Corbyn/Mélenchon: La synthèse mène au désastre (A long tradition of communist accommodation with antisemitism: how the demagogues from the race-card playing left made the private prejudices of conservative Muslim voters respectable)

17 décembre, 2019

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L’antisionisme est la trouvaille miraculeuse, l’aubaine providentielle qui réconcilie la gauche anti-impérialiste et la droite antisémite ; (il) donne la permission d’être démocratiquement antisémite. Qui dit mieux ? Il est désormais possible de haïr les Juifs au nom du progressisme ! Il y a de quoi avoir le vertige : ce renversement bienvenu, cette introuvable inversion ne peuvent qu’enfermer Israël dans une nouvelle solitude. Vladimir Jankélévitch
La nation juive n’est pas civilisée, elle est patriarchale, n’ayant point de souverain, n’en reconnaissant aucun en secret, et croyant toute fourberie louable, quand il s’agit de tromper ceux qui ne pratiquent pas sa religion. Elle n’affiche pas ses principes, mais on les connaît assez. Un tort plus grave chez cette nation, est de s’adonner exclusivement au trafic, à l’usure, et aux dépravations mercantiles […] Tout gouvernement qui tient aux bonnes mœurs devrait y astreindre les Juifs, les obliger au travail productif, ne les admettre qu’en proportion d’un centième pour le vice: une famille marchande pour cent familles agricoles et manufacturières; mais notre siècle philosophe admet inconsidérément des légions de Juifs, tous parasites, marchands, usuriers, etc.Charles Fourier (Analyse de la civilisation, 1848)
Juifs. Faire un article contre cette race qui envenime tout, en se fourrant partout, sans jamais se fondre avec aucun peuple. Demander son expulsion de France, à l’exception des individus mariés avec des Françaises ; abolir les synagogues, ne les admettre à aucun emploi, poursuivre enfin l’abolition de ce culte. Ce n’est pas pour rien que les chrétiens les ont appelés déicides. Le juif est l’ennemi du genre humain. Il faut renvoyer cette race en Asie, ou l’exterminer. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1849)
Observons le Juif de tous les jours, le Juif ordinaire et non celui du sabbat. Ne cherchons point le mystère du Juif dans sa religion, mais le mystère de sa religion dans le Juif réel. Quelle est donc la base mondaine du judaïsme ? C’est le besoin pratique, l’égoïsme. Quel est le culte mondain du Juif ? C’est le trafic. Quelle est la divinité mondaine du Juif ? C’est l’argent. Karl Marx
L’argent est le dieu jaloux d’Israël devant qui nul autre Dieu ne doit subsister. Karl Marx
Dans les villes, ce qui exaspère le gros de la population française contre les Juifs, c’est que, par l’usure, par l’infatigable activité commerciale et par l’abus des influences politiques, ils accaparent peu à peu la fortune, le commerce, les emplois lucratifs, les fonctions administratives, la puissance publique . […] En France, l’influence politique des Juifs est énorme mais elle est, si je puis dire, indirecte. Elle ne s’exerce pas par la puissance du nombre, mais par la puissance de l’argent. Ils tiennent une grande partie de de la presse, les grandes institutions financières, et, quand ils n’ont pu agir sur les électeurs, ils agissent sur les élus. Ici, ils ont, en plus d’un point, la double force de l’argent et du nombre. Jean Jaurès (La question juive en Algérie, Dépêche de Toulouse, 1er mai 1895)
Nous savons bien que la race juive, concentrée, passionnée, subtile, toujours dévorée par une sorte de fièvre du gain quand ce n’est pas par la force du prophétisme, nous savons bien qu’elle manie avec une particulière habileté le mécanisme capitaliste, mécanisme de rapine, de mensonge, de corset, d’extorsion. Jean Jaurès (Discours au Tivoli, 1898)
Le Brexit et Trump étaient inextricablement liés en 2016 et ils sont inextricablement liés aujourd’hui. Johnson annonce une grande victoire de Trump. Les classes populaires sont fatiguées de leurs élites de new York, de Londres et de Bruxelles, qui leur expliquent comment vivre et comment faire. (…) Si les démocrates n’en tirent pas les leçons, Trump voguera vers une victoire à la Reagan en 1984. Steve Bannon
Avec Johnson, on se retrouve paradoxalement avec une bonne chance d’avoir une social-démocratie modérée. La victoire de Johnson pourrait être, comme le Brexit en 2016, l’indicateur d’une tendance capable de se répéter à nouveau outre-Atlantique. Dans les deux cas, les deux hommes ont été incroyablement sous-estimés par leurs adversaires et les observateurs, qui les ont volontiers présentés comme des clowns. Mais Boris Johnson n’a pas le caractère brutal de Trump et son côté incontrôlable. Il offre de ce point de vue un visage optimiste et décent à la révolte populiste et montre à la droite européenne qu’il est possible de la chevaucher sans quelle dérive vers quelque chose d’illibéral. C’est une bonne nouvelle. David Goodhart
Donald Trump, in his telling, could have shot somebody on Fifth Avenue and won. Boris Johnson could mislead the queen. He could break his promise to get Britain out of Europe by Oct. 31. He could lie about Turks invading Britain and the cost of European Union membership. He could make up stories about building 40 new hospitals. He could double down on the phantom $460 million a week that Brexit would deliver to the National Health Service — and still win a landslide Tory electoral victory not seen since Margaret Thatcher’s triumph in 1987. The British, or at least the English, did not care. Truth is so 20th century. They wanted Brexit done; and, formally speaking, Johnson will now take Britain out of Europe by Jan. 31, 2020, even if all the tough decisions on relations with the union will remain. Johnson was lucky. In the pathetic, emetic Jeremy Corbyn, the soon-to-depart Labour Party leader, he faced perhaps the worst opposition candidate ever. In the Tory press, he had a ferocious friend prepared to overlook every failing. In Brexit-weary British subjects, whiplashed since the 2016 referendum, he had the perfect receptacle for his “get Brexit done.” (…) The British working class, concentrated in the Midlands and the North, abandoned Labour and Corbyn’s socialism for the Tories and Johnson’s nationalism. In the depressed provinces of institutionalized precariousness, workers embraced an old Etonian mouthing about unleashed British potential. Not a million miles from blue-collar heartland Democrats migrating to Trump the millionaire and America First demagogy. That’s not the only parallel with American politics less than 11 months from the election. Johnson concentrated all the Brexit votes. By contrast, the pro-Remain vote was split between Corbyn’s internally divided Labour Party, the hapless Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish National Party. For anybody contemplating the divisions of the Democratic Party as compared with the Trump movement’s fanatical singleness of purpose, now reinforced by the impeachment proceedings, this can only be worrying. The clear rejection of Labour’s big-government socialism also looks ominous for Democrats who believe the party can lurch left and win. The British working class did not buy nationalized railways, electricity distribution and water utilities when they could stick it to some faceless bureaucrat in Brussels and — in that phrase as immortal as it is meaningless — take back their country. (…)That’s the story of our times. Johnson gets and fits those times better than most. He’s a natural. “Brexit and Trump were inextricably linked in 2016, and they are inextricably linked today,” Steve Bannon told me. “Johnson foreshadows a big Trump win. Working-class people are tired of their ‘betters’ in New York, London, Brussels telling them how to live and what to do. Corbyn the socialist program, not Corbyn the man, got crushed. If Democrats don’t take the lesson, Trump is headed for a Reagan-like ’84 victory.” I still think Trump can be beaten, but not from way out left and not without recognition that, as Hugo Dixon, a leader of the now defeated fight for a second British referendum, put it: “There is a crisis of liberalism because we have not found a way to connect to the lives of people in the small towns of the postindustrial wasteland whose traditional culture has been torn away.” Johnson, even with his 80-seat majority, has problems. His victory reconciled the irreconcilable. His moneyed coterie wants to turn Britain into free-market Singapore on the Thames. His new working-class constituency wants rule-Britannia greatness combined with state-funded support. That’s a delicate balancing act. The breakup of Britain has become more likely. The strong Scottish National Party showing portends a possible second Scottish referendum on independence. (…) As my readers know, I am a passionate European patriot who sees the union as the greatest achievement of the second half of the 20th century, and Britain’s exit as an appalling act of self-harm. But I also believe in democracy. Johnson took the decision back to the people and won. His victory must be respected. The fight for freedom, pluralism, the rule of law, human rights, a free press, independent judiciaries, breathable air, peace, decency and humanity continues — and has only become more critical now that Britain has marginalized itself irreversibly in a fit of nationalist delusion. Roger Cohen
Britain’s election on December 12th was the most unpredictable in years—yet in the end the result was crushingly one-sided. As we went to press the next morning, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party was heading for a majority of well over 70, the largest Tory margin since the days of Margaret Thatcher. Labour, meanwhile, was expecting its worst result since the 1930s. Mr Johnson, who diced with the possibility of being one of Britain’s shortest-serving prime ministers, is now all-powerful. The immediate consequence is that, for the first time since the referendum of 2016, it is clear that Britain will leave the European Union. By the end of January it will be out—though Brexit will still be far from “done”, as Mr Johnson promises. But the Tories’ triumph also shows something else: that a profound realignment in British politics has taken place. Mr Johnson’s victory saw the Conservatives taking territory that Labour had held for nearly a century. The party of the rich buried Labour under the votes of working-class northerners and Midlanders. After a decade of governments struggling with weak or non-existent majorities, Britain now has a prime minister with immense personal authority and a free rein in Parliament. Like Thatcher and Tony Blair, who also enjoyed large majorities, Mr Johnson has the chance to set Britain on a new course—but only if his government can also grapple with some truly daunting tasks. Mr Johnson was lucky in his opponent. Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader, was shunned by voters, who doubted his promises on the economy, rejected his embrace of dictators and terrorists and were unconvinced by his claims to reject anti-Semitism. But the result also vindicates Mr Johnson’s high-risk strategy of targeting working-class Brexit voters. Some of them switched to the Tories, others to the Brexit Party, but the effect was the same: to deprive Labour of its majority in dozens of seats. Five years ago, under David Cameron, the Conservative Party was a broadly liberal outfit, preaching free markets as it embraced gay marriage and environmentalism. Mr Johnson has yanked it to the left on economics, promising public spending and state aid for struggling industries, and to the right on culture, calling for longer prison sentences and complaining that European migrants “treat the UK as though it’s basically part of their own country.” Some liberal Tories hate the Trumpification of their party (the Conservative vote went down in some wealthy southern seats). But the election showed that they were far outnumbered by blue-collar defections from Labour farther north. This realignment may well last. The Tories’ new prospectus is calculated to take advantage of a long-term shift in voters’ behaviour which predates the Brexit referendum. Over several decades, economic attitudes have been replaced by cultural ones as the main predictor of party affiliation. Even at the last election, in 2017, working-class voters were almost as likely as professional ones to back the Tories. Mr Johnson rode a wave that was already washing over Britain. Donald Trump has shown how conservative positions on cultural matters can hold together a coalition of rich and poor voters. And Mr Johnson has an extra advantage in that his is unlikely to face strong opposition soon. Labour looks certain to be in the doldrums for a long time.The Economist
En juin 2016, le coup de tonnerre du Brexit avait précédé l’ouragan Trump, révélant le caractère transatlantique de la révolte nationaliste et populiste qui souffle sur l’Occident. Trois ans plus tard, la retentissante victoire de Boris Johnson annonce-t-elle à son tour une nouvelle prouesse de Donald Trump en novembre 2020? Beaucoup en Amérique accueillent l’idée avec horreur, mais certains commencent à envisager sérieusement l’hypothèse, en observant l’obstination avec laquelle ses électeurs lui restent fidèles, de la même manière que les électeurs du Brexit sont restés fidèles à leur désir de «sortir» de l’Union européenne. Les dérapages de Trump et les gigantesques efforts de ses adversaires pour lui ôter toute légitimité sont loin d’avoir fait bouger les lignes, peut-être même le contraire, à en croire de récents sondages favorables au président américain. Au Royaume-Uni, le slogan résolu de Boris Johnson, «Faisons le Brexit», a de son côté fait merveille, malgré tous les efforts des partisans du maintien dans l’Union qui voient leur rêve de « nouveau référendum » à nouveau fracassé. « Le Brexit et Trump étaient inextricablement liés en 2016 et ils sont inextricablement liés aujourdhui. Johnson annonce une grande victoire de Trump. Les classes populaires sont fatiguées de leurs élites de new York, de Londres et de Bruxelles; qui leur expliquent comment vivre et comment faire. (…) Si les démocrates n’en tirent pas les leçons, Trump voguera vers une victoire à la Reagan en 1984, déclare l’idéologue du national-populisme américain Steve Bannon à l’éditorialiste du New York Times Roger Cohen », qui semble partager à contre-coeur partager son pronostic.Même si on fait difficilement plus américain que Donald Trump, ni plus britannique que Boris Johnson, il y a incontestablement des parallèles saisissants entre les deux hommes et ils sont loin de se limiter à leur tignasse blonde, qui fait le régal des photographes. Premier point commun, les deux hommes appartiennent à l’élite « libérale » de leur pays, mais se sont définis en patriotes réalistes, surfant sur le désir viscéral du retour à la nation de l’électorat et offrant la promesse d’un pays « reprenant le contrôle » de son destin. Tous deux ont également joué de leurs personnalités hétérodoxes et charismatiques pour passer allègrement le Rubicon du politiquement correct et se poser en défenseurs du « petit peuple », grand perdant de la globalisation et de l’ouverture des frontières à l’immigration. Allant à rebours de la doxa du libre-échange pur et dur, ils ont engagé à la hussarde une redéfinition révolutionnaire de l’ADN de leur partis respectifs, instaurant un virage à gauche sur la question du commerce et du protectionnisme, tout en se situant à droite sur les questions sociétales et culturelles. La carte de leur électorat s’en trouve alors métamorphosée par le ralliement à la bannière conservatrice de régions traditionnellement acquises au Labour britannique ou au parti démocrate américain. De ce point de vue, l’humeur de la classe ouvrière des Midlands et du nord de l’Angleterre est presque un copié-collé du ressenti des ouvriers déclassés de l’industrie sidérurgique d l’Ohio ou de la Pennsylvanie. Boris comme Donald ont aussi séduit les petites villes et le pays rural, ce pays dit « périphérique » qui est en réalité « majoritaire », rappelle Christophe Guilluy. « Avec Johnson, on se retrouve paradoxalement avec une bonne chance d’avoir une soicial-démocratie modérée », note l’essayiste David Goodhart. Comme Steve Bannon, l’intellectuel anglais n’exclut pas que la victoire de Johnson soit, comme le Brexit en 2016, ‘l’indicateur d’une tendance capable de se répéter à nouveau outre-Atlantique ». Dans les deux cas, les deux hommes ont été incroyablement sous-estimés par leurs adversaires et les observateurs, qui les ont volontiers présentés comme des clowns, souligne l’intellectuel. Laure Mandeville
While Ken Livingstone was forcing startled historians to explain that Adolf Hitler was not a Zionist, I was in Naz Shah’s Bradford. A politician who wants to win there cannot afford to be reasonable, I discovered. He or she cannot deplore the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and say that the Israelis and Palestinians should have their own states. They have to engage in extremist rhetoric of the “sweep all the Jews out” variety or risk their opponents denouncing them as “Zionists”. George Galloway, who, never forget, was a demagogue from the race-card playing left rather than the far right, made the private prejudices of conservative Muslim voters respectable. Aisha Ali-Khan, who worked as Galloway’s assistant until his behaviour came to disgust her, realised how deep prejudice had sunk when she made a silly quip about David Miliband being more “fanciable” than Ed. Respect members accused her of being a “Jew lover” and, all of a sudden in Bradford politics, that did not seem an outrageous, or even an unusual, insult. Where Galloway led, others followed. David Ward, a now mercifully forgotten Liberal Democrat MP, tried and failed to save his seat by proclaiming his Jew obsession. Nothing, not even the murder of Jews, could restrain him. At one point, he told his constituents that the sight of the Israeli prime minister honouring the Parisian Jews whom Islamists had murdered made him “sick”. (He appeared to find the massacre itself easier to stomach.)Naz Shah’s picture of Israel superimposed on to a map of the US to show her “solution” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not a one-off but part of a race to the bottom. But Shah’s wider behaviour as an MP – a “progressive” MP, mark you – gives you a better idea of how deep the rot has sunk. She ignored a Bradford imam who declared that the terrorist who murdered a liberal Pakistani politician was a “great hero of Islam” and concentrated her energies on expressing her “loathing” of liberal and feminist British Muslims instead. (…) Liberal Muslims make many profoundly uncomfortable. Writers in the left-wing press treat them as Uncle Toms, as Shah did, because they are willing to work with the government to stop young men and women joining Islamic State. While they are criticised, politically correct criticism rarely extends to clerics who celebrate religious assassins. As for the antisemitism that allows Labour MPs to fantasise about “transporting” Jews, consider how jeering and dishonest the debate around that has become. When feminists talk about rape, they are not told as a matter of course “but women are always making false rape accusations”. If they were, they would suspect that their opponents wanted to deny the existence of sexual violence. Yet it is standard in polite society to hear that accusations of antisemitism are always made in bad faith to delegitimise justifiable criticism of Israel. I accept that there are Jews who say that all criticism of Israel is antisemitic. For her part, a feminist must accept that there are women who make false accusations of rape. But that does not mean that antisemitism does not exist, any more than it means that rape never happens. Challenging prejudices on the left wing is going to be all the more difficult because, incredibly, the British left in the second decade of the 21st century is led by men steeped in the worst traditions of the 20th. When historians had to explain last week that if Montgomery had not defeated Rommel at El Alamein in Egypt then the German armies would have killed every Jew they could find in Palestine, they were dealing with the conspiracy theory that Hitler was a Zionist, developed by a half-educated American Trotskyist called Lenni Brenner in the 1980s. When Jeremy Corbyn defended the Islamist likes of Raed Salah, who say that Jews dine on the blood of Christian children, he was continuing a tradition of communist accommodation with antisemitism that goes back to Stalin’s purges of Soviet Jews in the late 1940s. It is astonishing that you have to, but you must learn the worst of leftwing history now. For Labour is not just led by dirty men but by dirty old men, with roots in the contaminated soil of Marxist totalitarianism. If it is to change, its leaders will either have to change their minds or be thrown out of office. Put like this, the tasks facing Labour moderates seem impossible. They have to be attempted, however, for moral as much as electoral reasons. (…) Not just in Paris, but in Marseille, Copenhagen and Brussels, fascistic reactionaries are murdering Jews – once again. Go to any British synagogue or Jewish school and you will see police officers and volunteers guarding them. I do not want to tempt fate, but if British Jews were murdered, the leader of the Labour party would not be welcome at their memorial. The mourners would point to the exit and ask him to leave. If it is incredible that we have reached this pass, it is also intolerable. However hard the effort to overthrow it, the status quo cannot stand. Nick Cohen
Corbyn (…) a dû subir sans secours la grossière accusation d’antisémitisme à travers le grand rabbin d’Angleterre et les divers réseaux d’influence du Likoud (parti d’extrême droite de Netanyahou en Israël). Au lieu de riposter, il a passé son temps à s’excuser et à donner des gages. Dans les deux cas il a affiché une faiblesse qui a inquiété les secteurs populaires. (…) Tel est le prix pour les « synthèses » sous toutes les latitudes. Ceux qui voudraient nous y ramener en France perdent leur temps. En tous cas je n’y céderai jamais pour ma part. Retraite à point, Europe allemande et néolibérale, capitalisme vert, génuflexion devant les ukases arrogantes des communautaristes du CRIF : c’est non. Et non c’est non. Jean-Luc Mélenchon
Most people I know who used to be staunch Labour are now saying no way Jeremy Corbyn. It’s not our party any more. Same label, different bottle. Steve Hurt (engineer)
Because they hate Corbyn that much. The biggest message they can send to him is to elect a Tory government. Activist
Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have talked a good deal about winning back these working class voters, but his policy positions haven’t been designed to appeal to them. I’m not just talking about his ambivalence on Brexit—there’s a widespread feeling among voters who value flag, faith and family that Corbyn isn’t one of them. Toby Young
It’s the same story across England—working class electors deserting Labour en masse. We won’t have a breakdown of how people voted according to income and occupation for a while yet, but a few of the opinion polls in the run-up to election day contained some astonishing findings. For instance, a Deltapoll survey for the Mail on Sunday last month showed the Conservatives outpolling Labour by 49 per cent to 23 per cent in the C2DE social grades—the bottom half of the National Readership Survey classification system that ranks people according to their occupation. That is to say, people in the bottom half of the NRS distribution—skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers, state pensioners and people on benefits—were intending to vote Conservative rather than Labour by a ratio of more than two to one. (Exit polls suggest the actual figure was closer to 1.5 to one.) A taste of things to come was provided on Tuesday when a clandestine recording was released of Jon Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow health spokesman, telling a friend how “dire” things were for the party outside urban, metropolitan areas. “It’s abysmal out there,” he said. “They can’t stand Corbyn and they think Labour’s blocked Brexit.” Ashworth described the electoral map of Britain as “topsy turvey,” a reference not just to the anticipated losses in traditional Labour areas, but to the uptick in support for Labour in middle class cities like Canterbury. One of the other startling features of the opinion polls was Labour’s lead among graduates. As a general rule, the higher the concentration of graduates in an area, the more likely it was to skew Left on Thursday—and vice versa. (Labour held on to Canterbury.) The crumbling of the ‘Red Wall’ is the big story of this election and some commentators are describing it as a “one off.” The conventional wisdom is that working class voters have “lent” their votes to the Conservatives and, barring an upset, will give them back next time round. It’s Brexit, supposedly, that has been the game-changer—an excuse leapt on by Corbyn’s outriders in the media, who are loathe to blame Labour’s defeat on their man. If you look at the working class constituencies that turned blue, most of them voted to leave the European Union in 2016 by a significant margin—Great Grimsby, for instance, an English sea port in Yorkshire, where Leave outpolled Remain by 71.45 to 28.55 per cent. Labour’s problem, according to this analysis, is that it didn’t commit to taking Britain out of the EU during the campaign but instead said it would negotiate a new exit deal and then hold a second referendum in which the public would be able to choose between that deal and Remain. This fudge may have been enough to keep graduates on side, but it alienated working class Leave voters in England’s rust belt. This analysis doesn’t bear much scrutiny. To begin with, the desertion of Labour by its working class supporters—and its increasing popularity with more affluent, better educated voters—is a long-term trend, not an aberration. The disappearance of Labour’s traditional base isn’t just the story of this election, but one of the main themes of Britain’s post-war political history. At its height, Labour managed to assemble a coalition of university-educated liberals in London and the South and low-income voters in Britain’s industrial heartlands in the Midlands and the North—“between Hampstead and Hull,” as the saying goes. But mass immigration and globalization have driven a wedge between Labour’s middle class and working class supporters, as has Britain’s growing welfare bill and its membership of the European Union. Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have talked a good deal about winning back these working class voters, but his policy positions haven’t been designed to appeal to them. I’m not just talking about his ambivalence on Brexit—there’s a widespread feeling among voters who value flag, faith and family that Corbyn isn’t one of them. Before he became Labour leader in 2015, he was an energetic protestor against nearly every armed conflict Britain has been involved in since Suez, including the Falklands War. He’s also called for the abandonment of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent, the withdrawal of the UK from NATO and the dismantling of our security services—not to mention declining to sing the National Anthem at a Battle of Britain service in 2015. From the point of view of many working class voters, for whom love of country is still a deeply felt emotion, Corbyn seems to side with the country’s enemies more often than he does with Britain. Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership election was followed by a surge in party membership— from 193,754 at the end of 2014 to 388,103 by the end of 2015. But the activists he appeals to are predominantly middle class. According to internal Party data leaked to the Guardian, a disproportionate number of them are “high status city dwellers” who own their own homes. A careful analysis of the policies set out in Labour’s latest manifesto reveals that the main beneficiaries of the party’s proposed increase in public expenditure—which the Conservatives costed at an eye-watering £1.2 trillion—would be its middle class supporters. For instance, the party pledged to cut rail fares by 33 per cent and pay for it by slashing the money spent on roads. But only 11 per cent of Britain’s commuters travel by train compared to 68 per cent who drive—and the former tend to be more affluent than the latter. Corbyn also promised to abolish university tuition fees at a cost of £7.2 billion per annum, a deeply regressive policy which, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, would benefit middle- and high-earning graduates with “very little” upside for those on low incomes. It’s also worth noting that Corbyn’s interests and appearance—he’s a 70-year-old vegetarian with a fondness for train-drivers’ hats who has spent his life immersed in protest politics—strike many working class voters as “weird,” a word that kept coming up on the doorstep according to my fellow canvasser in Newcastle. He’s also presided over the invasion of his party by virulent anti-Semites and Labour is currently in the midst of an investigation by Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission thanks to his failure to deal with this. One of his supporters has already blamed the Jews for Labour’s defeat. But Corbyn isn’t the main reason C2DE voters have turned away from Labour, any more than Brexit is. Rather, they’ve both exacerbated a trend that’s been underway for at least 45 years, which is the fracturing of the “Hampstead and Hull” coalition and the ebbing away of Labour’s working class support. Another, related phenomenon that’s been overlooked is that these “topsy turvey” politics are hardly unique to Britain. Left-of-center parties in most parts of the Anglosphere, as well as other Western democracies, have seen the equivalent of their own ‘Red Walls’ collapsing. One of the reasons Scott Morrison’s Liberals confounded expectations to win the Australian election last May was because Bill Shorten’s Labour Party was so unpopular in traditional working class areas like Queensland, and support for socially democratic parties outside the large cities in Scandinavia has cratered over the past 15 years or so. Thomas Piketty, the French Marxist, wrote a paper about this phenomenon last year entitled ‘Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict’ and it’s the subject of Capital and Ideology, his new book. His hypothesis is that politics in the US, Britain, and France—he confines his analysis to those three countries—is dominated by the struggle between two elite groups: the Brahmin Left and the Merchant Right. He points out that left-wing parties in the US, Britain and France used to rely on ‘nativist’ voters to win elections—low education, low income—but since the 1970s have begun to attract more and more ‘globalist’ voters—high education, high income (with the exception of the top 10 per cent of income earners). The nativists, meanwhile, have drifted to the Right, forming a coalition with the business elite. He crunches the data to show that in the US, from the 1940s to the 1960s, the more educated people were, the more likely they were to vote Republican. Now, the opposite is true, with 70% of voters with masters degrees voting for Hilary in 2016. “The trend is virtually identical in all three countries,” he writes. In Piketty’s view, the electoral preferences of the post-industrial working class—the precariat—is a kind of false consciousness, often engendered by populist snake-charmers like Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orban. He’s intensely suspicious of the unholy alliance between super-rich “merchants” and the lumpen proletariat, and similar noises have been made about the levels of support Boris has managed to attract. Plenty of better writers than me — Douglas Murray, John Gray — have debunked the notion that the only reason low-income voters embrace right-wing politics is because they’re drunk on a cocktail of ethno-nationalism and false hope (with Rupert Murdoch and Vladimir Putin taking turns as mixologists). It surely has more to do with the Left’s sneering contempt for the “deplorables” in the flyover states as they shuttle back and forth between their walled, cosmopolitan strongholds. As Corbyn’s policy platform in Britain’s election showed, left-wing parties now have little to offer indigenous, working class people outside the big cities—and their activists often add insult to injury by describing these left-behind voters as “privileged” because they’re white or cis-gendered or whatever. So long as parties like Labour pander to their middle-class, identitarian activists and ignore the interests of the genuinely disadvantaged, they’ll continue to rack up loss after loss. Get woke, go broke. Will the Democrats learn fdrom Labour’s mistake and make Jo Biden the candidate—or even Pete Buttigieg? I wouldn’t bet on it. The zealots of the post-modern Left have a limitless capacity to ignore reality even when it’s staring them in the face. As I said to a friend last night after the election results starting rolling in, fighting political opponents like Jeremy Corbyn is a bit like competing in a round-the-world yacht race against a team that thinks the earth is flat. It can be kind of fun, even exhilarating. But until they acquire a compass and learn how to read a map, it’s not really a fair fight. Toby Young
C’est signe de naïveté que voir dans l’enseignement de la Shoah le moyen de faire reculer l’antisémitisme. Asséner l’histoire de la Shoah aux élèves comme une forme de catéchisme moral censé les protéger de l’antisémitisme est un non-sens. D’une part, parce que la compassion ne protège de rien : dans nos sociétés, une émotion chasse l’autre. D’autre part, parce qu’à force d’asséner cette histoire sous une forme moraliste on semble oublier que tout catéchisme provoque le rejet. On semble oublier aussi qu’on alimente une concurrence mémorielle qui nourrit le communautarisme. Enfin, qu’enfermer le peuple juif dans une essence de victime ne protège pas de la violence, mais tout au contraire y expose davantage. Georges Bensoussan
