Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

The latest issue of Le Canard Enchaîné reports that Nicolas Sarkozy has referred to Bruno Le Maire, his main rival in the upcoming UMP primary, as a “connard,” among other noms d’oiseau (which include “ordure,” best translated as “asshole”). Speaking of others—his political adversaries and allies alike—in insulting, denigrating terms is par for the course for Sarkozy. He does it all the time and with just about everybody, as we’ve learned on countless occasions over the years via the indispensable Le Canard Enchaîné and other sources. This is yet further confirmation, if confirmation were still needed, that Sarkozy is, as I called him in my post of nine days ago, the worst person in the top tier of French politics. He is the worst on account of his antipathetic persona and way of doing politics, which is characterized, entre autres, by rank opportunism and an utter lack of principles. The man will say and do just about anything if he deems it politically expedient, and trash talk everyone in his way.

When it comes to policy and what he accomplished during his five years in office, the bilan is naturally negative—if it had been otherwise, he would have been reelected—, though his foreign policy is generally given a pass, notably on account of his mediation, as president of the European Council, of an end to the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. But Sarkozy’s foreign policy was, in fact, as calamitous as his policies on the home front, as the well-known political scientist Jean-François Bayart has reminded us in an op-ed in Le Monde three weeks ago, “Les dégâts d’une diplomatie désinvolte,” in which Bayart asserts that Sarkozy’s foreign policy was the worst of the 5th Republic. Period. The série noire is lengthy. The high (or maybe low) points: sucking up to Muammar Qadhafi and then doing a 180°—in trademark Sarkozy fashion—in declaring war on him four years later and on fallacious pretexts; supporting the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia to the bitter end; promoting Bashar al-Assad and honoring him with a state visit to France; taking a harder line toward Iran than even the US, which undermined French interests in Iran but not the Iranian regime; poisoning relations with Turkey for no good reason (a subject I have covered extensively on this blog); poisoning relations with Mexico over a judicial affair (involving a private French citizen) that a president of the French Republic had no business getting involved in; et j’en passe. For those who cannot get behind Le Monde’s paywall, Bayart’s piece may be read in its entirely here.

On Libya in 2011, I so happened to support the US-French-British military action to terminate the wretched Qadhafi regime with extreme prejudice—and do not regret my position one iota despite how things have turned out there since—and for my own reasons, which may or may not have overlapped with those of the leaders of intervening powers. In regard to Sarkozy’s reasons for waging war, it seems that these were multiple—among others, avenging the fiasco of the Paris state visit of 2007 and Qadhafi making Sarko look like a fool, making up for supporting Ben Ali—, but it also seems, and almost without doubt, that it was Bernard-Henri Lévy who persuaded Sarkozy to do it. BHL, who dropped by the Elysée for a visit, was the driving force in a major French foreign policy decision, which was not subject to serious internal debate at the summit of the French state and took the then foreign minister, Alain Juppé, by surprise. This alone totally disqualifies Nicolas Sarkozy from ever getting near the Elysée palace again.

Another pièce au dossier on Sarkozy’s unfitness to be President of the Republic, and that pertains to foreign policy, is his rapprochement with Dominique de Villepin, which Arthur Goldhammer finds one of the stranger moments in recent French political life. Indeed. These two men really hate one another. Or, one should say, hated (past tense). How to explain the 180° about face on the part of both men and Villepin’s support for the presidential ambitions of his erstwhile nemesis? The response to this may be found in an article by Serge Raffy in the September 25th issue of Le Nouvel Observateur, “Villepin, le nouvel ami.” Money quote

L’improbable lune de miel entre les deux hommes a une explication simple: le Qatar. Le petit et si influent émirat leur voue une passion immodérée depuis près de dix ans. Dominique de Villepin, désormais avocat international, tire l’essentiel de ses revenus du fonds d’investissement Qatar Investment Authority. C’est de ce même fonds que Nicolas Sarkozy espérait un soutien financier pour se lancer dans une nouvelle vie de brasseur d’affaires. Villepin, très discret sur les dossiers qu’il traite dans son cabinet, s’est rapproché de Sarkozy, il y a quelques mois, par la médiation tenace de l’homme d’affaires Alexandre Djouhri, connu pour ses relations privilégiées avec les monarchies du Golfe…

So it’s Qatar. And, of course, its money (ça va de soi). That patch of desert that owes its accidental existence as a country to a geological scandal. And whose awarding of the 2022 World Cup happened in part thanks to behind-the-scenes lobbying by Sarkozy. Quelle pourriture. No wonder voters are defecting to the Front National. The Nouvel Obs article is not online but maybe I’ll transcribe the whole thing in the comments section.

