The moment U.S. armed forces are deployed somewhere, that place moves to the top of the pundit queue. As a result, the bylaws of the International Brotherhood of Foreign Policy Pundits mandates that I blog something about Mali of a higher quality than my glib post from last month. So here goes.
In a refreshing change of pace from to Previous Armed Forces Deployments that will Go Unamed, the New York Times is already voicing questions about the purpose of this mission. Indeed, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt litter their front-pager with some "first principle" questions to U.S. foreign policy principals:
The administration has embraced a targeted killing strategy elsewhere, notably in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, after top White House, Pentagon and C.I.A. officials determined that militants in those countries were bent on attacking the United States.
Asked if fighters from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb posed such an imminent threat, Gen. Carter F. Ham, the top American commander in Africa, said, “Probably not.” But, he said in an interview, “they subscribe to Al Qaeda’s ideology” and have said that their intent is to attack Westerners in Europe and, “if they could, back to the United States.”
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta made it clear on Wednesday that he considered the group a serious danger. “This is an Al Qaeda operation,” he told reporters while traveling in Italy, “and it is for that reason that we have always been concerned about their presence in Mali, because they would use it as a base of operations to do exactly what happened in Algeria.”....
[W]hat remained an open question, at least until last Friday, was whether the militant threat in Mali was serious enough to justify military intervention. Now, the context of that debate has changed.
General Ham put the matter succinctly in the interview, which took place last Friday, just hours after he learned about the French incursion into Mali.
“The real question,” he said as he raced off to a secure teleconference with senior Obama administration officials, “is now what?” (emphasis added)
Now, admirably, the Financial Times' Xan Rice does explain rather concisely what France's aims are in Mali:
France has three aims in Mali: to stop the Islamist insurgents’ advance on the capital; to help the government regain control of the north of the country; and to leave the country with a stable government.
But the strength of the well-trained Islamist militant forces points to a protracted intervention in the country where rebels maintain control of two towns in the centre of Mali, while Jean-Yves Le Drian, French defence minister, this week acknowledged the campaign was “very difficult”. (emphasis added)
Now, the tricky part of all this for the U.S. government is that while the first goal seems easy enough to achieve, the second seems much harder. And, most important, the United States has been trying to accomplish the third goal for the past decade -- and it turns out we kind of suck at it:
In 2005, PSI was replaced by the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), a partnership of State, Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) meant to focus on improving individual country and regional capabilities in northwest Africa.
According to a Government Accountability Office study, Mali got roughly $37 million in TSCTP funds from 2005 through 2008. More than half went to Defense projects. But GAO reported that there were bureaucratic differences over the programs and funding problems. “USAID received funds for its TSCTP activities in Mali in 2005 and 2007, but not in 2006,” for example. “Because it received no funds for 2006, the mission suspended a peace-building program in northern Mali,” the area with the greatest threat.
So the initial reporting suggests that the U.S. is about to blunder into another far-flung overseas operation in no small part caused by prior U.S. f**k-ups with no end in sight and a hostile population on the ground. Right?
Not so fast. Contrary to the claims of some militant anti-interventionists, the U.S. counter-terrorism policy didn't cause the problems in Mali. And, indeed, based on this survey of Northern Mali villagers conducted by some kick-ass political scientists early last year, it would seem that the locals would welcome further U.S. involvement, particularly on the humanitarian side of the equation:
The majority of our respondents were in favor of military intervention: 78% said it was worth the fight, 9% wanted to peacefully separate, and 23% were undecided (July). When asked how the northern crisis should be resolved, 50% of our respondents mentioned negotiations, while 60% cited military intervention as important to restore territorial integrity (May). Most respondents who felt that military intervention was necessary preferred exclusively domestic involvement by the Malian military (43% of respondents). Of those citing the need for foreign intervention, the US was the most popular of the potential allies (23% of respondents favored US intervention), followed by France (18%) and then ECOWAS (15%). In light of changing public opinion in Bamako it is possible that if asked today, villagers would be more pro-foreign intervention and pro-French....
We asked villagers the open-ended question: what policy area would you prioritize if you were President of Mali? Most individuals prioritized human development issues (health, education, water, agricultural support) both before and after the rebellion. In the January baseline survey, 51% of respondents cited development issues, while 9% mentioned peace and security. After the villagers found themselves on the border of rebel-controlled territory, 67% cited development issues and 14% peace and security (July). Regardless of the level of political stability, the vast majority of respondents would focus on basic human development needs.
Foreign policy pundits are just like the rest of the monkey-brain population -- we like to put things in clear conceptual boxes -- particularly when we lack specific knowledge of the particulars, as is the case with Mali. It will be easy, in the coming days, to put Mali into the "Afghanistan" box (bad) or the "Libya" box (good or bad depending on your partisan affiliation) or what have you. Given that France and the West African countries are willing to shoulder the primary military burden of this engagement, however, it would seem that the U.S. could ramp up some humanitartian assistance for the affected areas. That doesn't mean that hard questions should not be asked about the scope and purpose of the U.S. mission in the Sahel. It does mean that those questions might have some surprising answers, however.