Je sais bien que les gens en ont par dessus de la tête de ces juifs qui se plaignent de l’antisémitisme, comme s’il n’y avait pas de trucs plus importants dans la vie. Qu’un type qui avait un peu abusé du chichon jette une vieille dame par dessus son balcon en hurlant qu’elle est le diable, qu’un autre mitraille des petits enfants dans une école confessionnelle ou qu’un troisième fasse un carton sur les clients d’un supermarché casher, et paf, les voilà à nouveau en train de jérémier sur les plateaux de télé…Forcément, ça agace. Regardez les élections en Grande-Bretagne, la gauche les perd dans les grandes largeurs, vraisemblablement parce que son programme de collectivisation des moyens de production était naze et son leader aussi charismatique et enthousiasmant qu’un bonnet de nuit en pilou, eh bien qui entend-on pousser des hauts-cris ? Les juifs. Et pourquoi donc ? Parce que pour l’état-major du Labour, les porteurs de kippa seraient en réalité les deus ex machina de la défaite. Mais bon sang, si on ne peut plus accuser les juifs d’être derrière tout ce qui ne nous fait pas plaisir dans la vie sans les entendre se lamenter devant leur mur, où va-t-on ? Et puis, franchement, il doit avoir un peu raison quelque part, l’ancien maire de Londres Ken Livingstone, lorsqu’il évoque ce satané « vote juif » sans lequel Corbyn serait aujourd’hui Premier ministre à la place de cette crapule de Boris Johnson. D’accord, il n’y a que 300 000 juifs dans tout le pays, les socialistes ont perdu par 4 millions de voix, mais on imagine tout de même que pour un « peuple élu », manipuler un scrutin doit être un jeu d’enfant… D’ailleurs, même notre gauche radicale à nous est d’accord avec l’analyse : les juifs, ils sont tous de droite. Ces Marx, ces Trotski, ces Mendès-France, ces Krivine, ces Cohn-Bendit, ces Bernie Sanders… Tous des fachos notoires. Du coup, on comprend que Mélenchon pousse un coup de gueule sur son blog en commentant le terrible résultat : chez nos voisins du dessus, la gauche a été laminée à cause du « grand rabbin et des réseaux d’influence du Likoud » (un parti politique israélien dont tous les juifs à travers le monde deviennent membres de droit dès leur circoncision). Mieux encore, c’est le Crif français, avec ses « oukases arrogantes » qui imposent « des génuflexions », qui a certainement tenu la main de ces pauvres électeurs britanniques. Fichu cosmopolitisme… D’autant plus que le point de vue de l’insoumis en chef doit être pas mal répandu : zéro réaction chez nos politiques de droite ou de gauche à ses propos ; pas le moindre froncement de sourcil dans la presse « comme il faut »… Un vrai « détail de l’histoire », son commentaire outragé façon Protocole des sages de Sion. Alors, est-ce qu’il est antisémite, le Méluche ? Au sens où, il rêverait d’une solution ultime au problème que pose la terrible engeance dont j’ai moi-même presque honte de faire partie ? Évidemment non. Les antisémites, les vrais, sont de droite (comme les juifs d’ailleurs, mais c’est pour ça qu’on a inventé le mot paradoxe). Non, il n’est pas antisémite. Il constate juste que les juifs utilisent leurs immenses moyens de pression financiers et médiatiques pour accomplir leurs noirs desseins colonialistes et qu’il est temps d’arrêter de se mettre à plat ventre devant eux par faiblesse. C’est tout. On ne va pas en faire un cheddar. Mélenchon, en fait, il dit juste tout haut ce que les gens pensent tout bas, comme le suggérait un autre bateleur d’estrade autrefois. Il dit juste que si Corbyn a perdu, c’est à cause du Crif, des rabbins, du Likoud et des oukases ! Prenez-vous ça dans la gueule, les juifs ! Si vous pensez vraiment qu’on n’a pas vu votre petit jeu ! Retournez manger votre pain azyme dans vos synagogues et arrêtez de vous mettre en travers de la justice sociale, non mais ! Hughes Serraf
Si la volte-face récente de Jean-Luc Mélenchon est un calcul électoraliste, alors ce calcul est une erreur. Car lorsque la Maison Mélenchon multiplie les ententes avec des activistes communautaristes, du strict point de vue électoraliste elle se tire une balle dans chaque pied: d’une, cela ne lui fait rien gagner du côté des Français de confession musulmane ; de deux, cela lui fait perdre massivement des électeurs de gauche qui, musulmans ou pas, sont restés fermes sur la défense de la laïcité et de l’égalité femmes-hommes. Il existe cependant une autre hypothèse que le calcul électoraliste: celle de l’erreur provoquée par un fonctionnement à la va-vite. Peut-être que tous ces députés LFI ont signé en bloc l’appel à marcher contre l’islamophobie parce qu’ils n’ont pas lu le texte avec suffisamment d’attention: ils ont donc cru signer un appel antiraciste habituel, sans en repérer les ambiguïtés. Et aussi, parce qu’ils ne se sont pas renseignés sur les idées d’une partie des porteurs du texte, idées pour le moins problématiques quand on est de gauche. Puis, après coup, Jean-Luc Mélenchon aura tenté de limiter la casse en trouvant des explications plus ou moins vraisemblables à cette catastrophique sortie de route. Toujours est-il que tout cela est incompréhensible venant de Jean-Luc Mélenchon, lui qui plaida rigoureusement contre le concept d’islamophobie au motif qu’on doit avoir, je cite, «le droit de ne pas aimer l’islam». Du reste, il n’y aurait eu aucune polémique et aucun problème si la marche et l’appel à manifester avaient invoqué le racisme anti-maghrébins ou le racisme anti-musulmans, plutôt que ce concept d’islamophobie dont le sens et la légitimité sont l’objet de controverses. Toute cette affaire, c’est vraiment dommage. Car assurément, lors de cette marche, plusieurs milliers de gens ont défilé sincèrement contre le racisme et pas du tout pour le communautarisme d’une partie des initiateurs. Chez LFI et ailleurs, les activistes communautaristes sont en réalité très peu nombreux. Et comme je vous le disais à l’instant, la population qu’ils prétendent défendre, dans sa très large majorité, ne veut pas de leurs idées. Pour compenser cette faiblesse numérique et ce rejet de leurs thèses par ceux qu’ils disent représenter, ils pratiquent donc un entrisme très agressif: partis, facultés, syndicats, médias, etc. Lorsqu’une structure va bien, les activistes communautaristes n’arrivent pas à y avoir une influence: leur entrisme a par exemple échoué dans presque tous les grands médias. Lorsqu’une structure est affaiblie ou en crise, en revanche, ils parviennent à y prendre pied: c’est arrivé à des petits partis et à des syndicats. Or, précisément, après deux années d’erreurs accumulées, la Maison Mélenchon est extrêmement affaiblie. C’est un astre mort, pareil à ces étoiles dont vous percevez encore la lumière alors qu’elles sont déjà éteintes. Au lendemain de la présidentielle de 2017, elle pouvait mobiliser au moins 50 000 militants de terrain dans toute la France pour une opération d’envergure nationale. Actuellement, elle peut difficilement en mobiliser 5 000 et peine à constituer des listes en vue des élections municipales de 2020. L’influence croissante des activistes communautaristes est un signe supplémentaire du fait que la Maison Mélenchon est affaiblie. Dans ce contexte, alors que les activistes communautaristes étaient encore fermement contenus en marge de l’appareil LFI juste après la présidentielle de 2017, aujourd’hui ils y prospèrent. Ce qui ne fait que faciliter la chute de la Maison Mélenchon puisque encore une fois, ni les Français en général, ni les Français de confession musulmane en particulier, ne veulent du communautarisme. Autrement dit, plutôt qu’un problème en soi, l’influence croissante des activistes communautaristes est plutôt un signe supplémentaire du fait que la Maison Mélenchon est affaiblie: l’hémorragie électorale, l’exode massif de militants, l’autodestruction de l’image d’homme d’État de Jean-Luc Mélenchon, ont probablement fait trop de dégâts pour que cela soit réparable. J’ai rejoint La France insoumise à l’été 2017. Je l’ai fait par idéal, parce que j’étais profondément d’accord avec le programme du mouvement: L’Avenir en commun. J’étais très enthousiaste et je me suis mis à la disposition du mouvement pour aider. Charlotte Girard, responsable du programme, m’a confié la formation politique des militants en tandem avec Manon Le Bretton. Pendant un an je ne me suis occupé que de cela. J’étais dans mon coin, et ce d’autant plus que le fonctionnement de l’appareil central est extrêmement cloisonné. Je n’avais des contacts avec le siège que pour des questions logistiques, et de temps en temps pour valider le planning ou les intervenants. Et puis, en été 2018, m’étant porté volontaire pour être l’un des candidats LFI à l’élection européenne, j’ai commencé à fréquenter régulièrement l’appareil central, avec des réunions de coordination, des échanges fréquents avec des cadres, etc. C’est à partir de là que j’ai eu de plus en plus de voyants rouges allumés, au fur et à mesure de ce que je voyais. C’est bien simple: la Maison Mélenchon pratique systématiquement en interne le contraire des valeurs qu’elle affiche. C’est orwellien. Dans les paroles, elle plaide pour une vraie démocratie, pour le respect des droits de l’opposition, pour l’émancipation humaine. Dans les actes, en interne, elle pratique le fonctionnement dictatorial, l’interdiction d’exprimer une parole critique sous peine d’encourir une «purge», et des façons de traiter les gens qui souvent sont humainement détestables. Je raconte par exemple dans un chapitre de mon livre comment les lanceurs d’alerte, qui exigeaient de passer à un fonctionnement démocratique, ont été systématiquement placardisés, calomniés, bannis, ou un mélange des trois. On m’objecte parfois que les tendances dictatoriales de Jean-Luc Mélenchon étaient évidentes dès 2017. Mais ce n’est pas vrai. Dès 2017, certes, chacun voyait qu’il était manifestement un homme à poigne et sujet à des grosses colères. Mais le fonctionnement interne systématiquement dictatorial de LFI, lui, n’était pas encore connu du grand public. On m’objecte plus souvent que ma désillusion aurait dû être plus rapide. Mais c’est négliger plusieurs choses. D’abord, le travail de lucidité est ralenti par le problème du double langage permanent des cadres de l’appareil: telle instance verrouillée est déguisée en instance aux participants «tirés au sort» ; tel congrès où il est interdit de proposer un autre texte que celui de la direction, est déguisé en exercice de démocratie participative ; telle purge pour se débarrasser d’un cadre trop critique, est déguisée en mesure disciplinaire «pour avoir tenu des propos sexistes» ; et ainsi de suite. Il faut donc le temps d’identifier une novlangue interne systématique et d’identifier la réalité autoritaire, centralisée, verrouillée, qu’elle sert à cacher. Ensuite, comme je vous le disais l’appareil est extrêmement opaque, cloisonné. Et les cadres ont souvent peur d’exprimer leurs critiques même entre eux. Comprendre le fonctionnement réel de la machine est donc matériellement difficile – et prend d’autant plus de temps. Enfin, si des dizaines de milliers de militants ont mis du temps avant de quitter La France insoumise, c’est aussi à cause du déni. Quand vous rejoignez un mouvement par idéal, vous devez d’abord épuiser en vous toutes les autres explications possibles, même tordues, avant d’accepter de regarder en face que c’est une vaste escroquerie politique qui trahit l’idéal au nom duquel vous vous êtes engagé. Au premier tour de la présidentielle de 2017, Jean-Luc Mélenchon a frôlé les 20 % malgré sa stratégie, et non pas grâce à elle. Au départ, la Maison Mélenchon a décidé de faire, par rapport à la campagne de 2012, ce qu’on appelle en marketing un «rebranding». Ils ont abandonné le vocabulaire, le message et les symboles de la campagne «Fier d’être de gauche» de 2012. Ils ont remplacé tout cela par une campagne «Fédérer le peuple contre les 1%», avec un message au-delà du clivage gauche-droite, apaisé sur la forme. C’est ce qu’on appelle la stratégie du «populisme de gauche». Jean-Luc Mélenchon est resté malgré lui un candidat d’union de la gauche. Résultat: cela a échoué. En janvier 2017, Jean-Luc Mélenchon reconstitue en intentions de vote son score de la présidentielle de 2012, ce qui signifie que malgré un changement profond de message et de mise en scène, c’est encore l’électorat de gauche radicale qu’il réunifie. Se produit alors cet effet-domino: quelques points d’électorat de centre-gauche abandonnent progressivement le vote Hamon pour le vote Macron, essentiellement par peur de Marine Le Pen et dans l’idée qu’Emmanuel Macron sera un meilleur candidat de barrage au FN. Ce qui fait baisser Benoît Hamon de 17 à 12-13, jusqu’à se trouver à touche-touche avec Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Par conséquent l’effet «vote utile de gauche», qui protège habituellement le candidat du PS contre tout rival de gauche, ne joue plus. Arrivent les débats de premier tour de la présidentielle: Hamon et Mélenchon disent en substance la même chose, mais Mélenchon est meilleur sur le fond et sur la forme. Mélenchon passe donc de quelques points devant Hamon dans les sondages – vraisemblablement un transfert d’électorat «aile gauche du PS». Enfin, dans la dernière ligne droite, Mélenchon étant devenu le candidat le mieux placé à gauche, l’effet «vote utile de gauche» se reconstitue dans la dernière ligne droite à son avantage, et le catapulte à presque 20 %. Il faut souligner que bien sûr, cette montée en puissance n’aurait pas été possible sans les talents d’orateur du candidat, son charisme hors normes, et son grand talent de pédagogue politique sur scène. Toujours est-il qu’ainsi, ce que Jean-Luc Mélenchon a dit, c’est qu’il allait fédérer le peuple par-delà le clivage gauche-droite – mais ce qu’il a fait, c’est être malgré lui un candidat d’union de la gauche. Une fois qu’on a compris cela, on comprend aussi que, lorsque la Maison Mélenchon a interprété ce score comme un nouveau socle de 20 % d’adhésion à la stratégie du «populisme de gauche», c’était une erreur. Puisque Jean-Luc Mélenchon avait été, certes malgré lui, un candidat d’union de la gauche, il fallait former une coalition de type «Front populaire» dès les législatives. Au lieu de cela, La France insoumise a préféré partir seule au combat des législatives, ce qui a mécaniquement abouti à un groupe parlementaire croupion. De même, pendant deux ans, le message politique martelé en boucle, celui de l’appel au soulèvement populaire, n’a correspondu qu’aux attentes de l’électorat de gauche radicale: c’est-à-dire moitié moins que les 20 % de 2017, ce qui a contribué à rétrécir l’espace électoral de LFI. La situation politique de l’Europe est très diverse, sans qu’on constate une dynamique commune à tout le continent. À cela s’ajoute un problème spécifique d’illisibilité du cap fixé. Par exemple, il fut tour à tour question de refuser les alliances avec d’autres forces de gauche, puis de les souhaiter, puis de les refuser à nouveau, et ainsi de suite. Autre exemple, concernant la stratégie «plan A plan B» face à l’Union européenne, il en a existé de 2017 à 2019 presque autant d’interprétations qu’il existe de porte-paroles de LFI. À la longue, cette ligne erratique a nécessairement conduit à ce que des électeurs, rendus méfiants par le flou, se détournent de LFI. rien n’indique un grand effondrement européen de la gauche. 2019 a vu plusieurs victoires. En Espagne, les législatives ont été gagnées par la gauche sociale-démocrate et elle vient de signer un accord de principe avec la gauche radicale pour gouverner ensemble. Au Portugal, les législatives ont été gagnées par la coalition sortante de gauche. En Italie, sans passer par des législatives, un nouveau gouvernement a été installé, sur une coalition du Mouvement 5-Etoiles et de la gauche. On pourrait ainsi multiplier les exemples. On pourrait cependant multiplier aussi les exemples de succès de la droite et dans une moindre mesure de l’extrême droite. Ni vague brune, ni vague bleue, ni vague rose, ni vague rouge: la situation politique de l’Europe, aujourd’hui, est tout simplement très diverse, sans qu’on constate une dynamique commune à tout le continent. Thomas Guénolé
L’antisémitisme de la gauche est un sujet tabou. Depuis longtemps, elle s’est dressée en pourfendeuse du racisme, forcément de droite, oubliant, par exemple, que la chambre du Front Populaire avait voté les pleins pouvoirs à Pétain, vite rejoint à Vichy par Laval, Déat, Marquet, Doriot, Luchaire, Belin et Bousquet. S’il y eut un antijudaïsme catholique, des antisémitismes agnostique (Voltaire) et protestant (Luther), l’un des plus virulents avec celui de l’extrême droite fut révolutionnaire et socialiste. Dans La question juive, Marx dénonce «l’essence du judaïsme et la racine de l’âme juive, l’opportunité et l’intérêt personnel qui se manifeste dans la soif de l’argent». Dans une lettre à Engels, il décrit le socialiste allemand Ferdinand Lassalle comme «un vrai juif de la frontière slave, (…) sa manie de masquer le juif crasseux de Breslau sous toutes sortes de pommades et de fard». Proudhon, qui va inspirer Jaurès, dénonce «l’ennemi du genre humain», une «race» qu’ «il faut renvoyer en Asie ou exterminer» . Staline, idole, sa vie entière, du PCF, lance en 1948 une campagne «anti-cosmopolite», prélude aux exécutions des «blouses blanches» et des intellectuels juifs «incapables de comprendre le caractère national russe». Dans l’entre-deux-guerres, les «néo-socialistes», tous pacifistes, sont aussi à l’œuvre chez nous: Déat souligne le «byzantinisme» de Léon Blum et sa «passivité tout orientale» ; c’est l’époque où la SFIO est accusée de subir une «dictature juive», et que le maire de Bordeaux, Marquet, lui reproche de «pousser à la guerre pour l’URSS et la juiverie». Mais parmi les figures emblématiques de l’antisémitisme de gauche, Jaurès tient une place de choix. Le sujet est tabou par excellence, tant l’idole du socialisme français est encaustiquée! Son journal, La Petite République, désigne le député Reinach comme un «juif ignoble» . Lors de son voyage en Algérie, en avril 1895, Jaurès décrit les juifs qui, «par l’usure, l’infatigable activité commerciale et l’abus de l’influence politique, accaparent peu à peu la fortune, le commerce, les emplois publics (…). Ils tiennent une grande partie de la presse, les grandes institutions financières, et quand ils n’ont pu agir sur les électeurs, ils agissent sur les élus» . Son historien «officiel», Gilles Candar, excusera la diatribe par la «fatigue» de son auteur! L’explication, si facile, par le «contexte» ne tient pas: Clemenceau ne tiendra jamais de tels propos. Dans son discours au Tivoli en 1898, Jaurès est plus caricatural encore: «nous savons bien que la race juive, concentrée, passionnée, subtile, toujours dévorée par une sorte de fièvre du gain quand ce n’est pas par la force du prophétisme, (…) manie avec une particulière habileté le mécanisme capitaliste, mécanisme de rapine, de mensonge, de corset, d’extorsion» . Longtemps convaincu de la culpabilité de Dreyfus, qui aurait échappé à la peine capitale grâce «au prodigieux déploiement de la puissance juive», Jaurès dénonce à la tribune de la Chambre la «bande cosmopolite»! Il sera d’ailleurs sanctionné pour ses propos! Après avoir, une dernière fois, souligné que «l’odeur du ghetto est souvent nauséabonde» , Jaurès opère un revirement tardif lors du procès de Zola, assigné en Justice par le Président Félix Faure en représailles du «J’accuse» paru dans L’Aurore. Devenu dreyfusard, Jaurès, le repenti, obtiendra le soutien financier magnanime du banquier Louis Dreyfus pour son journal l’Humanité… Anne Hidalgo envisageait de débaptiser la rue Alain pour les accents antisémites du journal intime du philosophe. Le fera-t-elle aussi pour Jaurès? L’antisionisme est-il aujourd’hui pour les islamo-gauchistes le cache-sexe de l’antisémitisme? La cause palestinienne est en tout cas mal servie! On se souviendra seulement que les enfants de Marx ont pris, comme Edwy Plenel, dans son journal «Rouge», la défense «inconditionnelle» des terroristes de Septembre Noir. Ceux qui, en 1973, aux JO de Munich, ont assassiné onze athlètes israéliens. Un acte «justifié», disait Sartre, parce que c’étaient des soldats. Bernard Carayon
Il faut distinguer deux choses. L’antisionisme est-il une forme d’antisémitisme dicible ? Et faut-il légiférer en la matière ? Il y a donc deux réponses distinctes. En premier lieu, définir l’antisionisme : c’est l’hostilité à l’idée d’un État juif. Les premiers milieux antisionistes, c’est à l’intérieur du monde juif qu’on les trouve et de bords opposés, d’une part dans les milieux de l’orthodoxie religieuse, de tendance hassidique ou non, d’autre part dans les milieux de la gauche juive, socialiste révolutionnaire ou issue du mouvement bundiste (le parti socialiste juif ouvrier, ndlr) né en 1897, l’année du premier congrès sioniste. Ce qui n’empêche pas d’ailleurs parallèlement et même immédiatement de voir se déclencher un antisionisme virulent du côté de l’Église catholique et des milieux d’extrême droite. Il faut rappeler que les Protocoles des Sages de Sion ont été rédigés dans la foulée du premier congrès sioniste. Ils sont nés du fantasme d’une domination universelle des Juifs à partir du projet de création d’un « foyer national » juif. S’il s’agit de s’opposer à la création d’un État juif, l’antisionisme est donc un débat légitime jusqu’au 14 mai 1948. Ensuite, il perd toute raison d’être puisque l’État existe. Si la polémique persiste, alors cela signifie en bonne logique que l’on est opposé à l’existence de l’État d’Israël. Et dans ce cas, on n’est plus dans un débat politique mais dans un projet meurtrier parce que la disparition d’un Etat, c’est le mot doucereux pour dire expulsions, spoliations et massacres. En ce sens, et depuis 1948, le débat sur la validité ou non du sionisme est clos puisque l’État est là. On peut certes continuer à discuter à l’infini sur ce qu’a représenté le projet sioniste, son bien-fondé ou non, mais on ne peut plus remettre en cause son résultat pratique, la création d’un Etat et d’une société nouvelle forte de neuf millions d’habitants. Pour autant, faut-il légiférer ? Je ne crois pas. L’antisionisme joue d’une ambiguïté, celle de faire croire qu’il se limite à la critique de la politique israélienne quand, en réalité, c’est le droit à l’existence de ce pays que l’antisionisme remet en cause, quelle que soit la politique de ses dirigeants et les concessions qu’ils feront demain. La critique de la politique israélienne, c’est autre chose, ce n’est pas de l’antisionisme ni de l’antisémitisme mais tout simplement la critique légitime de la politique d’un État. Légiférer dans ce domaine est une erreur dès lors que l’on n’a pas expliqué correctement ce que recouvrait le mot antisionisme, un appel à la destruction d’un État et non la critique de sa politique. Légiférer va conférer en effet un caractère intouchable à l’État juif qui ne peut qu’alimenter le fantasme complotiste. Il vaut mieux expliquer comment l’antisémitisme qui n’est plus dicible depuis Auschwitz se dissimule derrière le mot sioniste, comment le mot juif est systématiquement remplacé par le mot sioniste dans une démarche mystificatrice. Pour percer à jour cette supercherie intellectuelle, l’arsenal législatif contre l’antisémitisme suffisait amplement. Je crois surtout que la diabolisation de l’État d’Israël est l’héritage laissé par l’intense propagande communiste. Reste aussi qu’on aura mis cinquante ans à découvrir cette mystification. Léon Poliakov l’avait dit dès 1968, l’antisionisme militant était le refus à peine masqué de l’existence d’un Etat juif. Et plus encore dix ans plus tard le philosophe Vladimir Jankélévitch qui s’exprimait en ces termes : « L’antisionisme est la trouvaille miraculeuse, l’aubaine providentielle qui réconcilie la gauche anti-impérialiste et la droite antisémite ; (il) donne la permission d’être démocratiquement antisémite. Qui dit mieux ? Il est désormais possible de haïr les Juifs au nom du progressisme ! Il y a de quoi avoir le vertige : ce renversement bienvenu, cette introuvable inversion ne peuvent qu’enfermer Israël dans une nouvelle solitude [1]. » La doxa actuelle a fait de l’antisionisme un de ses credo de base pour des raisons profondes. Je ne pense pas qu’une loi puisse infléchir cette tendance. Il est préférable de la comprendre pour désamorcer la part inquiétante de ce raisonnement spécieux. Je crois surtout que la diabolisation de l’État d’Israël est l’héritage laissé par l’intense propagande communiste, aujourd’hui oubliée, en particulier celle de l’ex-Union soviétique qui entre les années 1950 et 1990, a produit une immense « littérature » anti-israélienne imprégnée du vieil antisémitisme russe mâtiné d’anticapitalisme. La diabolisation de l’État juif tient aussi au nouveau rapport de force démographique qui s’est instauré en Europe par le biais d’une immigration arabo-musulmane importante, en particulier en France, le pays qui abrite la plus importante communauté musulmane d’Europe (25% des musulmans d’Europe vivent en France) comme aussi la plus importante communauté juive. Dans leur immense majorité, cette immigration vient du monde arabe et en particulier du Maghreb où la haine de l’État d’Israël est diffuse et quotidienne, en particulier en Algérie. Par surcroit, cette récusation a été sourdement et silencieusement favorisée par la culpabilité née de la Shoah. Dans un autre ordre d’idées, l’État d’Israël a été fondé après la Seconde Guerre mondiale à contre-courant du principe de l’État-nation. Il représente le principe même de l’identité nationale, de la filiation et des racines, un principe qui a été puissamment récusé en Europe par le multiculturalisme dominant. On en veut à l’Etat juif de représenter le principe de l’État-nation dont beaucoup considèrent qu’il est porteur de guerre. D’un autre bord, on lui en veut aussi d’avoir perpétué ce qui est perdu en Europe aujourd’hui et dont on garde une nostalgie mais qui est difficile à dire en ce temps de pensée correcte : l’identité culturelle, l’enracinement et l’amour de la patrie. Des mots qui pourraient vous classer d’emblée à l’extrême droite dans ce tribunal permanent qu’est devenue la vie intellectuelle dans la France d’aujourd’hui. Je reviens sur cette diabolisation de l’État d’Israël comme forme sécularisée, profane et dicible, de l’antique stigmatisation du signe juif qui a participé à la matrice culturelle de l’Europe chrétienne. La restauration de l’indépendance nationale juive est le démenti infligé à l’abaissement d’Israël, partie intrinsèque de la théologie chrétienne comme de la théologie musulmane. Malédiction de l’origine… Il est difficile de sortir de ce moule. Ce n’est toutefois pas impossible à la condition de mettre les mots pour ne plus être parlé par ces mythologies. Il faut faire ici un sort particulier à la passion anti-israélienne qui anime certains Juifs de la diaspora dans leur relation torturée à leur identité juive. Je trouve particulièrement fallacieux d’avancer, par exemple, que les Juifs qui ne vivent pas en Israël sont antisionistes. Non, ils sont au mieux a-sionistes, certainement pas antisionistes. Avoir fait un autre choix que celui de s’établir dans l’État d’Israël ne signifie pas qu’on récuse le projet sioniste, mais simplement qu’on a d’autres attaches, d’autres enracinements, d’autres intérêts et d’autres filiations qui nous interdisent d’émigrer. Ce tour de passe-passe sémantique (tout Juif qui n’habite pas Israël est décrété « antisioniste ») participe d’une logique strictement idéologique. Près de 52% des Juifs du monde vivent aujourd’hui en Israël. En 1948, c’était à peine 5%. L’effectif du peuple juif dans le monde n’est pas de seize millions d’individus mais de treize millions au maximum. Sur ce chiffre, plus de 6,5 millions vivent aujourd’hui dans l’État juif. La seconde incohérence est de continuer à raisonner comme à l’époque d’avant l’État juif. Car la naissance de l’État d’Israël a modifié considérablement l’identité juive, l’identité de tous les Juifs du monde et pas seulement des Juifs citoyens israéliens. Y compris les plus hostiles au concept d’État juif. On est étonné que des militants antisionistes de profession, qui se situent généralement à gauche, se montrent aussi étrangers à la dialectique. Car la création de l’État d’Israël a bouleversé le regard que les Juifs portent sur leur propre identité, elle leur a donné une assurance et une force qu’ils ne connaissaient pas jusque-là. Elle les a transformés. C’est aussi pourquoi l’immense majorité d’entre eux est attachée à la vie et à la survie de l’État juif même s’ils n’ont aucune intention de s’y installer. Qu’on interroge les communautés juives de par le monde et l’on verra combien l’attachement à l’État d’Israël est puissant et va au-delà des vicissitudes de tel ou tel gouvernement, il est ancré dans la quasi-totalité des communautés juives de la diaspora en dépit du regard critique qu’elles peuvent porter sur la politique de l’État juif. Son existence est devenue chose vitale pour la quasi-totalité des Juifs du monde. Qu’on se souvienne par exemple des mots de Raymond Aron à ce sujet à la veille de la Guerre des Six Jours en 1967. Trois points me semblent essentiels. En premier lieu, cette augmentation de 74 % en 2018, une année où il n’y a pas eu de conflit majeur entre Israël et ses voisins, malgré quelques flambées de fièvre avec le Hamas à Gaza, rien toutefois qui ressemble à une véritable guerre comme en 2014, et a fortiori comme en 2006 avec le Hezbollah au Liban. Autrement dit, connecter perpétuellement la flambée d’actes antijuifs commis en France avec le conflit israélo-arabe est un leurre. L’antisémitisme qui sévit aujourd’hui en France se nourrit de lui-même, il peut certes être aggravé par l’actualité proche-orientale mais il n’en est pas né. Il n’a pas été créé par elle. Il est endogène. En matière d’actes agressifs, leurs auteurs sont connus et pour l’essentiel, sinon l’immense majorité d’entre eux, ils ne viennent pas de l’extrême droite. On s’abstiendra donc de désigner les antisémites tout en condamnant bien sûr l’antisémitisme. En deuxième lieu, l’arsenal législatif français est suffisant pour punir sévèrement les auteurs d’actes délictueux. C’est au pouvoir politique et à la justice de faire leur travail. De ne pas tergiverser sur la nature antisémite de crimes pour lesquels, on le sait, une dimension antisémite était avérée comme dans le cas de Sarah Halimi dont l’agresseur a traversé l’appartement de ses voisins maliens sans leur faire de mal pour aller frapper « la Juive » de l’immeuble qu’il bat à mort en la traitant de Sheitan (diable en arabe) avant de la défenestrer. Si ce n’était qu’une bouffée délirante, il s’en serait pris au premier voisin venu. Ce ne fut pas le cas : c’était à « la Juive » qu’il en voulait et à elle seule. Et jusqu’à ce jour, près de trois ans après les faits, on continue à débattre du caractère antisémite ou non de l’agression. En d’autres termes, si l’arsenal législatif suffit, mais si les actes ne suivent pas, c’est que la volonté politique est faible et qu’elle s’appuie sur cette maladie répandue mais qui prend en France une forme aiguë : le déni. Cette faiblesse a des causes profondes, mais elle est camouflée par des discours de compassion, souvent émouvants, qui de la droite à la gauche nous signifient que « la France sans les Juifs ne saurait être la France ». Dans la réalité, on a oublié ce sondage récent, il y a deux ans à peine, qui nous montrait que 67 % des Français étaient indifférents au départ des Juifs. Certes, seule une minorité infime s’en réjouissait et un bon tiers le déplorait. Mais le chiffre de 67 % était là, écrasant qui montrait la force de l’indifférence, ce moteur du malheur. Je doute fort que la loi puisse faire quoique en matière d’évolution sociétale. Nous sommes en présence d’une vague de fond, elle porte à terme l’abandon des Juifs sans qu’entre ici une part d’antisémitisme militant. Cet abandon n’est d’ailleurs que le signe avancé d’une fracturation et d’une désaffiliation françaises plus vastes. Mais c’est un autre sujet. En troisième lieu, c’est signe de naïveté que voir dans l’enseignement de la Shoah le moyen de faire reculer l’antisémitisme. Asséner l’histoire de la Shoah aux élèves comme une forme de catéchisme moral censé les protéger de l’antisémitisme est un non-sens. D’une part, parce que la compassion ne protège de rien : dans nos sociétés, une émotion chasse l’autre. D’autre part, parce qu’à force d’asséner cette histoire sous une forme moraliste on semble oublier que tout catéchisme provoque le rejet. On semble oublier aussi qu’on alimente une concurrence mémorielle qui nourrit le communautarisme. Enfin, qu’enfermer le peuple juif dans une essence de victime ne protège pas de la violence, mais tout au contraire y expose davantage. Georges Bensoussan
 Attention: une synthèse peut en cacher une autre !
Au lendemain du véritable triomphe de Boris Johnson et des Conservateurs britanniques …
Et surtout du désastre du leader travailliste Jeremy Corbyn …
Pendant que refusant d’y reconnaitre le funeste résultat de décennies de radicalisation à l’instar de l’ancien maire de Londres travailliste Jonathan Livingstone, Jean-Luc Mélenchon y va de sa dénonciation des tentatives de synthèse de Corbyn avec la gauche modérée du parti …
Et après avoir défilé le mois dernier contre la prétendue islamophobie, achève son coming out antisémite dans une violente dénonciation des « ukases arrogantes (sic) des communautaristes du CRIF » …
Comment ne pas y voir, du Brexit à l’élection de Trump – et avant sa probable réélection – jusqu’au mouvement des gilets jaunes en France, la continuation d’une révolte de toute une classse ouvrière et moyenne abandonnée par la gauche boboïsée et caviardisée ?
Et comment ne pas se réjouir de ces électeurs de cette même classe …
Qui déjouant toutes les accusations de xénophobie et de racisme dont ils sont régulièrement l’objet …
Ont su au nom des valeurs oubliées de leur classe des « trois F » (family, faith and flag) …
Retrouver le simple sens de la décence qu’oublient justement aujourd’hui leurs accusateurs de gauche …
Et démasquer enfin, de Livingstone à Galloway et Corbyn …
Mais aussi de Marx, Proudhon, Guesde, Jaurès et Lénine et Staline …
Cachée derrière le cache-sexe de l’antisionisme qui, puisque l’État d’Israël existe comme le rappelle Georges Bensoussan, ne vise plus que la disparition d’un Etat, et les expulsions, spoliations et massacres qu’elle suppose …
Cette nouvelle et pourtant si ancienne synthèse du fameux socialisme des imbéciles
Contre laquelle toute nouvelle législation comme le catéchisme moral ne fera que relancer le fantasme complotiste …
Entre la prétendue gauche antifasciste et antiraciste et les plus radicaux des immigrés musulmans dont il lorgnent les votes ?

