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Archive for December, 2018

Coldplay in São Paulo

It’s New Year’s Eve but as both my wife and I are getting over the flu, it’s been a soirée tranquille at home. No parties (not that we were invited to any). I noted on the télé that NRJ12—a station it never even occurs to me to watch—was broadcasting a two-hour concert by Coldplay in São Paulo, from November 8th 2017. I was riveted to it from beginning to end. If one had any doubts that Coldplay is the greatest rock band of the past twenty years—and with Chris Martin one of the greatest rock singers and stage performers of all time—they will have been dispelled after watching this incredible concert. What a spectacle! And what a great band! As the concert has been made into a movie, only clips of it are available on YouTube. Just watch the four-minute one here, of ‘Viva la Vida’. The entire concert is like this: non-stop high energy and exuberance. I think I’ll buy the CD and/or DVD at FNAC come Wednesday.

With that, I wish all a Happy New Year and Bonne Année.

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Best (and worst) movies of 2018

Voilà AWAV’s annual list (for last year’s, go here). The movies here opened in theaters this year in France or the U.S. I see a lot of movies in the theater—two a week on average—but inevitably miss a few worth seeing. As usual, several well-reviewed Hollywood movies that have come out over the past couple of months have yet to open in France, and I have yet to see certain Netflix exclusives, e.g. ‘Roma’, which has been praised to the high heavens by all and sundry. Will do so after the new year.

TOP 10:
A Star Is Born
Amin
In Safe Hands (Pupille)
Leto (Лето)
The Captain (Der Hauptmann)
The Death of Stalin
The Guilty (Den skyldige)
The Looming Storm (暴雪将至 Une pluie sans fin)
The Shape of Water
Wildlife

HONORABLE MENTION:
In the Aisles (In den Gängen)
Leave No Trace
Shoplifters (万引き家族 Une affaire de famille)
The Insult (قضية رقم ٢٣)
The Silent Revolution (Das schweigende Klassenzimmer)

BEST MOVIE FROM KENYA:
Rafiki

BEST MOVIE FROM MOROCCO:
Sofia (صوفيا)

SECOND BEST MOVIE FROM MOROCCO:
Razzia (رازيا)

BEST MOVIE FROM TUNISIA:
My Dear Son (ولدي)

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL:
Foxtrot (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט‎)

BEST MOVIE FROM IRAN:
No Date, No Signature (Cas de conscience بدون تاریخ، بدون امضاء)

BEST FEMINIST MOVIE FROM IRAN:
Cold Sweat (La Permission عرق سرد)

BEST MOVIE FROM SPAIN BY A DIRECTOR FROM IRAN:
Everybody Knows (Todos lo saben)

BEST MOVIE FROM DENMARK BY A DIRECTOR FROM IRAN:
The Charmer (Charmøren)

BEST MOVIE FROM ICELAND:
Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð)

BEST MOVIE FROM POLAND:
Cold War (Zimna wojna)

BEST MOVIE FROM RUSSIA ABOUT A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF A NON-CONFORMIST WRITER DURING THE BREZHNEV ERA:
Dovlatov (Довлатов)

BLEAKEST MOVIE FROM RUSSIA ABOUT A JEWISH FAMILY IN KABARDINO-BALKARIA:
Closeness (Теснота)

BEST MOVIE FROM ITALY ABOUT PEASANTS WHOM MODERNITY HAS PASSED BY:
Happy Like Lazzaro (Lazzaro felice)

BEST MOVIE FROM ITALY ABOUT DOWN-AND-OUT PEOPLE IN SARDINIA:
Daughter of Mine (Figlia mia)

BEST MOVIE FROM ITALY ABOUT TRANS-MEDITERRANEAN MIGRATION FROM LIBYA:
The Order of Things (L’ordine della cose)

MOST TOUCHING MOVIE FROM CUBA:
Candalaria

BEST MOVIE FROM PERU THAT IS MAINLY IN QUECHUA:
Retablo

BEST MOVIE FROM PARAGUAY WITH AN ALL-FEMALE CAST:
The Heiresses (Las Herederas)

