Archive for the ‘France: DSK affair’ Category

The day before yesterday I had a post on Roger Cohen’s inane column in the NYT, that lauded Nicolas Sarkozy and predicted he would win the upcoming presidential election (this on the same day as Le Monde’s headline story on the defeatist climate in Sarkozy’s camp and which was echoed in a report on the France 2 evening news). Other cognoscenti of French politics, e.g. Art Goldhammer, shared my view of Cohen’s absurd column. Now there’s a piece that makes Cohen’s look brilliant by comparison. L’auteur du crime: Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic. The subject: the DSK affair. I will admit that I am not a fan of Mr. Peretz and normally avoid his writings like the plague. I am an anti-fan of his and have been so for three decades—and I have a lot of company on this (e.g. see here)—, ever since his cheerleading of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon led me not to renew my subscription to TNR for ten years. Even when I started up the sub again I tried my best to avoid Peretz (not always easy) and his manic obsession with Israel, which borders on pathology. I am quite sure that Peretz has never written an article or anything that did not have as its focus Israel or something related to his ethno-confessional group. For someone who has shown little sympathy for the identity politics of others, e.g. Afro-Americans, he is certainly preoccupied with his own identity. Then there was Peretz’s polluting the pages of TNR—a once venerable voice of American liberalism—with certain odious right-wing journalists he hired over the years (e.g. Fred Barnes, Michael Kelly) but I won’t get into that.

In any case, Peretz’s commentary on the DSK affair—a has-been subject by now—, entitled “Edward J. Epstein Makes History…Again,” was quite simply the most breathtakingly idiotic piece of bullcrap that I have read in weeks. It left me agape. I’m used to eye-rolling nonsense from MP but this was on another level altogether and from the get go. Voilà the opening phrase

I was reminded of this devastating analysis of the sloppy case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn when I read that his wife, Anne Sinclair, is taking over the French version of The Huffington Post.

The “devastating analysis” MP is referring to is Edward J. Epstein’s widely read investigative report on the DSK affair in The New York Review of Books. This is now my 44th post on the DSK affair but I didn’t have one on Epstein’s report—though maybe should have—, which I thought was an irresponsible piece of pseudo-investigative journalism that the NYRB should have never published. And the whole thing was quickly revealed to be bulldust, as almost every mystery or question mark put forth by Epstein has been answered or put to rest. And Epstein’s conspiracy insinuating—hinting at a possible UMP/Sarkozy plot—was laughably preposterous. For Martin Peretz to call EJE’s report “devastating” in late January 2012 shows him to be not only behind the curve but also completely à côté de la plaque.

Continuing on Anne Sinclair, MP informs the reader that

Sinclair is now being dissed by her colleagues at Le Monde for sticking by and up for her husband in New York’s great spring celebrity scandal after he was charged with raping a maid at an overrated Manhattan hotel.

MP is referring here to a quote from an editor at Le Monde—a partner of the French HuffPo—in an item he linked to, who simply observed that “When [Sinclair] publicly compared the DSK affair to the Dreyfus affair, she lost her objectivity.” This is “dissing”? It’s one thing to stand by one’s man but to compare his legal problems in a sordid sexual affair to those of Captain Dreyfus and the French army? I think it was Mme Sinclair who was doing the dissing here, not only to Dreyfus’ memory but to the French Republic.

MP does let us know that

The truth is, however, that at the beginning I tended to believe the accusations, having heard from friends in Paris that Strauss-Kahn had the reputation of being a lecher. One lady-friend actually told me that he had followed her out of Yom Kippur services a few years back at the grand synagogue—the Rothschild synagogue!—on the rue des Victoires.

I am quite sure of the veracity of MP’s lady-friend’s story. Everyone has similar DSK stories second and third hand. And first. E.g. a lady-friend of mine has told me of the time DSK came on to her and in an unsubtle way, and in front of a few hundred people plus her husband to boot (not at a synagogue but the Institut du Monde Arabe…). But then MP continues with this

the D.A.’s tactics gnawed at me. And, then, Bernard Henri-Levy defended the accused, and Levy has a lot of ethical credit with me.

Oh please, spare me. My views on BHL are sufficiently well known (e.g. here, here, and here) that I do not need to state them here. Two things, though. 1. Anyone who gives ethical credit to BHL cannot have such credit with me (see the links to my posts) and 2. Such ethical credit can certainly not be accorded to BHL in view of his défense à outrance of DSK after his arrest, which was so uncompromising and arrogant in tone—even as the accounts of DSK’s satyriasis were being detailed in the public square—that BHL’s American publisher had to tell him—and I have this on good authority—that he risked losing all credit in the US as a consequence and should therefore STFU (and which BHL dutifully did).

MP gets in a few digs at D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr. and then offers this

Who really knows? Dominique and Anne are on the left, and he was just about slated to be the Socialist candidate against Sarkozy’s re-election bid. Still, the left had nothing but venom for S-K.

“S-K”? Excuse me, Mr. Peretz, but Mr. Strauss-Kahn is universally known as DSK. Absolutely everyone outside France knows this by now. So where does this S-K come from? Vous êtes vraiment à côté de la plaque. But also, what is this about the left and venom, particularly as DSK was/is himself a man of the left (albeit close to the center)? And as the Socialist party—the dominant party of the French left—was getting ready to crown DSK as its candidate until the fateful encounter with Nafissatou Diallo? If one has in mind the hard and extreme left—PG, PCF, NPA et al—and intellos on that end of the spectrum, then one needs to be clear about this. But who cares about those people anyway?

Following from this MP gives the clincher. The money quote, which the whole piece has been building up to

I have my own suspicions about the sources of this hatred. OK, laugh at me: but it is because he and his wife are passionate Zionists, public Zionists, a sin among the progressives of Paris.