What do you think?
I have a shocking confession to make: it's possible that maybe, just maybe, professors and graduate students don't always finish tasks on time. Once in a blue moon, a project will sneak up on us that is due the next day, at which point the academic or aspiring academic is faced with the following menu of options:
1) Pull an all-nighter, throw every crazy idea onto the page, and pray something sticks;
2) Email whomever is waiting for your written work and explain that illness/unforseeen circumstances/preparations for the zombie apocalypse mean you need another week or so to finish;
3) Go dark on all social media, refuse to answer email queries, and hope that everything works out for the best.
You'd be surprised how many people opt for (3), but there it is.
I bring this up because of Mali. Now let me confess that I am about as far from an Africa expert as one can be. Let me further confess that I haven't paid too much attention to Mali over the past year. My sum knowledge of the stituation there boils down to "there's some trouble in the north," "the government ain't that stable," and "gosh, people seem to be saying, 'Al Qaeda!! There's Al Qaeda in them thar hills!!' an awful lot."
Still, reading this Financial Times story by Xan Rice on the United Nations' latest plan of action for Mali, it doesn't seem like the Security Council knows that much more than I do:
The UN Security Council has approved the deployment of an African force to retake northern Mali from al-Qaeda-linked insurgents.
The council also authorised the EU and individual countries to help equip and train Mali’s army, which is meant to work alongside the 3,300-strong international force. The proposed military operation is not expected to start before September 2013 to allow for proper planning and political progress in Mali....
The French-drafted text stresses the need for a twin track military and political plan. Deployment of the intervention force, known as the African-led International Support Mission in Mali, or AFISMA, was authorised for an initial one-year period to take “all necessary measures, in compliance with applicable international humanitarian law and human rights law”. Working alongside Mali’s armed forces, the goal is to retake northern Mali from “terrorist, extremist and armed groups”....
The UN resolution did not specify how the international mission will be funded. Nor is it clear how the force will be composed. The west African regional block Ecowas has pledged to supply the 3,300 troops, with Nigeria taking the lead. But US military officials believe that the desert conditions in northern Mali will be more suited to armies from non-Ecowas countries, such as Chad and Mauritania.
There are also questions about how Mali’s army will work with an outside force. Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, who retains significant influence in Bamako and forced the prime minister to resignthis month, is wary of allowing in foreign troops, fearing his power will be diminished.
The resolution stressed that more military planning was needed, and the security council asked Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, to report on the readiness of AFISMA troops before the start of any combat operations.
So, to sum up: the Security Council has pledged to send peacekeepers on a timetable that makes academic publishing seem speedy, without any idea of how it will be funded, staffed, or operate with indigenous forces, married to vague calls for political action to lay the groundwork for said peacekeepers.
So in this case, it appears that the Security Council has followed multiple academic routes -- they scrambled to put something together at thre last minute, but still managed to kick the can down the road a great deal.
Again, let me confess that this could very well be the right thing to do -- I'm no Mali expert. I do know something about procrastination and last-minute hackwork, however, and man, this reeks of it.
I hereby plead and beg Mali-watchers to correct my misperceptions in the comments. Cause from the outside, this whole thing seems damn peculiar.
Many of my posts from the past week are about just who is an ally and who is an adversary. This is a nice (albeit belated) segue into the G-20 open mic flap, in which French president Nicolas Sarkozy said what he really thought about Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- and Barack Obama didn't disagree.
There's obviously going to be much gnashing of teeth about this from the usual suspects, and much caterwauling about said gnashing of teeth from the other usual suspects. So perhaps it's worth stepping back for a second to appreciate the fact that, contra realism, most alliances in recent history are far more long-lasting than a particular leader's term of office. Obviously, certain leaders -- see: Castro, Fidel -- can realign a country from one great power to another. Geopolitical pressures can cause other countries -- see: India -- to realign during critical junctures. Still, these have been the exceptions rather than the rule since 1945.
The Netanyahu/Obama flap is clearly one of clashing ideologies and clashing personalities, but it doesn't really change all that much in the way of the US-Israeli alliance. The defense cooperation between United States and Israel is stronger and larger than ever before, for example. The fundamentals of the alliance remain unchanged. As Robert Blackwill and Walter Slocombe recently pointed out in their WINEP paper:
[T]he United States and Israel have an impressive list of common national interests; that Israeli actions make substantial direct contributions to these U.S. interests; and that wise policymakers and people concerned with U.S. foreign policy, while never forgetting the irreplaceable values and moral responsibility dimensions of the bilateral relationship, should recognize the benefits Israel provides for U.S. national interests
This argument has drawn criticism from the usual suspects, but it reaffirms my point that alliances rarely rise and fall due to individual leaders.