MOST OPAQUE MOVIE FROM ARGENTINA:
Zama

MOST INTERMINABLY TEDIOUS FIVE-PART MOVIE FROM JAPAN:
Happy Hour (Senses ハッピーアワー)

MOST UNPLEASANT MOVIE FROM SOUTH KOREA:
Burning (버닝)

MOST RIVETING GEOPOLITICAL THRILLER FROM SOUTH KOREA THAT IS PARTLY SET IN NORTH KOREA:
The Spy Gone North (공작)

MOST MAWKISH MOVIE FROM SINGAPORE:
Ramen Teh (情牽拉麵茶)

MOST LIGHTWEIGHT HOLLYWOOD ROMANTIC COMEDY FROM SINGAPORE:
Crazy Rich Asians

MOST BRILLIANTLY CAST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE ABOUT THE WHITE TRASH STRATUM OF THE AMERICAN WORKING CLASS:
I, Tonya

BEST MOVIE FROM TEXAS ABOUT THE PLIGHT OF THE WHITE WORKING CLASS AMERICAN MALE:
Thunder Road

BEST ETHNOGRAPHIC-LIKE MOVIE FROM SOUTH DAKOTA:
The Rider

MOST RIDICULOUSLY OVERINTERPRETED MOVIE BY AMERICAN LEFTISTS:
Black Panther

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT THE FRENCH REVOLUTION:
One Nation, One King (Un peuple et son roi)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT LUMPEN IMMIGRANT-ORIGIN YOUTHS IN MARSEILLE:
Shéhérazade

MOST SUBTLE MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT COLLATERAL VICTIMS OF TERRORISM:
Amanda

MOST HARD-HITTING BUT OVER-THE-TOP MOVIE FROM FRANCE DENOUNCING NEOLIBERALISM:
At War (En guerre)

MOST MILDLY AMUSING HIT COMEDY FROM FRANCE:
Rolling to You (Tout le monde debout)

MOST OCCASIONALLY AMUSING HIT COMEDY FROM FRANCE:
The Trouble with You (En liberté!)

MOST FRANKLY OVERRATED HIT COMEDY FROM FRANCE:
Sink or Swim (Le Grand Bain)

MOST DOWNRIGHT IRRITATING HIT COMEDY FROM FRANCE:
Nothing to Hide (Le Jeu)

MOST UNSATISFYING AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT AN EXTREMELY IRRITATING CONTEMPORARY FRENCH WRITER:
An Impossible Love (Un amour impossible)

BEST INACCURATE BIOPIC ABOUT A GREAT ROCK AND ROLL SINGER:
Bohemian Rhapsody

BEST MOVIE WITH DENZEL WASHINGTON IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Roman J. Israel, Esq.

BEST MOVIE WITH GARY OLDMAN IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Darkest Hour

BEST MOVIE WITH DANIEL DAY-LEWIS IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Phantom Thread

BEST MOVIE WITH RYAN GOSLING IN THE LEAD ROLE:
First Man

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH LÉA DRUCKER AND DENIS MÉNOCHET IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Custody (Jusqu’à la garde)

MOST FORGETTABLE MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH TAHAR RAHIM AND STACY MARTIN IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Treat Me Like Fire (Joueurs)

MOST BLOOD-DRENCHED IMPECCABLY RECONSTITUTED NAPOLEONIC ERA VIGILANTE CRIME MOVIE FROM FRANCE BASED ON A TRUE STORY WITH VINCENT CASSEL IN THE LEAD ROLE:
The Emperor of Paris (L’Empereur de Paris)

MOST FLAWED MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH ROMAIN DURIS IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Our Struggles (Nos batailles)

BEST DOCUMENTARY ABOUT A TRUE FRENCH HERO FOR OUR ERA:
To the Four Winds (Libre)

BEST DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE SYRIAN REFUGEE EXPERIENCE IN GERMANY:
Central Airport THF (Zentralflughafen THF)