There you have it. DSK—who was the most popular political personality in France until last May 15th and the left’s champion to beat Sarkozy—was in fact hated—who knew?—and because he was…a Zionist. Honestly, this one takes the cake. The only thing one can say here is that MP made this up. He invented it in his turbulent head. He read this nowhere and it is not possible that he heard it from any person knowledgeable about French politics or society. Not even BHL would have told him such an inept connerie. MP has not a shred of evidence to back up his assertion. None whatever. He could not credibly defend this if his life depended on it. In point of fact, DSK and his wife, whose Jewishness has hardly been a secret, never spoke publicly about Zionism and such was not the subject of articles or reports in the mainstream media. DSK did express his warm sentiments toward Israel in a Jewish magazine back in 1991 but outside the Jewish community his words here were known only to those who consulted or stumbled across Arab-oriented or anti-Semitic web sites in the obscure precincts of the Internet. DSK and Mme Sinclair’s Jewishness and putative Zionism were a political non-issue, including “among the progressives of Paris,” whoever they may be. À propos, it would be helpful if MP named a few of these “progressives.” In fact, I defy him to do so. Just three names, please, of known “progressives”—a term that is not commonly used in the French political lexicon, BTW—who had it out for DSK on account of his “Zionism.” It is true that DSK did have detractors on the hard left—e.g. Jean-Luc Mélenchon was particularly outspoken—but it was because he was a libéral in their eyes—a neoliberal—and whose big sin was heading the IMF (and despite the fact that under DSK’s stewardship the IMF shifted away from its neoliberal Washington Consensus orientation). In the eyes of the gauche de la gauche, DSK was insufficiently gauche. They talked about him the way US lefties whine on about Obama. It’s politics, Mr. Peretz. It is not about Jews. Really, not everyone who is disliked and so happens to be Jewish is disliked because he or she is a Jew.

MP further drives the nail into his coffin with this

Anyway, it isn’t as if the French political class is pure. Sarkozy, for example. Or Mitterand [sic], for that matter.

What on earth is this supposed to mean?! Pure about what? Affairs with women not their wives? On this, Sarko is a well-known horndog and Mitterrand was a grand séducteur. So what? Neither is or was known to serially hit on women who did not wish to be hit on, to be a regular patron at clubs échangistes, or to frequently receive sexual services in return for monetary remuneration (and on the eve of a presidential campaign no less). Or is it something about Jews? Here, Sarkozy is considered by many French Jews—who viscerally like him—to almost be France’s first Jewish president (in the same way as Bill Clinton was seen by his many black American fans as having been America’s first black president). As for Mitterrand, he was a longtime friend of the Jewish community and Israel (and despite the zones d’ombre in his past and some sulfurous friendships). And BTW, Mitterrand is spelled with two Rs (not one).

MP, after reiterating his admiration of E.J. Epstein’s discredited report, concludes with this

Also try mentioning Edward Jay Epstein’s proven thesis, James Jesus Angleton: Was He Right?, available at Amazon and on Kindle, at a dinner party. The guests will think you a nut case.

Mr. Peretz: the nut case c’est vous.

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DSK: the end

Le Monde this weekend has an article on Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s now erstwhile hardcore supporters, who have abandoned him in droves following the denouement of the Tristane Banon affair—where Mlle Banon’s version of what happened was confirmed—and the latest revelations of DSK’s eventual implication in group sex rings with prostitutes, some of whom may have been legal minors, and which are under judicial investigation (see here, here, and here). Really sleazy stuff. And all while he was managing director of the IMF and preparing his run for the French presidency… No one believes DSK’s denials anymore. BHL, Jack Lang, Robert Badinter & Co are nowhere to be seen on this; even Anne Sinclair now seems to be pulling away, remaining in their sumptuous riad in Marrakech while her husband cools his heels alone at their equally sumptuous flat on the Place des Vosges. Ex-strauss-kahniens are feeling bitter, angry, and betrayed, and say they want nothing more to do with their former hero. I feel no sympathy whatever for them. I first started to hear stories about DSK in the mid-90s, and I was hardly well-introduced in political circles at the time. They’re like the French intellectuals who “discovered” the horrors of the Stalin era and the realities of Soviet communism only in the 1970s, after the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. As if nothing in Solzhenitysn’s oeuvre hadn’t been known for decades. Des histoires bien françaises…

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[update below]

The reaction of the French press—and of  public opinion, so it appears anecdotally (no actual polls out yet)—to DSK’s TF1 interview has been harshly negative. Now today’s Canard Enchaîné has a devastating front page commentary on the Socialist party’s one-time favorite. No one in the French press skewers politicians as ferociously as Le Canard’s editorialists. And with such consistently brilliant headlines. Le Canard has a minimalist web site and with almost no content, but does reproduce the front page. One may read the commentary (in tiny print, though readable) here. On p.2 we learn that even (ex-)strauss-kahniens in the PS were privately dismayed by their (ex-) champion’s performance on Sunday. Dur, dur. Haven’t heard from BHL yet.

UPDATE: TNS Sofres has a poll out (September 22) on public reaction to the TF1 interview: for 31% it lowered their image of DSK, for 56% it was unchanged, and 4% said the interview improved it. It’s hard to fully interpret this, as one would need to know how these people felt about DSK before the interview, i.e. how many of that 31% already had a negative image of him. It is clear in any case that the interview did not improve DSK’s image, so as an opération de com’ it was a failure.

The poll also has the percentage of Frenchmen who think there may have been a plot. Affligeant.

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DSK on TF1

[update below]

He was better than I thought he would be and said what he had to say, from his standpoint at least. Claire Chazal was also better than anticipated, as she asked him straight off the bat what happened in suite 2806, though this being France, did not press him with follow-up questions, try to nail him, or play gotcha. DSK, clearly understanding his problems with public opinion, was contrite and admitted his “faute morale” (moral failing) more than once. But evoking the possibility of a “piège” (trap) or “complot” (plot) was both gratuitous and ridiculous. It was also a bit rich for him to express shock at the role money plays in the American judicial system, given that he was precisely a beneficiary of this aspect of the system. If it hadn’t been for his wife’s money, he’d likely still be in Riker’s Island. I doubt he was being untruthful in anything he said about what happened with Nafissatou Diallo, including his assertion that it was not a “rapport tarifé” (i.e. a sexual act performed for a fixed or explicit monetary price). In the literal, juridical sense I am sure he was telling the truth.

We will certainly never know what happened between the two but this is the only scenario that makes any sense to me: Nafissatou D. turned occasional tricks with moneyed clients of the hotel and sought the assignment to DSK’s suite for this purpose (and it may not have been their first meeting, given that he had stayed at the hotel before). Nothing is negotiated or even said in these encounters. The act is performed, the chamber maid leaves the room, the client leaves a generous “tip” ($200, or whatever the going rate is for these things in midtown Manhattan), and she comes back to collect it. But this time DSK stiffed her, or didn’t leave enough (maybe he discovered he didn’t have enough cash in his wallet; he had neglected to go to an ATM the day before, or something like that). ND was furious and spontaneously concocted the story, without thinking through the consequences that this would have for her. Once her superiors at the hotel took charge she got caught in the engrenage. After seeing her overly theatrical interview on ABC, I knew she was b.s.-ing.