It’s not looking too good for Sarko at the moment, with the latest IPSOS/Le Point baromètre showing a sharp drop in his numbers and Juppé now overtaking him even among UMP members. My conviction that Sarko will bite the dust even before the 2016 primary is reinforced. Readers who have differed with me on this may want to reconsider their position.

UPDATE: Bloviator extraordinaire Bernard Kouchner published a book last month, in which he asserts that Nicolas Sarkozy was loathed by the French people because of his Jewish origins. As Kouchner put it

Nicolas Sarkozy wasn’t cherished; he was detested also because he was the son of a Hungarian and the grandson of a Jew.

On RMC two days ago Kouchner reiterated his words on Sarkozy, adding that France is a “racist” country…

The only thing one can say here is that Kouchner made this up. He invented it in his head. He could not empirically substantiate his assertion if his life depended on it. His conviction also begs the question as to why the French elected Sarkozy to the presidency in the first place back in ’07—and by a decisive margin—if they so hated him for his part Jewish origins. And how he remains popular with the hardcore right-wing UMP base, which is not the most philosemitic segment of French society.

I am not a fan of Kouchner’s, having seen him speak three times and been less than overwhelmed. He gives long-winded gasbags a bad name. With his above mentioned assertion on Sarkozy and the French people, I’m now even less of a fan.

Larrons en foire

Larrons en foire

In Defense of Obama

US President Barack Obama gives a thumbs

Paul Krugman thus makes the case in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, in which he explains how “Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.” No less. And Krugman, pour mémoire, has spent a good part of the past seven years critiquing Obama, when not beating up on him. But being a smart and fair person, he gives credit where credit is due. And, as usual, Krugman convinces.

One little thing. Krugman speaks about “polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.” Obama’s current job approval rating, according to RCP’s aggregate, is 42.9%. At no point in his presidency has it dropped below 40%. I’m sorry but that’s not bad at all. By contrast, Bush 43 spent almost all of the last three years of his presidency below 40% and by the end of it was in the mid 20s. Bush lost part of his base. Obama has not lost his. If François Hollande had Obama’s current poll numbers—which he can only dream of—, his presidency would likely be deemed a smashing success…


This is the title of an important, must read analysis of the French economy by Simon Tilford, Deputy-Director of the Centre for European Reform in London—the leading think tank focusing specifically on the European Union—, posted September 24th on CER’s website. Tilford’s analysis thus begins

The French government’s announcement in early September that France would fail to bring its deficit below 3 per cent of GDP until 2017 was met with the usual mixture of frustration and resignation. Many eurozone policy-makers see France’s refusal to play by the fiscal rules and its inability to reform its economy as the biggest threat to the eurozone’s stability. The list of allegations is pretty comprehensive: a bloated state, a lack of competitiveness, intractable structural problems and a mulish refusal to reform or to acknowledge that globalisation has left France living on borrowed time.

Some of these criticisms have merit, but as a whole they form little more than a caricature. France has some supply-side problems: very high non-wage labour costs deter employment; and parts of the service sector urgently need an injection of competition. But these are secondary to those of its problems that stem from self-defeating austerity and chronically weak domestic demand elsewhere in the eurozone. Without change to the latter France could yet come to justify the ‘sick man of Europe’ tag so beloved of journalists.

Further down Tilford says

To recap, the French economy is in trouble. It has barely grown for the last two years and unemployment is stuck at near record levels. But France has performed pretty well in a eurozone context. It stacks up favourably not only compared with the currency union’s periphery but also with the likes of the Netherlands and Finland. France’s supply-side problems are no doubt significant, but do not justify its status as some kind of hopeless case. They are certainly not as serious as those faced by Italy, and arguably no worse overall than those of Germany and the UK, although they are in different areas. Nor will France’s economic prospects be improved by adhering to the European Commission’s calls for austerity, wage restraint and labour market reforms which, if heeded, would exacerbate unemployment.