BEST DOCUMENTARY EVER ABOUT THE 2008-09 ISRAEL-GAZA WAR:
Samouni Road

BEST DOCUMENTARY BY MERZAK ALLOUACHE:
Enquête au paradis (تحقيق في الجنة)

BEST MOVIE BY NURİ BİLGE CEYLAN:
The Wild Pear Tree (Ahlat Ağacı)

BEST MOVIE BY JAFAR PANAHI:
3 Faces (سه رخ)

BEST MOVIE BY STEVEN SPIELBERG:
The Post

BEST MOVIE BY GRETA GERWIG:
Lady Bird

BEST MOVIE BY ABDELLATIF KECHICHE THAT’S NOT ABOUT ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR:
Mektoub My Love: Canto Uno

BEST NOT BAD MOVIE BY WOODY ALLEN:
Wonder Wheel

BEST NOT PERFECT MOVIE BY SPIKE LEE:
BlacKkKlansman

BEST NOT PERFECT MOVIE BY FATIH AKIN:
In the Fade (Aus dem Nichts)

MOST ENTERTAINING OFFBEAT MOVIE BY JACQUES AUDIARD:
The Sisters Brothers

MOST LUDICROUS MOVIE BY STEVE MCQUEEN:
Widows

MOST MISERABILIST MOVIE BY NADINE LABAKI:
Capernaum (كفرناحوم)

MOST SUCCESSFUL FIRST MOVIE BY WALID MATTAR:
Northern Wind (Vent du nord)

MOST FAILED FIRST MOVIE BY JÉRÉMIE & YANNICK RENIER:
Carnivores

MOST FAILED FIRST MOVIE IN THE UNITED STATES BY DENİZ GAMZE ERGÜVEN:
Kings

MOST UTTERLY FAILED MOVIE BY CLINT EASTWOOD:
The 15:17 to Paris

MOST EXCRUCIATINGLY AWFUL MOVIE BY CLAIRE DENIS:
High Life

WORST MOVIE ABOUT THE LEBANESE CIVIL WAR IN AT LEAST THIRTY YEARS:
Beirut

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Credit: Sipa

And Emmanuel Macron. Everyone who’s anyone who habitually writes about France in English is publishing analyses and/or reportages on the Gilets Jaunes, and with friends and AWAV fans asking me when I’m going to offer my own brilliant thoughts. As a lifelong procrastinator I’m taking my time, but will soon. Promis juré. And hopefully before the GJ movement has fizzled out—which it will—and we’ve moved on to other things. In the meantime, I have to post three terrific articles that have gone up in the past twenty-four hours by A-list Anglophone France observers.

The first is Arthur Goldhammer in Foreign Affairs, “The Yellow Vest protests and the tragedy of Emmanuel Macron: How the Gilets Jaunes brought the French president low.” After reading Art’s piece I thought, ‘Zut, now that he’s said 85% of what I have to say—reading my mind, as is often the case—what’s left for me?’.

Then there’s David A. Bell in The Nation, whose knowledge of French history is deeper than mine will ever be—and who totally nails it on Emmanuel Macron: “For Emmanuel Macron, how did things get so bad, so fast? The fault lies with both the French president himself and the political and cultural elite that formed him.”

And finally there’s Paris-based freelance journalist Elisabeth Zerofsky in The New Yorker, who was on the ground in the quartiers chauds last Saturday: “The complicated politics of the Gilets Jaunes movement.”

À bientôt.

 

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Mantes-la-Jolie, 6 December 2018

It’s complicated. There is mass indignation over the images and video of the manner in which the police detained demonstrating high school (lycée) students yesterday in Mantes-la-Jolie, a city some 50 km west of Paris. Lycée students have joined the social movement launched by the Gilets Jaunes last month, protesting reforms in secondary education, notably regarding the baccalaureate. It happens often in France: one category of the work force or general population will launch a social movement over an issue or issues, and other, entirely different categories will then enter the fray and with their own revindications. What the police did with the students in Mantes-la-Jolie was inexcusable, though they (the police) have their own explanation of what happened, of students—or youths who were not students—torching cars, smashing, and seeking confrontation with them. And it does indeed seem that up to 150 casseurs infiltrated the student demos—which can hardly be a surprise, as half of Mantes-la-Jolie’s 42K inhabitants live in the one of the largest public housing complexes (cités) in France.