L’antisionisme est-il un antisémitisme ? Grand entretien avec Georges Bensoussan

Désespérant et indéracinable, l’antisémitisme progresse en France, en Europe et aux Etats-Unis. Une résolution assimilant l’antisionisme à l’antisémitisme a été adoptée par le Parlement, suscitant une vive polémique. Le décryptage de Georges Bensoussan.

Cet entretien avec l’historien Georges Bensoussan apporte un nouvel éclairage sur un débat sulfureux. Rappelant que l’antisémitisme se dissimule effectivement derrière le mot sioniste, il doute néanmoins de l’efficacité d’une loi faussement protectrice qui risque au contraire d’alimenter le fantasme complotiste.

Georges Bensoussan est historien et auteur de nombreux ouvrages, tant sur la mémoire du génocide que sur la situation des juifs dans les pays arabes. Après le prémonitoire Les territoires perdus de la République (2002), il a dirigé l’ouvrage Une France soumise (Albin Michel, 2017) A paraître en janvier : L’alliance israélite universelle. Juifs d’Orient, Lumieres d’Occident (Albin Michel).


Marianne : Quel regard portez-vous sur la loi assimilant l’antisionisme à l’antisémitisme, qui fait polémique ?

Georges Bensoussan : Il faut distinguer deux choses. L’antisionisme est-il une forme d’antisémitisme dicible ? Et faut-il légiférer en la matière ? Il y a donc deux réponses distinctes. En premier lieu, définir l’antisionisme : c’est l’hostilité à l’idée d’un État juif. Les premiers milieux antisionistes, c’est à l’intérieur du monde juif qu’on les trouve et de bords opposés, d’une part dans les milieux de l’orthodoxie religieuse, de tendance hassidique ou non, d’autre part dans les milieux de la gauche juive, socialiste révolutionnaire ou issue du mouvement bundiste (le parti socialiste juif ouvrier, ndlr) né en 1897, l’année du premier congrès sioniste. Ce qui n’empêche pas d’ailleurs parallèlement et même immédiatement de voir se déclencher un antisionisme virulent du côté de l’Église catholique et des milieux d’extrême droite. Il faut rappeler que les Protocoles des Sages de Sion ont été rédigés dans la foulée du premier congrès sioniste. Ils sont nés du fantasme d’une domination universelle des Juifs à partir du projet de création d’un « foyer national » juif.

S’il s’agit de s’opposer à la création d’un État juif, l’antisionisme est donc un débat légitime jusqu’au 14 mai 1948. Ensuite, il perd toute raison d’être puisque l’État existe. Si la polémique persiste, alors cela signifie en bonne logique que l’on est opposé à l’existence de l’État d’Israël. Et dans ce cas, on n’est plus dans un débat politique mais dans un projet meurtrier parce que la disparition d’un Etat c’est le mot doucereux pour dire expulsions, spoliations et massacres. En ce sens, et depuis 1948, le débat sur la validité ou non du sionisme est clos puisque l’État est là. On peut certes continuer à discuter à l’infini sur ce qu’a représenté le projet sioniste, son bien-fondé ou non, mais on ne peut plus remettre en cause son résultat pratique, la création d’un Etat et d’une société nouvelle forte de neuf millions d’habitants.

Pour autant, faut-il légiférer ?

Je ne crois pas. L’antisionisme joue d’une ambiguïté, celle de faire croire qu’il se limite à la critique de la politique israélienne quand, en réalité, c’est le droit à l’existence de ce pays que l’antisionisme remet en cause, quelle que soit la politique de ses dirigeants et les concessions qu’ils feront demain. La critique de la politique israélienne, c’est autre chose, ce n’est pas de l’antisionisme ni de l’antisémitisme mais tout simplement la critique légitime de la politique d’un État. Légiférer dans ce domaine est une erreur dès lors que l’on n’a pas expliqué correctement ce que recouvrait le mot antisionisme, un appel à la destruction d’un État et non la critique de sa politique. Légiférer va conférer en effet un caractère intouchable à l’État juif qui ne peut qu’alimenter le fantasme complotiste. Il vaut mieux expliquer comment l’antisémitisme qui n’est plus dicible depuis Auschwitz se dissimule derrière le mot sioniste, comment le mot juif est systématiquement remplacé par le mot sioniste dans une démarche mystificatrice. Pour percer à jour cette supercherie intellectuelle, l’arsenal législatif contre l’antisémitisme suffisait amplement.

Je crois surtout que la diabolisation de l’État d’Israël est l’héritage laissé par l’intense propagande communiste

Reste aussi qu’on aura mis cinquante ans à découvrir cette mystification. Léon Poliakov l’avait dit dès 1968, l’antisionisme militant était le refus à peine masqué de l’existence d’un Etat juif. Et plus encore dix ans plus tard le philosophe Vladimir Jankélévitch qui s’exprimait en ces termes : « L’antisionisme est la trouvaille miraculeuse, l’aubaine providentielle qui réconcilie la gauche anti-impérialiste et la droite antisémite ; (il) donne la permission d’être démocratiquement antisémite. Qui dit mieux ? Il est désormais possible de haïr les Juifs au nom du progressisme ! Il y a de quoi avoir le vertige : ce renversement bienvenu, cette introuvable inversion ne peuvent qu’enfermer Israël dans une nouvelle solitude [1]. »

Cette mesure votée à l’instigation du député Sylvain Maillard souhaitait lutter contre une préoccupante diabolisation d’Israël…

La doxa actuelle a fait de l’antisionisme un de ses credo de base pour des raisons profondes. Je ne pense pas qu’une loi puisse infléchir cette tendance. Il est préférable de la comprendre pour désamorcer la part inquiétante de ce raisonnement spécieux.

Je crois surtout que la diabolisation de l’État d’Israël est l’héritage laissé par l’intense propagande communiste, aujourd’hui oubliée, en particulier celle de l’ex-Union soviétique qui entre les années 1950 et 1990, a produit une immense « littérature » anti-israélienne imprégnée du vieil antisémitisme russe mâtiné d’anticapitalisme.

La diabolisation de l’État juif tient aussi au nouveau rapport de force démographique qui s’est instauré en Europe par le biais d’une immigration arabo-musulmane importante, en particulier en France, le pays qui abrite la plus importante communauté musulmane d’Europe (25% des musulmans d’Europe vivent en France) comme aussi la plus importante communauté juive. Dans leur immense majorité, cette immigration vient du monde arabe et en particulier du Maghreb où la haine de l’État d’Israël est diffuse et quotidienne, en particulier en Algérie.

D’autres facteurs d’explication ne s’y ajoutent-ils pas ? La haine de l’État d’Israël renvoie également à une disposition très ancienne dans la culture occidentale…

Oui : la stigmatisation du signe juif. Par surcroit, cette récusation a été sourdement et silencieusement favorisée par la culpabilité née de la Shoah. Dans un autre ordre d’idées, l’État d’Israël a été fondé après la Seconde Guerre mondiale à contre-courant du principe de l’État-nation. Il représente le principe même de l’identité nationale, de la filiation et des racines, un principe qui a été puissamment récusé en Europe par le multiculturalisme dominant. On en veut à l’Etat juif de représenter le principe de l’État-nation dont beaucoup considèrent qu’il est porteur de guerre. D’un autre bord, on lui en veut aussi d’avoir perpétué ce qui est perdu en Europe aujourd’hui et dont on garde une nostalgie mais qui est difficile à dire en ce temps de pensée correcte : l’identité culturelle, l’enracinement et l’amour de la patrie. Des mots qui pourraient vous classer d’emblée à l’extrême droite dans ce tribunal permanent qu’est devenue la vie intellectuelle dans la France d’aujourd’hui.

La diabolisation de l’État juif tient aussi au nouveau rapport de force démographique qui s’est instauré en Europe par le biais d’une immigration arabo-musulmane importante, en particulier en France

Je reviens sur cette diabolisation de l’État d’Israël comme forme sécularisée, profane et dicible, de l’antique stigmatisation du signe juif qui a participé à la matrice culturelle de l’Europe chrétienne. La restauration de l’indépendance nationale juive est le démenti infligé à l’abaissement d’Israël, partie intrinsèque de la théologie chrétienne comme de la théologie musulmane. Malédiction de l’origine… Il est difficile de sortir de ce moule. Ce n’est toutefois pas impossible à la condition de mettre les mots pour ne plus être parlé par ces mythologies.

L’antisionisme est par ailleurs hautement revendiqué par des cercles juifs, se proclamant tels et se réclamant des souffrances passées pour stigmatiser l’État hébreu…

Il faut faire ici un sort particulier à la passion anti-israélienne qui anime certains Juifs de la diaspora dans leur relation torturée à leur identité juive. Je trouve particulièrement fallacieux d’avancer, par exemple, que les Juifs qui ne vivent pas en Israël sont antisionistes. Non, ils sont au mieux a-sionistes, certainement pas antisionistes. Avoir fait un autre choix que celui de s’établir dans l’État d’Israël ne signifie pas qu’on récuse le projet sioniste, mais simplement qu’on a d’autres attaches, d’autres enracinements, d’autres intérêts et d’autres filiations qui nous interdisent d’émigrer. Ce tour de passe-passe sémantique (tout Juif qui n’habite pas Israël est décrété « antisioniste ») participe d’une logique strictement idéologique. Près de 52% des Juifs du monde vivent aujourd’hui en Israël. En 1948, c’était à peine 5%. L’effectif du peuple juif dans le monde n’est pas de seize millions d’individus mais de treize millions au maximum. Sur ce chiffre, plus de 6,5 millions vivent aujourd’hui dans l’État juif.

La seconde incohérence est de continuer à raisonner comme à l’époque d’avant l’État juif. Car la naissance de l’État d’Israël a modifié considérablement l’identité juive, l’identité de tous les Juifs du monde et pas seulement des Juifs citoyens israéliens. Y compris les plus hostiles au concept d’État juif. On est étonné que des militants antisionistes de profession, qui se situent généralement à gauche, se montrent aussi étrangers à la dialectique. Car la création de l’État d’Israël a bouleversé le regard que les Juifs portent sur leur propre identité, elle leur a donné une assurance et une force qu’ils ne connaissaient pas jusque-là. Elle les a transformé. C’est aussi pourquoi l’immense majorité d’entre eux est attachée à la vie et à la survie de l’État juif même s’ils n’ont aucune intention de s’y installer. Qu’on interroge les communautés juives de par le monde et l’on verra combien l’attachement à l’État d’Israël est puissant et va au-delà des vicissitudes de tel ou tel gouvernement, il est ancré dans la quasi-totalité des communautés juives de la diaspora en dépit du regard critique qu’elles peuvent porter sur la politique de l’État juif. Son existence est devenue chose vitale pour la quasi-totalité des Juifs du monde. Qu’on se souvienne par exemple des mots de Raymond Aron à ce sujet à la veille de la Guerre des Six Jours en 1967.

Les actes antisémites ont augmenté de 74 % en 2018. Croyez-vous à des mesures capables d’endiguer le phénomène ? Si oui, lesquelles ?

Trois points me semblent essentiels.

En premier lieu, cette augmentation de 74 % en 2018, une année où il n’y a pas eu de conflit majeur entre Israël et ses voisins, malgré quelques flambées de fièvre avec le Hamas à Gaza, rien toutefois qui ressemble à une véritable guerre comme en 2014, et a fortiori comme en 2006 avec le Hezbollah au Liban. Autrement dit, connecter perpétuellement la flambée d’actes antijuifs commis en France avec le conflit israélo-arabe est un leurre. L’antisémitisme qui sévit aujourd’hui en France se nourrit de lui-même, il peut certes être aggravé par l’actualité proche-orientale mais il n’en est pas né. Il n’a pas été créé par elle. Il est endogène. En matière d’actes agressifs, leurs auteurs sont connus et pour l’essentiel, sinon l’immense majorité d’entre eux, ils ne viennent pas de l’extrême droite. On s’abstiendra donc de désigner les antisémites tout en condamnant bien sûr l’antisémitisme.