And he concludes

The French government should certainly push ahead with structural reforms of its economy, but not necessarily those prescribed by the European Commission. When demand is very weak and firms do not need to hire workers, reducing social protection and wages increases unemployment rather than reducing it, and depresses consumption. However, France should reduce the burden of taxation from labour and transfer more of it to wealth, property and carbon consumption. And it should open up the country’s non-tradable services sector to greater competition. But even structural reforms of this kind will do little to increase economic growth without a change to fiscal policy, aggressive measures by the ECB to reflate the eurozone economy as a whole and concerted action by the German government to rebalance Germany’s economy.

France is not the ‘sick man of Europe’, but it is certainly ailing thanks to the medicine prescribed by Brussels and Berlin. The French government needs to step up its resistance. Indeed, perhaps the most serious charge that can be laid at France’s door is that it has meekly gone along with a eurozone policy doctrine that has done so much damage to the French economy rather than corralling opposition to it and forcing through a change in direction.

As an 1800 word article can’t cover all the bases, there were a few problems in the French economy Tilford didn’t mention, e.g. underinvestment by French enterprises in R&D (only 1.4% of GDP), a relative paucity of SMEs—which are a strength of the German economy and a source of innovation there—, and inefficiencies in the distribution system (i.e. superfluous layers of middlemen taking their cut, resulting in a price structure that is higher than it should be, and certainly more so than in Germany).  But Tilford’s Krugman-like analysis is very good and salutary nonetheless. Read the whole thing here.

Nicolas Sarkozy in Lambersart (Nord), September 25th (photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP)

Nicolas Sarkozy in Lambersart (Nord), September 25th (photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP)

Arthur Goldhammer had a blog post last Thursday on the coming bataille royale between Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé—over who will be the UMP’s presidential candidate in 2017—and that provoked a lively exchange in the comments thread, with contributions by myself and regular readers of both Art’s and my blog (for the record, I differ with Mitch Guthman, who believes Marine Le Pen will win in ’17—Mitch and I have already been around the track on this—, and am in entire agreement with Massilian). Art writes that his French friends assume that the left has no chance whatever in ’17, will be eliminated in the first round and with Marine Le Pen advancing to the second, but that as she cannot possibly win, the next Président de la République will logically be the candidate of the UMP (or whatever the UMP renames itself, if Sarkozy gets his way on this), thereby turning the UMP primary—that will be held sometime in 2016—into the veritable presidential election. This is indeed the assumption of the majority in this country who at all follow politics, myself included. France Inter’s Thomas Legrand, whose daily political editorials are as incisive a commentary on French politics as one will get, said so himself on Thursday morning. If there are any Socialists out there who really truly believe that François Hollande—or a PS replacement candidate, should Hollande throw in the towel (a hypothesis not to be excluded)—has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning in ’17, I’d like to know their names. PS Pollyannas, should they exist, will certainly not have been comforted by the headline in Le Monde dated Saturday: “Croissance, chômage, déficits: la France n’a pas encore touché le fond”… i.e. the economic situation in this lovely country has not yet hit bottom, i.e. we ain’t seen nothin yet… If a governing party in an advanced democracy has ever been reelected in such a context, I am not aware of it.

So the next President of the Republic will most certainly issue from the UMP. And as Sarkozy has confirmed more than once over the past ten days, the UMP’s presidential candidate will be designated in a primary open to all voters, not just card-carrying UMP members (and with eventual candidates not being limited to the UMP). One may thereby presume that the primary will be organized in the same manner as was the one held by the PS in October 2011: open to all registered voters who sign a statement at the polling station pledging that they adhere to the values of the right and center—the wording of this will be interesting (the charter signed by voters participating in the 2011 PS primary is here)—and who contribute a minimum of €1 (for my posts on the 2011 primary, see here and here). The participation in this one is sure to be significant, no doubt higher than the 2.8 million who voted in the PS primary. As well over 90% of participating voters of the right and center will not be UMP members, the outcome of the November 29th vote for party president—which Sarkozy looks sure to win haut la main—will provide no indication whatever as to what will happen in 2016.