As it happens, I witnessed a confrontation between police and faux students this morning devant chez moi: in front of my apartment building in my otherwise peaceful banlieue, where nothing newsworthy ever happens. Not that the incident today made the news: it was no big deal, though could have been. At around 8:30 AM we heard lots of chanting, shouting, and general noise from the street. Looking out the window, it was immediately clear that students at the high school down the block had congregated, as part of the national protest movement. At the intersection up the street were eight or so cops with riot equipment, who had blocked traffic—it’s a through street—going toward the lycée.

As for the lycée, I know it well, as not only can we see it from our balcony but our daughter went there (graduating six years ago). And during her years at the lycée, there was a student mobilization, in 2010, during the national trade union-led movement against the Sarkozy-Fillon government’s pension reforms. Not that the reform had a thing to do with high school students but, this being France, they got involved anyway, blocking the entrance to schools, striking (i.e. forcing the cancellation of classes), and demonstrating.

It was frankly preposterous. The movement at the lycée was led by a tiny handful students with advanced political consciousness—one being a girl in my daughter’s class, who got straight As and was aiming to go to Sciences Po, so I learned—who manned the barricade, so no one could enter the school, and chanted slogans with bullhorns. As my daughter said at the time, the near totality of the students (herself included) had no opinion whatever on the pension reforms, let alone knowledge (“hey, we’re 16-years-old, what do we know about politics, or anything?”). But within two weeks, lots of kids were supporting the strike and expressing resolute opposition to Sarkozy’s policies (my daughter included, though she said later that they were all just happy not to have to go to class).

So this morning, seeing the gathering of students at the lycée gate, I figured it was the same thing as in 2010, except I have no memory of a significant police presence then. The presence of the police out in force does change the dynamic. And so a pack of some thirty kids this morning started to march past our building toward the police barricade, yelling and chanting slogans, e.g. ‘Macron démission!’.

And the police responded by firing smoke grenades.

The police then suddenly got in their cars and left, so the youths, exuberant and chanting, headed back to the intersection and, seeing a flat-bed truck—that just happened to be there, waiting to turn left—piled in the back. I noted from the bedroom window that while there were a few girls, almost all the youths were boys (mid-late teens).

They were whooping it up and having a fine time but I found the ambiance unsettling. The boys got off the truck at the lycée, started to drag empty garbage containers into the middle of the street, and then set fire to them, throwing other combustible material in (including a fire extinguisher). I decided to go down to the street, at 10:00, and get a closer look.

I tried to ask a couple of boys why the hell they were doing this but no one even looked at me. It was pretty clear that they were not, in fact, students at the lycée. I know the profile of kids at that school—which is a lycée général et technologique, tracking students to higher education—and these were not it. They were manifestly from the nearby cité, with its sizable population of families of North and sub-Saharan African origin (but also others, including regular “white” French). Des renois et rebeus, et des petits blancs. Et tous des petits cons. Une bande des branleurs dans toutes ses couleurs. A mob in the making, with zero political consciousness and who don’t know anything about anything. I was afraid that one of the wankers would have the brilliant idea to torch a car, which would lead others to do likewise. It does happen. That’s how mobs work.

The fact is this: student movements—university and particularly lycée—are always infiltrated by casseurs and/or black blocs, who couldn’t care less about the political or social questions behind the movement, who come to loot, pillage, smash, commit arson, and clash with the police—and also to rob from legitimate student demonstrators. Ils n’en ont rien à foutre. It never fails to happen (and, pour l’info, this was equally the case in May ’68, when there was serious degradation inside the Sorbonne committed by hordes of non-students).