I have no idea if DSK’s TF1 performance will change perceptions. I hope not, as he doesn’t deserve it. The interview may be viewed here. During the interview DSK waved the Recommendation for Dismissal of the New York County DA’s Office. Here it is.

UPDATE: Art Goldhammer points out—correctly—that DSK’s spin on the DA’s report distorted its meaning. This was clear to me when I relistened to that part of the interview after finding the report and reading it. The reaction in the French media on DSK’s performance has thankfully been mostly negative, with many seeing it as a PR operation and lacking sincerity. The former is definitely the case. As for the latter, perhaps. I don’t know. It’s a matter of perception. E.g. the NYT’s article made reference to DSK’s “gritted teeth,” which is a purely subjective interpretation on the NYT reporter’s part. I didn’t notice DSK’s teeth. I don’t know what else he could have said in the interview, particularly in view of the judicial inquiries that are still underway.

Art Goldhammer also critiqued Claire Chazal’s lame questioning. Yes, of course, but I was pleasantly surprised that she even asked DSK what happened in suite 2806. This being France, I wasn’t expecting that. One question Chazal could have asked is how DSK plans to deal with N.Diallo’s civil suit. Will he go back to New York and testify if summoned? Il n’est pas sorti de l’auberge, ça c’est sûr…

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DSK’s illness

Michel Rocard has said what needed to be said (for a top-ranked Socialist, at least): Dominique Strauss-Kahn “clearly has a mental illness” that makes it difficult for him to “control his urges” (for the precise wording en français, see the video here). That DSK has a maladie mentale has been the near universal sentiment of the numerous friends and colleagues in town—both women and men—with whom I have discussed the affair since it broke in May. It is also no doubt the prevailing sentiment within the Socialist party, despite the public declarations of its leading figures. In this respect, I differ with my blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer, who wrote in TNR last week—in an analysis I otherwise entirely agree with—that the French political elite may try to facilitate a DSK comeback, for his brilliance as an economist at least. I’m not so sure. Socialists may be happy that DSK will be coming home but they are manifestly uncomfortable whenever asked about him by reporters. They offer pro forma declarations of support and then quickly change the subject. Socialists are riveted to the polls like everyone else, know that DSK is now radioactive for the majority of public opinion, that the question of what precisely did happen in Suite 2806 cannot be avoided—DSK will certainly decline to answer it if posed but it will remain the two-ton elephant in the room—, and that his legal problems are not over (Nafissatou Diallo’s civil suit, the suit filed by Tristane Banon, and others that will no doubt come). Even DSK’s closest associates in the PS—e.g. Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, Jean-Marie Le Guen—have moved on politically—to Martine Aubry or François Hollande—and don’t sound like they’ll be rolling out the red carpet on the Rue de Solférino when DSK is back in town. So instead of making a comeback he’ll likely try to fade from public view for a long stretch—do the traversée du désert—and until his legal problems have passed. After that, on verra.

In addition to his TNR piece Art Goldhammer had a fine op-ed in Le Monde comparing the American and French judicial systems. He also had a salutory skewering on his blog of Pascal Bruckner’s asinine commentary on the dénouement of the DSK affair, as well as a critique of Eric Fassin’s conception of the way the American judicial system works.

On DSK’s brilliance as an economist. This is incontestable. It is equally incontestable that he was a first-rate managing director of the IMF. But for the anecdote, I had the occasion to hear him talk about economics in person some five or six years ago, when I dropped by a cours magistral he was giving at Sciences Po, in the Emile Boutmy amphitheater, which was packed. He was slowly pacing back and forth on the stage looking down, holding his chin, and being the savant, explaining comparative advantage and with David Ricardo’s clichéd examples of Portuguese wine trading for English wool. It was Economics 101, which the students had certainly learned in lycée and entirely memorized for the bac. While DSK was lecturing ponderously, the students, being typically French, were yakking among themselves or surfing the Internet on their laptops. DSK, being the typical French teacher, appeared oblivious to the fact that most of the students were not paying attention. It was an amusing spectacle. You had to be there.

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Anne & Dominique

I had no intention of posting anything more on the DSK affair until there was something new and noteworthy, but see that New York magazine has a lengthy piece on Anne Sinclair, “The Womanizer’s Wife,” which is not too bad. Two passages merit comment, one quoting my blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer

As their marriage evolved, Sinclair was Strauss-Kahn’s chief adviser and sounding board—but that’s not all. She also provided funds for Strauss-Kahn’s campaigns, including a large apartment on Rue Laplanche for a campaign headquarters, the secretaries, the website, the publicity account with Euro RSCG. “Strauss-Kahn is widely considered intelligent and often described as brilliant, but when you look back on it, he hasn’t had such a stellar political career,” says Arthur Goldhammer, an affiliate at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University. “The fact is that the element that has put him at the top of the heap politically is his wife’s money. Euro RSCG has four staff members, I’ve heard, assigned to keeping him in the news. He has been able to campaign more or less permanently for almost twenty years.”

Art Goldhammer is quite right about DSK’s modest political career, which electorally has involved but a couple of terms as deputy from Sarcelles plus a short stint as mayor of the same. No great shakes. His national political reputation was mainly earned as Minister of Industy and Foreign Trade (1991-93), when I first heard about him, and above all as Minister of Economy and Finance (1997-99) in Lionel Jospin’s gauche plurielle government. Though his ministerial career was suddenly cut short on account of the ridiculous Cassette Méry affair—which turned out to be nothing at all—he earned high marks at Bercy and was considered even on the right as having been one of the best finance ministers France had had since at least the early ’70s. I certainly thought so, though revised my view somewhat after reading this not entirely flattering biography from 2000 (which focused on his public, not private, life). I still remained a strauss-kahnien though, malgré tout. But in terms of his electoral mandates and leadership positions in the PS, DSK could not boast the same record as other party éléphants, such as Laurent Fabius, Martine Aubry, or even François Hollande. And he did get annihilated (along with Fabius) by Ségolène Royal in the 2006 PS primary.

As for the second passage in the article meriting comment

After all, Sinclair was desperate to leave D.C. and wanted the presidency for him more than anything. In Strauss-Kahn, Sinclair saw the ultimate candidate. Her commitment to Judaism had deepened, and when her father passed away, she even decided that she would recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, or the Prayer for the Dead, for him. “My father did not have a son, so I took on the responsibility,” she has said. “Every day for a year, I visited the synagogue to recite the Kaddish, accompanied by my mother.” According to friends, she always wanted to prove that, more than 75 years after Léon Blum became France’s first Jewish prime minister, the French would again be willing to elect a Jew. Such a thing was worth the sacrifice, because it would make for une formidable revanche sur l’histoire—a revenge on history.