As I’ve been saying since the question was first broached in 2012, I do not believe for a minute that Sarkozy will succeed in his comeback. He’s the same old Sarko: febrile, frenetic, feverishly pulling demagogic, off-the-wall, half-baked, and/or unserious proposals out of a hat one after the other, and with his trademark croque-mort look (black suit/black tie), bullying journalists when questioned ever so politely, and trash talking and denigrating en off just about everyone outside his inner circle of sycophants (and even those inside that circle). And then there’s his posture of victimization and Berlusconian attacks on the judicial system and its magistrates, which speaks volumes as to the low regard in which he holds the institutions of the republic and French democracy. He’s the same dog doing the same tricks, that we saw countless times during his calamitous five years in the Elysée (for my treatise on Sarkozy, posted on the eve of the presidential 2nd round in 2012, go here). Sarkozy’s public appearances since his formal return to the political arena two weeks ago—the Sep. 21st France 2 interview sur le plateau (for which he was scandalously given 45 minutes of free air time on a chaîne de service public and for which all television set owners pay the redevence) and the subsequent rallies in Lambersart and Saint-Julien-les-Villas—have demonstrated yet again that he is the worst person in the first tier of the French political class (which does not include Marine Le Pen, at least not yet). And that the UMP base, with its pathetic, Bonapartist culte du chef, has been so desperately awaiting his comeback is yet another demonstration of the deliquescence of French politics more generally (the left is hardly in better shape than the right but that’s another matter). Triste France.

Re Sarkozy’s demagogic and/or cockamamie proposals of the past two weeks—tossed out like so many bones to the increasingly hard right UMP base—, I will cite just two. The first: Replacing “lifetime employment” for fonctionnaires with five-year contracts (with the police and school teachers exempted, so Sarko says). One wonders if Sarkozy has given any thought to this nutty idea or just cooked it up as he was going along (or maybe heard about some such practice elsewhere while on one of his $100K speaking gigs). Now it is the case that short-term contracts (usually five years) have become the norm in a number of international organizations, but these mainly concern young, highly educated professionals, who know they will move on to lucrative employment—including in the upper civil services of their home countries—once the contracts with the prestigious organizations (World Bank, OECD, etc) are up and the young professionals’ international epistemic networks have been constituted. Such is, however, not likely to obtain for most fonctionnaires of the French state outside the grands corps. And, BTW, will the latter also be concerned by Sarkozy’s measure? Will members of the Conseil d’Etat, Cour des Comptes, Corps Préfectoral etc all be put on five-year contracts? And will the contracts be one shot or renewable? If the former, the French civil service will be gutted, as few outside the (soon to be ex-)grand corps who have any options on the job market—who are not desperate for a job right now, immediately—will sign such a fixed term contract. One end result will be a mass outsourcing of the missions of the state, including its regalian ones, to the private sector, which is one of the most pernicious developments in advanced democracies over the past two decades (on the privatization of the state, see here and here). Another result—and particularly if the contracts are renewable—will be a patronage/spoils system à la française and on a scale larger than anything witnessed in Chicago at the height of the Daley père machine era. In all likelihood, though, such a scheme, which is sure to generate considerable opposition (an understatement), will not see the light of the day in the ghastly event that Sarkozy returns to power in ’17, as once back in the Elysée—and confronted with an unfavorable rapport de force on the question—he’ll forget about it.

A second demagogic proposal: Generalizing the recourse to the referendum and for a whole range of policy issues, including one that would constitutionally proscribe public spending that exceeds 50% of GDP (recalling proposals by the American right for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, which were so ridiculous and disconnected from reality that even the proponents of this loopy idea seem to have dropped it). The French Bonapartist right—incarnated in modern times by the Gaullists and their successors—has always been plebiscitarian but Sarkozy’s proposal, if acted upon, would take this to a whole new level, with one result being a dangerous undermining of the institutions of representative democracy and a reinforcement of the already outsized power of the President of the Republic hors cohabitation, as he would determine when and over what issues the referendum would be organized, either directly or via his handpicked prime minister (as for the constitutional provision of the initiative partagée, this is too cumbersome to work, and particularly in the time frame Sarkozy has in mind). Moreover, Sarkozy is proposing that referenda on policy be held the same day as the first round of the legislative elections, which, in the current calendar, happens less than five weeks after the newly (re)elected President of the Republic takes office. Not only is this proposal thoroughly preposterous but is also constitutionally impossible—if I understand the Fifth Republic constitution’s Article 11 correctly—, as the National Assembly would not be in session when the President or his newly appointed government proposed the referenda, which the Assembly would have to be in order to debate the question as Article 11 mandates. But constitutionally possible or not, Sarkozy will surely not follow through on his harebrained proposal if he finds himself in a position to make it. Sarko may be a lot of things but he’s not stupid, and he knows that Presidents of the Republic must be extremely careful with the instrument of the referendum, lest it blow up in their faces by irate voters (and many voters will be extremely irate in the unthinkable event that Sarkozy is elected in ’17).

