fairy tales than political analysis…

The other piece—cross-published on the MEF website (August 28th)—is “Basting Turkey’s new prime minister,” by Daniel Pipes, a MENA specialist whom I normally link to with reticence, as his political world-view is 180° opposed to mine (and he is intolerant of views that differ significantly from his; e.g. several years ago he refused to authorize publication of a comment of mine on one of his blog posts, but which did not contain incendiary language and was in no way insulting; he manifestly did not like the fact that he was being critiqued from the left, c’est tout). But, like the proverbial stopped clock that gives the right time twice a day, he is occasionally worth reading and not off base (e.g. see here and last paragraph here). And Pipes is indeed worth reading here, as he recounts a conversation he had with Davutoğlu in 2005. Pipes concludes

As Turkey’s 26th prime minister, Davutoğlu faces a bubble economy perilously near collapse, a breakdown in the rule of law, a country inflamed by Erdoğan’s divisive rule, a hostile Gülen movement, and a divided AKP, all converging within an increasingly Islamist (and therefore uncivil) country. Moreover, the foreign policy problems that Davutoğlu himself created still continue, especially the ISIS hostage emergency in Mosul.

The unfortunate Davutoğlu brings to mind a cleanup crew arriving at the party at 4 a.m., facing a mess created by now-departed revelers. Happily, the contentious and autocratic Erdoğan no longer holds Turkey’s key governmental position; but his placing the country in the unsteady hands of a loyalist of proven incompetence brings many new concerns for the Turks, their neighbors, and all who wish the country well.

On this specific question at least, Pipes and I are pretty much on the same page.

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