C’est au pouvoir politique et à la justice de faire leur travail. De ne pas tergiverser sur la nature antisémite de crimes pour lesquels, on le sait, une dimension antisémite était avérée comme dans le cas de Sarah Halimi

En deuxième lieu, l’arsenal législatif français est suffisant pour punir sévèrement les auteurs d’actes délictueux. C’est au pouvoir politique et à la justice de faire leur travail. De ne pas tergiverser sur la nature antisémite de crimes pour lesquels, on le sait, une dimension antisémite était avérée comme dans le cas de Sarah Halimi dont l’agresseur a traversé l’appartement de ses voisins maliens sans leur faire de mal pour aller frapper « la Juive » de l’immeuble qu’il bat à mort en la traitant de Sheitan (diable en arabe) avant de la défenestrer. Si ce n’était qu’une bouffée délirante, il s’en serait pris au premier voisin venu. Ce ne fut pas le cas : c’était à « la Juive » qu’il en voulait et à elle seule. Et jusqu’à ce jour, près de trois ans après les faits, on continue à débattre du caractère antisémite ou non de l’agression.

En d’autres termes, si l’arsenal législatif suffit, mais si les actes ne suivent pas, c’est que la volonté politique est faible et qu’elle s’appuie sur cette maladie répandue mais qui prend en France une forme aiguë : le déni. Cette faiblesse a des causes profondes, mais elle est camouflée par des discours de compassion, souvent émouvants, qui de la droite à la gauche nous signifient que « la France sans les Juifs ne saurait être la France ». Dans la réalité, on a oublié ce sondage récent, il y a deux ans à peine, qui nous montrait que 67 % des Français étaient indifférents au départ des Juifs. Certes, seule une minorité infime s’en réjouissait et un bon tiers le déplorait. Mais le chiffre de 67 % était là, écrasant qui montrait la force de l’indifférence, ce moteur du malheur.

Je doute fort que la loi puisse faire quoique en matière d’évolution sociétale. Nous sommes en présence d’une vague de fond, elle porte à terme l’abandon des Juifs sans qu’entre ici une part d’antisémitisme militant. Cet abandon n’est d’ailleurs que le signe avancé d’une fracturation et d’une désaffiliation françaises plus vastes. Mais c’est un autre sujet.

Enfermer le peuple juif dans une essence de victime ne protège pas de la violence, mais tout au contraire y expose davantage

En troisième lieu, c’est signe de naïveté que voir dans l’enseignement de la Shoah le moyen de faire reculer l’antisémitisme. Asséner l’histoire de la Shoah aux élèves comme une forme de catéchisme moral censé les protéger de l’antisémitisme est un non-sens. D’une part, parce que la compassion ne protège de rien : dans nos sociétés, une émotion chasse l’autre. D’autre part, parce qu’à force d’asséner cette histoire sous une forme moraliste on semble oublier que tout catéchisme provoque le rejet. On semble oublier aussi qu’on alimente une concurrence mémorielle qui nourrit le communautarisme. Enfin, qu’enfermer le peuple juif dans une essence de victime ne protège pas de la violence, mais tout au contraire y expose davantage.


[1] In Quelque part dans l’inachevé, entretiens avec Béatrice Berlowitz,Gallimard, 1978, p.143.

 Voir aussi:

Mélenchon et le poison antisémite : la fin d’un républicain

Les démons antisémites de la gauche anticapitaliste ont décidément du mal à mourir. Jean-Luc Mélenchon vient d’y ajouter sa pierre.

La peste ou le choléra ? C’est un peu le choix qui s’offrait aux Britanniques opposés au Brexit lors du vote pour les législatives du 12 décembre dernier. Impossible de finasser avec un scrutin à un tour, il fallait voter utile. Mais entre un Corbyn sur une ligne archéo-socialiste et démagogique, nageant dans les eaux troubles de l’antisémitisme, et un Boris Johnson déterminé à mener le Brexit jusqu’à bout, en trouvant un accord avec l’Union européenne, avait-on vraiment le choix ?

On peut déplorer la victoire éclatante des conservateurs lorsqu’on est attaché à l’Europe et qu’on regrette le Brexit. On ne peut que se réjouir de l’échec cuisant de Jeremy Corbyn lorsqu’on est attaché à l’Europe démocratique. La Grande-Bretagne, qui incarna l’honneur de l’Europe dans la bataille contre le nazisme, gouvernée par un antisémite ? Un scénario glaçant qui heureusement ne s’est pas réalisé.

« Ukases arrogantes des communautaristes du CRIF »

Commentant sur son blog la défaite de Jeremy Corbyn, son compagnon de lutte, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, commence par une analyse politique qui ne manque pas d’intérêt. À l’inverse de ceux qui pensent que c’est le radicalisme de Jeremy Corbyn qui l’a mené à la défaite, le patron de la France insoumise estime au contraire que c’est parce qu’il n’a pas osé être l’homme d’un véritable Brexit de gauche qu’il a perdu. Le flou, les tentatives de rapprochement et de synthèse avec la gauche modérée du parti, les ambivalences de son discours : tout cela a désarçonné le vote populaire qui a préféré (en partie) se rallier au Brexit clair et net de Boris Johnson.

Et puis brusquement, Mélenchon commet la faute : « Corbyn a dû subir sans secours la grossière accusation d’antisémitisme à travers le grand rabbin d’Angleterre et les divers réseaux d’influence du Likoud (parti d’extrême droite de Netanyahou en Israël). Au lieu de riposter, il a passé son temps à s’excuser et à donner des gages. Dans les deux cas il a affiché une faiblesse qui a inquiété les secteurs populaires ». Et pour finir la grandiose estocade : « Retraite à point, Europe allemande et néolibérale, capitalisme vert, génuflexion devant les ukases arrogantes des communautaristes du CRIF : c’est non. Et non c’est non. »

Le CRIF ? Le Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France ? Le CRIF, ennemi du peuple français comme le grand rabbin d’Angleterre et les réseaux du Likoud sont les ennemis du peuple anglais ? Le CRIF, responsable du malheur du peuple au même titre que les institutions européennes ? Que l’Allemagne honnie ? Le CRIF, allié du capitalisme et de l’ultralibéralisme ?

Les démons antisémites de la gauche anticapitaliste

Il ne manque plus qu’un montage photo avec la banque Rothschild, les sacs de dollars et le drapeau israélien ; mais cela a déjà été fait en 2017 par Gérard Filoche, qui avait posté sur son compte Twitter un consternant visuel accusant Emmanuel Macron de collusion avec le capital. (Tweet qu’il avait retiré face au tollé provoqué.)

Les démons antisémites de la gauche anticapitaliste (celle de Guesde, de Proudhon et même de Jaurès) ont décidément du mal à mourir. Jean-Luc Mélenchon vient d’y ajouter sa pierre. Car contrairement à ce qu’affirme le leader de la France insoumise, Jeremy Corbyn n’a pas dû « subir » une grossière accusation d’antisémitisme « à travers le grand rabbin d’Angleterre ». Jeremy Corbyn a un lourd passif de déclarations antisémites et de proximité avec des antisémites et des négationnistes notoires.

«  La dérive antisémite du parti travailliste n’est pas un fantasme : sa haine d’Israël et son obsession pro-palestinienne ont conduit aux extrêmes. »

La dérive antisémite du parti travailliste n’est pas un fantasme : sa haine d’Israël et son obsession pro-palestinienne ont conduit aux extrêmes. Des militants juifs ont été chassés du parti, soupçonnés de sionisme. Luciana Berger, dont le grand-oncle fut le ministre travailliste de la nationalisation du charbon, a quitté le parti.

Tout comme Louise Ellman, connue pour son combat de défense de l’hôpital public de Liverpool, qui démissionna après 55 ans de militantisme, ne supportant plus d’être la cible des militants pro-palestiniens à l’intérieur du parti. Meurtris par les commentaires antisémites virulents postés sur Facebook par les militants et sympathisants du Labour, de nombreux juifs ont quitté le Labour, devenu pour eux « institutionnellement antisémite ».

Le Labour de Corbyn s’est compromis dans l’antisémitisme

Jeremy Corbyn et sa grande bienveillance pour le Hamas et le Hezbollah. Jeremy Corbyn déposant une gerbe de fleurs sur la tombe des terroristes du groupe Septembre Noir, responsables de la mort de 11 athlètes israéliens aux Jeux olympiques de Munich en 1972.

Jeremy Corbyn qui déclarait en 2013 : « Les sionistes britanniques ont clairement deux problèmes. Premièrement, ils ne veulent pas étudier l’histoire et deuxièmement, bien qu’ayant vécu dans ce pays depuis très longtemps, probablement toute leur vie, ils ne comprennent pas non plus l’ironie anglaise. » Comprendre : ce pays qui n’est pas le leur, cette culture qui n’est pas la leur, puisqu’ils sont juifs.

« Jean-Luc Mélenchon a brûlé ses derniers vaisseaux républicains. Il a basculé dans le clientélisme de bas étage. »

Tout cela n’a rien à voir avec une « grossière » campagne d’intimidation du grand rabbin d’Angleterre. Tout cela constitue une faute morale du Labour qui s’est compromis dans l’antisémitisme depuis que Corbyn en a pris la tête. Le nier est de l’aveuglement idéologique. Dénoncer le lobby juif représenté par le CRIF, allié de la finance et ennemi du peuple, c’est exactement se mettre au même niveau que Corbyn.

Qu’espère Jean-Luc Mélenchon ? Sauver son parti en se ralliant à la bannière de l’antisionisme dont on sait qu’il représente une permission d’être « démocratiquement antisémite » selon la formule utilisée en 1978 par le philosophe Vladimir Jankélévitch : « L’antisionisme est la trouvaille miraculeuse, l’aubaine providentielle qui réconcilie la gauche anti-impérialiste et la droite antisémite ; (il) donne la permission d’être démocratiquement antisémite. » (1)

Il fut un temps où la radicalité de la France insoumise, son lyrisme révolutionnaire, sa passion robespierriste n’empêchaient pas de nous imaginer, sur quelques points essentiels comme la laïcité, l’égalité hommes-femmes, le combat contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme, dans une même famille républicaine. La défense par Jean-Luc Mélenchon de la République, de la nation, des valeurs humanistes de la France était, pensait-on, sincère. Cette époque est révolue. Jean-Luc Mélenchon a perdu tous ses repères.

La France insoumise préfère le déshonneur à ses valeurs pour éviter l’échec. Elle aura les deux.

Il a brûlé ses derniers vaisseaux républicains. Il a basculé dans le clientélisme de bas étage. Il s’est définitivement rallié à l’aile la plus anti-républicaine de son parti. Celle de l’islamo-gauchisme clientéliste qui espère rallier les voix des musulmans en plébiscitant la lutte contre l’« islamophobie », alors que ce terme est une génuflexion de la gauche envers la religion et non pas un engagement contre le racisme.

Celle qui pointe le « lobby juif et sioniste » de façon infamante en espérant caresser dans le sens du poil ceux qui, dans les quartiers, sont les familiers de ces thèses antisémites. Celle du courant décolonialiste « racisé », acquis aux thèses indigénistes, découpant la France en communautés. Celle du courant qui n’hésite pas à creuser les haines identitaires, à pêcher sur les terres du Rassemblement national, à renier l’universalisme dont la France des Lumières et la gauche humaniste sont issues.

La France insoumise espère-t-elle ainsi freiner la dégringolada qu’elle subit aux élections depuis deux ans ? C’est un calcul perdant. Elle préfère le déshonneur à ses valeurs pour éviter l’échec. Elle aura les deux.

1 Cité par George Bensoussan dans l’interview réalisée par Martine Gozlan in Marianne, 14 décembre 2019.

 Voir de plus:

L’antisémitisme, une histoire vieille comme la gauche

FIGAROVOX/ANALYSE – Bernard Carayon, auteur de Comment la gauche a kidnappé Jaurès, rappelle à quel point l’antisémitisme a pu trouver sa place dans la pensée de certains hommes de gauche.

Bernard Carayon

Bernard Carayon est avocat, maire (LR) de Lavaur et ancien député du Tarn. Il est l’auteur de Comment la gauche a kidnappé Jaurès (Privat, 2014).


L’antisémitisme de la gauche est un sujet tabou. Depuis longtemps, elle s’est dressée en pourfendeuse du racisme, forcément de droite, oubliant, par exemple, que la chambre du Front Populaire avait voté les pleins pouvoirs à Pétain, vite rejoint à Vichy par Laval, Déat, Marquet, Doriot, Luchaire, Belin et Bousquet. S’il y eut un antijudaïsme catholique, des antisémitismes agnostique (Voltaire) et protestant (Luther), l’un des plus virulents avec celui de l’extrême droite fut révolutionnaire et socialiste. Dans La question juive, Marx dénonce «l’essence du judaïsme et la racine de l’âme juive, l’opportunité et l’intérêt personnel qui se manifeste dans la soif de l’argent». Dans une lettre à Engels, il décrit le socialiste allemand Ferdinand Lassalle comme «un vrai juif de la frontière slave, (…) sa manie de masquer le juif crasseux de Breslau sous toutes sortes de pommades et de fard».

Proudhon, qui va inspirer Jaurès, dénonce «l’ennemi du genre humain», une «race» qu’ «il faut renvoyer en Asie ou exterminer» . Staline, idole, sa vie entière, du PCF, lance en 1948 une campagne «anti-cosmopolite», prélude aux exécutions des «blouses blanches» et des intellectuels juifs «incapables de comprendre le caractère national russe».

Parmi les figures emblématiques de l’antisémitisme de gauche, Jaurès tient une place de choix.

Dans l’entre-deux-guerres, les «néo-socialistes», tous pacifistes, sont aussi à l’œuvre chez nous: Déat souligne le «byzantinisme» de Léon Blum et sa «passivité tout orientale» ; c’est l’époque où la SFIO est accusée de subir une «dictature juive», et que le maire de Bordeaux, Marquet, lui reproche de «pousser à la guerre pour l’URSS et la juiverie».

Mais parmi les figures emblématiques de l’antisémitisme de gauche, Jaurès tient une place de choix. Le sujet est tabou par excellence, tant l’idole du socialisme français est encaustiquée! Son journal, La Petite République, désigne le député Reinach comme un «juif ignoble» . Lors de son voyage en Algérie, en avril 1895, Jaurès décrit les juifs qui, «par l’usure, l’infatigable activité commerciale et l’abus de l’influence politique, accaparent peu à peu la fortune, le commerce, les emplois publics (…). Ils tiennent une grande partie de la presse, les grandes institutions financières, et quand ils n’ont pu agir sur les électeurs, ils agissent sur les élus» . Son historien «officiel», Gilles Candar, excusera la diatribe par la «fatigue» de son auteur! L’explication, si facile, par le «contexte» ne tient pas: Clemenceau ne tiendra jamais de tels propos.

Dans son discours au Tivoli en 1898, Jaurès est plus caricatural encore: «nous savons bien que la race juive, concentrée, passionnée, subtile, toujours dévorée par une sorte de fièvre du gain quand ce n’est pas par la force du prophétisme, (…) manie avec une particulière habileté le mécanisme capitaliste, mécanisme de rapine, de mensonge, de corset, d’extorsion» . Longtemps convaincu de la culpabilité de Dreyfus, qui aurait échappé à la peine capitale grâce «au prodigieux déploiement de la puissance juive», Jaurès dénonce à la tribune de la Chambre la «bande cosmopolite»! Il sera d’ailleurs sanctionné pour ses propos! Après avoir, une dernière fois, souligné que «l’odeur du ghetto est souvent nauséabonde» , Jaurès opère un revirement tardif lors du procès de Zola, assigné en Justice par le Président Félix Faure en représailles du «J’accuse» paru dans L’Aurore. Devenu dreyfusard, Jaurès, le repenti, obtiendra le soutien financier magnanime du banquier Louis Dreyfus pour son journal l’Humanité…

Anne Hidalgo envisageait de débaptiser la rue Alain pour les accents antisémites du journal intime du philosophe. Le fera-t-elle aussi pour Jaurès?

Un doute sur le diagnostic ? Il est possible de demander une nouvelle analyse.

On se souviendra seulement que les enfants de Marx ont pris, comme Edwy Plenel la défense des terroristes de Septembre Noir.

L’antisionisme est-il aujourd’hui pour les islamo-gauchistes le cache-sexe de l’antisémitisme? La cause palestinienne est en tout cas mal servie! On se souviendra seulement que les enfants de Marx ont pris, comme Edwy Plenel, dans son journal «Rouge», la défense «inconditionnelle» des terroristes de Septembre Noir. Ceux qui, en 1973, aux JO de Munich, ont assassiné onze athlètes israéliens. Un acte «justifié», disait Sartre, parce que c’étaient des soldats.

Voir encore:

Mélenchon et les élections britanniques : le grand rabbin, le Crif et le Likoud ont-ils fait chuter la gauche ?

Hugues Serraf
14 décembre 2019

Je sais bien que les gens en ont par dessus de la tête de ces juifs qui se plaignent de l’antisémitisme, comme s’il n’y avait pas de trucs plus importants dans la vie. Qu’un type qui avait un peu abusé du chichon jette une vieille dame par dessus son balcon en hurlant qu’elle est le diable, qu’un autre mitraille des petits enfants dans une école confessionnelle ou qu’un troisième fasse un carton sur les clients d’un supermarché casher, et paf, les voilà à nouveau en train de jérémier sur les plateaux de télé…

Forcément, ça agace.

Regardez les élections en Grande-Bretagne, la gauche les perd dans les grandes largeurs, vraisemblablement parce que son programme de collectivisation des moyens de production était naze et son leader aussi charismatique et enthousiasmant qu’un bonnet de nuit en pilou, eh bien qui entend-on pousser des hauts-cris ? Les juifs. Et pourquoi donc ? Parce que pour l’état-major du Labour, les porteurs de kippa seraient en réalité les deus ex machina de la défaite.

Mais bon sang, si on ne peut plus accuser les juifs d’être derrière tout ce qui ne nous fait pas plaisir dans la vie sans les entendre se lamenter devant leur mur, où va-t-on ?

Et puis, franchement, il doit avoir un peu raison quelque part, l’ancien maire de Londres Ken Livingstone, lorsqu’il évoque ce satané « vote juif » sans lequel Corbyn serait aujourd’hui Premier ministre à la place de cette crapule de Boris Johnson. D’accord, il n’y a que 300 000 juifs dans tout le pays, les socialistes ont perdu par 4 millions de voix, mais on imagine tout de même que pour un « peuple élu », manipuler un scrutin doit être un jeu d’enfant…

D’ailleurs, même notre gauche radicale à nous est d’accord avec l’analyse : les juifs, ils sont tous de droite. Ces Marx, ces Trotski, ces Mendès-France, ces Krivine, ces Cohn-Bendit, ces Bernie Sanders… Tous des fachos notoires. Du coup, on comprend que Mélenchon pousse un coup de gueule sur son blog en commentant le terrible résultat : chez nos voisins du dessus, la gauche a été laminée à cause du « grand rabbin et des réseaux d’influence du Likoud » (un parti politique israélien dont tous les juifs à travers le monde deviennent membres de droit dès leur circoncision). Mieux encore, c’est le Crif français, avec ses « oukases arrogantes » qui imposent « des génuflexions », qui a certainement tenu la main de ces pauvres électeurs britanniques. Fichu cosmopolitisme…

D’autant plus que le point de vue de l’insoumis en chef doit être pas mal répandu : zéro réaction chez nos politiques de droite ou de gauche à ses propos ; pas le moindre froncement de sourcil dans la presse « comme il faut »… Un vrai « détail de l’histoire », son commentaire outragé façon Protocole des sages de Sion.

Alors, est-ce qu’il est antisémite, le Méluche ? Au sens où, il rêverait d’une solution ultime au problème que pose la terrible engeance dont j’ai moi-même presque honte de faire partie ? Évidemment non. Les antisémites, les vrais, sont de droite (comme les juifs d’ailleurs, mais c’est pour ça qu’on a inventé le mot paradoxe). Non, il n’est pas antisémite. Il constate juste que les juifs utilisent leurs immenses moyens de pression financiers et médiatiques pour accomplir leurs noirs desseins colonialistes et qu’il est temps d’arrêter de se mettre à plat ventre devant eux par faiblesse. C’est tout. On ne va pas en faire un cheddar.

Mélenchon, en fait, il dit juste tout haut ce que les gens pensent tout bas, comme le suggérait un autre bateleur d’estrade autrefois. Il dit juste que si Corbyn a perdu, c’est à cause du Crif, des rabbins, du Likoud et des oukases ! Prenez-vous ça dans la gueule, les juifs ! Si vous pensez vraiment qu’on n’a pas vu votre petit jeu ! Retournez manger votre pain azyme dans vos synagogues et arrêtez de vous mettre en travers de la justice sociale, non mais !

Corbyn : la synthèse mène au désastre

J’avoue que je ne suis pas étonné par le terrible revers électoral du parti travailliste et de Jeremy Corbyn. Il doit servir de leçon.

Première leçon : l’avant-gardisme bien-pensant ne mène nulle part. Ils ont fait du Tsípras avant même d’être élu. Annoncer qu’il voulait un nouveau référendum sur le Brexit, c’était inviter ceux qui veulent le Brexit à voter directement pour ceux qui le mettent en œuvre. Surtout que Corbyn a précisé qu’en cas de vote, il ne s’en mêlerait pas. On ne pouvait faire pire. À quoi bon des leaders qui ne s’engagent pas à propos de l’avenir de leur pays ? Les bastions ouvriers du nord qui votaient PS ont basculé dans le vote conservateur parce que ceux-ci leur garantissaient le Brexit. C’était toujours ça de pris !

Deuxième leçon. Pourquoi ont-ils fait une aussi grossière faute ? C’est le résultat des jeux d’appareils internes au Labour. Le Labour, c’est le PS anglais. Corbyn aurait du le refondre totalement au lieu de composer avec lui. Ou bien le quitter. Les vieux appareils bureaucratiques comme le Labour Party produisent des jeux d’appareils et rien de plus. Construire son raisonnement politique en fonction des points d’équilibre interne, c’est se tromper à coup sûr. Les problèmes comme les solutions sont dans les masses populaires, leurs attentes, leur volonté, leurs besoins. C’est là que Corbyn aurait du aller chercher ses consignes. Il a voulu plaire aux importants. En vain.

Corbyn a passé son temps à se faire insulter et tirer dans le dos par une poignée de députés blairistes. Au lieu de riposter, il a composé. Il a du subir sans secours la grossière accusation d’antisémitisme à travers le grand rabbin d’Angleterre et les divers réseaux d’influence du Likoud (parti d’extrême droite de Netanyahou en Israël). Au lieu de riposter, il a passé son temps à s’excuser et à donner des gages. Dans les deux cas il a affiché une faiblesse qui a inquiété les secteurs populaires.

Cette envie de bonne réputation, je l’ai vue de près. Quand je lui ai rendu visite, nous avons parlé en espagnol de ce qui se passait dans le monde. Il a publié un communiqué à ma sortie se félicitant de notre intérêt commun pour l’investissement public dans les entreprises. Ce genre de façon, je l’ai connu souvent. À l’étranger et en France. Ça ne mène nulle part ceux qui les adoptent. Au contraire. Les gens sérieux regardent en coin et comprennent qu’il y a anguille sous roche. Comment croire que nous ayons discuté d’investissement public alors que reposait sur nous l’espoir d’une bascule de notre famille dans le camp du changement des règles du jeu du monde ?

Tel est le prix pour les « synthèses » sous toutes les latitudes. Ceux qui voudraient nous y ramener en France perdent leur temps. En tous cas je n’y céderai jamais pour ma part. Retraite à point, Europe allemande et néolibérale, capitalisme vert, génuflexion devant les ukases arrogante des communautaristes du CRIF : c’est non. Et non c’est non.

Voir par ailleurs:

Britain’s Labour Party Got Woke—And Now It’s Broke

Quillette
December 13, 2019

The Conservatives’ resounding victory in yesterday’s British General Election won’t come as a surprise to anyone who spent time canvassing in the ‘Red Wall.’ That’s the name given to a thick wedge of seats in the Midlands and North of England, some of which have been held by the Labour Party for over 75 years. Seats like Penistone and Stockbridge in Sheffield, once the home of the British steel industry, and Bishop Auckland in County Durham, a former coal town. Both turned blue in this election, as did a large number of seats in Labour’s post-industrial heartland. Not so much a ‘Red Wall’ now as a Mondrian painting made up of blue and red squares. It was the voters in those constituencies—many of them working minimum wage jobs and living in social housing—that provided Boris Johnson’s Conservatives with their highest number of seats since 1983.

Not that they have much love for the blond-haired leader. A friend of mine was standing as the Conservative candidate in Newcastle upon Tyne North, where the Labour incumbent won a 10,000 majority two years ago, and I knocked on a few doors for him last week. Every person I spoke to said they were going to vote Tory. In some cases, it was because they wanted to “get Brexit done,” which has been the Conservatives’ endlessly repeated campaign slogan over the past six weeks, but in others it was because of their visceral dislike for Labour’s leader.

“Most people I know who used to be staunch Labour are now saying no way Jeremy Corbyn,” said Steve Hurt, an engineer. “It’s not our party any more. Same label, different bottle.”

According to the activist I was with, that had been the reaction wherever he went. He had knocked on 100 doors in a council estate earlier that day and all but three people he’d spoken to told him they intended to vote Conservative—and this in a city where 26 per cent of the population are among the most deprived in England. I asked why, if these electors disliked Corbyn, they didn’t simply abstain? Why were they planning to brave the elements on a cold day in December to vote for a party led by an old Etonian toff?

“Because they hate Corbyn that much,” he said. “The biggest message they can send to him is to elect a Tory government.”