It looks like Sarkozy, whose poll numbers are in the black only with UMP voters, has not provoked a bandwagon effect—au contraire—, as the latest IFOP-JDD poll shows him dropping seven points with UMP sympathizers over the ten days following his tonitruant return to the political arena and six points with voters overall. Citizens are clearly perceiving that the new Sarko is the same as the old Sarko. The latest popularity polls and baromètres will be published in the coming two weeks and are not likely to bear good news for the ex-Président de la République. À propos, one shudders to imagine what posture he’s concocting on the immigration and nationality issue. Given the general mood of his base on this, it will likely not differ significantly from the neo-frontiste turn of the latter years of his presidential term. Patrick Buisson without Buisson. The mere prospect of a second round square-off between Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen—the two most polarizing figures in French politics and both with negative poll numbers far higher than their positive ones—will be so appalling to so many voters, including on the center and moderate right, that voters of the left may well participate in the UMP primary and en masse to prevent the nightmarish Sarkozy-Le Pen 2nd round scenario from coming to pass.

And then there are the affairs. Not even Chirac in the 1990s was dragging as many casseroles as Sarkozy is today. And as today’s Le Monde headlines, Sarkozy is now directly threatened in the Bygmalion affair, i.e. the investigating magistrates are closing in on him. If he is mis en examen in this—and there could well be other indictments down the road (Karachi, Qadhafi-Takieddine…)—and the procedure does not result in a non-lieu before it goes to trial, it’s hard to imagine Sarkozy even being able to head the UMP, let alone run in the 2016 primary. Bygmalion is a big deal and with practically no one in the UMP taking seriously Sarkozy’s denials that he was unaware of what was going on during the campaign (and while it is possible that Sarkozy told his lieutenants to do what they had to do to raise and spend money, and to cover his own tracks on it, he is still legally responsible in the end). So je persiste et je signe: for all the reasons mentioned above, Sarkozy will not go the distance to 2017.

That leaves Alain Juppé as the only credible UMP candidate. As one is aware—and which I mentioned last month—he is the most popular politician in the country at the present time and only one of three whose overall poll numbers are more positive than negative. Juppé’s comeback with public opinion is striking. He has indeed quashed the image of arrogance and antipathie earned during his short-lived term at the Matignon (1995-97), which ended in failure with the right’s stunning defeat in the élections anticipées that brought the Gauche plurielle to power. One remembers how respected Juppé was when Chirac appointed him PM—even moderate left voters were well-disposed and wished him well—and how he blew it during the grèves of Nov.-Dec. 1995. Now I happened to think that the plan Juppé that unleashed the grèves was pretty good—and other forward-thinking persons on the left thought likewise—but his arrogant méthode was unacceptable, causing the capital of sympathy he had entered office with to all but vanish. He was the imperious énarque-normalien, la meilleur de la classe, who viewed most others, at minimum, as less intelligent than he, when not downright stupid (and for the anecdote, two people I knew back in those days who dealt with Juppé confirmed his froideur). But his traversée du désert following the humiliating repudiation of 1997—and then with his judicial conviction in 2004 as Chirac’s fall guy in the Mairie de Paris corruption trials—manifestly humbled him. And the politique de proximité he has practiced during his 17 years as mayor of Bordeaux—where he is hugely appreciated—has humanized him. I was not a fan of his during his period as PM but changed my view in precisely October 1999, when a cercle de réflexion that Juppé created, called France Moderne, published a 60-page report on immigration in France and the reality of discrimination, which I read at the time and found excellent. The report—which was unsigned but probably written, in part or in whole, by Juppé himself—repudiated the entire approach, indeed world-view, of the right toward the immigration issue at that time. It was a remarkable document indeed (as it seems to have disappeared from the web—I have a hard copy somewhere—I have pasted in the comments section Le Monde’s article from the time announcing the report’s publication). After reading it, I started to look at Juppé more favorably. In fairness, it should be said that Sarkozy also had interesting things to say on the immigration issue in the early ’00s, but, being Sarkozy, he radically altered his discourse when political expedience so dictated. Juppé has not changed his tune on the issue.