So think of dust-ups like the open mic gaffe as mild ripples in the flow of friendship between the two countries, while the stock of the alliance remains fundamentally constant.
[NOTE: The following is a public service message from the hard-working team at FP Magazine to the policy wonks and market analysts inside the Beltway--ed.]
Has this happened to you in 2011? You're stressed out from a long day of reading/writing/number crunching/contingency planning and you're looking to unwind and enjoy yourself. Then you see the latest announcement of a European summit meeting and proclamations of a breakthrough deal that will resolve the plight of the Greek economy, the fragile state of European banks, and the perilous credit rating of southern Mediterranean countries.
As you see stocks rise, credit markets soar, and the euro appreciate, the euro-optimism becomes intoxicating. Pretty soon, the euro-giddiness starts to get to you. You start to tweet things like, "the corner has been turned," post on Facebook that, "it's time to Europarty!!" and talk up the metric system again. Nicolas Sarkozy looks like the brilliant progenitor of grand ideas and grand summits, and Angela Merkel is the shrewd politician who made the bankers blink.
After a few hours or so of this, all the problems in the world look eminently solvable. In your head, you've devised brilliant, intricate plans that solve the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, the India/Pakistan enduring rivalry, and the BCS college football rankings. Before you know it, you've organized and presented a talk in which you provide the Mother of All Powerpoint Presentations to Solving Global Problems, charging the entire, catered affair to the Brookings Institution.
Beware!! You are a victim of Eurogoggles. As the Economist will observe, "in the light of day, the holes in the rescue plan are plain to see." Both AFP and Bloomberg will point out that the policy euphoria has faded the next day. It will turn out that details are left unexplained. The size of the bailout package, which looked massive the night before, will prove to be a limp, unsatisfying half-measure the next day. The bank rescue fund and the Greek deal remain incomplete. All you'll be left with is that vague sense of self-loathing at having been suckered again, and a strem of angry voice-mail messages from a DC think tank. The walk of shame to your water-cooler the next day, in which co-workers mock your tweets of the night before, will be humiliating.
Eurogoggles -- don't let it happen to you or your colleagues.
[NOTE: the following reads much better if you read it using the voice of Rod Serling!--ed.]
There's a subtle art to reading broadsheet American journalism. Reporters strain for objectivity, and in the process, strain to avoid anything that smacks of the prejorative. If you squint real hard at the text, however, you can occasionally detect moments when the reporter is dying, just dying, to state their blunt opinion on the matter at hand.
I bring this up because Liz Alderman of the New York Times, in her story on the possibility of a big deal in Europe to enlarge the European Financial Stability Facility, appears to be ever-so-subtly banging her head against her keyboard:
The rally in American stock markets was set off by a report late Tuesday on the Web site of The Guardian, a British newspaper, that France and Germany had agreed to increase the size of the rescue fund — the European Financial Stability Facility — to as much as 2 trillion euros to contain the crisis and backstop Europe’s banks. But almost as soon as those hopes soared, European officials quickly brought them back to earth, with denials flooding forth from Brussels, Paris and Berlin.
This latest round of rumors and rebuttals about a European solution was a repeat of earlier situations. Such episodes have played out several times since the debt crisis intensified this year. Most recently, investors have been pegging hopes on a meeting of Europe’s leaders set for this coming Sunday in Brussels, anticipating that a comprehensive solution to the debt crisis might be unveiled (emphasis added).
It would appear that Ms. Alderman has discovered that there is a fifth dimension of reporting, beyond that which is known to ordinary economic journalism. It is a dimension as vast as developed country sovereign debt and as timeless as currency itself. It is the middle ground between austerity and stimulus, between national sovereignty and supranational authority, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of European political economy. It is an area which we call... the eurozone.
I'm in Shanghai to discuss how the G-20 has been doing as the world's "premier economic forum." As fate would have it, the G-20 actually opened its collective mouth in response to the market convulsions of this week:
The Group of 20 leading economies pledged a “strong and co-ordinated” effort to stabilise the global economy in an attempt to calm tumbling equities markets spooked by fears of recession in the eurozone and a gloomy economic outlook in the US.
Bowing to pressure from investors to take action, finance ministers from the G20 economies said in a communiqué issued late on Thursday that they would stop the European debt crisis from deluging banks and financial markets, and take the necessary steps to bolster the eurozone’s rescue fund and assist banks to boost capital reserves in line with new global regulations. The statement followed a day in which the equity markets suffered some of the biggest falls since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, as investors rushed to safety in a widespread sell-off.