It’s the same story across England—working class electors deserting Labour en masse. We won’t have a breakdown of how people voted according to income and occupation for a while yet, but a few of the opinion polls in the run-up to election day contained some astonishing findings. For instance, a Deltapoll survey for the Mail on Sunday last month showed the Conservatives outpolling Labour by 49 per cent to 23 per cent in the C2DE social grades—the bottom half of the National Readership Survey classification system that ranks people according to their occupation. That is to say, people in the bottom half of the NRS distribution—skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers, state pensioners and people on benefits—were intending to vote Conservative rather than Labour by a ratio of more than two to one. (Exit polls suggest the actual figure was closer to 1.5 to one.)

A taste of things to come was provided on Tuesday when a clandestine recording was released of Jon Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow health spokesman, telling a friend how “dire” things were for the party outside urban, metropolitan areas. “It’s abysmal out there,” he said. “They can’t stand Corbyn and they think Labour’s blocked Brexit.”

Ashworth described the electoral map of Britain as “topsy turvey,” a reference not just to the anticipated losses in traditional Labour areas, but to the uptick in support for Labour in middle class cities like Canterbury. One of the other startling features of the opinion polls was Labour’s lead among graduates. As a general rule, the higher the concentration of graduates in an area, the more likely it was to skew Left on Thursday—and vice versa. (Labour held on to Canterbury.)

The crumbling of the ‘Red Wall’ is the big story of this election and some commentators are describing it as a “one off.” The conventional wisdom is that working class voters have “lent” their votes to the Conservatives and, barring an upset, will give them back next time round. It’s Brexit, supposedly, that has been the game-changer—an excuse leapt on by Corbyn’s outriders in the media, who are loathe to blame Labour’s defeat on their man.

If you look at the working class constituencies that turned blue, most of them voted to leave the European Union in 2016 by a significant margin—Great Grimsby, for instance, an English sea port in Yorkshire, where Leave outpolled Remain by 71.45 to 28.55 per cent. Labour’s problem, according to this analysis, is that it didn’t commit to taking Britain out of the EU during the campaign but instead said it would negotiate a new exit deal and then hold a second referendum in which the public would be able to choose between that deal and Remain. This fudge may have been enough to keep graduates on side, but it alienated working class Leave voters in England’s rust belt.

This analysis doesn’t bear much scrutiny. To begin with, the desertion of Labour by its working class supporters—and its increasing popularity with more affluent, better educated voters—is a long-term trend, not an aberration. The disappearance of Labour’s traditional base isn’t just the story of this election, but one of the main themes of Britain’s post-war political history. At its height, Labour managed to assemble a coalition of university-educated liberals in London and the South and low-income voters in Britain’s industrial heartlands in the Midlands and the North—“between Hampstead and Hull,” as the saying goes. But mass immigration and globalization have driven a wedge between Labour’s middle class and working class supporters, as has Britain’s growing welfare bill and its membership of the European Union.

At the October election in 1974, 49 per cent of skilled workers (C2) and 57 per cent of semi-skilled and unskilled workers (DE) voted Labour; by 2010, those numbers had fallen to 29 per cent and 40 per cent respectively. Among middle class voters (ABC1), support for the Conservatives fell over the same time period from 56 per cent in 1974 to 39 per cent in 2010. In 1974, Labour enjoyed a 23-point lead among skilled working class voters (C2), but by 2010 the Conservatives had overtaken them in this demo to lead by eight points—a pattern repeated in 2017. Among graduates, by contrast, Labour led by 17 points in 2017, up from a two-point lead in 2015. (See this data table compiled by Ipsos MORI, a polling company.)

Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have talked a good deal about winning back these working class voters, but his policy positions haven’t been designed to appeal to them. I’m not just talking about his ambivalence on Brexit—there’s a widespread feeling among voters who value flag, faith and family that Corbyn isn’t one of them. Before he became Labour leader in 2015, he was an energetic protestor against nearly every armed conflict Britain has been involved in since Suez, including the Falklands War. He’s also called for the abandonment of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent, the withdrawal of the UK from NATO and the dismantling of our security services—not to mention declining to sing the National Anthem at a Battle of Britain service in 2015. From the point of view of many working class voters, for whom love of country is still a deeply felt emotion, Corbyn seems to side with the country’s enemies more often than he does with Britain.

Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership election was followed by a surge in party membership— from 193,754 at the end of 2014 to 388,103 by the end of 2015. But the activists he appeals to are predominantly middle class. According to internal Party data leaked to the Guardian, a disproportionate number of them are “high status city dwellers” who own their own homes.

A careful analysis of the policies set out in Labour’s latest manifesto reveals that the main beneficiaries of the party’s proposed increase in public expenditure—which the Conservatives costed at an eye-watering £1.2 trillion—would be its middle class supporters.

For instance, the party pledged to cut rail fares by 33 per cent and pay for it by slashing the money spent on roads. But only 11 per cent of Britain’s commuters travel by train compared to 68 per cent who drive—and the former tend to be more affluent than the latter. Corbyn also promised to abolish university tuition fees at a cost of £7.2 billion per annum, a deeply regressive policy which, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, would benefit middle- and high-earning graduates with “very little” upside for those on low incomes.

It’s also worth noting that Corbyn’s interests and appearance—he’s a 70-year-old vegetarian with a fondness for train-drivers’ hats who has spent his life immersed in protest politics—strike many working class voters as “weird,” a word that kept coming up on the doorstep according to my fellow canvasser in Newcastle. He’s also presided over the invasion of his party by virulent anti-Semites and Labour is currently in the midst of an investigation by Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission thanks to his failure to deal with this. One of his supporters has already blamed the Jews for Labour’s defeat.

But Corbyn isn’t the main reason C2DE voters have turned away from Labour, any more than Brexit is. Rather, they’ve both exacerbated a trend that’s been underway for at least 45 years, which is the fracturing of the “Hampstead and Hull” coalition and the ebbing away of Labour’s working class support.

Another, related phenomenon that’s been overlooked is that these “topsy turvey” politics are hardly unique to Britain. Left-of-center parties in most parts of the Anglosphere, as well as other Western democracies, have seen the equivalent of their own ‘Red Walls’ collapsing. One of the reasons Scott Morrison’s Liberals confounded expectations to win the Australian election last May was because Bill Shorten’s Labour Party was so unpopular in traditional working class areas like Queensland, and support for socially democratic parties outside the large cities in Scandinavia has cratered over the past 15 years or so.

Thomas Piketty, the French Marxist, wrote a paper about this phenomenon last year entitled ‘Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict’ and it’s the subject of Capital and Ideology, his new book. His hypothesis is that politics in the US, Britain, and France—he confines his analysis to those three countries—is dominated by the struggle between two elite groups: the Brahmin Left and the Merchant Right. He points out that left-wing parties in the US, Britain and France used to rely on ‘nativist’ voters to win elections—low education, low income—but since the 1970s have begun to attract more and more ‘globalist’ voters—high education, high income (with the exception of the top 10 per cent of income earners). The nativists, meanwhile, have drifted to the Right, forming a coalition with the business elite. He crunches the data to show that in the US, from the 1940s to the 1960s, the more educated people were, the more likely they were to vote Republican. Now, the opposite is true, with 70% of voters with masters degrees voting for Hilary in 2016. “The trend is virtually identical in all three countries,” he writes.

In Piketty’s view, the electoral preferences of the post-industrial working class—the precariat—is a kind of false consciousness, often engendered by populist snake-charmers like Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orban. He’s intensely suspicious of the unholy alliance between super-rich “merchants” and the lumpen proletariat, and similar noises have been made about the levels of support Boris has managed to attract.

The Conservatives didn’t win in Hull or Hampstead on Thursday, but the party polled 43.6 per cent of the popular vote, which is its highest share since 1979. Labour, meanwhile, saw its seat tally fall to 203, the Party’s worst result since 1935.

Plenty of better writers than me—Douglas Murray, John Gray—have debunked the notion that the only reason low-income voters embrace right-wing politics is because they’re drunk on a cocktail of ethno-nationalism and false hope (with Rupert Murdoch and Vladimir Putin taking turns as mixologists). It surely has more to do with the Left’s sneering contempt for the “deplorables” in the flyover states as they shuttle back and forth between their walled, cosmopolitan strongholds. As Corbyn’s policy platform in Britain’s election showed, left-wing parties now have little to offer indigenous, working class people outside the big cities—and their activists often add insult to injury by describing these left-behind voters as “privileged” because they’re white or cis-gendered or whatever. So long as parties like Labour pander to their middle-class, identitarian activists and ignore the interests of the genuinely disadvantaged, they’ll continue to rack up loss after loss. Get woke, go broke.

Will the Democrats learn from Labour’s mistake and make Jo Biden the candidate—or even Pete Buttigieg? I wouldn’t bet on it. The zealots of the post-modern Left have a limitless capacity to ignore reality even when it’s staring them in the face. As I said to a friend last night after the election results starting rolling in, fighting political opponents like Jeremy Corbyn is a bit like competing in a round-the-world yacht race against a team that thinks the earth is flat. It can be kind of fun, even exhilarating. But until they acquire a compass and learn how to read a map, it’s not really a fair fight.

Voir aussi:

Jean-Luc Mélenchon et La France insoumise: les raisons d’un naufrage

FIGAROVOX/ENTRETIEN – C’est le livre qui fait trembler les dirigeants de La France insoumise. Dans un essai intitulé La chute de la Maison Mélenchon, Thomas Guénolé accuse le parti de Jean-Luc Mélenchon de pratiques dictatoriales, et lui reproche une stratégie vouée à l’échec.

Alexandre Devecchio

Thomas Guénolé est politologue, maître de conférences à Sciences Po et docteur en Science politique (CEVIPOF). Ancien membre de La France Insoumise,il vient de publier La Chute de la Maison Mélenchon: Une machine dictatoriale vue de l’intérieur (Albin Michel, novembre 2019).


FIGAROVOX.- En participant à la marche contre l’islamophobie de dimanche dernier, Jean-Luc Mélenchon semble précipiter la chute que vous annoncez dans votre livre. Comment expliquez-vous la participation de celui qui récusait le terme d’«islamophobie» il y a encore peu? S’agit-il d’un calcul électoraliste à courte vue ou est-il prisonnier d’une partie de sa base?

Thomas GUÉNOLÉ.- Les enquêtes d’opinion les plus récentes indiquent qu’aujourd’hui, près des trois quarts des Français de confession musulmane ne veulent pas que des règles religieuses musulmanes s’imposent aux lois de la République. 70 % soutiennent le principe de laïcité. Plus largement, la très large majorité ne souhaitent pas être une «communauté musulmane» à part: ils demandent juste à être des citoyens à part entière, avec les mêmes droits et les mêmes devoirs que les autres. Et d’ailleurs, toutes les tentatives de lancer un «parti des musulmans», sans exception, se sont soldées par des raclées électorales.

Autrement dit, il est manifeste que l’écrasante majorité des Français de confession musulmane ne veulent pas du communautarisme ; et que les activistes communautaristes ne sont donc absolument pas représentatifs des gens qu’ils prétendent représenter.

Par conséquent, si la volte-face récente de Jean-Luc Mélenchon est un calcul électoraliste, alors ce calcul est une erreur. Car lorsque la Maison Mélenchon multiplie les ententes avec des activistes communautaristes, du strict point de vue électoraliste elle se tire une balle dans chaque pied: d’une, cela ne lui fait rien gagner du côté des Français de confession musulmane ; de deux, cela lui fait perdre massivement des électeurs de gauche qui, musulmans ou pas, sont restés fermes sur la défense de la laïcité et de l’égalité femmes-hommes.

Mélenchon se tire une balle dans chaque pied.

Il existe cependant une autre hypothèse que le calcul électoraliste: celle de l’erreur provoquée par un fonctionnement à la va-vite. Peut-être que tous ces députés LFI ont signé en bloc l’appel à marcher contre l’islamophobie parce qu’ils n’ont pas lu le texte avec suffisamment d’attention: ils ont donc cru signer un appel antiraciste habituel, sans en repérer les ambiguïtés. Et aussi, parce qu’ils ne se sont pas renseignés sur les idées d’une partie des porteurs du texte, idées pour le moins problématiques quand on est de gauche. Puis, après coup, Jean-Luc Mélenchon aura tenté de limiter la casse en trouvant des explications plus ou moins vraisemblables à cette catastrophique sortie de route.

Toujours est-il que tout cela est incompréhensible venant de Jean-Luc Mélenchon, lui qui plaida rigoureusement contre le concept d’islamophobie au motif qu’on doit avoir, je cite, «le droit de ne pas aimer l’islam». Du reste, il n’y aurait eu aucune polémique et aucun problème si la marche et l’appel à manifester avaient invoqué le racisme anti-maghrébins ou le racisme anti-musulmans, plutôt que ce concept d’islamophobie dont le sens et la légitimité sont l’objet de controverses.

Toute cette affaire, c’est vraiment dommage. Car assurément, lors de cette marche, plusieurs milliers de gens ont défilé sincèrement contre le racisme et pas du tout pour le communautarisme d’une partie des initiateurs.

Quand vous étiez cadre de LFI, vous étiez l’un des rares à être très clair et très ferme dans le refus de toute compromission avec les communautaristes. Quel est aujourd’hui le poids du courant indigéniste à l’intérieur du mouvement?

Chez LFI et ailleurs, les activistes communautaristes sont en réalité très peu nombreux. Et comme je vous le disais à l’instant, la population qu’ils prétendent défendre, dans sa très large majorité, ne veut pas de leurs idées. Pour compenser cette faiblesse numérique et ce rejet de leurs thèses par ceux qu’ils disent représenter, ils pratiquent donc un entrisme très agressif: partis, facultés, syndicats, médias, etc.

Lorsqu’une structure va bien, les activistes communautaristes n’arrivent pas à y avoir une influence: leur entrisme a par exemple échoué dans presque tous les grands médias. Lorsqu’une structure est affaiblie ou en crise, en revanche, ils parviennent à y prendre pied: c’est arrivé à des petits partis et à des syndicats.

Or, précisément, après deux années d’erreurs accumulées, la Maison Mélenchon est extrêmement affaiblie. C’est un astre mort, pareil à ces étoiles dont vous percevez encore la lumière alors qu’elles sont déjà éteintes. Au lendemain de la présidentielle de 2017, elle pouvait mobiliser au moins 50 000 militants de terrain dans toute la France pour une opération d’envergure nationale. Actuellement, elle peut difficilement en mobiliser 5 000 et peine à constituer des listes en vue des élections municipales de 2020.

L’influence croissante des activistes communautaristes est un signe supplémentaire du fait que la Maison Mélenchon est affaiblie.

Dans ce contexte, alors que les activistes communautaristes étaient encore fermement contenus en marge de l’appareil LFI juste après la présidentielle de 2017, aujourd’hui ils y prospèrent. Ce qui ne fait que faciliter la chute de la Maison Mélenchon puisque encore une fois, ni les Français en général, ni les Français de confession musulmane en particulier, ne veulent du communautarisme.

Autrement dit, plutôt qu’un problème en soi, l’influence croissante des activistes communautaristes est plutôt un signe supplémentaire du fait que la Maison Mélenchon est affaiblie: l’hémorragie électorale, l’exode massif de militants, l’autodestruction de l’image d’homme d’État de Jean-Luc Mélenchon, ont probablement fait trop de dégâts pour que cela soit réparable.

Au-delà de cette dérive précise, vous dénoncez «le fonctionnement dictatorial du mouvement». Pourquoi l’avoir soutenu si longtemps?

J’ai rejoint La France insoumise à l’été 2017. Je l’ai fait par idéal, parce que j’étais profondément d’accord avec le programme du mouvement: L’Avenir en commun. J’étais très enthousiaste et je me suis mis à la disposition du mouvement pour aider. Charlotte Girard, responsable du programme, m’a confié la formation politique des militants en tandem avec Manon Le Bretton. Pendant un an je ne me suis occupé que de cela. J’étais dans mon coin, et ce d’autant plus que le fonctionnement de l’appareil central est extrêmement cloisonné. Je n’avais des contacts avec le siège que pour des questions logistiques, et de temps en temps pour valider le planning ou les intervenants.

Et puis, en été 2018, m’étant porté volontaire pour être l’un des candidats LFI à l’élection européenne, j’ai commencé à fréquenter régulièrement l’appareil central, avec des réunions de coordination, des échanges fréquents avec des cadres, etc. C’est à partir de là que j’ai eu de plus en plus de voyants rouges allumés, au fur et à mesure de ce que je voyais.

Telle purge pour se débarrasser d’un cadre trop critique, est déguisée en mesure disciplinaire « pour avoir tenu des propos sexistes  » ; et ainsi de suite.

C’est bien simple: la Maison Mélenchon pratique systématiquement en interne le contraire des valeurs qu’elle affiche. C’est orwellien. Dans les paroles, elle plaide pour une vraie démocratie, pour le respect des droits de l’opposition, pour l’émancipation humaine. Dans les actes, en interne, elle pratique le fonctionnement dictatorial, l’interdiction d’exprimer une parole critique sous peine d’encourir une «purge», et des façons de traiter les gens qui souvent sont humainement détestables. Je raconte par exemple dans un chapitre de mon livre comment les lanceurs d’alerte, qui exigeaient de passer à un fonctionnement démocratique, ont été systématiquement placardisés, calomniés, bannis, ou un mélange des trois.

On m’objecte parfois que les tendances dictatoriales de Jean-Luc Mélenchon étaient évidentes dès 2017. Mais ce n’est pas vrai. Dès 2017, certes, chacun voyait qu’il était manifestement un homme à poigne et sujet à des grosses colères. Mais le fonctionnement interne systématiquement dictatorial de LFI, lui, n’était pas encore connu du grand public.

On m’objecte plus souvent que ma désillusion aurait dû être plus rapide. Mais c’est négliger plusieurs choses.

D’abord, le travail de lucidité est ralenti par le problème du double langage permanent des cadres de l’appareil: telle instance verrouillée est déguisée en instance aux participants «tirés au sort» ; tel congrès où il est interdit de proposer un autre texte que celui de la direction, est déguisé en exercice de démocratie participative ; telle purge pour se débarrasser d’un cadre trop critique, est déguisée en mesure disciplinaire «pour avoir tenu des propos sexistes» ; et ainsi de suite. Il faut donc le temps d’identifier une novlangue interne systématique et d’identifier la réalité autoritaire, centralisée, verrouillée, qu’elle sert à cacher.

Ensuite, comme je vous le disais l’appareil est extrêmement opaque, cloisonné. Et les cadres ont souvent peur d’exprimer leurs critiques même entre eux. Comprendre le fonctionnement réel de la machine est donc matériellement difficile – et prend d’autant plus de temps.

Enfin, si des dizaines de milliers de militants ont mis du temps avant de quitter La France insoumise, c’est aussi à cause du déni. Quand vous rejoignez un mouvement par idéal, vous devez d’abord épuiser en vous toutes les autres explications possibles, même tordues, avant d’accepter de regarder en face que c’est une vaste escroquerie politique qui trahit l’idéal au nom duquel vous vous êtes engagé.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon avait réuni 19 % des suffrages à la présidentielle. Comment expliquez-vous son effondrement? Cela tient-il à sa personnalité ou à un problème de stratégie?

Au premier tour de la présidentielle de 2017, Jean-Luc Mélenchon a frôlé les 20 % malgré sa stratégie, et non pas grâce à elle.

Au départ, la Maison Mélenchon a décidé de faire, par rapport à la campagne de 2012, ce qu’on appelle en marketing un «rebranding». Ils ont abandonné le vocabulaire, le message et les symboles de la campagne «Fier d’être de gauche» de 2012. Ils ont remplacé tout cela par une campagne «Fédérer le peuple contre les 1%», avec un message au-delà du clivage gauche-droite, apaisé sur la forme. C’est ce qu’on appelle la stratégie du «populisme de gauche».

Jean-Luc Mélenchon est resté malgré lui un candidat d’union de la gauche.

Résultat: cela a échoué. En janvier 2017, Jean-Luc Mélenchon reconstitue en intentions de vote son score de la présidentielle de 2012, ce qui signifie que malgré un changement profond de message et de mise en scène, c’est encore l’électorat de gauche radicale qu’il réunifie.

Se produit alors cet effet-domino: quelques points d’électorat de centre-gauche abandonnent progressivement le vote Hamon pour le vote Macron, essentiellement par peur de Marine Le Pen et dans l’idée qu’Emmanuel Macron sera un meilleur candidat de barrage au FN. Ce qui fait baisser Benoît Hamon de 17 à 12-13, jusqu’à se trouver à touche-touche avec Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Par conséquent l’effet «vote utile de gauche», qui protège habituellement le candidat du PS contre tout rival de gauche, ne joue plus.

Arrivent les débats de premier tour de la présidentielle: Hamon et Mélenchon disent en substance la même chose, mais Mélenchon est meilleur sur le fond et sur la forme. Mélenchon passe donc de quelques points devant Hamon dans les sondages – vraisemblablement un transfert d’électorat «aile gauche du PS». Enfin, dans la dernière ligne droite, Mélenchon étant devenu le candidat le mieux placé à gauche, l’effet «vote utile de gauche» se reconstitue dans la dernière ligne droite à son avantage, et le catapulte à presque 20 %.

Il faut souligner que bien sûr, cette montée en puissance n’aurait pas été possible sans les talents d’orateur du candidat, son charisme hors normes, et son grand talent de pédagogue politique sur scène.

Toujours est-il qu’ainsi, ce que Jean-Luc Mélenchon a dit, c’est qu’il allait fédérer le peuple par-delà le clivage gauche-droite – mais ce qu’il a fait, c’est être malgré lui un candidat d’union de la gauche. Une fois qu’on a compris cela, on comprend aussi que, lorsque la Maison Mélenchon a interprété ce score comme un nouveau socle de 20 % d’adhésion à la stratégie du «populisme de gauche», c’était une erreur.

Puisque Jean-Luc Mélenchon avait été, certes malgré lui, un candidat d’union de la gauche, il fallait former une coalition de type «Front populaire» dès les législatives. Au lieu de cela, La France insoumise a préféré partir seule au combat des législatives, ce qui a mécaniquement abouti à un groupe parlementaire croupion. De même, pendant deux ans, le message politique martelé en boucle, celui de l’appel au soulèvement populaire, n’a correspondu qu’aux attentes de l’électorat de gauche radicale: c’est-à-dire moitié moins que les 20 % de 2017, ce qui a contribué à rétrécir l’espace électoral de LFI.

La situation politique de l’Europe est très diverse, sans qu’on constate une dynamique commune à tout le continent.

À cela s’ajoute un problème spécifique d’illisibilité du cap fixé. Par exemple, il fut tour à tour question de refuser les alliances avec d’autres forces de gauche, puis de les souhaiter, puis de les refuser à nouveau, et ainsi de suite. Autre exemple, concernant la stratégie «plan A plan B» face à l’Union européenne, il en a existé de 2017 à 2019 presque autant d’interprétations qu’il existe de porte-paroles de LFI. À la longue, cette ligne erratique a nécessairement conduit à ce que des électeurs, rendus méfiants par le flou, se détournent de LFI.

La chute de LFI s’inscrit-elle dans un effondrement européen plus large de la gauche, et ceci qu’elle soit sociale-démocrate, radicale ou populiste?

Non, rien n’indique un grand effondrement européen de la gauche. 2019 a vu plusieurs victoires. En Espagne, les législatives ont été gagnées par la gauche sociale-démocrate et elle vient de signer un accord de principe avec la gauche radicale pour gouverner ensemble. Au Portugal, les législatives ont été gagnées par la coalition sortante de gauche. En Italie, sans passer par des législatives, un nouveau gouvernement a été installé, sur une coalition du Mouvement 5-Etoiles et de la gauche. On pourrait ainsi multiplier les exemples. On pourrait cependant multiplier aussi les exemples de succès de la droite et dans une moindre mesure de l’extrême droite. Ni vague brune, ni vague bleue, ni vague rose, ni vague rouge: la situation politique de l’Europe, aujourd’hui, est tout simplement très diverse, sans qu’on constate une dynamique commune à tout le continent.

Family, faith and flag

The Labour Party lost four million voters in England between 1997 and 2010. To win them back, it nee

New Statesman
7 April 2011

Not so long ago, few people outside the academic world had heard of Maurice Glasman. Since the turn of the year, however, when he was unexpectedly ennobled by Ed Miliband, the London Metropolitan University lecturer has been much discussed and even hailed as the “intellectual godfather” of a new kind of left-wing thinking.

To win again in England, argue Glasman and others like him, Labour needs to look back to before 1945, to a time before the left fell in love with big government, and to a forgotten « conservative socialism that places family, faith and work at the heart of a new politics of reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity ». Just as Phillip Blond’s short-lived « Red Tory » boom captured the imagination of commentators a couple of years ago, so what Glasman calls « Blue Labour » has become the subject of admiring features, including a special edition of BBC Radio 4’s Analysis that was broadcast on 21 March.

Like many other intellectual exercises in self-renewal, Glasman’s vision, which strives to capture a sense of Englishness amid the hurly-burly of globalisation, has something deeply backward-looking about it (see profile, page 34). The narrow political self-interest is hardly surprising. Between 1997 and 2010, as David Mili­band noted in a strikingly Glasmanesque piece for this magazine last summer, Labour lost four million English voters and 137 English MPs. By the time Gordon Brown faced the electorate, the party had lost the ability to talk to the people it once took for granted – not just aspirational Middle England, but also thousands of white working-class people in cities who looked instead to the Conservatives or the British National Party, or stayed at home. Once again, Labour is in danger of turning into a party of the industrial north and the Celtic fringe.