When it comes to mastery of policy, Juppé is second to none in the political class (he’s not an Inspecteur de Finance for nothing), and his positions are fairly consistent. He does not, unlike his principal UMP rival of the moment, change his positions 180° on a dime or lurch wildly from one thing to another. He is firmly anchored on the neo-Gaullist moderate right. Juppé is solid and serious. And he is an homme d’Etat and a republican, which no one would deny. Nicolas Sarkozy is not an homme d’Etat and it is not certain that he is a republican. And one is not going to get demagoguery from Juppé or outlandish proposals that he would not be able to implement. E.g. on the economy, Juppé advocates abolishing the ISF, gutting the RTT, and raising the retirement age to 65; these are clearly positions of the right but mainstream and not totally unreasonable. Last Thursday night Juppé was the guest on France 2’s Des Paroles et des Actes, where he was grilled for 2½ hours by a succession of journalists, politicos, and citizens (one of the politicos being the 24-year-old FN deputy Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, who was surprisingly impressive on form: articulate and far less antipathique than her aunt and certainly grandfather). What to say, Juppé was Juppé. He was good, even though I won’t say I agreed with him down the line (I remain well to his left). He drew a big TV audience—to be expected given the current political context—and the instant poll at the end of the program showed a leap in his favorable numbers. And importantly, he showed himself to be the anti-Sarkozy and in almost every respect.

As for the other announced candidates for the UMP presidential primary, François Fillon and Xavier Bertrand, they will strive to be heard. Fillon was looking good and solid after the 2012 elections but did damage to his image in the guerre à outrance with Jean-François Copé for the presidency of the UMP. And politically speaking, his moderate, social Gaullist image was seriously undermined when in 2012, out of the blue, he spoke of readopting the provisions of the 1993 Loi Pasqua (abrogated by the left in 1998) in regard to French nationality acquisition. Fillon’s erstwhile social Gaullism is now definitely in the past, with his très libéral discourse on the economy (calling for, entre autres, the elimination of no less than 600,000 posts in the fonction publique). As for Bertrand, il fait de la figuration, au moins pour le moment. Both are likely waiting/hoping for Sarkozy to drown in his affaires and be forced out of the race, after which they will present themselves as the more conservative alternative to Juppé (and as Juppé is not too appreciated on the UMP hard right—where he’s seen as a sort of RINO à la française—, the political space for them will be there). In any case, the choice on the French right for ’17 could not be more clear, that’s for sure.

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen & Alain Juppé, France 2/Des Paroles et des Actes, October 2nd

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen & Alain Juppé, France 2/Des Paroles et des Actes, October 2nd

Charlie Hebdo on ISIS

charlie hebdo no1163 011014

Voilà the cover of the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo, which will hit the newsstands tomorrow (October 1st). For those whose French is not up to par, it reads:


“I’m the Prophet, idiot!”

“STFU, infidel!”

Charlie Hebdo nails it. Totally.

Somehow I think security will be reinforced outside Charlie Hebdo’s office in the 11th arrondissement.

ADDENDUM: For other irreverent CH covers I’ve posted on, go here, here, here, and here.

Narendra Modi in the Big Apple

With my Mother

With my Mother

[update below] [2nd update below]

In my last—and only—post on Narendra Modi, from 4½ months ago, I opined that were he to become Indian PM following the general election there the US would no doubt lift the visa ban he was slapped with in 2005, for his implication in the infamous events in Gujarat three years prior. It is indeed hard to imagine an Indian Prime Minister being denied entry to the US and not welcomed at the White House with open arms. So PM Modi arrived in New York City yesterday for, as WaPo reports, a five-day “rock star-like U.S. tour,” which will involve, entre autres, a speech “to a capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden on Sunday in a show replete with laser lights, holo­graphic images and former Miss America Nina Davuluri as co-host [and with the event being] broadcast in Times Square and 100 other venues around the country.” Moreover “[t]he Port Authority of New York and New Jersey [will add] extra trains to accommodate the expected crowds [and a] red carpet will be unfurled.” Definitely rock star-like. À propos, an academic gauchiste half-Muslim Indian friend—whose political views are the antithesis of those of Modi and his supporters—informed me today that, to her exasperation, her Facebook news feed has been inundated with links and comments by excited friends and relatives who plan to attend Modi’s US events. A post in the NYT’s The Upshot blog on Thursday indeed called Modi “A Facebook leader, too,” informing the reader that he had 21.8 million official fans on his FB page—two days later it’s over 22 (see above image)—, which is way more than any other political personality anywhere save Barack Obama (who has 42MM). By contrast, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was bragging recently about how he has more Facebook fans than François Hollande, has yet to hit a million…