I went to the intersection, where a few municipal cops were watching the scene from a distance, to ask when the sapeurs-pompiers (firemen) were going to arrive. When I told one of the cops that the youths were certainly not students at the lycée, he agreed, saying that they were déscolarisé (school drop-outs). I also asked when the regular police were going to come back and deal with the situation—even though their initial presence may have made the situation that much more tense in the first place. The relationship between the police and youths of post-colonial immigrant origin is toxic, as one knows, and with the behavior of the police hugely to blame (I’ve written about it at some length here).

The pompiers finally arrived, and not a minute too soon.

And the police too, with flash balls and other riot equipment (but no firearms visible; France is not the United States ٱلْـحَـمْـدُ للهِ‎). And as the pompiers put out the fire they slowly advanced on the chanting mob (who numbered maybe fifty or sixty).

And the mob dispersed, without the police resorting to tear gas or cracking skulls. Ouf. By 10:45 it was over.

It was finally no big deal. Nothing to write home about. But it could have been far worse. Holding my breath for tomorrow.

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Rochefort, 24 November 2018 (credit: Xavier Leoty/AFP)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below] [8th update below] [9th update below] [10th update below] [11th update below]

I’ve been closely following the Gilets Jaunes movement over the past two-three weeks, reading analyses—several very good, by social scientists and historians—in the press and various websites, and trying to understand it. I intend to write something on the subject, by next weekend inshallah. In the meantime, stateside friends, family members, and relatives, who have seen dramatic televised images, have been asking me about it. In lieu of my own take, which will come, promis juré, here are some good reports in English that I came across today.

One is the latest dispatch by The Washington Post’s invariably excellent Paris correspondent, James McAuley, “In France, the pain behind the ‘yellow vest’ protests is felt mostly outside Paris.”

Another is by veteran Paris correspondent John Lichfield, who writes in The Local that “The savage violence which erupted in Paris on Saturday was not a protest, it was an insurrection.”

The images of the violence and destruction in Paris yesterday were shocking indeed, not to mention outrageous. Whatever the legitimacy of the revindications of the Gilets Jaunes, these cannot be served by rioting, arson, and destruction.

As for who was responsible for this, Lichfield writes

I was on the avenues and streets surrounding the Arc de Triomphe most of the day. The “casseurs” (thugs) were, actively or by consent, the overwhelming majority of the 10,000 gilets jaunes (yellow vests) in the capital.

At least 70 per cent, by my reckoning, were not urban guerrillas from the ultra-right or from the anarchist left. They were amateur provincial guerrillas. They came from the radical parts of the gilets jaunes movement in suffering areas of northern or western France or from the outer Paris suburbs. They were mostly men in their 20s and 30s but there were many older men and some women.

Lichfield may have been there—whereas I was chez moi in my banlieue flat, catching up in the evening via reports on the télé—but I do not believe, until definitive proof to the contrary, that the majority of casseurs were bona fide Gilets Jaunes. The televised images after the fact showed many of the casseurs to be the usual hooligans who profit from such movements to loot, pillage, and torch cars. As for casseurs who were wearing a gilet jaune (yellow vest), any wanker can put one on. Hell, I could put one on myself—I have a gilet jaune in the trunk of my car, as does every car owner in France (it’s the law), and they can be purchased in any supermarket—but that would not ipso facto make me a #GiletJaune.

There were certainly radicalized elements from the provinces who came to Paris to raise hell—we know this, as quite a few were arrested yesterday—but I will wager that they did not participate in the first big Gilet Jaune demos on November 17th, or even the 24th. Those in the image up top were far more representative. And they are not the rioting, smashing types. There has certainly been a bandwagon effect over the past two weeks. And it is incontestable that ultra-left and ultra-right groupuscules played an important part in yesterday’s rioting (antifa and alt-right joining forces, if you will).

And then there were faux Gilets Jaunes, e.g. this well-known hard-right activist—from the 2013 anti-gay marriage movement—who slipped on a yellow vest and was interviewed as a legitimate Gilet Jaune by Russia Today (whose reporter wore a helmet, as if in a war zone):

Don’t miss Arthur Goldhammer’s latest post on the Tocqueville 21 blog, “‘Ce peuple est encore dangereux’.”

À bientôt.