Beyond that, however, Glasman’s emphasis on looking back seems eminently familiar. Talking to the BBC, Roy Hattersley dismissed Blue Labour as an exercise in mere nostalgia, mocking “the idea of Arcadian England, the idea that there was some mythical time when we all loved each other”. And yet, contrary to what we might think, nostalgia has long been a central part of the left-wing political tradition. Despite the forward-looking, modernising connotations of the name, “progressives” have enjoyed looking back. As early as 1883, Henry Hyndman, the founder of the Social Democratic Federation and populariser of Marxism, insisted that he saw himself as working in a distinctly English radical tradition dating back to the Peasants’ Revolt, the Wars of the Roses and the 16th-century Commotion Time uprisings. “Tyler, Cade, Ball, Kett . . .” he wrote, “read to me like sound English names: not a foreigner in the whole batch. They all held opinions which our capitalist-landlord House of Commons would denounce as direct pla­giarism from ‘foreign revolutionists’. We islanders have been revolutionists, however, and will be again, ignorant as our capitalists are of the history of the people.”

Hyndman made an unlikely heir to the English radical tradition. The son of a rich businessman, he attended Trinity College, Cambridge and played cricket for Sussex, making him probably the only Marxist to have been a first-class right-handed batsman. He funded the Social Democrats almost single-handedly, their fortunes waxing and waning with his investments. A staunch anti-capitalist, he was also a committed patriot, his support for the First World War horrifying many of his colleagues. He stood for parliament five times, losing on everyoccasion, not least because he alienated voters by bombarding them with Virgil – in the original Latin. Even so, his example has echoed down the decades.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Marxist historians E P Thompson and Christopher Hill celebrated “the long and tenacious revolutionary tradition of the British commoner”, stretching from the Lollards to the Levellers and on to the Chartists and the suffragettes.

Amid the apocalyptic headlines and candle-lit evenings of the three-day week in 1974, Tony Benn immersed himself in books on the English Revolution, lamenting that « the Levellers lost and Cromwell won, and Harold Wilson or Denis Healey is the Cromwell of our day, not me ». Five years ago, promoting his radical English manifesto The Progressive Patriot, the folk singer Billy Bragg told readers that their freedoms « had to be fought for, from the Peasants’ Revolt to the Diggers and the Levellers, to the Chartists and the suffragettes ».

Given that the idea of a radical English tradition is so deeply embedded in the left’s collective memory, it is odd that people keep insisting it has been forgotten. To be fair, Labour in recent years has hardly been a party struggling under the weight of its own nostalgia. Tony Blair often seemed embarrassed even to recall that his party had a history before 1994, and despite Brown’s doctorate in history and eagerness to tell us about his “values”, he rarely harked back to the party’s past. Perhaps it is not surprising that, since their Scottish-educated masters left the stage, Labour’s bright young Englishmen are so keen to look backwards.

And yet it is hard, rereading David Miliband’s hymn of praise to a “specifically English story that points to the battle for social justice born of a proud tradition of personal liberty and independence”, to resist the feeling that this is merely another exercise in myth-making.

In truth, the idea of a golden thread of English radical action, stretching through the generations, is deeply problematic. Much of what we know about England’s most celebrated radical leaders comes from their opponents; after all, Wat Tyler and Jack Cade left no memoirs. As the historian Edward Vallance points out in his brilliantly provocative Radical History of Britain (2009), the idea of a simple « continuum of radicalism » is flawed.

Take, for example, the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. It was, after all, a tax revolt – something we now associate more with the right than the left – originating in some of England’s most prosperous counties: Essex, Kent and Norfolk. Many of the rebels were not peasants: according to contemporary accounts, the first leader of the protests was a local landowner, Thomas Baker, while another leading agitator, Geoffrey Litster, held the title of bailiff and was a literate local official.

When the protesters arrived in London, they soon became absorbed in what Vallance calls “a carnivalesque orgy of violence and destruction”, particularly targeted at foreigners and immigrants. They are said to have butchered and beheaded 35 Flemish weavers in one street alone. Perhaps this is an exaggeration; even so, the rebels do not sound like the medieval equivalent of Guardian readers.

Look closely at the other early moments in the great radical tradition, and you will find the story is much the same. Jack Cade’s rebellion in 1450 was motivated not by crusading proto-socialist idealism, but by exasperation at Henry VI’s weak government and the loss of England’s conquests abroad. There were plenty of peasants among the rebels, but there were also shopkeepers, craftsmen and landowners, including a knight and two MPs.

Robert Kett – whose anti-enclosures rebellion in Norfolk a century later so impressed Norwich’s Labour aldermen of the 1940s that they put up a plaque in his honour – was a big local landowner and, by the standards of the day, a very rich man. He had even previously enclosed common land, and joined the rebels only after a rival landowner bribed them to smash up his enclosures.

Then there are Tony Benn’s favourite English radicals, the Levellers, whose martyrdom is celebrated every year in the faintly implausible surroundings of the Cotswold town of Burford. To him, these Roundhead ultras “anticipated by a century and a half the main ideas of the American and French Revolutions”.

It is certainly easy to see why the story of the Leveller mutineers, shot by Cromwell in Burford, would appeal to Benn, who spent much of the mid-1970s fulminating against the betrayal of socialism by such well-known conservative figures in Labour as Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Michael Foot. Unfortunately, the notion of the Levellers as cuddly proto-Marxists has been long since debunked.

Many historians see the civil wars of the 1640s and 1650s as essentially a religious conflict, rather than one comprehensible in modern ideological or economic terms. Far from being an early rehearsal for Labour’s 1983 election manifesto, the 1647 Putney Debates – which were voted the « most neglected radical event in British history » in a recent Guardian competition – consisted largely of detailed discussions about army policy, understandable only within the context of the civil war.

Even the nickname « Levellers » was deeply resented by many of the protesters, who disliked the implication that they were opposed
to private ownership. They had « never had it in [their] thoughts to level men’s estates », wrote their spokesmen John Lilburne, Richard Overton and William Walwyn in 1649.

Finally, whatever Benn might think, there is no evidence that the Levellers influenced subsequent radicals, whether in Britain, France or America. Far from being celebrated, they remained forgotten until the 20th century.

It would be easy to go through the radical pantheon, picking holes and pointing out embarrassing family secrets, from the social arrogance of the Georgian populist John Wilkes (“I have given orders to keep away from the house and gardens all the rabble … You would start at the number of little thefts they make”) to the snobbery of the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (“I have turned impatiently to the poor . . . but alas! what did I see! a being scarcely above the brutes”). Underpinning much of this, however, is a broader point that should make uncomfortable reading for many progressives. For while we typically see left-wing commitment in terms of enthusiasm for government intervention, most radicals in the English tradition were deeply and instinctively hostile to the state.

Take Thomas Spence, the 18th-century revolutionary who coined the phrase “the rights of man” long before Thomas Paine. Like so many others after him, Spence thought that private ownership of land was the source of England’s woes, but he never contemplated a grand system of centralised state ownership. Instead, he was an avowed localist, arguing that each parish should hold the land in trust: a case, one might think today, of parochialism taken to the extreme.

Indeed, many radicals were far less comfortable with collectivism than the idea of a golden tradition might lead us to think, largely because they had such distrust for the common people. Political associations, wrote the first modern anarchist, William Godwin, in the 1790s, were inherently dangerous: conviviality might easily turn into disorder, and there was “nothing more barbarous, cruel and bloodthirsty than the triumph of a mob”. The task of change, he thought, should be left to “a few favoured minds” – the classic position of the well-born and high-minded. You can imagine Sidney and Beatrice Webb nodding vigorously.

Yet it does not necessarily follow that the modern left has nothing to learn from such forerunners. Although we think of Labour as the liberal-minded, reforming champion of state intervention, it was not ever thus. As another academic, Martin Pugh, pointed out in his bracingly revisionist account of the party’s history published last year, there is a forgotten, pre-1945, even pre-1918 Labour story – just as Maurice Glasman argues. Glasman’s formula “Blue Labour” is well chosen precisely because Conservatives and Conservatism played such an important role in the party’s origins. That may sound odd, because Labour and the Tories are supposed to be implacable enemies. Surely Labour emerged as the working-class heir to Victorian Liberalism, picking up the baton of opposition to the Conservative ruling classes? Not at all. We remember that Foot and Benn came from a long line of Liberal nonconformists, yet often forget that many of Labour’s best-known figures came from public-school Tory, not Liberal, backgrounds.

Clement Attlee, who was educated at Hailey­bury and Oxford, was a Tory until he saw the poverty in the East End after becoming a manager at a children’s charitable foundation in Limehouse in his early twenties. Stafford Cripps, whose father was a Conservative MP, moved to the left only in his twenties, shocked by the plight of what he called “the poor slum-beings”. Hugh Dalton, son of John Neale Dalton, tutor tothe future George V, was another convert. At Eton, he later recalled, he was a “Joe Chamberlainite, a Tory Democrat, a self-confessed imperialist”, but when he went up to King’s College, Cambridge, he fell in with a more left-wing crowd, among them John Maynard Keynes, and became a keen member of the Fabian Society. Hugh Gaitskell came from a Conservative-voting family, as did Blair, the son of a Conservative Party activist in the north-east of England.

Seen in the light of the political journeys many Labour titans have made, talk of Blue Labour seems rather less outlandish. And there is more. In its early years, Labour often seemed a markedly conservative rather than socialist party. At the very first meeting of the Independent Labour Party in 1893, Ben Tillett, the future TUC president and MP for Salford, warned that if it was to be called “the Socialist Party he would repudiate it”. “The great mass of British workmen,” the meeting agreed, “do not understand Socialism and have rather a prejudice against it.” Other pioneers held similarly robust views, not least the supremely conser­vative socialist Robert Blatchford, whose bestselling left-wing manifesto Merrie England, published the following year, traduced “lily-livered Methodists”.

As David Marquand put it in the New Statesman last April, early socialists such as Blatchford « drew on a long line of working-class Toryism: a rollicking, rambunctious, fiercely patriotic and earthy tradition, at odds both with the preachy nonconformist conscience that saturated the culture of provincial liberalism and with the patronising, ‘we-know-best’ preconceptions of metropolitan intellectuals ».

Even at this early stage, they dreaded the influence of the well-meaning, clean-living recruits flooding over from the Liberal Party. If the ex-Liberals could select a king, warned Tillett, “he would be a feminist, a temperance crank, a nonconformist charlatan . . . an anti-sport, an anti-jollity advocate, a teetotaller, as well as a general wet blanket”. We can all think of people like that, some of them not so far away from the Labour leadership.

In this context, Blue Labour’s evocations of English voluntarism and self-help sound less like heretical borrowings from Margaret That­cher’s old speechwriters and more like a throwback to Labour’s early days.

The hard-drinking Ernest Bevin, a patriotic West Countryman who said that his foreign policy was to “take a ticket at Victoria Station and go anywhere I damn well please”, and who insisted that Britain have its own nuclear deterrent with a “bloody Union Jack on top of it”, would no doubt have agreed with Glasman’s prescription that, to win in England, Labour must wrap itself in “family, faith and the flag”.

The truth is that Glasman’s talk of « reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity », and even his vaguely Daily Mail-ish noises about the challenge of immigration in white working-class neighbourhoods, probably echo Labour’s founding values more closely than the anguish of the liberal elite. The academic is withering about the left’s record after 1945, which he calls « elitist, managerial [and] bureaucratic ». However, it was this managerial and bureaucratic mindset that built hundreds of thousands of homes, established the National Health Service and virtually eradicated the extreme poverty and disease that had blighted many lives before the Second World War.

All the same, it is hard to resist the feeling that Labour still suffers too much from a kind of knee-jerk Fabianism, preferring to meddle from Whitehall rather than to enable people to help themselves locally. To pick one small but telling example, we often forget that it was Harold Wilson’s 1970s Labour government that first toyed with the idea of allowing tenants to buy their council houses, even going so far as to have it discussed among ministers.

Years later, Wilson’s senior policy adviser Bernard Donoughue reflected that he had been desperate to give people “the freedom to decorate their homes as they wished and, very important, to move in pursuit of employment . . . It infuriated me when I raised this issue with my local Kentish Town Labour Party and was dismissed out of hand by a bunch of mainly left-wing activists, many of whom were prosperously middle-class and enjoyed the benefits of owning their own homes in nearby Hampstead and Camden Town.”

This was Blatchford and the Methodists all over again. The Methodists won; council house sales were shelved because they were deemed inegalitarian. “It was an own goal,” Donou­ghue’s Downing Street colleague Gavyn Davies conceded. “A monumental own goal.” Selling council houses – which would have allowed Wilson and his colleagues to plough the proceeds back into more social housing for the poor – is exactly the kind of counter-intuitive policy that their 21st-century successors need in order to rebuild their support in the English south and Midlands. For if the Labour leadership is serious about winning back even half of the four million English voters lost since 1997, sentimental evocations of a romanticised, radical tradition, or fond reminiscences of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the miners’ strike, will not be enough.

Instead, a healthy scepticism about the capacity of the state, a renewed enthusiasm for localism and self-help and respect for working-class anxieties would go a long way. Contrary to what we often think, these values are not alien to the Labour Party’s history or to the English radical tradition; they are part of their DNA. Strange as it may sound, if the party of the left wants to reconnect with its heritage and win again in England, it needs to rediscover its forgotten conservatism.

Dominic Sandbrook is a contributing writer of the New Statesman

Voir de plus:

Laure Mandeville: «Entre le vote Trump et le vote Johnson, un saisissant parallèle»

FIGAROVOX/CHRONIQUE – Les deux hommes appartiennent à l’élite «libérale» de leur pays, mais se sont définis en patriotes réalistes.

Laure Mandeville
Le Figaro

En juin 2016, le coup de tonnerre du Brexit avait précédé l’ouragan Trump, révélant le caractère transatlantique de la révolte nationaliste et populiste
qui souffle sur l’Occident. Trois ans plus tard, la retentissante victoire de Boris Johnson annonce-t-elle à son tour une nouvelle prouesse de Donald Trump en novembre 2020?

Beaucoup en Amérique accueillent l’idée avec horreur, mais certains commencent à envisager sérieusement l’hypothèse, en observant l’obstination avec laquelle ses électeurs lui restent fidèles, de la même manière que les électeurs du Brexit sont restés fidèles à leur désir de «sortir» de l’Union européenne. Les dérapages de Trump et les gigantesques efforts de ses adversaires pour lui ôter toute légitimité sont loin d’avoir fait bouger les lignes, peut-être même le contraire, à en croire de récents sondages favorables au président américain. Au Royaume-Uni, le slogan résolu de Boris Johnson, «Faisons le Brexit», a de son côté fait merveille, malgré tous les efforts des partisans du maintien dans l’Union qui voirnt leur rêve de « nouveau référendum » à nouveau fracassé.

« Le Brexit et Trump étaient inextricablement liés en 2016 et ils sont inextricablement liés aujourdhui. Johnson annonce une grande victoire de Trump. Les classes populaires sont fatiguées de leurs élitesde new York, de Londres et de Bruxelles; qui leur expliquent comment vivre et comment faire. (…) Si les démocrates n’en tirent pas les leçons, Trump voguera vers une victoire à la Reagan en 1984, déclare l’idéologue du national-populisme américain Steve Bannon à l’éditorialiste du New York Times Roger Cohen », qui semble partager à contrecoeur partager son pronostic.

Même si on fait difficilement plus américain que Donald Trump, ni plus britannique que Boris Johnson, il y a incontestablement des parallèles saissssants entre les deux hommes et ils sont loin de se limiter à leur tignasse blonde, qui fait le régal des photographes. Premier point commun, les deux hommes appartiennent à l’élite « libérale » de leur pays, mais se sont définis en patriotes réalistes, surfant sur le désir viscéral du retour à la nation de l’électorat et offrant la promesse d’un pays « reprenant le contrôle » de son destin. Tous deux ont également joué de leurs personnalités hétérodoxes et charismatiques pour passer allègrement le Rubicon du politiquement correct et se poser en défenseurs du « petit peuple », grand perdant de la globalisation et de l’ouverture des frontières à l’immigration. Allant à rebours de la doxa du libre-échange pur et dur, ils ont engagé à la hussarde une redéfinition révolutionnaire de l’ADN de leur partis respectifs, instaurant un virage à gauche sur la question du commerce et du protectionnsime, tout en se situant à droite sur les questions sociétales et culturelles. La carte de leur électorat s’en trouve alors métamorphosée par le ralliement à la bannière conservatrice de régions traditonnellement acquises au Labour britannique ou au parti démocrate américain. De ce point de vue, l’humeur de la classe ouvrière des midlands et du nord de l’Angleterre est presque un copié-collé du ressenti des ouvriers déclassés de l’industrie sidérurgique d l’Ohio ou de la Pennsylvannie. Boris comme Donald ont aussi séduit les petites villes et le pays rural, ce pays dit « périphérique » qui est en réalité « majoritaire », rappelle Christophe Guilluy. « Avec Johnson, on se retrouve paradoxalement avec une bonne chance d’avoir une soicial-démocratie modérée », note l’essayiste David Goodhart.

Comme steve Bannon, l’intellectuel anglais n’exclut pas que la vicroire de Johnson soit, comme le brexit en 2016, ‘l’indicateur d’une tendance capable de se répéter à nouveau outre-Atlantique ». Dans les deux cas, les deux hommes ont été incroyablement sous-estimés par leurs adversaires et les observateurs, qui les ont volontiers présentés comme des clowns, souligne l’intellectuel. Mais Boris Johnson n’a pas « le caractère brutal de Trump et son côté incontrôlable », insiste Goodhart. Il offre de ce point de vue « un visage otpimiste et décent » à la révolte populiste et montre à la droite européenne qu’ « il est possible de la chevaucher sans quelle dérive vers quelque chose d’illibéral ». C’est une bonne nouvelle », conclut-il.

Voir encore:

Boris Johnson and the Coming Trump Victory in 2020
In the postindustrial wasteland, the working class embraced an old Etonian mouthing about unleashed British potential.
Roger Cohen
NYT
Dec. 13, 2019

Donald Trump, in his telling, could have shot somebody on Fifth Avenue and won. Boris Johnson could mislead the queen. He could break his promise to get Britain out of Europe by Oct. 31. He could lie about Turks invading Britain and the cost of European Union membership. He could make up stories about building 40 new hospitals. He could double down on the phantom $460 million a week that Brexit would deliver to the National Health Service — and still win a landslide Tory electoral victory not seen since Margaret Thatcher’s triumph in 1987.

The British, or at least the English, did not care. Truth is so 20th century. They wanted Brexit done; and, formally speaking, Johnson will now take Britain out of Europe by Jan. 31, 2020, even if all the tough decisions on relations with the union will remain. Johnson was lucky. In the pathetic, emetic Jeremy Corbyn, the soon-to-depart Labour Party leader, he faced perhaps the worst opposition candidate ever. In the Tory press, he had a ferocious friend prepared to overlook every failing. In Brexit-weary British subjects, whiplashed since the 2016 referendum, he had the perfect receptacle for his “get Brexit done.”

Johnson was also skillful, blunting Nigel Farage’s far-right Brexit Party, which stood down in many seats, took a lot of Labour votes in the seats where it did run, and ended up with nothing. The British working class, concentrated in the Midlands and the North, abandoned Labour and Corbyn’s socialism for the Tories and Johnson’s nationalism.

In the depressed provinces of institutionalized precariousness, workers embraced an old Etonian mouthing about unleashed British potential. Not a million miles from blue-collar heartland Democrats migrating to Trump the millionaire and America First demagogy.

That’s not the only parallel with American politics less than 11 months from the election. Johnson concentrated all the Brexit votes. By contrast, the pro-Remain vote was split between Corbyn’s internally divided Labour Party, the hapless Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish National Party. For anybody contemplating the divisions of the Democratic Party as compared with the Trump movement’s fanatical singleness of purpose, now reinforced by the impeachment proceedings, this can only be worrying.

The clear rejection of Labour’s big-government socialism also looks ominous for Democrats who believe the party can lurch left and win. The British working class did not buy nationalized railways, electricity distribution and water utilities when they could stick it to some faceless bureaucrat in Brussels and — in that phrase as immortal as it is meaningless — take back their country.

It’s a whole new world. To win, liberals have to touch people’s emotions rather than give earnest lessons. They have to cease being arid. They have to refresh and connect. It’s not easy.

Facebook reaches about one-third of humanity. It is more powerful than any political party — and it’s full of untruths, bigotry and nonsense. As Sacha Baron Cohen, the British actor, said last month of the social media behemoths: “The truth is that these companies won’t fundamentally change because their entire business model relies on generating more engagement, and nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear and outrage.”

That’s the story of Brexit, a national tragedy. That’s the story of Johnson, the man of no convictions. That’s the story of Trump, who makes puppets of people through manipulation of outrage and disregard for truth. That’s the story of our times. Johnson gets and fits those times better than most. He’s a natural.

“Brexit and Trump were inextricably linked in 2016, and they are inextricably linked today,” Steve Bannon told me. “Johnson foreshadows a big Trump win. Working-class people are tired of their ‘betters’ in New York, London, Brussels telling them how to live and what to do. Corbyn the socialist program, not Corbyn the man, got crushed. If Democrats don’t take the lesson, Trump is headed for a Reagan-like ’84 victory.”

I still think Trump can be beaten, but not from way out left and not without recognition that, as Hugo Dixon, a leader of the now defeated fight for a second British referendum, put it: “There is a crisis of liberalism because we have not found a way to connect to the lives of people in the small towns of the postindustrial wasteland whose traditional culture has been torn away.”

Johnson, even with his 80-seat majority, has problems. His victory reconciled the irreconcilable. His moneyed coterie wants to turn Britain into free-market Singapore on the Thames. His new working-class constituency wants rule-Britannia greatness combined with state-funded support. That’s a delicate balancing act. The breakup of Britain has become more likely. The strong Scottish National Party showing portends a possible second Scottish referendum on independence.

This time I would bet on the Scots bidding farewell to little England. And then there’s the small matter of what Brexit actually means. Johnson will need all his luck with that.

As my readers know, I am a passionate European patriot who sees the union as the greatest achievement of the second half of the 20th century, and Britain’s exit as an appalling act of self-harm. But I also believe in democracy. Johnson took the decision back to the people and won. His victory must be respected. The fight for freedom, pluralism, the rule of law, human rights, a free press, independent judiciaries, breathable air, peace, decency and humanity continues — and has only become more critical now that Britain has marginalized itself irreversibly in a fit of nationalist delusion.

Voir enfin:

Britain’s election
Victory for Boris Johnson’s all-new Tories

The Conservatives’ capture of the north points to a realignment in British politics. Will it last?

The Economist
December 13, 2019
Britain’s election on December 12th was the most unpredictable in years—yet in the end the result was crushingly one-sided. As we went to press the next morning, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party was heading for a majority of well over 70, the largest Tory margin since the days of Margaret Thatcher. Labour, meanwhile, was expecting its worst result since the 1930s. Mr Johnson, who diced with the possibility of being one of Britain’s shortest-serving prime ministers, is now all-powerful.
 
The immediate consequence is that, for the first time since the referendum of 2016, it is clear that Britain will leave the European Union. By the end of January it will be out—though Brexit will still be far from “done”, as Mr Johnson promises. But the Tories’ triumph also shows something else: that a profound realignment in British politics has taken place. Mr Johnson’s victory saw the Conservatives taking territory that Labour had held for nearly a century. The party of the rich buried Labour under the votes of working-class northerners and Midlanders.
 
After a decade of governments struggling with weak or non-existent majorities, Britain now has a prime minister with immense personal authority and a free rein in Parliament. Like Thatcher and Tony Blair, who also enjoyed large majorities, Mr Johnson has the chance to set Britain on a new course—but only if his government can also grapple with some truly daunting tasks.
 
Mr Johnson was lucky in his opponent. Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader, was shunned by voters, who doubted his promises on the economy, rejected his embrace of dictators and terrorists and were unconvinced by his claims to reject anti-Semitism.
 
But the result also vindicates Mr Johnson’s high-risk strategy of targeting working-class Brexit voters. Some of them switched to the Tories, others to the Brexit Party, but the effect was the same: to deprive Labour of its majority in dozens of seats.
 
Five years ago, under David Cameron, the Conservative Party was a broadly liberal outfit, preaching free markets as it embraced gay marriage and environmentalism. Mr Johnson has yanked it to the left on economics, promising public spending and state aid for struggling industries, and to the right on culture, calling for longer prison sentences and complaining that European migrants “treat the UK as though it’s basically part of their own country.” Some liberal Tories hate the Trumpification of their party (the Conservative vote went down in some wealthy southern seats). But the election showed that they were far outnumbered by blue-collar defections from Labour farther north.
 
This realignment may well last. The Tories’ new prospectus is calculated to take advantage of a long-term shift in voters’ behaviour which predates the Brexit referendum. Over several decades, economic attitudes have been replaced by cultural ones as the main predictor of party affiliation. Even at the last election, in 2017, working-class voters were almost as likely as professional ones to back the Tories. Mr Johnson rode a wave that was already washing over Britain. Donald Trump has shown how conservative positions on cultural matters can hold together a coalition of rich and poor voters. And Mr Johnson has an extra advantage in that his is unlikely to face strong opposition soon. Labour looks certain to be in the doldrums for a long time. The Liberal Democrats had a dreadful night in which their leader, Jo Swinson, lost her seat.
 