“We commit to take all necessary actions to preserve the stability of banking systems and financial markets as required,” the group said in a statement. “We will ensure that banks are adequately capitalised and have sufficient access to funding to deal with current risks and that they fully implement Basel III along the agreed timelines.”
The G-20's near-total muteness in the face of European sovereign debt convulsions had begun to raise some eyebrows -- particularly as it was the G-7 economies rather than the G-20 that pledged to provide dollar liquidity to European financial institutions.
Unfortunately, if you read the actual communique, you discover... well.... let's describe the statement as very optimistic about what the G-20 countries have done to promote both growth and fiscal rectitude.
One of the takeaways from my conversations so far in Shanghai has been a sense of disappointment about what the next G-20 summit in Cannes will accomplish. The Financial Times' Chris Giles provides some background on the demise of the France's grand ambitious for that summit:
In mid-February, G20 finance ministers gathered in Paris for what turned out to be a harbinger of the challenges that have beset the French G20 presidency ever since. The meeting was supposed to be routine, with finance ministers agreeing a set of indicators that might be used to assess whether their economies and policies fostered balanced global economic growth.
Far from France undermining the meeting with excessive ambitions, countries struggled to agree even the most basic steps to a more stable world economy.
A country’s current account surplus or deficit is the accepted measure of balance in its relations with other countries, but the Chinese arrived in Paris in intransigent mood. Their negotiators refused to let the G20 use the current account as an indicator of balance. After an all-night session, the absurd compromise China accepted was that countries were allowed to assess every component part of a country’s current account, but the term “current account” was banned.
That ended the French presidency’s lofty plans. From then on, limited goals became the order of the day, a shift that has been reinforced as the year has progressed.
I'd quibble a bit with Giles -- any meeting that details indicative guidelines on macroeconomic imbalances is not gonna be a routine meeting. [Um...could you translate that last sentence out of bureaucratese, please?--ed.] Sorry, to rephrase -- any meeting in which the G-20 points out that China's trade surplus is part of the problem in the global economy is not going to be a smooth meeting.
Your humble blogger has been relatively
lazy circumspect in blogging about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair. The latest turn of events, however, has rousted me from my vacation torpor to ask just one simple question: are you friggin' kidding me??!!!
Both the New York Times and New York Post carry stories containing more prosecutor leaks than the Titanic suggesting that the woman DSK allegedly attacked was "a con artist." according to one blind quote. From the Times account:
Well, this is pretty simple -- if the prosecutors are leaking this stuff, then the charges are going to be dropped. Dominique Strauss-Kahn will be a free man, thereby re-convulsing the French political scene. I'm also expecting a super-fun flurry of discussion about the dangers of immigration from tis latest turn of events.
The story can't end here, however. Readers are therefore warmly encouraged to suggest how Act III of l'affaire-DSK will play itself out in the comments section.
Here's my suggestion: DSK and his wife Anne Sinclair will proft handsomely from a wrongful prosecution settlement with the city of New York. After that, they decamp to the island of Tahiti. At which point, Neve Campbell turns out not to be dead and, in league with Sinclair, eliminates DSK so they can enjoy their riches with the help of Bill Murray.
[Implausible, I say!!--ed. I say, not implausible enough!!!]
In first days after Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest, there was a big spasm of media output about how the arrest revealed the massive cultural divide between France and the United States, yada, yada, yada. Led by
blowhard French intellectuals France's cultural elite, anti-Americanism seemed ready to spike back to 2003 levels.
A funny thing happened in the ensuing days, however, a curious countertrend has emerged -- the wave of anti-American sentiment hasn't spiked at all.
Sophie Meunier, your humble blogger's go-to expert on all things French, explains in the Huffington Post that what's happened instead has been far more interesting. DSK's arrest, along with the waves of information about his behavior, have caused French commentators to go through the five stages of grief in coping with the news. Denial and anger did dominate the first few days, but now France is going through the bargaining phase:
With a few days hindsight, however, what is most surprising about the fallout of the DSK scandal in France is not how much, but rather how little displays of anti-Americanism it has provoked. To the contrary, the scandal is now turning into a teachable moment and a frank analysis of the comparative merits of French and American society. Perhaps this is the bargaining stage: if we understand the American system, perhaps we can expect it to treat one of our own fairly?
The flamboyant declarations by Bernard-Henri Lévy who was trying to help his friend by complaining that the American judge had treated DSK "like any other" subject of justice backfired. The next news cycle in France was about introspection. What if the American justice system actually had some features that could be replicated, such as the equality of treatment? A flurry of accusatory articles popped up in the French press denouncing how a defendant of DSK's stature would never have gone through the same legal troubles in France -unlike a random "Benoit" or "Karim." As socialist and DSK friend Manuel Valls publicly confessed, criticizing the American justice system also puts the spotlight on the weaknesses of French justice. This realization that perhaps the Americans might have components in their justice system that should be replicated in France might have left many with the depressing thought - "maybe we are not as wonderful and superior as we thought: so what is now our place in the world?"