This is not a revelation. We already knew this about Anne S., of her pushing her husband to run and wanting to see him, as a Jew, elected Président de la République, to get that revenge on history. Well, I totally sympathized with this. The symbolism of a Jew in the Élysée—as opposed to merely prime minister, who is not directly elected—would have been as powerful as Obama, a person of color, winning the American presidency. And it would have likely happened (and bothered fewer Frenchmen than the not insignificant minority of Americans who still cannot abide the sight of a non-white man in the White House). We won’t get to see that next year, which is too bad.

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Encore une bonne tribune dans Libé d’aujourd’hui. La dernière phrase retient l’attention.


Les trois cercles de la justice new-yorkaise

Par CHARLOTTE PERSAN Diplômée de Sciences-Po Lyon, spécialisée dans l’étude de la vie politique américaine, et FRANÇOIS VERGNIOLLE DE CHANTAL Maître de conférences et corédacteur en chef de la revue Politique américaine

L’ «affaire» était trop parfaite : un homme blanc, puissant, riche et respecté aurait violé une jeune femme de ménage noire, immigrée, victime de violences dans son pays d’origine et qui malgré tout tentait seule (more…)

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Art Goldhammer has a fine commentary on his French Politics blog on how the American judicial system has handled the DSK case up to now. He argues, among other things, that “for all the sensational coverage and trumpeting of false information by the press, the prosecutor’s office under Cy Vance Jr. did its job.” I agree. Apart from the indefensible perp walk, the leaked photo of DSK in his Riker’s Island cell, and the draconian bail conditions—holding his passport from the outset would have sufficed—, it seems to me that the police and DA’s office did what they should have (Alan Dershowitz is a little more critical; see the link in Goldhammer’s post). Les critiques françaises du fonctionnment de la justice américaine dans cette affaire sont sans fondement. As Goldhammer puts it

Indeed, I think the whole comparison of the two systems is a red herring, an opportunity for cognoscenti to display a certain knowledge of formal structure without considering the actual operation of either system in particular cases, which cannot be done in the abstract. And when you look at the concrete particulars of the DSK case, it is hard to say that there was anything wrong with American justice (apart from the egregious “perp walk,” a Giuliani innovation that unfortunately Cyrus Vance did not try to avoid). There was every reason to believe that DSK might have committed a crime, and every reason to pursue a vigorous investigation after ensuring his continued presence on American soil. It is still not clear that he didn’t commit a crime. All we know at this point is that his accuser is unreliable, but we certainly don’t know whether he did or did not attack her. We may never know, but that is not the fault of American justice. It’s rather the virtue of a system that (at its best) tries as best its can to protect the rights of both accuser and accused. Just as the French system does when it is not tampered with.

À propos, il y a une tribune du juriste Antoine Garapon dans Libé d’aujourd’hui sur quelques différences entre la justice française et américaine (texte ci-dessous). Garapon est, entre autres, co-auteur d’une étude comparée des deux systèmes, Juger en Amérique et en France. Je n’ai pas lu le bouquin—trop de choses à lire, trop peu de temps—mais j’ai assisté a une conférence de Garapon autour du livre, lors de sa sortie en 2003. L’homme est assez brillant et m’a impressionné par sa connaissance intime du système américain, ayant fait, entre autres, du “terrain” pendant une période à la cour d’assises de Chicago (Cook County Courthouse at 26th & California). Stephen Breyer, juge à la Cour Suprême des États-Unis—et parfait francophone—, a écrit la préface.


France-Etats-Unis : deux façons de chercher la vérité

Par ANTOINE GARAPON Magistrat, secrétaire général de l’Institut des hautes études sur la justice

Un des tristes avantages de l’affaire Dominique Strauss-Kahn est d’avoir mis à nu – avec quelle violence – les différences culturelles entre la justice américaine et la justice française. Et elles sont profondes. Pour les (more…)

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Le Monde published two op-eds exactly a month ago—by American law professors James Whitman and Christopher Kutz— that made some interesting comparisons between the French and American judicial systems. Really good pieces and that I was going to post and comment on back then, but didn’t get around to. Now that the subject is de l’actualité again, here they are. As for the commentary, I’ll try to get to that later.

La justice américaine en question(s)
Dominique Strauss-Kahn va, lundi 6 juin, comparaître devant une institution au fonctionnement complexe, aussi vantée et médiatisée que controversée, et dont les résultats suscitent incompréhension et réserves

Deux notions d’égalité devant la loi
Article paru dans l’édition du 04.06.11

Pourquoi, dans l’affaire Dominique Strauss-Kahn, les Américains éprouveraient-ils une certaine jubilation devant des aspects de la procédure pénale qui choquent les Français ? Il faut chercher les origines d’une telle (more…)

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Jean-Marie Colombani a un bon commentaire sur les derniers rebondissements dans l’affaire DSK. Ça vaut la peine d’être lu. On retient en particulier la conclusion

Deux choses encore. Je continue de considérer que l’entourage politique de Dominique Strauss-Kahn a péché par imprudence ou par omission en ne dissuadant pas DSK de concourir. Car si l’accusation de viol disparaît, des problèmes demeurent qui seraient de nature sans doute à nourrir de nouvelles campagnes. Il serait donc imprudent, pour ce même entourage, d’inciter DSK à vouloir se remettre dans le jeu.

Il ne faudrait pas enfin que ce retournement fasse oublier l’essentiel. A savoir que l’affaire DSK a contribué à une prise de conscience que trop de facilités, trop d’inattentions font perdurer, en France, une sorte d’accoutumance à des comportements qui sont, vis-à-vis des femmes, des faits de harcèlement et donc de violence condamnables. Ce fil-là, d’une réalité dans les rapports homme/femme qui doit changer, ne doit pas être perdu.

Je dois dire que j’ai été assez estomaqué par les appels des strauss-kahniens irréductibles—Jean-Marie Le Guen, Michèle Sabban, etc—à ce que la date limite du dépôt de candidatures pour la primaire du PS soit reportée, pour que DSK puisse se lancer dans la course. Même si les poursuites contre DSK sont abandonnées à cause des révélations sur la personne de Nafissatou Diallo, le fait demeure qu’il y a bien eu une relation sexuelle entre les deux. On ne saura probablement jamais si la relation était forcée ou consentie—à moins que cette information de l’inimitable New York Post soit confirmée—mais même dans ce dernier cas, c’était un comportement indigne d’un homme qui aspire à être Président de la République. AMHA, ça disqualifie DSK d’office pour briguer l’Élysée.