UPDATE: Mediapart editor-publisher Edwy Plenel has an excellent commentary, which has been translated into English, “The ‘gilets jaunes’ protests: the battle for equality.” Hopefully Mediapart will lift the subscriber wall for it.

2nd UPDATE: See Arthur Goldhammer’s latest post (December 4th), “Did Macron’s Tax Reforms Spark the Riots?,” which is based on this piece in the FT.

3rd UPDATE: Emile Chabal—a Reader in History at the University of Edinburgh—has an op-ed in The Hindu (December 6th), “United colours of the ‘yellow vests’,” that is one of the best analyses of the Gilets Jaunes I’ve seen so far in English.

Also see Adam Nossiter’s report (December 5th) in the NYT, “How France’s ‘yellow vests’ differ from populist movements elsewhere.”

4th UPDATE: Le Monde editorial director Sylvie Kauffmann writes in the NYT (December 6th) on “Macron’s moment of truth.” The lede: “Weeks of violent protest by France’s angry working poor are testing a president who promised the people reform but has failed to govern with them, rather than over them.”

5th UPDATE: Paris-based journalist Cole Stangler, who leans to the left, has a good piece (December 7th) in The Nation, “What’s really behind France’s Yellow Vest protest?” The lede: “It’s not just about the fuel tax; it’s about anger at ever-increasing burdens on the working class.”

6th UPDATE: Hudson Institute fellow Benjamin Haddad, a onetime UMP activist who strongly supported Emmanuel Macron from the outset of his presidential campaign, weighs in (December 7th) on “Macron’s moment of reckoning” in Politico.eu. The lede: “Protests are part of France’s DNA. These are different.”

7th UPDATE: Claire Berlinski, who’s a friend, has a piece (December 7th) in the right-leaning City Journal, “Riots in Paris: The police underestimated the madness of the crowd.” N.B. Contrary to what Claire writes, the regular army has not been deployed and there are no tanks on the streets of Paris.

8th UPDATE: Adam Gopnik, who knows France well, has his take (December 6th) in The New Yorker, “The Yellow Vests and why there are so many street protests in France.” He errs on a couple of historical details but gets the big picture right.

9th UPDATE: The Financial Times has a ‘Big Read’ article (December 7th) by reporters Harriet Agnew and Ben Hall, “‘Look at me, I exist’: French protesters send message to Macron.” The lede: “‘Gilets jaunes’ demonstrations have become a rallying point for a legion of disaffected workers.”

And the FT’s Paris correspondent, Simon Kuper, had a tweet storm (December 8th) with his “quick thoughts on what’s happening in France.”

10th UPDATE: See the 3-minute WSJ YouTube video, “What is France’s ‘Gilets Jaunes’ or ‘Yellow Vests’ protest movement?”

Better yet is the 5-minute interview (December 8th) with Arthur Goldhammer on France 24, “‘Yellow vest’ protests: What can Emmanuel Macron say to turn things around?”

11th UPDATE: I’ve copied-and-pasted in the comments thread below a lengthy take (December 11th) on the Gilets Jaunes by anthropologist Hannah Davis Taïeb.

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[updates below]

Far from me to speak positively of a Republican president but of the six in my politically conscious lifetime, he was the least bad. And unlike the others (Gerald Ford excepted), I never actively disliked him, let alone despised. I naturally voted for Michael Dukakis in 1988—who was my candidate from the outset of that primary season—and was thrilled with Bill Clinton’s victory in ’92. On that 1988 campaign, Bush carries the stain of the Willie Horton ad—and of having hired his racist campaign manager, Lee Atwater, in the first place, who hatched the ad—and demagoguing the ACLU, entre autres. But when it came to domestic policy during his administration, he was pretty good for a Republican, as Matthew Yglesias reminds us, e.g. signing the Americans With Disabilities Act, a law expanding legal immigration, amendments to the Clean Air Act that tightened regulation of air pollution, running afoul of the NRA (and whose membership he renounced in 1995), and, of course, approving a tax increase when this needed to happen. Utterly inconceivable for a GOPer after his presidency, not to mention today. Bush was a moderate Republican, an honorable political species that is now all but extinct. Like many moderate Republicans he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, which, for a lifelong Republican, was an honorable thing to do.