The New York Times' Sarah Maslin Nir reaches a similar conclusion in her story on the French media's reaction to the American media:
It was easy to spot the French men and women among the media hordes. Despite their fatigued condition, they were, well, better looking than many of their American counterparts, and many of them smoked cigarettes as they stood, corralled together, waiting for something to happen. They greeted one another with double kisses, one on each cheek.
There were some local customs that puzzled the French. Franck Georgel, a television reporter for the station M6, was mystified by how respectful American journalists were of police barricades set up around a Lower Manhattan building where Mr. Strauss-Kahn was staying. “In France maybe the barrier would have been dropped on the ground,” he said. “Here, you’re more, how do you say it? Civilisé.”
As he spoke, a non-French journalist outside the building, at 71 Broadway, helped a woman with a baby carriage make her way down the steps. “That’s American,” he declared. “That’s not really French.”
The Atlantic also has a good round-up on French media introspection.
*A hat tip to @laurenist for the very clever title to this less-than-clever post)
One of the complaints I commonly hear about the study of global political economy is that it's sooooooo boring. Security studies has guns and bombs!! IPE/GPE has.... capital adequacy standards.
Well, I think it's safe to say that events over the weekend have made both global political economy and global governance more interesting:
Talks on the Greek sovereign debt crisis and French presidential politics were both thrown into disarray after Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was escorted off an aircraft in New York over the weekend to face sex charges.
Mr Strauss-Kahn was expected on Sunday to appear before a New York court and plead not guilty to charges of committing a criminal sexual act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment, according to his lawyers.
The charges resulted from an alleged incident at the Sofitel Hotel in Manhattan on Saturday afternoon involving a 32-year-old maid who said that she had been sexually assaulted in a $3,000 per night suite in which police found the IMF managing director’s mobile phone. Police said on Sunday night that the maid had picked Mr Strauss-Kahn out of a line-up. Sofitel said the maid had worked for them for three years.
Both the Financial Times and The New Yorker have been all over this since the arrest on Saturday night, and I won't try to replicate their coverage here. Let's try to parse out a few of the implications:
1) The IMF issued a terse statement that boils down to "The IMF remains fully functioning and operational." This has the whiff of this scene from Animal House -- except that I suspect acting Managing Director John Lipsky and his awesome moustache will do a much better job of keeping everyone calm than Kevin Bacon ever did. The real tangle would come is Strauss-Kahn -- or "DSK" as he's known in France -- fights this in court and refuses to step aside gracefully. It already appears, however, that the IMF won't invoke diplomatic immunity -- and based on past behavior, DSK would likely resign first.
2) One does wonder if this scandal will finally upend a decades-long convention that dictates the head of the IMF being a European and the head of the World Bank being an American. On the one hand, this same kind of talk occurred after Paul Wolfowitz had to resign as World Bank president in 2007, and Robert Zoellick replaced him. On the other hand, that was a whole financial crisis ago.
3) So, in the past five years, two heads of international financial institutions have been implicated in scandal. I'd recommend Swiss authorities take a good, hard look at Bank of International Settlements General Manager Jaime Caruana. These jobs clearly seem to attract bad seeds. At this rate, these institutions will make the IOC or FIFA start to look ethical.
4) The French reaction to DSK's arrest might cure many Westeners of the schadenfreude they felt in response to Pakistani conspiracy theories surrounding the death of bin Laden. As Philip Gourevitch blogs:
This being France, within minutes of the first news of D.S.K.’s arrest, there were rumors that he was the victim of a plot. Christine Boutin, the leader of the Christian Democrats in France, declared that D.S.K. had been entrapped, although she did not specify by whom, or how—but there was no shortage of possibilities floating in the French ether today: Sarkozy, of course, or Socialist rivals, or else, I heard someone say, the Russians who are unhappy with how he has dealt with them at the I.M.F., or maybe the Greeks, whose economy has self-destructed almost as thoroughly as he now has. You could even find D.S.K. being called the new Dreyfus. In conversations with writers, and reporters, and intellectuals around Paris today, I found that nobody quite believed these fancies, but nobody could resist speculating about them either. D.S.K.’s behavior, in and of itself, was just too suicidal to make sense entirely by itself.
See also Adam Gopnik on these points.