Et il ne faut pas oublié les nombreuses casseroles que DSK traine en la matière. Il y a l’affaire Tristane Banon, bien entendu, mais aussi l’affaire Piroska Nagy, la collègue au FMI avec qui DSK a tiré un coup eu une liaison en 2008. Quand l’affaire a éclaté au grand jour, les médias français l’ont balayé d’un revers de main, affirmant qu’il s’agissait d’une “relation de caractère strictement privé” et tempêtant contre le “politiquement correct”, “l’Amérique puritaine [qui] ne badine pas avec l’amour”, etc, etc. L’occasion était trop belle pour taper contre l’éternel repoussoir américain. Une réaction typiquement française à la con qui aurait pu être mieux inspirée. On sait depuis mi-mai que l’histoire avec Mme Nagy n’était pas entièrement consensuelle, que celle-ci frisait le harcèlement sexuel. En plus, l’histoire s’est passé sous le nez du mari de Mme Nagy, un économiste argentin de renom et qui était également un collègue de DSK au FMI. Quel mépris narcissique de la part de DSK contre cet homme ! et quel abus de pouvoir à l’égard de cette femme ! Comme on dit en américain, I rest my case.

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Here’s an excellent blog post on The Nation’s web site by Columbia University law professor Patricia J. Williams. It was published on May 24th—I missed it then—but is entirely relevant today. I don’t follow her on the conspiracy theory speculation but she’s on the money otherwise.

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Le juriste-bloggeur, Jules, a un billet aujourd’hui sur le côté juridique de l’affaire DSK (sujet d’actualité), précisément sur la question du “doute raisonnable” dans le système américain. Commentaire intéressant, où il conclut en laissant “quelques sujets de méditation pour les âmes françaises”…

À propos, j’ai vu récemment le film de Rochdy Zem, ‘Omar m’a tuer’, que j’ai trouvé assez bon. Pas plus. Je lui donne un note de 12/20. Ce n’est pas un court room drama à la hollywoodienne, ce qui est dommage. Quelle que soit la qualité du film—qui défend l’innocence de Omar Raddad, bien entendu—, il est communément admis qu’il y a eu un grave dysfonctionnement de la justice française dans cette affaire. Omar Raddad était très certainement la victime d’une erreur judicaire. Le juge a bâclé l’instruction et a fait condamné Raddad sur l’intime conviction de sa culpabilité. Voilà la formule française : l’intime conviction. Même s’il n’y a pas de preuves en béton. Aux USA, pour être jugé coupable, il faut que le jury populaire soit convaincu au-delà d’un doute raisonnable. Omar Raddad aurait-il été condamné dans un tribunal américain ? Voilà un sujet de méditation pour les âmes françaises…

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I got that one from the New York Post. Despite the new revelations as to Nafissatou Diallo’s credibility, there was sexual contact between her and DSK. Whether or not it was consensual we don’t (yet) know. The question that has been nagging me since the beginning of the affair—and particularly so since the interview with her half-brother in Indianapolis in last Sunday’s Journal du Dimanche—is the circumstances of her residence in the US. How does an illiterate Guinean woman from a remote village and whose French is likely rudimentary at best—all this we’ve been led to believe—make it into the US embassy in Conakry—I’ve been there; security is daunting—, fill out the application, pass the interview with the consular official, and then get the precious visa? If it was an asylum request, what did she recount that would have made her case particularly compelling to the US consul? Guinea was a nasty dictatorship when she left it but she is not political, so if she received asylum in the US then a large proportion of the Guinean population would presumably be eligible to receive it as well. Likewise with her half-brother Mamadou, who said in the interview that he never learned French because he never went school, left Guinea in 1975—during the era of the psychotic tyrant Sekou Touré—and landed in the US in 1988 (before Touré’s successor, Lansana Conté, had become a crazy dictator in turn). Where was he during those intervening thirteen years and how did he manage to gain legal entry to the US?

He manifestly did, as he is a legal resident, as is his half-sister. My point is that if there was one area where the credibility of Nafissatou Diallo could be undermined, it was here. Visa applicants and asylum seekers from poor countries like Guinea will recount all sorts of stories and hope a credulous consular official will swallow them. The press did not seem to be on this trail but I was quite sure DSK’s lawyers were. If they could show that she entered the US under false pretenses, the whole case falls apart.

BTW, the NY Post reports that DSK’s private investigators “have unearthed photographs of [Nafissatou Diallo] drinking and partying, despite her professed Muslim faith”…

Somehow I think we’ll be seeing DSK back in Paris fairly soon.

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Union Maid

Dean Baker had a good and important op-ed a month ago that I missed at the time, on the fact that the chambermaid in the DSK affair was a member of a labor union—which has now been widely reported—and had she not been protected by the union’s contract “it is likely that [she] might not have felt confident enough to pursue [DSK’s alleged assault] with either her supervisors or law enforcement agencies”… Baker underlines the general lack of protection for workers in the US, who can be fired almost at will. Thus the importance of unions. In America and elsewhere.


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Alan Dershowitz thinks DSK should cut a deal—that the lawyers should work it out among themselves—and that this is what will likely happen. He also weighs in on the Weiner.

UPDATE: Time magazine has a not bad essay, “From DSK to Weinergate: Are American women really better off than the French?”

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Sans blague. C’est Peter Sloterdijk, philosophe allemand et admirateur du mâle français, qui l’a dit, dans un entretien dans Le Point intitulé “DSK, le sexe et l’imaginaire français”, où il brasse du vent livre une méditation sur “l’inconscient monarchique [français] qui sacralise le sperme royal”, entre autres. Ce n’est pas un gag. Vraiment.

(h/t Art Goldhammer)

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[update below]

The NY Times has an article today entitled “French Socialists May Expel Member Speaking Out on Strauss-Kahn.” Not only is the information in the article old news—I had a post on it over ten days ago—but the title is totally misleading. In fact, it is dead wrong. No one in the PS is talking about expelling the member in question, Anne Mansouret. The only Socialist to suggest this was the irréductible strauss-kahnienne Michèle Sabban—who is not exactly a grosse huile in the party—the day after the affair broke. Mme Sabban may still be in deep denial as to what her mentor may well have done on that fateful Saturday in the Sofitel but she has not been heard from lately. Really irresponsible on the part of the NYT.