On Narendra Modi’s US appeal, the très gauchiste historian Vijay Prashad, who teaches at Trinity College in Hartford CT, had a comment in The Guardian yesterday on how “Tough guy Modi is the man of the moment for wealthy Indian Americans.” Money quote

For wealthy sections of Indian America, Modi represents a strong man who evokes pride in India. When Modi brags about his 56-inch chest, his machismo indicates India’s arrival in world affairs. Poverty is swept away by his braggadocio. Eyes are averted from the slums and instead rest upon his promises to toss environmental and labour laws in the dustbin. Trains will run on time, workers obey their supervisors and the armed forces will spread their testosterone along India’s borders. Experiences of racism and discrimination inside the US will be forgotten in the presence of Modi. If America sees Modi’s toughness, say his US supporters, the petty humiliations of life in the west will vanish.

As I observed in my post of 4½ months ago, Modi bears a distinct resemblance to Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Poor India.

Pankaj Mishra, in the November 21st 2013 NYRB, had a review essay on the latest books (co-)authored by Indian economist frères ennemis Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati, “Which India matters?,” in which he made observations similar to Prashad’s

Rising social unrest is making an insecure Indian elite gravitate to such hard-line leaders as Narendra Modi, whose well-advertised toughness with labor unions and PR-enhanced business-friendliness make him the preferred choice of many corporate leaders, economists, and commentators as India’s next prime minister. Bhagwati, for instance, has described Modi as a “positive role model” with “an unblemished record of personal integrity.” As chief minister of Gujarat, Modi was allegedly complicit in the killing of over a thousand Muslims there in 2002 and was barred from traveling to the United States as a result. But he still embodies managerial efficiency and iron discipline to those disturbed by the political assertiveness of the poor and the disaffected.

And Mishra writes supra that

India’s ruling class today consists, as C. Rammanohar Reddy, editor of The Economic and Political Weekly, defines it, “of large Indian businesses, the new entrepreneurs in real estate, finance, and IT, the upper segment of the urban middle classes, the upper echelons among the bureaucracy, and even large sections of the media.”

What’s immediately striking about this class of the relatively affluent is the degree to which it shares the same interests and beliefs, and its reflexive hostility to government spending on welfare—although political parties feel particularly obliged to indulge in such spending before elections. But the conservative rhetoric about buoyantly self-reliant entrepreneurs hides the fact that, as [Atul] Kohli writes [in his 2012 book Poverty Amid Plenty in the New India], the Indian state since the 1980s has been “pro-business” rather than pro-market, responsible both for the dynamic forces at the apex of India’s economy and “the failure to include India’s numerous excluded groups in the polity and the economy.”

This “collaborative capitalism,” of which Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist chief minister of Gujarat, is the most egregious exponent, consists of the state extending tax benefits to India’s largest businesses and facilitating their cheap access to national resources of oil, gas, forests, and minerals. In turn, “the disproportionate control over economic resources,” Kohli writes, “enables businessmen to ‘buy’ politicians,” shape decision-making through the media, and even enter politics themselves.

The spitting image of RT Erdoğan. If Modi acquires anything resembling RTE’s electoral base, he’ll be around for many years to come.

UPDATE: Pankaj Mishra, in a column in Bloomberg View (September 29th), says that “Narendra Modi is a dangerous cliché.”

2nd UPDATE: Meera Nair, who teaches writing at NYU, has a post on one of WaPo’s blogs (October 3rd) informing us that “Narendra Modi was speaking in code when he visited America. Here’s what he was really saying to his Hindu nationalist base.”