The real problem with the arrest is that it appears that the only French politician to offer the right response is ultranationalist Marine Le Pen, who correctly observed that given DSK's past indiscretions with women, this was a long time coming. This will onky boost Le Pen's chances of advancing to the second round of the presidential election. Richard Brody explains why that's a problem:
The world of French politics is haunted by the 2002 elections: then, backers of the eliminated moderate-left candidate, Lionel Jospin, a Socialist, joined forces with the moderate right to give Chirac an overwhelming victory in the runoff, in a repudiation of the F.N. One of the leading factors in Jospin’s first-round elimination was the fragmentation of the left among candidates from a variety of parties. Now, it’s the unpopular Sarkozy whose party is falling apart, and who is doing his best not to offend the F.N. (as in recent regional elections, in which he expressed no second-round preference between that party and the Socialists), in the hope of siphoning away enough of its voters to slip into the second round instead of Marine Le Pen.
In effect, Marine Le Pen is the spoiler: any candidate she faces in the second round is sure to win (because voters and parties will unify to keep the far-right out of power); she will either eliminate the moderate right or the moderate left.
Elections in which one of the two choices is simply unelectable are unhealthy for democracy -- they lead to malaise and alienation from the democratic process. Unfortunately, it looks like France is headed in that direction.
5) I hereby issue a challenge to the readers to come up with their best joke about IMF conditionality and DSK in the comments.
As I try to sort out all of the implications of Operation Odyssey Dawn, I see two memes that should be thought of in concert. The first one is the striking fact that the United States seemed to be following rather than leading on organizing the U.N. Security Council to take action. The second theme is that Libya is way far down on the list of America's Middle East priorities, so the United States should be wary about the opportunity costs of getting too involved.
Combining these two memes makes me think of my wedding -- and therefore why this aspect of U.S. policy towards Libya might be a good thing.
Let me explain. When my lovely bride and I were planning our nuptials, we were wary of excessive parental interventions on the issues we really cared about -- the vows, the food, the music, the seating arrangements, etc. Of course, these were our parents, so a stonewalling strategy wasn't going to work terribly well either.
Faced with this policy conundrum, we hit upon a brilliant idea -- we had to give them an issue that they cared about fervently but didn't really matter to us all that much. So, we had the Official Blog Moms decide on the favors that would be at every place-setting.
This proved to be a brilliant maneuver. We would receive constant updates and debates about what was under consideration. When receiving all of this information, we would smile, nod, and say, "we trust you to make the right decision." All the while, we took care of the Big Wedding Issues that were of Serious Importance to Us. I think the result was a win-win -- the parents claimed ownership of something they cared about, but we got the wedding we wanted.
What does this have to do with Libya? This issue clearly animates French President Nicolas Sarkozy more than U.S. President Barack Obama (surprisingly, given France's past preferences on these kind of issues). Sarkozy has been receiving plaudits for his leadership. Which is great on two counts. First, it (hopefully) means that after the initial efforts to ensure that Libya's air defenses are neutralized, the United States really can let France and the U.K. take the lead on operational activities.
Second, I share other's concerns that an excessive focus on Libya might distract the top U.S. leadership from Other Really Big Events. What holds for the United States holds for France with even greater force, however. In that sense, then, the more that Sarkozy is obsessed with Libya, the less time he can devote to
overambitious and ultimately futile grand economic designs his pet projects in preparation for the 2011 G-20 summit.
Much like big weddings, many things could go wrong along the way -- but I think pundits need to appreciate the positive second-order effects of letting France be in charge of the chocolate favor--- I mean, the immediate intricacies of enforcing Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya.
What do you think?
The USA's thrilling, last-minute victory over Algeria yesterday seemed tailor-made for pushing the popularity of the sport in this country to the next level. Americans like winners, but they really like last-minute, come-from-behind winners, and this American team seems to excel in that area.
On the other hand.... I'm not sure I really want Americans to care that much about what happens on a
soccer field football pitch. To see why, consider this Steven Erlanger story in the New York Times about how the French elite has reacted to that country's ignominious exit from the World Cup:
The philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, who has often criticized the failures of French assimilation, compared the players to youths rioting in the banlieues, France’s suburban ghettos. “We now have proof that the French team is not a team at all, but a gang of hooligans that knows only the morals of the mafia,” he said in a radio interview.
While most politicians have talked carefully of values and patriotism, rather than immigration and race, some legislators blasted the players as “scum,” “little troublemakers” and “guys with chickpeas in their heads instead of a brain,” according to news reports.
Fadela Amara, the junior minister for the racially charged suburbs who was born to Algerian parents, warned on Tuesday that the reaction to the team’s loss had become racially charged.
“There is a tendency to ethnicize what has happened,” she told a gathering of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s governing party, according to news reports. “Everyone condemns the lower-class neighborhoods. People doubt that those of immigrant backgrounds are capable of respecting the nation.”
She criticized Mr. Sarkozy’s handling of a debate on “national identity,” warning that “all democrats and all republicans will be lost” in this ethnically tinged criticism about Les Bleus, the French team. “We’re building a highway for the National Front,” she said, in a reference to the far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim party founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen....