While I’m on the subject, I want to give my 2¢ on a commentary from two weeks ago by Ronald Tiersky, “Strauss-Kahn’s fall brings the French Left down with him.” Tiersky has been a leading specialist of France in American political science for the past four decades, so one may presume he knows this country well and that his analyses are worth reading. They are indeed. But even smart, well-informed people have their off days and this is one for Tiersky, as his instant après-DSK analysis is, WADR, franchement à côté de la plaque. I do generally agree with Tiersky that the French Socialists are often a pathetic lot, or appear to be, and that the French left, more generally speaking, is la gauche la plus bête du monde, but I think he way overstates his case.

E.g., he says

Something has always been wrong with the French Left’s politics–at least, that is, if its goal was to win elections and govern the country. During the Cold War, the Left was unelectable because of the strength of the French Communist party — for a while it had almost thirty percent of the vote and controlled the country’s powerful Confédération générale du travail (CGT) labor union. Always linked to Soviet influence, the Communists simultaneously dominated the French Left and made it unelectable. The Socialists were like timid second cousins, a fifteen percent party.

The strength of the PCF in the three decades following the end of WWII was indeed a big problem for French politics and rendered the left unelectable at the national level, but this was less the doing of the Socialists than of a sizable chunk of the French electorate. The Socialists were no great shakes in the ’50s and ’60s—a party of hacks that would have made the Chicago Daley machine proud—but at least they remained Atlanticist, committed to democracy, and resolutely anti-communist. And then François Mitterrand turned things around beginning in the ’70s, made the PS the dominant party of the left, and brought the cocos to heel (his greatest achievement, as I wrote last month). When it comes to winning elections, the socialists have had problems at the national level over the past decade but have done well at other levels, notably in regional elections—the left won huge victories in ’04 and ’10—and in the municipals, with the Socialists having become a dominant force in cities. And they advanced in this year’s cantonals, to the point where the left may be poised to take over the Senate in three years time (and for the first time in history).

Tiersky continues

Since Mitterrand left office in 1995 the Socialists have not produced a single leader of incontestable stature. This is now heading toward twenty years. Run by an elite group whose primary success is to neutralize each other’s ambitions, the Socialist party leadership has became a bunch of feckless losers having a good time unencumbered by a serious collective will to win and to govern.

I won’t polemicize with Tiersky over the second sentence here but it is not the case that the PS has had no leader of stature since Mitterrand. Lionel Jospin was it in the 1995-2002 period. Yes, he was indeed. His performance in the ’95 presidential election exceeded all expectations at the time, shutting up the fabusiens and making him the party’s incontestable leader (one may add to this his landslide victory—and against the party apparatus—in the PS’ internal primary in February of that year). And two years later he led the Gauche plurielle to its stunning victory in the legislatives—which Chirac mystifyingly called a year early (thank you, Dominique de Villepin)—and by all measures did a solid job as PM, even earning kudos from the ultra-libéral Economist magazine. Jospin did indeed bite the dust in the 2002 presidential election, but Chirac, who failed to break 20% in the first round, didn’t do so well either. But Jospin’s first round elimination, which was a very close thing—0.68% of the vote—, was an accident. It wasn’t fated and shouldn’t have happened (I’ll explain why another time). If Jospin had made it to the second round to square off against Chirac, he would have had a very good chance of winning. And the rest would have been history.

Another problematic passage from Tiersky

Ségolène Royal, the lightweight defeated Socialist candidate for president against Sarkozy in 2007, turned out not to have known that her common-law husband (and party chairman) François Hollande was a ladies’ man until a magazine published a photo of a certain happy-looking couple on vacation together on a North African beach. The less-than-compelling Hollande, by the way, for the moment leads the pack in the race to be the Socialist candidate this time around.

This is unfair to Mme Royal (and who no doubt did know about her companion’s other lady friends). She definitely has some personality issues—and I will be dismayed if she manages to pull off the upset of the decade and win the upcoming PS primary—but she is definitely not a lightweight. She is quite smart actually and has as good a command of policy issues as anyone with aspirations to the presidency. Her performance in the 2007 presidential debate with Sarkozy bore this out, as I wrote in an instant analysis after it ended (in an email dated May 2, 2007, sent out to a couple of hundred people)

(…) As for Royal, she was excellent.  She was poised, articulate, radiant, exuded self-confidence, was impeccably attired (with black vest on white blouse), beautiful as always, and, like Sarkozy,  demonstrated a command of the issues.  There was no hesitation or confusion – even momentary – on anything (contrast this with certain candidates in recent US presidential debates…).  Any remaining doubts as to her competence and/or presidential stature were laid to rest.  There can no longer be any question as to Royal’s strength as a presidential candidate, or as to what strength she would project as President of the Republic.  On the issues she was most impressive and took care to cover her flank with all segments of the electorate she will need on Sunday.  On the really important issues, however, i.e., the economy and social policy, her rhetoric was unmistakably Blairist/Scandinavian.  She offered a resolutely modern, social-democratic vision entirely in line with moderate left parties of government elsewhere in Europe and in contrast with what one has gotten from the French Socialists up to now.  Her discourse was as good as one can get from the French left.  This was all to her credit and advantage. (…)

The debate, moreover, went for 2 hours 38 minutes, with Sarkozy and Royal going directly at one another (not via the moderators, who were sidelined for most of the debate). Few American politicians could survive such an exercise. If Ségolène Royal and Sarah Palin were to go toe-to-toe in a debate, the former would eat the latter alive. It would not be pretty (then again, maybe it would be). Royal was in control for much of the debate, though lost her cool at one moment—which in effect lost her the debate, even though she did manage to regain her composure. As for her current campaign, which not too many are taking seriously—in view of her poor poll numbers—, there seems to be a consensus among those who are closely following it—and I am not one—that she is better now than five years ago, that she has matured as a politician and candidate. I am not a fan of hers but will defend her against gratuitous Ségolène-bashing.

Continuing with Tiersky, he asserts that

The stolid, hapless current party leader, Martine Aubrey [sic], is another less-than-compelling possible candidate. In addition to being more doctrinaire, she was the primary sponsor of the 35-hour work week law.

Tiersky’s assessment of Mme Aubry is purely subjective. Okay, he doesn’t like her. He is not personally impressed with her. But this does not make her objectively unimpressive. Such negativity toward Aubry is somewhat new, in fact, as she clearly looked to be a first-tier future présidentiable during the years of the Gauche plurielle. Chirac himself told her at the time that she would no doubt be France’s first woman President of the Republic. Martine Aubry impressed a lot of people back then and she absolutely did not come across as doctrinaire. As for the 35 heures, this was DSK’s idea in fact and which Aubry thought was a grosse connerie when it was first advanced. But as it became the cornerstone of the Gauche plurielle‘s program—the PS was pretty bereft of ideas back then (as now) and had to propose something—and Aubry was Minister of Social Affairs, she was the one whose name the law ended up carrying. It was unfortunate for her and lastingly undermined her image among a large portion of the electorate, which was really too bad, as she didn’t merit it.