Arab civilization: the collapse


Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief of the Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiya and correspondent for the Beirut daily Al-Nahar, had an excellent, must read essay in Politico last week (September 18th), “The barbarians within our gates,” in which he lucidly asserted in the lede that “Arab civilization has collapsed [and] won’t recover in my lifetime.” Money quote

Arab civilization, such as we knew it, is all but gone. The Arab world today is more violent, unstable, fragmented and driven by extremism—the extremism of the rulers and those in opposition—than at any time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. Every hope of modern Arab history has been betrayed. The promise of political empowerment, the return of politics, the restoration of human dignity heralded by the season of Arab uprisings in their early heydays—all has given way to civil wars, ethnic, sectarian and regional divisions and the reassertion of absolutism, both in its military and atavistic forms. With the dubious exception of the antiquated monarchies and emirates of the Gulf—which for the moment are holding out against the tide of chaos—and possibly Tunisia, there is no recognizable legitimacy left in the Arab world.

Is it any surprise that, like the vermin that take over a ruined city, the heirs to this self-destroyed civilization should be the nihilistic thugs of the Islamic State? And that there is no one else who can clean up the vast mess we Arabs have made of our world but the Americans and Western countries?

The implosion of practically the entire Arab world east of the Maghreb—and particularly of its core states—over the past three years is breathtaking. It’s stunning. The future of Egypt—a state and nation crushed by its demography and in which there is no positive dynamic whatever (politically, economically, culturally, you name it)—is bleak; Syria, Iraq, and Libya are finished—shattered states and societies that will not be put back together for the foreseeable future, if ever; Lebanon—a fragile, weak state and whose most important social, political, and military actor acts independently of that state and is remote-controlled by a foreign power to boot—could descend into internecine bloodletting (Shia vs. Sunni) at almost any moment; Jordan is on the knife’s edge and likewise Saudi Arabia, which has nothing to offer the world or itself but oil and the holy places… And then there’s Yemen, running out of water and in a state of permanent tribal rebellion. As for the Palestinians, let’s not talk about them…

Melhem does mention Tunisia as a possible exception to all this. Tunisia—a small, confessionally and ethnically homogeneous country—has indeed not been doing badly—so far, at least—in its transition toward something that resembles democracy, but is in economically dire straits and is vulnerable to the chaos on its southeastern border. And if Tunisia is doing okay relatively speaking, this is in part thanks to its sizable French-speaking educated class, which has been influenced by certain French ways of thinking (notably in regard to republicanism and the relationship of religion and the state), and is oriented toward Europe. Which all goes to show that the legacy of French colonialism isn’t all negative (merci, la France). Algeria and Morocco have likewise benefited from this aspect of their French pasts, though all that stands in the way of Algeria becoming another Afghanistan or Somalia is its hydrocarbon wealth. Algeria is about as rentier of a state as one can get (whose state budget depends on hydrocarbon taxes to an even greater extent than in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states). As for Morocco, its archaic monarchical order enjoys legitimacy but if the corruption and inequalities there get any worse, who knows how long that will last?…

Another piece on the catastrophic situation in the Arab world read of late was by Daniel Williams, formerly of Human Rights Watch, in WaPo (September 19th), who informed the reader that “Christianity in Iraq is finished.” Williams, writing from Erbil, says that the West should not delude itself on this, that there will soon be almost no Christians left in Iraq (and probably not in Syria either, he could have added). The exodus of Iraqi Christians is being accelerated by ISIS, of course, but was boosted in a big way by events set in motion by the 2003 US invasion, he correctly asserts. In point of fact, though, Christians have been emigrating from the Near East to Europe and the Americas for much of the 20th century, e.g. the departure of Iraqi Chaldeans and Assyrians to the US (Chicago and Detroit) in the 1920s and ’30. It goes without saying that the end of the indigenous Christian presence in the Middle East would be a tragedy of major proportions (as I’ve posted on, e.g., here and here). An incalculable loss—culturally and economically—to those societies. And for which the sole response is for Europe, the Americas, and countries elsewhere to throw open their doors to the fleeing Christians.

À propos—and while I’m thinking of it—, here’s a question for Palestine one-staters: if the mythic one state were to somehow come into existence, does one honestly believe that Muslims, Christians, and Jews would live together in peace and harmony—or at least en bonne intelligence—, or would the Jews (and remaining Christians) eventually find themselves in the same situation as Christians in Iraq today? Poser la question c’est y répondre, je crois…

Like for Syria  لايك لأجل سوريا


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