Saturday, February 26, 2011

Left- and Right-Wing French Diplomats Spar in Press

The Hatfields
It's like the Hatfields and McCoys -- family feuds, 
strong words and provocations -- only this time, the families are French diplomatic chiefs who skirmish not with weapons but a pair of caustic collective letters published (anonymously) in top-tier news outlets. The French Politics blog reports a tit-for-tat between France's pro- and anti-Sarkozy foreign service members. 

Le Monde printed an editorial Thursday from a group of diplomats critical of the Sarkozy record, who, going by the moniker "the Marly group" after the Paris cafe where they congregate, launched a missive against what they feel is their overshadowing by the French president's do-it-himself approach to foreign affairs. Sarkozy's supporters came to his defense in another editorial published by Le Figaro the following day. The group styled themselves similarly, calling themselves "the Rostand group," after the name of their most-frequented cafe. I won't delve into a long analysis of each piece, but some choice morsels read as follows.

From the Marly group, critical of Sarkozy diplomacy:

"Europe is weak, Africa is escaping us, the Mediterranean is avoiding us, China is overtaking us and Washington is ignoring us! Even worse, the voice of France has disappeared in the world. Our herd mentality in regard to the United States puzzles many of our partners."
["... L'Europe est impuissante, l'Afrique nous échappe, la Méditerranée nous boude, la Chine nous a domptés et Washington nous ignore ! ... Plus grave, la voix de la France a disparu dans le monde. Notre suivisme à l'égard des Etats-Unis déroute beaucoup de nos partenaires."]
Note the worry over Washington's seeming move away from one of its historically important foreign partners, even as the prose projects a latent but palpable antiamericanism... Still more odd is the virtual invitation for a "WikiLeaks à la francaise" to expose the sound methods of French diplomats that the Marly group considers wrongfully dismissed by the current French head of state.

"A French WikiLeaks would allow [the public] to see that French diplomats drafted, like their American colleagues, cables just as critical and without concessions."
["Un WikiLeaks à la française permettrait de vérifier que les diplomates français ont rédigé, comme leurs collègues américains, des textes aussi critiques que sans concessions."]
These mixed attitudes of this random sample of the French left typify the post-WWII posture pioneered by Jean-Paul Sartre and others. They are only aggravated when the element of the United States gets put in the mix -- a tireless trope of the countries politically progressive wing.

Not that the Marlyites act as the sole contributors of weirdness in this ugly exchange. The Rostand Group is guilty of its own inelegant tone.  The Figaro piece vaunts heavy sarcasm, which does little to advance its case among nonpartisan readers in France or elsewhere. They write, on the Marly group's rhetoric:

"Oh, if only [the world] had listened to us! France would have predicted the fall of the Arab dictators. Even better, France wouldn't have mixed with these evil regimes...  If we'd let the French do as they intended, [the climate summit at] Copenhagen would have been a triumph and global temperatures would already be a little lower everywhere. The Middle East would be in peace... France would have anticipated everything; France would have never been wrong."
["Ah, si on les avait écoutés! ... La France aurait prédit la chute des dictateurs arabes. Mieux, elle n'aurait pas frayé avec ces régimes honnis... Si on les avait laissé faire, Copenhague aurait été un triomphe et la température baisserait déjà un peu partout. Le Moyen-Orient serait en paix... On aurait tout prévu, on ne se serait jamais trompé."]
Clearly, "hyperbole" was Rostand's operative word. They go on to question Marly's timing (French presidential election campaigns for 2012 are gearing up) and throw in a whiff of postcolonial reflection: 

" 'Africa is escaping us,' they also say. Must it still belong to us? And must we have today nostalgia for a "Papa's Africa" held in dependence on aid for which we know the cost, where clientelism takes the place of politics?"
 [" 'L'Afrique nous échappe,' disent- ils aussi. Devrait-elle nous appartenir encore? Et faudrait-il aujourd'hui avoir la nostalgie d'une Afrique de papa tenue dans la dépendance d'une aide dont on connaît le bilan, où le clientélisme tenait lieu de politique?"]
This kind of editorial sparring among federal bigwigs just doesn't happen in the US. Or as the WSJ put it in today's weekend journal, "we don't grow them here," but that's in reference to France's sometimes-intellectual rockstar, Bernard-Henri Lévy, and his thoughts on writing, style and why people hate him.

"Style, writing, hating... Hating, style, writing..."   Bernard-Henri Levy
As a barely-related final thought: in 2006, Levy retraced the American journey of French aristocrat and political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, then wrote a book about it. For that, Garrison Keillor nailed him.  


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