Mr. Sarkozy himself called a meeting on the disastrous result on Wednesday, summoning Prime Minister Francois Fillon, Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot and Rama Yade, the junior sports minister. In a statement, he said he had ordered them “to rapidly draw the lessons of this disaster.”
Now, to be fair, there have been a few moments in the past when a US team has performed so abysmally on the global stage that it prompted a minor, ugly political kerfuffle (I'm thinking of the 2000 Olympic men's basketball team). Still, in order, here's what I don't want to see happen in the United States:
1. Philosophers using a national team's sporting performance to opine about the state of the union;
2. Any politician blaming the performance of a national sports team on the country's government;
3. A Minister of Sport;
4. A head of state summoning the head of government and other policy principals to discuss the broad socioeconomic lessons that can be drawn from the failures of a f***ing football team.
The Nation's Dave Zirin bemoans the ways in which events like the World Cup promote jingoism and nationalism in the United States, but he's aiming at the wrong target. Americans will celebrate the successes of team USA and within 24 hours forget the failures. The ways in which the rest of the world inflate the importance of this event as some august commentary on their country's national standing are beyond silly. Wars, assassinations, and stock market downturns have been (sort of) started because of this kind of silliness.
I'll take American semi-engagement with soccer over French obsession any day of the week, thank you very much.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
The Financial Times' Ben Hall reports that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is going to take advantage of France’s presidency of the G8 and G20 to do something serious in 2011:
Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday stepped up his attack on global exchange rate imbalances saying “monetary disorder” had become “unacceptable”
The French president said he would make exchange rate policy an important theme of France’s presidency of the G8 and G20 forums of advanced and developing economies in 2011....
With a large trade deficit and with exports that are more price-sensitive than Germany’s, France feels more susceptible to exchange-rate movements than its neighbour across the Rhine.
“We can’t increase the competitiveness of our businesses in Europe and have the dollar lose 50 per cent of its value against the euro,” Mr Sarkozy said. “When we produce in the eurozone and sell in the dollar zone, are we supposed to just give up selling?”
“You know how close I feel to the US. But this is not possible. The world has become multipolar. We must have a multi-monetary system.”
In the wake of the failure of the Copenhagen climate conference to set ambitious, binding targets for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, the French president also reiterated his demand for a carbon tax on imports to the EU from countries that sign up to “no environmental rules”.
However, he gave little indication how France could push forward with the idea, given opposition in Germany and elsewhere in the EU, and France’s recent diplomatic efforts to improve ties with Beijing (emphasis added)
That last paragraph ably sums up Sarkozy's problem, which is that he makes grandiloquent pronouncements but has almost no ability to follow through on them.
Sarkozy's ability to influence currency politics in particular is limited at best -- not to mention contradictory. Any diversification away from the dollar as the world's reserve currency will mean an appreciating euro, not a depreciating one, as more public and private actors try to get their hands on the currency. This appreciation could be prevented if the European Central Bank decided to pursue an looser monetary policy. Which I'm sure they will do.... right after cheese-eating surrender monkeys come flying out of Sarkozy's derriere. Oh, and there's also the small matter of ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet wanting nothing to do with a globalized euro.
I suspect none of this will silence Sarkozy -- but his words aren't going to change anything either.
Gideon Rachman notes that despite the French concern with happiness, the French themselves are pretty depressed.
I'm pretty sure stories like this are not going to lift the mood of French President Nicolas Sarkozy:
There is no Club Sarkozy nearby in this sweltering, squalid capital [of Guinea]; in West Africa, the French president cannot compete at present, despite his country’s historic connections as the former colonial power here. Right now, in this volatile region, mere mention of being from America — Obama’s America — is enough to avert an armed soldier’s grim gaze, defuse a mob’s anger, soften an unyielding border guard or lower the demands from ubiquitous bribe-seeking policemen.
The president’s name, freshly painted, appears above a barbershop, a grocery, a school, even tire stores here, as well as the cabaret in Boulbinet. In a leading bookstore downtown, a full-scale poster of Obama looks out from behind a closed door, a visual echo of the sentiments of those who go in to discuss politics.
The implications of this new American authority in an unfamiliar spot received a tryout last week, when the Obama administration sent a senior diplomat here to condemn the massacre of dozens of unarmed civilians protesting Guniea’s military government in September. They seem clear: America punches above its weight, in a part of the world that it has hitherto left to the French. The United States, with few practical sticks to beat the junta, nonetheless has a moral authority in the streets that the big-dog French do not match....
[W]hen Mrs. Clinton said the next day that she was “appalled” by the “vile violation of the rights of the people” in Guinea, Captain Camara had nothing to say, publicly at least. But when Mr. Kouchner called for an international intervention force, the captain angrily said, “Guinea is not a subprefecture, is not a neighborhood in France.”