It was, of course, in foreign policy where Bush stood out. Borrowing from Georges Marchais (albeit in a different context), le bilan était globalement positif, i.e. the record was largely positive. I personally supported the 1989 Panama invasion at the time, though felt differently about it later in view of the civilian casualties. I did not, however, feel differently later on about the 1990-91 Gulf intervention, during which I entirely, 100% supported the Bush 41 administration., As I’ve already written about this I won’t elaborate here, except to recount how, in October ’90, I informed a group of Saddam Hussein-supporting youths on an Algiers street, who were trying to get my goat (they were familiar to me), that Bush would squash Saddam like a bug, and then stomped my foot on the ground like I was squashing a bug, specifying that I was Bush and the imaginary bug was Saddam. Not an adult-like reaction but, hey, it made me feel good. I did change my mind later—in 1998, to be precise—on the sanctions regime imposed on Iraq, i.e. that it should be unilaterally ended, in view of the catastrophic effects it was having on the Iraqi people, but that was under the Clinton administration’s watch.

Bush père is also to be commended for his even-handed policy toward Israel, in opposing settlement construction in the occupied territories and refusing to be intimidated by the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Above all, though, was the role he played at the end of the Cold War, specifically the fall of the Berlin wall and inevitable reunification of Germany. Bush’s leadership on this—on unequivocally endorsing reunification—was critical, and contrasted with the, shall we say, unhelpful attitudes of François Mitterrand and Margaret Thatcher. In foreign policy, Bush was, in Walter Russell Mead’s four school schema, a Hamiltonian, befitting his elite East Coast pedigree: internationalist, Europe-oriented, and strongly adhering to a free trade regime, American participation in multilateral institutions, and close relationships with longstanding allies. In the Hamilton world-view, the prosperity of Europe and the world is in the interest of America, as it contributes to the prosperity of America and, concomitantly, to peace and stability. It is the opposite of zero-sum, which is to say, the world-view of the present occupant of the White House. Bush was indeed the kind of American president most appreciated in chancelleries in Western Europe, and most definitely in Paris. George H.W. Bush was the last Hamiltonian president of the Republican Party we are likely to see.

Stephen Walt summed it up in this tweet:

Tim Naftali, a clinical associate professor of history and public service at NYU, has an obituary in Slate that is worth the read, “The overlooked president: We should thank George H.W. Bush for many of the successes attributed to Reagan and Clinton.” And see the seven-minute video from Vox, “The George H.W. Bush promise that changed the Republican Party.”

Conclusion: GHW Bush was the kind of Republican whose election we would be disappointed by though without fearing catastrophe. Or worse.

And the father was far better than the son.

UPDATE: David Greenberg—who teaches history, journalism, and media studies at Rutgers University—has a critical article in Politico, “Is history being too kind to George H.W. Bush? The 41st president put self-interest over principle time and time again,” that views Bush differently from Tim Naftali, linked to above.

2nd UPDATE: Voilà Bruce Bartlett, writing in The Baffler, “Death and taxes: George H. W. Bush was right about taxes, but he broke the Republican Party.”

3rd UPDATE: Andrew Nagorski writes in The Daily Beast that “Reagan brought down the Berlin Wall, but it was George H.W. Bush who unified Germany.” The lede: “A united Germany might not have emerged at all without the consummate skill that the late president displayed.”

4th UPDATE: Here’s a critical assessment by Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch, “George H.W. Bush was a family man and war hero who gave America its horribly destructive politics.”

5th UPDATE: Never Trumper ex-neocon Max Boot calls George H.W. Bush “the anti-Trump.”

6th UPDATE: The New Republic’s Jeet Heer writes on “The whitewashing of George H. W. Bush: Elite nostalgia and anti-Trump sentiment are leading to one-sided reminiscences.”

7th UPDATE: John Judis has a post in TPM on “George H.W. Bush and the quest for a realistic foreign policy.”

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