Yet the Tories’ mighty new coalition is sure to come under strain. With its mix of blue collars and red trousers, the new party is ideologically incoherent. The northern votes are merely on loan. To keep them Mr Johnson will have to give people what they want—which means infrastructure, spending on health and welfare, and a tight immigration policy. By contrast, the Tories’ old supporters in the south believe that leaving the EU will unshackle Britain and usher in an era of freewheeling globalism. Mr Johnson will doubtless try to paper over the differences. However, whereas Mr Trump’s new coalition in America has been helped along by a roaring economy, post-Brexit Britain is likely to stall.
 
Any vulnerabilities in the Tories’ new coalition will be ruthlessly found out by the trials ahead. Brexit will formally happen next month, to much fanfare. Yet the difficult bit, negotiating the future relationship with Europe, lies ahead. The hardest arguments, about whether to forgo market access for the ability to deregulate, have not begun. Mr Johnson will either have to face down his own Brexit ultras or hammer the economy with a minimal EU deal.
 
As he negotiates the exit from one union he will face a crisis in another. The Scottish National Party won a landslide this week, taking seats from the Tories, and expects to do well in Scottish elections in 2021. After Brexit, which Scots voted strongly against, the case for an independence referendum will be powerful. Yet Mr Johnson says he will not allow one. Likewise in Northern Ireland, neither unionists nor republicans can abide the prime minister’s Brexit plans. All this will add fuel to a fight over whether powers returning from Brussels reside in Westminster or Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh. The judiciary is likely to have to step in—and face a hostile prime minister whose manifesto promises that the courts will not be used “to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays”.
 
Led all that way for birth or death?
There is no doubting the strength of Mr Johnson’s position. He has established his personal authority by running a campaign that beat most expectations. His party has been purged of rebels, and their places taken by a new intake that owes its loyalty to him personally. Having lost control of Parliament for years, Downing Street is once more in charge.
 
Mr Johnson will be jubilant about the scale of his victory, and understandably so. But he should remember that the Labour Party’s red wall has only lent him its vote. The political realignment he has pulled off is still far from secure.

 


Chute du mur de Berlin/30e: De la révolution à la guerre des bananes (Banana revolution: that such a basic commodity was a luxury good in East Germany tells you all you need to know about the pitfalls of communism)

12 novembre, 2019

File:Zonen-gaby.jpg

A la surprise de nombreux Allemands de l’Ouest, beaucoup de visiteurs orientaux utilisèrent les 100 DM de leur « argent de bienvenue » (somme d’argent versée par la RFA aux visiteurs de la RDA) pour acheter de grandes quantités de bananes, une rareté très prisée à l’Est. Durant les mois qui suivirent l’ouverture de la frontière, les bananes étaient vendues par caisses entières aux Allemands de l’Est qui pensaient que les stocks seraient bientôt épuisés. Cette frénésie pour le fruit fit de la banane le symbole officieux des changements en Allemagne de l’Est que certains surnommèrent la « révolution de la banane ». Certains Allemands de l’Ouest de gauche protestèrent contre ce qu’ils considéraient comme un consumérisme galopant en lançant des bananes sur les Allemands de l’Est se rendant à l’Ouest. L’obsession des Allemands de l’Est pour les bananes fut parodiée par la célèbre couverture de novembre 1989 du magazine satirique ouest-allemand Titanic qui indiquait « Gaby (17), contente d’être en Allemagne de l’Ouest : Ma première banane » alors qu’elle tient un gros concombre épluché. Wikipedia
For all the meddling the Communist bloc countries have done in banana republics, they still never seem to be able to get their hands on any actual bananas. PJ O’Rourke
There’s something alarmingly wrong with a system that manages to make Germans poor. PJ O’Rourke
Comme cela était inévitable, la marche contre l’islamophobie a payé au prix fort ses ambiguïtés. En laissant quelques fanatiques scander Allah Akbar ! en plein défilé, ses organisateurs ont davantage contribué à renforcer l’islamophobie que toute la fachosphère réunie. Dimanche, l’islam de France a manqué un rendez-vous crucial avec la République. Les cris d’Allah Akbar ! et l’indécente exhibition d’étoiles jaunes en resteront les catastrophiques symboles, la marche contre l’islamophobie fut une marche arrière. Eric Naulleau
Les amis des USA et de l’Union Européenne ont rétabli leur ‘démocratie’ : pogroms anti-indiens, tabassages de journalistes et d’élus, putch militaire. Tel est leur monde idéal. Jean-Luc Mélenchon
Dans cette Bolivie aux dizaines de coups d’État depuis les années 1960″, les événements de ces derniers jours « relèvent d’ un conflit de classes exacerbé, d’un racisme déchaîné, d’une opposition enragée contre le système d’Etat plurinational constructeur de la redistribution des richesses et la conquête de la souveraineté nationale.  Sous le fallacieux prétexte de fraude électorale, la droite dont la logistique est assurée par les services nord-américains (…) n’a pas accepté la victoire d’Evo Morales conquise grâce au vote déterminant des indigènes tellement il est insupportable à la bourgeoisie, en majorité blanche, et pour une partie des couches moyennes, sorties de la misère par Morales lui-même, d’accepter le verdict des urnes. Fabien Roussel (PCF)
La France insoumise s’associe aux protestations contre la violence de l’extrême droite putschiste bolivienne et partage le soutient à Evo Morales qu’ont exprimé les principaux dirigeants des pays de l’Amérique du sud et les partis progressistes de cette région du monde ». Les dirigeants du Venezuela, du Nicaragua, de Cuba, ainsi que le président élu argentin Alberto Fernandez et l’ancien président brésilien Lula , ont tous dénoncé un « coup d’Etat » contre Evo Morales, leader indigène de 60 ans, qui était au pouvoir depuis 2006. Boursorama
A l’occasion des 30 ans de la chute du mur, France Info a diffusé un reportage établissant un parallèle entre le mur de Berlin et la barrière de sécurité séparant Israël de la Cisjordanie. Pas un mot sur le terrorisme. C’est une recette classique du bidouillage journalistique : profiter d’un anniversaire historique pour raconter toute autre chose et vendre à ses auditeurs un reportage qui ne s’encombre ni de l’exactitude des faits, ni de l’honnêteté intellectuelle la plus élémentaire. Depuis des années, la propagande palestinienne et ses relais dans la presse française s’ingénient à établir un parallèle fallacieux entre le mur de Berlin derrière lequel des millions de citoyens est-allemands furent emprisonnés durant des décennies et la barrière israélienne de sécurité destinée à protéger les civils israéliens des attentats qui firent des ravages tout au long de la seconde Intifada. C’est le biais choisi par France Info qui a diffusé le 6 novembre un reportage au titre choc, repris les jours suivants sur les antennes soeurs de France Inter et France Culture : « Jamila, l’enfant de deux murs ». Pour fêter le 30e anniversaire de l’événement, l’envoyé spécial de France Info, Omar Ouahmane, a ainsi déniché la perle rare : Jamila, née le 9 novembre 1989 – jour de la chute du Mur – dans un hôpital dont les fenêtres surplombaient le rideau de fer séparant les deux Allemagnes. Le nouveau né a pour ainsi dire couvert l’événement en direct. Mais ce n’est pas tout. Si la mère de Jamila est allemande, son père est palestinien ! Originaire de Naplouse, en Cisjordanie, Moufid Youssef est arrivé à Berlin-Est en 1978 pour mener des études médecine. C’est un sacré « scoop » que vient de lever là le reportage de France Info qui s’autorise pour la circonstance à dresser un parallèle audacieux : De cette union est donc née Jamila, enfants de deux murs, celui de Berlin, qu’elle n’a pas connu, et celui qui sépare Israël des territoires palestiniens, mur qu’elle a découvert en 2008. Le reporter interviewe Jamila. Elle raconte son voyage en Palestine : Nous avons traversé le checkpoint de Kalandia et je me souviens de ce regard bizarre parce que j’avais un passeport allemand avec un nom arabe et j’ai vu tous ces gens qui étaient contrôlés. J’ai ressenti un sentiment de colère et aussi un peu de peur. J’ai toujours espéré que ce mur tombe avant ma mort. Les auditeurs de France Info n’en apprendront guère plus. Rien n’est expliqué, tout est suggéré. Dans quel but, dans quelles circonstances le « mur » israélien (qui est en réalité une barrière sur l’essentiel de son tracé) a-t-il été érigé ? Le reportage n’en dit rien. Pas un seul rappel sur les attentats-suicides quasi quotidiens qui ont frappé les cafés, les restaurants et les transports en commun israéliens durant la seconde Intifada. Pas un seul mot sur le millier de morts provoqué par ces attentats terroristes. La « barrière de sécurité » israélienne n’a été installée que pour protéger les civils israéliens (juifs et arabes) des attentats sanglants perpétrés par des terroristes du Hamas, des Tanzim et des Brigades des martyrs d’al Aqsa du Fatah, et du Jihad islamique palestinien. Tout dans le reportage de France Info est fait pour établir une analogie fallacieuse entre les Palestiniens et les Allemands de l’Est qui durant plus de quarante ans ne pouvaient fuir la dictature communiste et étaient maintenus prisonniers dans leur propre pays. Les civils palestiniens ont bien entendu toute possibilité de quitter la Cisjordanie, notamment en passant par la Jordanie. Chaque jour, des milliers de Palestiniens franchissent la barrière de sécurité pour venir travailler en Israël, visiter leur famille ou recevoir des soins dans les hôpitaux israéliens. Le « Mur », tel que le désigne France Info, ne constitue pas davantage une prison pour les Arabes israéliens qui ont – à l’instar de leurs concitoyens juifs – toute latitude pour voyager à l’étranger. Il suffit de déambuler dans les halls de l’aéroport Ben Gourion de Tel Aviv pour le constater. Enfin, dernier rappel historique : le parallèle établit par France Info est d’autant plus malhonnête que l‘ex-dictature communiste de la défunte République démocratique allemande avait su développer des liens très étroits avec les organisations terroristes palestiniennes auxquelles la Stasi (les services secrets de l’ex-RDA) fournissait un appui logistique très appréciable. Infoequitable
Eastern bloc kids collected Western candy bar wrappers. Outdated catalogues from the West were kept as coffee table books or fashion magazines. In a world full of grey, the colorful Western waste was treasure. Corecom was a chain of hard-currency stores back in the Communist days providing goods imported from the West. They were inaccessible for most Bulgarians because the national currency, the lev, was not accepted at the stores. Anyone purchasing goods at Corecom with unauthorized foreign currency ran the risk of being investigated by the authorities. The sweetest
It’s 30 years since we started to wash the stench of Soviet socialism out of the windpipes of the body politic, which means it’s about time to consider the importance of bananas. The humble yellow fruit might seem a triviality, but it’s actually quite illustrative of the pitfalls of communism. As PJ O’Rourke once observed: “For all the meddling the Communist bloc countries have done in banana republics, they still never seem to be able to get their hands on any actual bananas.” Another of O’Rourke’s pithier observations was that there’s something alarmingly wrong with a system that manages to make Germans poor. What’s especially odd is that a banana company is an island of central planning in our free market world. The system is owned, usually at least, from end to end. The plantation is planned, it is known how much the production will be. The fruit are transported on specialist – planned – ships and the technology of stopping them ripening before they get to market is well known. That such a basic commodity was a luxury good in East Germany tells you all you need to know about that system’s manifest failings. The fruit’s absence typified the shortages and penury of life in the old GDR. Indeed, when a shipment did come in there would be queues around the block. Meanwhile over in West Germany, the banana was a potent symbol of the country’s 1950s economic miracle – so much so that West German president Konrad Adenauer once brandished one in the Bundestag and hailed it as “paradisical manna”. The best part of the story is what happened immediately after the formal reunification of Germany, a year after the wall fell. As the hours and the minutes ticked down lorries full of bananas queued at the soon to be defunct border crossings. As midnight passed and freedom reigned again, they powered their way to every town, village and hamlet carrying their vital cargo. By that first rosy dawn every shop, flower stall, tobacco kiosk and newsagent in the no longer socialist republic was festooned with bananas. it was a political statement, of course, a message to former East Germans that their new polity could deliver this simple and yellow thing with total efficiency. And such was the enthusiasm for this new bounty that for a time the Easterners were referred to their by their Western cousins as ‘bananen’. It is possible to tell more complex tales that illustrate the starkness of the economic divide. Take the VW executive who went to see the Trabant factory at Zwickau. For all the Western auto companies were running slide rules over the varied Dacias, Skodas and the like. On giving his report back at Wolfsburg our stalwart German auto manager burst into tears. Those Trabbies were worth less than the raw materials entering the other end of the factory. Forget even the value of the labour or capital, the process of turning papier mache (I kid you not, I have personally witnessed a horse eating one) into a car body reduced the value of the original ingredients. That is how you can make even Germans poor of course. Having to explain this to people raised in a more or less sane economic system is presumably what caused that executive to start blubbering in the boardroom. It isn’t even just the inefficiency that grates, it’s the driving ethos of the whole system. For this is what planned economies do. They give the people – badly, late and expensively – what the planners think they should want, rather than what they actually do want. Yes, bananas are trivial but again, as O’Rourke puts it: “The privileges of liberty and the sanctity of the individual went out and whipped butt.” Yep, in all its waxy yellowness. Tim Worstall
La guerre de la banane, quelquefois appelée conflit de la banane, est un différend politique, économique et commercial centré sur des questions de droit de douanes relatifs à la banane, entre l’Union européenne, et les pays latino-américains, soutenus par les États-Unis. Ce conflit a démarré en 1993, avec plusieurs annonces de fin, en 2009 et en 20111. Selon le point de vue européen, il s’agissait de préserver les producteurs membres des pays ACP menacés par la libéralisation des normes économiques exigée par l’OMC (Organisation mondiale du commerce). Selon le point de vue américain, il s’agissait de dénoncer un régime douanier inéquitable. Les États-Unis, commercialisant ces bananes provenant de l’Amérique latine, étaient partisans du démantèlement de toute protection économique. En rétorsion des mesures européennes, Washington a décidé d’imposer des sanctions douanières aux exportations européennes, qui n’ont été levées qu’en 2001. À la veille du lancement du cycle de Doha de libéralisation des échanges agricoles, Pascal Lamy, Commissaire européen du commerce, se félicitait alors d’avoir montré par cet accord que les différents États impliqués pouvaient « gérer des différends commerciaux de manière professionnelle ». Wikipedia
As I understand it, the only people in Europe who like straight bananas are the Germans, who lacking any former colonies in the Caribbean were obliged to import their bananas from Latin America (this may be why so many bigshot Nazis retired there). The biggest banana consumers in the world, the Germans have a psychologically complex relationship with the fruit. Konrad Adenauer famously brandished a banana in the Bundestag, calling it « paradisical manna », and thus became the only European politician to appear with a banana as a matter of policy until that monkey who got elected mayor the other week. Yet, after reunification, West Germans referred to East Germans disparagingly as « bananen » because the delicacy had been so rare on the other side of the Berlin Wall (« Ja, ve haff nein bananen »). At the same time, the biggest-selling vibrator in Germany was a battery-operated banana and the biggest-selling condom was banana-flavoured. I gather there are EU regulations on the shape and size of condoms, so presumably the popular banana Eurocondom conforms to directives on both banana size and condom size. I don’t believe the banana question would ever have reared its ugly head had not tariff-free dollar bananas for Germany been written into the original Treaty of Rome. Conversely, the rest of Europe’s banana supply – almost entirely curved – was governed by the Banana Regime of the 1957 Lome Convention. The German banana exemption was the Trojan horse by which the straight banana penetrated the European hinterland. And there things rested until the 1993 EU Banana Regime attempted to reconcile the curved bananas of the Lome Convention with the straight bananas of the Treaty of Rome and wound up getting taken to the WTO and infuriating the Americans. At the height of the subsequent banana war, Brussels was putting tariffs on straight bananas. With hindsight, it seems the height of hypocrisy to defend the curved banana against the straight banana when, on the equally vexed question of cucumber curvature, the EU instituted mandatory straightening. In 1999, Washington demanded an investigation into EU policy on the crookedness of fruits, but at the time Brussels was too busy investigating the fruits of crookedness, with a half-hearted inquiry into EU corruption and cronyism. This was the period when Commissioner Edith Cresson was in trouble for putting her dentist on the payroll as a $300,000 EU « scientific adviser », and then declaring she was shocked to find this sort of thing going on right under her nose, though that would seem the obvious place to look for one’s dentist. Mme Cresson, to the best of my knowledge, played no role in drafting EU policy on the identification of fruits, except for her celebrated remark that most Englishmen were homosexual. Anyway, I asked an EU friend in Brussels (Motto: « You don’t have to be bananas to work here but it helps ») whether this week’s news would be seen as a great victory for the fruitarian lobby. He said, « The fruit Aryan? You mean that Dutch guy who got shot a couple of weeks back? Nine-day wonder. We’re over that now. » Finally, you’re probably wondering how the straight vs curved banana dispute fits into the war on terror. All I know is that Muslims believe that man was expelled from the Garden of Eden not because of an apple but because of a green banana. Where does the EU stand (or slip) on those? Mark Steyn
De la révolution à la guerre des bananes
A l’heure où le monde fête le 30e anniversaire de la chute du mur de Berlin …
Pendant qu’après la marche de la honte, entre cris d’Allahu Akbar et fausses étoiles jaunes, contre la prétendue islamophobie  …
Nos Mélenchon et autres néo-staliniens s’associent aux dirigeants venezueliens, nicaraguais et cubains pour dénoncer le « coup d’Etat » contre le voleur d’élection Evo Morales …

Et nos journalistes de la Pravda du service public français ne résistent pas à l’ocassion d’une énième et fallacieuse comparaison du « mur » israélien

Avec cet nfâme symbole d’un système qui avait réduit des populations entières pendant des décennies …
A collectionner les emballages de friandises ou les vieux catalogues de l’ouest …
Et qui voyait deux jours plus tard avec l’ouverture des frontières intérieures près du quart de la population est-allemande …
Se ruer, pour les acheter par caisses entières, sur les bananes de l’ouest …
Quelle meilleure illustration des aberrations du système communiste
Que la transformation de ce qui était devenu un produit d’alientation de base à l’ouest …
En un produit de luxe hors de portée de la plupart des gens à l’est ?
Mais aussi comme le rappelait alors l’impayable Mark Steyn
Quelle meilleure illustration des aberrations du réglementarisme bruxellois …
A travers l’Atlantique pour cause de courbure et de longueur non conformes  …
Que cette nouvelle et  terrible guerre des bananes des années 90  ?

Why command economies are absolutely bananas

Tim Worstall

It’s 30 years since we started to wash the stench of Soviet socialism out of the windpipes of the body politic, which means it’s about time to consider the importance of bananas.

The humble yellow fruit might seem a triviality, but it’s actually quite illustrative of the pitfalls of communism. As PJ O’Rourke once observed: “For all the meddling the Communist bloc countries have done in banana republics, they still never seem to be able to get their hands on any actual bananas.”

Another of O’Rourke’s pithier observations was that there’s something alarmingly wrong with a system that manages to make Germans poor.

What’s especially odd is that a banana company is an island of central planning in our free market world. The system is owned, usually at least, from end to end. The plantation is planned, it is known how much the production will be. The fruit are transported on specialist – planned – ships and the technology of stopping them ripening before they get to market is well known.

That such a basic commodity was a luxury good in East Germany tells you all you need to know about that system’s manifest failings. The fruit’s absence typified the shortages and penury of life in the old GDR. Indeed, when a shipment did come in there would be queues around the block.

Meanwhile over in West Germany, the banana was a potent symbol of the country’s 1950s economic miracle – so much so that West German president Konrad Adenauer once brandished one in the Bundestag and hailed it as “paradisical manna”.

The best part of the story is what happened immediately after the formal reunification of Germany, a year after the wall fell. As the hours and the minutes ticked down lorries full of bananas queued at the soon to be defunct border crossings. As midnight passed and freedom reigned again, they powered their way to every town, village and hamlet carrying their vital cargo.

By that first rosy dawn every shop, flower stall, tobacco kiosk and newsagent in the no longer socialist republic was festooned with bananas. it was a political statement, of course, a message to former East Germans that their new polity could deliver this simple and yellow thing with total efficiency. And such was the enthusiasm for this new bounty that for a time the Easterners were referred to their by their Western cousins as ‘bananen’.

It is possible to tell more complex tales that illustrate the starkness of the economic divide. Take the VW executive who went to see the Trabant factory at Zwickau. For all the Western auto companies were running slide rules over the varied Dacias, Skodas and the like. On giving his report back at Wolfsburg our stalwart German auto manager burst into tears. Those Trabbies were worth less than the raw materials entering the other end of the factory. Forget even the value of the labour or capital, the process of turning papier mache (I kid you not, I have personally witnessed a horse eating one) into a car body reduced the value of the original ingredients.

That is how you can make even Germans poor of course. Having to explain this to people raised in a more or less sane economic system is presumably what caused that executive to start blubbering in the boardroom.

It isn’t even just the inefficiency that grates, it’s the driving ethos of the whole system. For this is what planned economies do. They give the people – badly, late and expensively – what the planners think they should want, rather than what they actually do want.

Yes, bananas are trivial but again, as O’Rourke puts it: “The privileges of liberty and the sanctity of the individual went out and whipped butt.” Yep, in all its waxy yellowness.

Voir aussi:

I have mixed feelings about this week’s landmark court decision striking down EU regulations on the curvature of fruit and veg. As a rule, I like my cucumbers straight and my bananas curved. I’m cool on EU regulation 1677/88 (if memory serves) requiring Class One cukes to curve less than 10mm every 10cm. But on bananas I’m a bender. The notorious EU regulation 2257/94 stating that bananas must be « free of abnormal curvature » and should be at least 5.5 inches long makes no sense, unless it was drafted by Paula Jones while still in shock.

But, frankly, I had no idea the EU were the ones in favour of uncurved bananas. I seem to remember during the « transatlantic banana split » of a few years ago that it was we in North America who were on the side of the straight banana and you in Europe who were the curvy ones. The banana war of the late Nineties was the turn-of-the-millennium version of those 19th-century imperial disputes where the Great Powers line up behind one obscure tribe or another and stage a proxy war. In this case, it was something to do with the different spheres of influence of Fyffes, Europe’s banana supremo, and Chiquita, America’s top banana. The US championed the cause of Latin-American bananas – these are the so-called « dollar » bananas: tall, straight, and thick-skinned, much like the Americans themselves. The Europeans, meanwhile, were on the side of Afro-Caribbean-Pacific bananas: short, bent, and with a pronounced aroma, much like the Europeans themselves.

Yet, despite the preceding slur, I’m personally drawn to the furtive, stooped, crooked European fruit. The dollar banana strikes me as pretty tasteless by comparison: it makes a witty and amusing touch for your headgear on Carmen Miranda night at the golf club, but is less effective in your standard banana cream pie. As I understand it, the only people in Europe who like straight bananas are the Germans, who lacking any former colonies in the Caribbean were obliged to import their bananas from Latin America (this may be why so many bigshot Nazis retired there). The biggest banana consumers in the world, the Germans have a psychologically complex relationship with the fruit. Konrad Adenauer famously brandished a banana in the Bundestag, calling it « paradisical manna », and thus became the only European politician to appear with a banana as a matter of policy until that monkey who got elected mayor the other week.

Yet, after reunification, West Germans referred to East Germans disparagingly as « bananen » because the delicacy had been so rare on the other side of the Berlin Wall (« Ja, ve haff nein bananen »). At the same time, the biggest-selling vibrator in Germany was a battery-operated banana and the biggest-selling condom was banana-flavoured. I gather there are EU regulations on the shape and size of condoms, so presumably the popular banana Eurocondom conforms to directives on both banana size and condom size. I don’t believe the banana question would ever have reared its ugly head had not tariff-free dollar bananas for Germany been written into the original Treaty of Rome. Conversely, the rest of Europe’s banana supply – almost entirely curved – was governed by the Banana Regime of the 1957 Lome Convention. The German banana exemption was the Trojan horse by which the straight banana penetrated the European hinterland.

And there things rested until the 1993 EU Banana Regime attempted to reconcile the curved bananas of the Lome Convention with the straight bananas of the Treaty of Rome and wound up getting taken to the WTO and infuriating the Americans. At the height of the subsequent banana war, Brussels was putting tariffs on straight bananas. With hindsight, it seems the height of hypocrisy to defend the curved banana against the straight banana when, on the equally vexed question of cucumber curvature, the EU instituted mandatory straightening.

In 1999, Washington demanded an investigation into EU policy on the crookedness of fruits, but at the time Brussels was too busy investigating the fruits of crookedness, with a half-hearted inquiry into EU corruption and cronyism. This was the period when Commissioner Edith Cresson was in trouble for putting her dentist on the payroll as a $300,000 EU « scientific adviser », and then declaring she was shocked to find this sort of thing going on right under her nose, though that would seem the obvious place to look for one’s dentist. Mme Cresson, to the best of my knowledge, played no role in drafting EU policy on the identification of fruits, except for her celebrated remark that most Englishmen were homosexual.

Anyway, I asked an EU friend in Brussels (Motto: « You don’t have to be bananas to work here but it helps ») whether this week’s news would be seen as a great victory for the fruitarian lobby. He said, « The fruit Aryan? You mean that Dutch guy who got shot a couple of weeks back? Nine-day wonder. We’re over that now. »

Finally, you’re probably wondering how the straight vs curved banana dispute fits into the war on terror. All I know is that Muslims believe that man was expelled from the Garden of Eden not because of an apple but because of a green banana. Where does the EU stand (or slip) on those?