The differing reactions were not lost on local observers. Mamadou Mouctar Diallo, an opposition leader, said Captain Camara “dared to defy France, but he didn’t dare defy the U.S.”
“America is a power that counts,” Mr. Diallo said. “You can’t turn your back on them.”
As I said previously, I've been reading Liaquat Ahamed's Lords of Finance while in Basle. This seems appropriate, as the book recounts the creation of the Bank of International Settlements, among other events.
The book has been a fun and informative read, but I was particularly struck by an excerpt from a newspaper article that Ahamed quoted. The New York World decided to advise Americans travelling to France in the summer of 1926. At the time, the French were a bit tetchy about U.S. insistence that the French government repay its First World War debts in fill:
Don't boast in cafes that American currency is the only real honest-to-God money in the world. It isn't. Besides such bursts of financial patriotism are annoying to people who did not spend the years 1914 to 1916 accumulating world credit by selling munitions, cotton and wheat to other nations which were busy with a war....
Don't confide to your fellow passengers on raileay trains that America is the most generous of creditors because America has cancelled all that part of debts which nobody can collect. Talk instead of our prowess in tennis, golf or Prohibition. It comes with better grace.
Is it just me, or does that seem much snarkier than most commentary you would read today?
France will walk away from this week's G20 summit if its demands for stricter financial regulation are not met, the finance minister has told the BBC.
Christine Lagarde told HardTalk that President Nicolas Sarkozy would not sign any agreement if he felt "the deliverables are not there".
This is yet another example of France's unsurpassed superiority in world politics at doing things that make the global press pay attention to France.
One could argue that the United States should concentrate its energies on actual policy coordination. Any great power worth its salt, however, should be able to do the policy coordination and practice diva bargaining tactics.
I therefore propose that President Obama add Miss Britney Spears to the U.S. negotiating team. Let France try to make its voice heard in that media maelstrom.
Other proposals to counter France's bargaining tactics are warmly welcomed in the comments.
UPDATE: To be fair to Sarkozy, he is not the only Frenchmen who is grandstanding at the moment.
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images
[Drezner] then notes a small "to be sure": fewer than 5% of voters in France, Germany, Italy and Britain support sending more troops to Afghanistan too. That pretty decisively handcuffs those goverments. Why not call the Germans or Brits "passive-aggressive-y"? Because it wouldn't fit the American stereotype of Gallic limp-wristedness.
Two quick responses. First, the alleged constraint of public opinion (see below) did not cause either the British or German defense ministers to categorically rule out sending more troops to Afghanistan the day after Barack Obama was sworn in. I focused on France because the French defense minister spoke up on this at an interesting juncture.
Second, the Economist's blogger did not read precisely what I wrote, nor did s/he apparently click through to the FT story to which I linked. I wrote, "Less than five percent of those polled believed that European countries should send troops to Afghanistan as a gesture of solidarity with Obama. (emphasis added)" If you look at the poll, however, a significant fraction of respondents (though not a majority or a plurality) were comfortable with the idea of sending more troops "if warranted by conditions in Afghanistan." Furthermore, this support is stronger in France than it is in either Germany or the UK, which suggests that the French government faces a lesser constraint than policymakers in Berlin or London.
I firmly believe that public opinion should play an important role in dictating the foreign policy of a democracy -- including France. But these opinion polls are not quite the binding constraint that the Economist suggests. Furthermore, it seems only polite to wait and see what Obama will say on Afghanistan before issuing a firm "Non!"
God bless France. You knew, once Obama was sworn in, that Paris would welcome the new president with open arms and not get all passive-aggressive-y ike they
always frequently occasionally do.
What's that? There's a Reuters story about this?
France will reject any immediate request by US president Barack Obama for reinforcements to Afghanistan because it has already deployed enough troops, French Defence Minister Herve Morin said on Wednesday.
While many European leaders have welcomed Obama’s multilateral approach to diplomacy, they are less eager to send their soldiers on risky missions that are unpopular with voters.
Asked in a radio interview how France would react if Obama were to call for more contributions to the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force, Morin pointed out that his country already sent additional troops in 2007 and 2008.
”So for France, we have made the necessary effort. Considering additional reinforcements is out of the question for now,” he told broadcaster Europe 1.
In the immortal words of Emily Litella, never mind.
It should be pointed out that France is hardly the only country in Europe to feel this way:
[A] Harris poll for the FT shows that clear majorities of people in the UK, France, Italy and Germany believe that their governments must not send more forces to Afghanistan, irrespective of demands that the new American head of state might make.
Less than five percent of those polled believed that European countries should send troops to Afghanistan as a gesture of solidarity with Obama.
It will be interesting to see whether Obama will be able to change those minds in the coming year.
UPDATE: A follow-up on this post is here.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.