Continuing with the business of Aubry and Hollande being “less-than-compelling,” it needs to be reiterated that both are clearly qualified to be president. In terms of their governmental and/or national political experience, they are no less qualified than was Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. If one throws temperament into the mix, they are no doubt more so. And in terms of paper qualifications, the two are absolutely more qualified for the post than was Barack Obama for the US presidency in ’08 (but which didn’t prevent me—and maybe even Mr. Tiersky—from enthusiastically voting for him).

Tiersky concludes

In an essentially one-party system, half the country becomes a permanent political minority whose gut instinct is resentment rather than patriotism. L’affaire Strauss-Kahn is bad business all the way around.

This is over the top. France is hardly a one-party system, in view of the left’s strength at the low and medium echelons of government, and its national successes in the ’80s and ’90s.  As for the DSK affair being bad business, it certainly is for DSK himself but may end up not being for the PS. And given the new debates that the affair has engendered, it may end up not being bad business for France either.

UPDATE: Ronald Tiersky has responded to my critique

Just a few comments:  we do disagree quite seriously, first of all about the qualifications of French Socialist leaders and about what the PS local and regional victories mean. You yourself say that the Socialists are often a pathetic lot (why did you add, “or appear to be”?) and you yourself call the Left la plus bête du monde. If that’s really your point of view, then everything else you write about them loses force. Your estimate of Jospin is particularly important because he was prime minister. In fact he was Hamlet until his defeat in the 2002 first round. Then, incomprehensibly (except in psychological terms), he became catastrophically decisive that evening: not just accepting his defeat but announcing at the same moment that he was leaving political life as a whole –  A leader of stature would not have semé la panique among his troops – he should have said, OK I was defeated big time, we need to mull this over and I’ll oversee a mature, calm, prudent succession.

My piece was polemical of course but it was heartfelt. As you say, I’ve followed this for a long time and seen a lot. Of course I overstated the case, for effect – that’s the nature of an op-ed of this type. The “bunch of feckless losers” phrase attracted a lot of attention – it was polarizing, which was intentional. As an elder brother in discussing French politics, my impression is that you are a little too much in the weeds of the PS, as I used to be re the PCF. Getting the right touch of disengagement is difficult, especially when one knows as much about the subject as you do.

My rejoinder: I don’t believe that I’m “too much in the weeds” with the Socialists. Being moderate left, I support them by default but am normally critical of their action, not to mention their major personalities. When I was invited to join the PS in my town three years ago I politely declined. There are good people in the PS and I reflexively identify with them more than with activists in other political formations here, but the culture of the PS is not mine, not to mention the general culture of the French left.

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[update below] [2nd update below]

That’s the title of Roger Cohen’s column in today’s NY Times, which has put me in a bad mood. One of the unfortunate fallouts of the DSK affair is that it has given the umpteenth life to a number of stupid clichés and stereotypes that the French and Americans have about one another (like the ‘Friday the 13th’ series, where Jason just won’t die). All sorts of rubbish is being recounted in France these days about America and vice-versa. Definitely vice-versa. Cohen was the NYT’s Paris correspondent in the mid-late ’90s, so presumably knows this country well enough—though I was so unimpressed with his reporting and commentary at the time that I would pronounce his name à la française minus the h and e. But then he got better—after leaving France—notably on the Middle East (even though I don’t always share his take). We’ve even had a few friendly email exchanges (and I can proudly say that at my instigation Cohen did a number on Dominque de Villepin in the NYT in late ’05).

But now he’s back to his bad old ways. In today’s column he focuses on the supposed French penchant for conspiracy theorizing and that has come to the fore in the DSK affair. To demonstrate this penchant Cohen kicks off the column with the anecdote of the French radio interviewer asking him for “proof” of Osama Bin Laden’s death and then offers this one

I was put in mind of an unpleasant Paris dinner when a France Télécom manager with international experience began to expound on the theory — more than plausible to his mind — that Jews had not turned up to work at the twin towers on 9/11 because Israel and the Mossad were behind the planes-turned-missiles that turned lower Manhattan into an inferno.

The apparent French fondness for complotisme, we learn, has something to do with the “French deference to power” (which is indeed the case, as is the French defiance of power). In this vein, Cohen opines that “[t]he freer a society the less inclined it is to conspiracy theories, while the greater its culture of dependency the more it will tend to see hidden hands at work everywhere.” As the French tend to see hidden hands at work—that’s the point of his column—we are therefore to understand that France may not in fact be such a free society, or is in any case less free than America (and presumably the rest of the Anglo-Saxon world).

Okay, let’s try to unpack this. First, the suggestion that French society might be less free than American: unless one defines freedom in a libertarian sense, of freedom and centralized welfare states (“big government” in American parlance) being inversely correlated—a notion I categorically reject—, no serious person and/or one who knows both countries would make this assertion. When it comes to civil liberties, the rule of law, and the general functioning of democracy, I am quite sure that not even Cohen would argue that France is less free than America. In some respects, it might even be more so. American First Amendment liberties are defended with equal vigor in France (France admittedly does not have a Second Amendment, but that’s not a liberty in my book; voilà une triste exception américaine).

On his radio interviewer, there are many fools in the French media and who ask inane, ill-informed questions of interviewees. Just as there are many in the American media (I have my favorite anecdotes on this, si vous voulez). As for his France Télécom manager friend, I wonder if the latter wasn’t speaking in the second degré—ironically, tongue-in-cheek—and Cohen just didn’t pick up on it. If not, the manager was definitely an outlier in his socio-economic class. Crackpot 9/11 conspiracy theories had currency only on the extremes of the political spectrum and in certain ethno-confessional groups. À propos, Thierry Meyssan’s infamous best-seller was universally ridiculed in the media and polite society. The mainstream indignation against Meyssan’s screed was such that two well-known journalists wrote a book refuting it point by point (and which was put out by a major left-leaning publishing house to boot) (the effort was laudable but they were wasting their time in my mind, as persons given over to such conspiracy theorizing are not going be swayed by rational argumentation and/or won’t ever come across or bother reading such “mainstream” books).

As for the reasons Meyssan’s book was a best-seller in France, I had a theory on this: in addition to the usual conspiracy theory aficionados, I am quite sure that the book sold like hotcakes in France’s sizable North African/Muslim communities. I have no data to back this up and saw not a single article suggesting a link, but I know these communities very well—intimately well: as I have been studying them since the 1980s and they include many of my friends, in-laws, and associates here—, so I know of what I speak. They’re France’s Arabs (and Berbers): and as we know—sorry for being un-PC here but I am absolutely serious—Arabs (and Berbers) are given over to conspiracy theorizing in huge numbers—in their large majority—and which includes otherwise brilliant holders of Ph.D.s (I’ve heard the craziest conspiracy theories from Maghrebi academic friends and for decades, that one would never get from their European or North American counterparts; voilà the subject of a future blog post).

On the conspiracy theorizing in regard to the DSK affair, this was the initial reflex of many Frenchmen who were in a state of shock—or in a state of cognitive dissonance—over his arrest and alleged crime. The phenomenon—of the conspiracy theories—has been analyzed and debated over the past two weeks. And now two weeks later, a lot of it has abated. On France 2’s ‘Mots croisés‘ last night, which was entirely given over to DSK—what else?—, there was no talk of conspiracies or plots. The focus was on sexual harassment, the proper role of the media in covering the private lives of politicians, when the private becomes public, and other such questions de société. When the dust settles on this, the percentage of Frenchmen who will cling to DSK conspiracy theories will no doubt be roughly equal to those Americans who believe in similar crazy theories (e.g. Obama “birthers”).

On DSK and his champions in the French media—which has put certain American commentators in a state—if one were conspiracy theory-minded there is in fact an interesting pattern. Take a close look at the Gang of Six champions of Mr. Strauss-Kahn (most of whom have been laying low of late, BTW, or apologizing profusely for conneries they uttered during the first days of the affair): Bernard-Henri Lévy, Robert Badinter, Jack Lang, Jean-François Kahn, Jean Daniel ( Bensaïd), and Ivan Levaï (one may also add Alain Finkielkraut, though he’s been better on DSK than he was on Roman Polanski). Notice the pattern, Mr. Cohen? Something they all have in common? Hint: all “members of a tribe” defending one of their own? (wink, wink) 😉

I’m being facetious here, bien entendu. If there were emoticons for irony or eye-rolling, I’d put them in. But what is noteworthy is that absolutely no one in France—no one mainstream, in any case—has gone down this road. And I have heard or overheard nothing on it. If one is into conspiracy theories, this is the oldest in the book. And with a miserable recent history in France. There have no doubt been DSK conspiracy theories in the darker precincts of the Internet—places I don’t go, except by accident—that take up this theme, but no one else has. To conclude: the French are not into conspiracy theories any more than are Americans or any other people of an advanced, mature democracy. I repeat: they are not. Period.

UPDATE: Art Goldhammer at French Politics is also peeved at Cohen and his column.

2nd UPDATE: Maureen Dowd, in Paris, sums up the current climate.

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L’excellent site d’infos Rue89 a un débat sur la vie privée des puissants et si la presse doit en parler, entre Patrick Jarreau (Le Monde) et Elaine Sciolino (New York Times). Je suis d’accord avec Sciolino sur les Mitterrand (François et Frédéric), et avec Jarreau sur Clinton-Lewinsky. Sur DSK, les deux sont bons.

MISE À JOUR: “Un avant et un après DSK” : entretien avec Valérie Toranian, directrice de la rédaction du magazine Elle.

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On Paul Berman

Ça y est, we have the first political casualty of l’aprés DSK. No big loss for the French political class. I viewed Georges Tron with a jaundiced eye since I first heard about him, as I do with anyone in Dominique de Villepin’s inner circle (even formerly in that circle, like Tron; I am not a fan of Villepin, to put it mildly).  It looks like France is indeed witnessing its “Anita Hill moment.” Tant mieux. Not a moment too soon.

In case anyone didn’t see it, the NY Times had a good discussion on Friday on the DSK affair, with six defense lawyers and legal analysts weighing in. All the contributions are worth reading.

One article not worth reading is Paul Berman’s in TNR the other day, entitled “DSK and the Coming Collapse of U.S.-French Relations” on TNR’s web site. A total crock of bulldust. In the article we learn, among other things, that “skeptical [French] populations will cock an ear to Strauss-Kahn’s champions in the French press. The champions will turn out to be some of the most talented writers alive”… What on earth is Berman talking about?! Apart from maybe BHL, who in the French press is “championing” DSK right now? And “some of the most talented writers alive”? Oh Jesus, GMAB! Berman then gives us a quick tour of the roots of French anti-Americanism—which has become some kind of immutable “cultural tradition”—, taking us back to the 1830s and the Andrew Jackson administration… WTF does this have to do with anything?! What essentialist drivel. He concludes with this doozy: “The ocean-liner of American justice and the ice floes of French conspiracy theories are already bobbing in one another’s direction, and nothing is to be done about it, and, oh dear, has anyone figured out what to do next, post-collision?”

Oh dear is right. Has anyone told Mr. Berman that he is a complete idiot has a faulty understanding of France and contemporary French politics? I sort of liked Berman in the ’90s, after reading his book on the 1968 generation and essay on Joschka Fischer (though my friend Adam Shatz, for whom I have the utmost esteem—intellectually and otherwise—, gave the ’68 book a less-than-stellar review). Since then, it’s been all downhill for Berman. There was, of course, the Iraq war and his liberal hawkism—to which I was not totally hostile, I should say; I could have gone along with a campaign of regime change in Iraq if I’d been sure it wouldn’t involve dropping bombs, killing lots of people, generating millions of refugees, costing a trillion dollars, wreaking general havoc and destruction, shattering lives, etc, etc. But I was quite certain in early ’03 that all this was going to happen. Berman: nah. Then there’s his obsessive campaign against the innocuous, overrated Tariq Ramadan—overrated both as an intellect and in terms of his putative influence—and which he extended to Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash, who had the temerity to critique, ever so mildly, the equally overrated—intellectually and in most other respects—Aayan Hirsi Ali, provoking a silly guéguerre that only intellectuals who take themselves way too seriously can engage in. The fact is, Berman lacks the competence to be discoursing on Islam, Sayyid Qutb, Hassan al-Banna, Ba’athism, and the like (likewise with Timothy Garton Ash, BTW, who has otherwise been so brilliant when writing about eastern and central Europe, but rather less brilliant when punditizing on Muslims and Islam). Intellectuals and other talking heads should stick to subjects they know well, and avoid pontificating on those they know less well. In Berman’s case, this clearly includes France.

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