Voir également:

Démission d’Evo Morales : le PCF et LFI dénoncent une « logique de coup d’État » en Bolivie

Dans un communiqué, la France insoumise a ciblé « l’extrême droite putschiste » après la démission diamnche du président de Bolivie Evo Morales.

Boursorama avec AFP Services

11/11/2019

« Un conflit de classes exacerbé, d’un racisme déchaîné ». Le Parti communiste français et la France insoumise ont dénoncé la « logique de coup d’Etat » qui a conduit, selon eux, à l a démission du président bolivien Evo Morales dimanche 10 novembre après trois semaines de protestations contre sa réélection. « Dans cette Bolivie aux dizaines de coups d’État depuis les années 1960 », les événements de ces derniers jours « relèvent d’ un conflit de classes exacerbé, d’un racisme déchaîné, d’une opposition enragée contre le système d’Etat plurinational constructeur de la redistribution des richesses et la conquête de la souveraineté nationale « , s’émeut le secrétaire national du PCF Fabien Roussel dans un communiqué publié lundi.

« Sous le fallacieux prétexte de fraude électorale, la droite dont la logistique est assurée par les services nord-américains (…) n’a pas accepté la victoire d’Evo Morales conquise grâce au vote déterminant des indigènes tellement il est insupportable à la bourgeoisie, en majorité blanche, et pour une partie des couches moyennes, sorties de la misère par Morales lui-même, d’accepter le verdict des urnes », ajoute-t-il.

« Un coup d’État » dénoncé par plusieurs pays d’Amérique du Sud

LFI accuse pour sa part l’opposition qui « multiplie les actes racistes et les violences dans une logique de coup d’Etat » , dans un communiqué publié dimanche. « La France insoumise s’associe aux protestations contre la violence de l’extrême droite putschiste bolivienne et partage le soutient à Evo Morales qu’ont exprimé les principaux dirigeants des pays de l’Amérique du sud et les partis progressistes de cette région du monde ». Les dirigeants du Venezuela, du Nicaragua, de Cuba, ainsi que le président élu argentin Alberto Fernandez et l’ancien président brésilien Lula , ont tous dénoncé un « coup d’Etat » contre Evo Morales, leader indigène de 60 ans, qui était au pouvoir depuis 2006.

« Coup d’Etat en #Bolivie contre @evoespueblo (Evo Morales, ndlr). Les amis des USA et de l’Union Européenne ont rétabli leur ‘démocratie’ : pogroms anti-indiens, tabassages de journalistes et d’élus, putsch militaire. Tel est leur monde idéal », a également dénoncé Jean-Luc Mélenchon, le chef de file de LFI sur Twitter.

Voir encore:

Éric Naulleau : “la marche contre l’islamophobie a payé au prix fort ses ambiguïtés”
Valeurs actuelles
12 novembre 2019

Pour le chroniqueur, la marche du dimanche 10 novembre a “contribué à renforcer l’islamophobie”.
Avant même son départ, la marche contre l’islamophobie ne faisait pas l’unanimité. Le PS et EELV (la sénatrice Esther Benbassa y participait à titre personnel), par exemple, s’en sont désolidarisés. Une fois lancé, le cortège a été émaillé par des incidents qui ont donné raison aux détracteurs de la manifestation à laquelle 10 000 personnes ont participé, selon les chiffres de la préfecture de Police. Sur Twitter, Éric Naulleau, chroniqueur de l’émission Balance ton post sur C8, l’assure : « Comme cela était inévitable, la marche contre l’islamophobie a payé au prix fort ses ambiguïtés. En laissant quelques fanatiques scander Allah Akbar ! en plein défilé, ses organisateurs ont davantage contribué à renforcer l’islamophobie que toute la fachosphère réunie ».

« Indécente exhibition d’étoiles jaunes »
Et d’ajouter : « Dimanche, l’islam de France a manqué un rendez-vous crucial avec la République. Les cris d’Allah Akbar ! et l’indécente exhibition d’étoiles jaunes en resteront les catastrophiques symboles, la marche contre l’islamophobie fut une marche arrière ».

Pour le chroniqueur, « si les organisateurs de la marche de demain en avaient seulement appelé à la juste lutte contre l’islamophobie, je l’aurais évidemment soutenue. Mais la pollution de l’initiative par des propos et des personnages antirépublicains rend la chose impossible. Quel gâchis ! »

Voir enfin:

Mur de Berlin: la comparaison fallacieuse de France Info avec Israël

C’est une recette classique du bidouillage journalistique : profiter d’un anniversaire historique pour raconter toute autre chose et vendre à ses auditeurs un reportage qui ne s’encombre ni de l’exactitude des faits, ni de l’honnêteté intellectuelle la plus élémentaire.

Depuis des années, la propagande palestinienne et ses relais dans la presse française s’ingénient à établir un parallèle fallacieux entre le mur de Berlin derrière lequel des millions de citoyens est-allemands furent emprisonnés durant des décennies et la barrière israélienne de sécurité destinée à protéger les civils israéliens des attentats qui firent des ravages tout au long de la seconde Intifada.

C’est le biais choisi par France Info qui a diffusé le 6 novembre un reportage au titre choc, repris les jours suivants sur les antennes soeurs de France Inter et France Culture : « Jamila, l’enfant de deux murs ».

Pour fêter le 30e anniversaire de l’événement, l’envoyé spécial de France Info, Omar Ouahmane, a ainsi déniché la perle rare : Jamila, née le 9 novembre 1989 – jour de la chute du Mur – dans un hôpital dont les fenêtres surplombaient le rideau de fer séparant les deux Allemagnes. Le nouveau né a pour ainsi dire couvert l’événement en direct.

Mais ce n’est pas tout. Si la mère de Jamila est allemande, son père est palestinien ! Originaire de Naplouse, en Cisjordanie, Moufid Youssef est arrivé à Berlin-Est en 1978 pour mener des études médecine.

C’est un sacré « scoop » que vient de lever là le reportage de France Info qui s’autorise pour la circonstance à dresser un parallèle audacieux :

De cette union est donc née Jamila, enfants de deux murs, celui de Berlin, qu’elle n’a pas connu, et celui qui sépare Israël des territoires palestiniens, mur qu’elle a découvert en 2008.

Le reporter interviewe Jamila. Elle raconte son voyage en Palestine :

Nous avons traversé le checkpoint de Kalandia et je me souviens de ce regard bizarre parce que j’avais un passeport allemand avec un nom arabe et j’ai vu tous ces gens qui étaient contrôlés. J’ai ressenti un sentiment de colère et aussi un peu de peur. J’ai toujours espéré que ce mur tombe avant ma mort

Décryptage

Les auditeurs de France Info n’en apprendront guère plus. Rien n’est expliqué, tout est suggéré. Dans quel but, dans quelles circonstances le « mur » israélien (qui est en réalité une barrière sur l’essentiel de son tracé) a-t-il été érigé ? Le reportage n’en dit rien. Pas un seul rappel sur les attentats-suicides quasi quotidiens qui ont frappé les cafés, les restaurants et les transports en commun israéliens durant la seconde Intifada. Pas un seul mot sur le millier de morts provoqué par ces attentats terroristes.

La « barrière de sécurité » israélienne n’a été installée que pour protéger les civils israéliens (juifs et arabes) des attentats sanglants perpétrés par des terroristes du Hamas, des Tanzim et des Brigades des martyrs d’al Aqsa du Fatah, et du Jihad islamique palestinien. Tout dans le reportage de France Info est fait pour établir une analogie fallacieuse entre les Palestiniens et les Allemands de l’Est qui durant plus de quarante ans ne pouvaient fuir la dictature communiste et étaient maintenus prisonniers dans leur propre pays.

Les civils palestiniens ont bien entendu toute possibilité de quitter la Cisjordanie, notamment en passant par la Jordanie.

Chaque jour, des milliers de Palestiniens franchissent la barrière de sécurité pour venir travailler en Israël, visiter leur famille ou recevoir des soins dans les hôpitaux israéliens.

Le « Mur », tel que le désigne France Info, ne constitue pas davantage une prison pour les Arabes israéliens qui ont – à l’instar de leurs concitoyens juifs – toute latitude pour voyager à l’étranger. Il suffit de déambuler dans les halls de l’aéroport Ben Gourion de Tel Aviv pour le constater.

Enfin, dernier rappel historique : le parallèle établit par France Info est d’autant plus malhonnête que l‘ex-dictature communiste de la défunte République démocratique allemande avait su développer des liens très étroits avec les organisations terroristes palestiniennes auxquelles la Stasi (les services secrets de l’ex-RDA) fournissait un appui logistique très appréciable.

Certains dossiers exhumés des archives de la Stasi ont fourni à ce sujet de précieux renseignements.

Peut-être l’occasion d’un futur reportage de l’envoyé spécial de France Info à Berlin ?


Doctrine Obama: C’est mort à l’Amérique, imbécile ! (Continuation of the jihad by other means: American power is what they all hope to break)

12 avril, 2015
https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xpa1/t31.0-8/10003674_1070465586313700_7193367525536975127_o.jpghttps://scontent-ams.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xpf1/v/t1.0-9/10491203_1070485379645054_1522694794172874079_n.jpg?oh=0fd6ff33e4f716e022380d1c41371160&oe=55E58EBB Apologizer in chief on DDayhttps://scottthong.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/revjerwright341.jpg?w=450&h=345Ce qui se vit aujourd’hui est une forme de rivalité mimétique à l’échelle planétaire. Lorsque j’ai lu les premiers documents de Ben Laden, constaté ses allusions aux bombes américaines tombées sur le Japon, je me suis senti d’emblée à un niveau qui est au-delà de l’islam, celui de la planète entière. Sous l’étiquette de l’islam, on trouve une volonté de rallier et de mobiliser tout un tiers-monde de frustrés et de victimes dans leurs rapports de rivalité mimétique avec l’Occident. René Girard
One can’t think that in order to improve and normalize relations with the U.S., Cuba has to give up the principles it believes in. Changes in Cuba aren’t negotiable. Josefina Vidal (Cuba’s top diplomat for U.S. affairs, 25.01.15)
Although Cuba no longer actively supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world, the Cuban government continued to provide safe haven to several terrorists. Members of ETA, the FARC, and the ELN remained in Cuba during 2008, some having arrived in Cuba in connection with peace negotiations with the governments of Spain and Colombia. Cuban authorities continued to publicly defend the FARC. However, on July 6, 2008, former Cuban President Fidel Castro called on the FARC to release the hostages they were holding without preconditions. He has also condemned the FARC’s mistreatment of captives and of their abduction of civilian politicians who had no role in the armed conflict. The United States has no evidence of terrorist-related money laundering or terrorist financing activities in Cuba, although Cuba has one of the world’s most secretive and non-transparent national banking systems. Cuba has no financial intelligence unit. Cuba’s Law 93 Against Acts of Terrorism provides the government authority to track, block, or seize terrorist assets. The Cuban government continued to permit some U.S. fugitives—including members of U.S. militant groups such as the Boricua Popular, or Macheteros, and the Black Liberation Army to live legally in Cuba. In keeping with its public declaration, the government has not provided safe haven to any new U.S. fugitives wanted for terrorism since 2006. US Department of state
Imagine there’s no Israel, It’s easy if you try, Imagine all the people, Living life in peace You may say that I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one, I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will be as one … (à fredonner sur un air connu)
Il a fallu s’y atteler et dans ces lieux, on peut rendre hommage aux Cubains, issus de la Révolution qui se sont résolus à tenir tête aux États-Unis, leurs plus proches voisins. Les Cubains, les Cubains de Cuba, fiers de leur révolution sociale, savent qu’ils ne sont plus seuls. En revendiquant leur dignité, ils s’associent aux revendications de tous les peuples opprimés et, de ce fait, ils rejoignent les bâtisseurs du monde de demain. Danielle Mitterrand (Porto Alegre, février 2003)
L’Amérique est toujours le tueur numéro 1 dans le monde. . . Nous sommes profondément impliqués dans l’importation de la drogue, l’exportation d’armes et la formation de tueurs professionnels. . . Nous avons bombardé le Cambodge, l’Irak et le Nicaragua, tuant les femmes et les enfants tout en essayant de monter l’opinion publique contre Castro et Khaddafi. . . Nous avons mis Mandela en prison et soutenu la ségrégation pendant 27 ans. Nous croyons en la suprématie blanche et l’infériorité noire et y croyons davantage qu’en Dieu. … Nous avons soutenu le sionisme sans scrupule tout en ignorant les Palestiniens et stigmatisé quiconque le dénonçait comme anti-sémite. . . Nous ne nous inquiétons en rien de la vie humaine si la fin justifie les moyens. . . Nous avons lancé le virus du SIDA. . . Nous ne pouvons maintenir notre niveau de vie qu’en nous assurant que les personnes du tiers monde vivent dans la pauvreté la plus abjecte. Rev. Jeremiah Wright (le 15 janvier 2006)
L’audace de l’espoir. Voilà le meilleur de l’esprit américain ; avoir l’audace de croire, malgré toutes les indications contraires, que nous pouvions restaurer un sens de la communauté au sein d’une nation déchirée ; l’audace de croire que malgré des revers personnels, la perte d’un emploi, un malade dans la famille ou une famille empêtrée dans la pauvreté, nous avions quelque emprise- et par conséquent une responsabilité sur notre propre destin. Barack Hussein Obama
Je veux aussi, une fois élu, organiser un sommet dans le monde musulman, avec tous les chefs d’Etat, pour discuter franchement sur la façon de contenir le fossé qui s’agrandit chaque jour entre les musulmans et l’Occident. Je veux leur demander de rejoindre notre combat contre le terrorisme. Nous devons aussi écouter leurs préoccupations. (…) Je veux dialoguer directement avec l’Iran et la Syrie. Nous ne stabiliserons pas la région si nous ne parlons pas à nos ennemis. Lorsqu’on est en désaccord profond avec quelqu’un, il faut lui parler directement. Barack Obama (Paris Match, le 31 janvier 2008)
Il n’y a aucune raison que nous ne puissions restaurer le respect dont jouissait l’Amérique et le partenariat qu’elle avait avec le monde musulman voilà 20 ou 30 ans de cela. (…) J’ai déclaré durant la campagne qu’il est très important pour nous de faire en sorte que nous utilisions tous les outils de la puissance américaine, y compris la diplomatie, dans nos relations avec l’Iran. Barack Hussein Obama
We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing … people don’t seem to understand. You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies. The same is true with respect to Iran, a larger country, a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. … You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.” The notion that Iran is undeterrable — “it’s simply not the case,” he added. “And so for us to say, ‘Let’s try’ — understanding that we’re preserving all our options, that we’re not naïve — but if in fact we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies, and who knows? Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place. … We’re not relinquishing our capacity to defend ourselves or our allies. In that situation, why wouldn’t we test it? Barack Hussein Obama
It’s the dreamers — no matter how humble or poor or seemingly powerless — that are able to change the course of human events. We saw it in South Africa, where citizens stood up to the scourge of apartheid. We saw it in Europe, where Poles marched in Solidarity to help bring down the Iron Curtain. In Argentina, where mothers of the disappeared spoke out against the Dirty War. It’s the story of my country, where citizens worked to abolish slavery, and establish women’s rights and workers’ rights, and rights for gays and lesbians. It’s not to say that my country is perfect — we are not. And that’s the point. We always have to have citizens who are willing to question and push our government, and identify injustice. We have to wrestle with our own challenges — from issues of race to policing to inequality. But what makes me most proud about the extraordinary example of the United States is not that we’re perfect, but that we struggle with it, and we have this open space in which society can continually try to make us a more perfect union. (…) As the United States begins a new chapter in our relationship with Cuba, we hope it will create an environment that improves the lives of the Cuban people -– not because it’s imposed by us, the United States, but through the talent and ingenuity and aspirations, and the conversation among Cubans from all walks of life so they can decide what the best course is for their prosperity. As we move toward the process of normalization, we’ll have our differences, government to government, with Cuba on many issues — just as we differ at times with other nations within the Americas; just as we differ with our closest allies. There’s nothing wrong with that. (…) And whether it’s crackdowns on free expression in Russia or China, or restrictions on freedom of association and assembly in Egypt, or prison camps run by the North Korean regime — human rights and fundamental freedoms are still at risk around the world. And when that happens, we believe we have a moral obligation to speak out. (…) As you work for change, the United States will stand up alongside you every step of the way. We are respectful of the difference among our countries. The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past. (…) We have a debt to pay, because the voices of ordinary people have made us better. That’s a debt that I want to make sure we repay in this hemisphere and around the world. (…) God bless you. Barack Hussein Obama (Sommet des Amériques, Panama city, April 10, 2015)
Les frères Jonas sont ici ; ils sont là quelque part. Sasha et Malia sont de grandes fans. Mais les gars, allez pas vous faire des idées. J’ai deux mots pour vous: « predator drone ». Vous les verrez même pas venir. Vous croyez que je plaisante, hein ? Barack Hussein Obama
I, and most of my colleagues, have spent a lot of time discussing red lines since the tragedy in Paris. As you know, the Muhammad cartoon controversy began eight years ago in Denmark, as a protest against “self-censorship,” one editor’s call to arms against what she felt was a suffocating political correctness. The idea behind the original drawings was not to entertain or to enlighten or to challenge authority—her charge to the cartoonists was specifically to provoke, and in that they were exceedingly successful. Not only was one cartoonist gunned down, but riots erupted around the world, resulting in the deaths of scores. No one could say toward what positive social end, yet free speech absolutists were unchastened. Using judgment and common sense in expressing oneself were denounced as antithetical to freedom of speech. And now we are adrift in an even wider sea of pain. Ironically, Charlie Hebdo, which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest. Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean. By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks. The White House took a lot of hits for not sending a high-level representative to the pro-Charlie solidarity march, but that oversight is now starting to look smart. The French tradition of free expression is too full of contradictions to fully embrace. Even Charlie Hebdo once fired a writer for not retracting an anti-Semitic column. Apparently he crossed some red line that was in place for one minority but not another. What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility. At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism. I’m aware that I make these observations from a special position, one of safety. In America, no one goes into cartooning for the adrenaline. As Jon Stewart said in the aftermath of the killings, comedy in a free society shouldn’t take courage. Writing satire is a privilege I’ve never taken lightly.  And I’m still trying to get it right. Doonesbury remains a work in progress, an imperfect chronicle of human imperfection. It is work, though, that only exists because of the remarkable license that commentators enjoy in this country. That license has been stretched beyond recognition in the digital age. It’s not easy figuring out where the red line is for satire anymore. But it’s always worth asking this question: Is anyone, anyone at all, laughing? If not, maybe you crossed it. Garry Trudeau
Si à Poitiers Charles Martel avait été battu, le monde aurait changé de face. Puisque le monde était déjà condamné à l’influence judaïque (et son sous-produit le christianisme est une chose si insipide !), il aurait mieux valu que l’islam triomphe. Cette religion récompense l’héroïsme, promet au guerrier les joies du septième ciel… Animé d’un esprit semblable, les Germains auraient conquis le monde. Ils en ont été empêchés par le christianisme. Hitler (1942)
Après tout, qui parle encore aujourd’hui de l’annihilation des Arméniens? Hitler (22 août 1939)
Nous ne savons pas si Hitler est sur le point de fonder un nouvel islam. Il est d’ores et déjà sur la voie; il ressemble à Mahomet. L’émotion en Allemagne est islamique, guerrière et islamique. Ils sont tous ivres d’un dieu farouche. Jung (1939)
Mein Kamp (…) Tel était le nouveau Coran de la foi et de la guerre: emphatique, fastidieux, sans forme, mais empli de son propre message. Churchill
Si le Reich allemand s’impose comme protecteur de tous ceux dont le sang allemand coule dans les veines, et bien la foi musulmane impose à chaque Musulman de se considérer comme protecteur de toute personne ayant été imprégnée de l’apprentissage coranique. Hassan el Banna (fondateur des Frères musulmans et grand-père de Tariq et Hani Ramadan)
J’annonce au monde entier que si les infidèles font obstacle à notre religion, nous nous opposerons au monde entier et nous ne cesserons pas avant leur anéantissement, nous en sortirons tous libérés ou nous obtiendrons une plus grande liberté qui est le martyr. Soit nous nous serrerons les uns aux autres pour célébrer la victoire de l’islam sur le monde ou bien nous aurons tous la vie éternelle grâce au martyr. Dans les deux cas, la victoire et le succès seront à nous. Khomeiny
Beaucoup de déçus dans la lutte entre le monde islamique et les infidèles ont essayé de rejeter la responsabilité en annonçant qu’il n’est pas possible d’avoir un monde sans les États-Unis et le sionisme. Mais vous savez que ce sont un but et un slogan réalisables. Pour étayer ses propos, le président se réfère à la chute, dans l’histoire récente, de plusieurs régimes que personne ne voyait sombrer. Lorsque notre cher imam (Khomeiny) a annoncé que le régime (du Shah) devait être supprimé, beaucoup de ceux qui prétendaient être politiquement bien informés ont déclaré que ce n’était pas possible. Qui pouvait penser qu’un jour, nous pourrions être témoins de l’effondrement de l’empire de l’Est (Union soviétique) ? L’Imam a annoncé que Saddam devait s’en aller puis a ajouté qu’il s’affaiblirait plus vite que personne ne l’imagine.  L’Imam (Khomeiny) a annoncé que le régime occupant Jérusalem devait disparaître de la page du temps. Ahmadinejad (Conférence du monde sans sionisme, 25 octobre 2005)
Mort à l’Amérique, parce que l’Amérique est la source d’origine de cette pression. Ils insistent à mettre la pression sur l’économie de nos chères personnes. Quel est leur objectif ? Leur objectif est de monter les gens contre le système. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei  (20.03.15)
Our negotiations with the world powers are a source of national pride. Yesterday [during the Iran-Iraq War], your brave generals stood against the enemy on the battlefield and defended their country. Today, your diplomatic generals are defending [our nation] in the field of diplomacy; this too is jihad. Hassan Rouhani
La situation est tragique mais les forces en présence au Moyen-Orient font qu’au long terme, Israël, comme autrefois les Royaumes francs, finira par disparaître. Cette région a toujours rejeté les corps étrangers. Dominique de Villepin (Paris, automne 2001)
Nul ne peut ne pas rêver de la destruction de n’importe quelle puissance devenue à ce point hégémonique (…) A la limite, c’est eux qui l’ont fait, mais c’est nous qui l’avons voulu. Jean Baudrillard (novembre 2001)
En des occasions diverses j’ai défini cette époque comme un temps de guerre, une troisième guerre mondiale « par morceaux », où nous assistons quotidiennement à des crimes atroces, à des massacres sanglants, et à la folie de la destruction. Malheureusement, encore aujourd’hui, nous entendons le cri étouffé et négligé de beaucoup de nos frères et sœurs sans défense, qui, à cause de leur foi au Christ ou de leur appartenance ethnique, sont publiquement et atrocement tués – décapités, crucifiés, brulés vifs –, ou bien contraints d’abandonner leur terre. Aujourd’hui encore nous sommes en train de vivre une sorte de génocide causé par l’indifférence générale et collective, par le silence complice de Caïn qui s’exclame : « Que m’importe ? », « Suis-je le gardien de mon frère ? » (…) Notre humanité a vécu, le siècle dernier, trois grandes tragédies inouïes : la première est celle qui est généralement considérée comme « le premier génocide du XXème siècle » ; elle a frappé votre peuple arménien – première nation chrétienne –, avec les Syriens catholiques et orthodoxes, les Assyriens, les Chaldéens et les Grecs. Des évêques, des prêtres, des religieux, des femmes, des hommes, des personnes âgées et même des enfants et des malades sans défense ont été tués. Les deux autres ont été perpétrées par la nazisme et par le stalinisme. Et, plus récemment, d’autres exterminations de masse, comme celles au Cambodge, au Rwanda, au Burundi, en Bosnie. Cependant, il semble que l’humanité ne réussisse pas à cesser de verser le sang innocent. Il semble que l’enthousiasme qui est apparu à la fin de la seconde guerre mondiale soit en train de disparaître et de se dissoudre. Il semble que la famille humaine refuse d’apprendre de ses propres erreurs causées par la loi de la terreur ; et ainsi, encore aujourd’hui, il y en a qui cherchent à éliminer leurs semblables, avec l’aide des uns et le silence complice des autres qui restent spectateurs.  (…) Se souvenir d’eux est nécessaire, plus encore c’est un devoir, parce que là où il n’y a plus de mémoire, cela signifie que le mal tient encore la blessure ouverte ; cacher ou nier le mal c’est comme laisser une blessure continuer à saigner sans la panser ! Pape François
Les « pacifistes » croient donner une chance à la paix. En fait, s’ils donnent une chance, c’est à l’aveuglement et à lui seul. Les manifestations de samedi dernier c’est l’union sacrée de John Lennon et de Neville Chamberlain. Une naïveté poussée jusqu’à l’absence complète de discernement le dispute au mépris de la réalité. Il n’y a rien à attendre d’une telle alliance. Laurent Murawiec
Obama demande pardon pour les faits et gestes de l’Amérique, son passé, son présent et le reste, il s’excuse de tout. Les relations dégradées avec la Russie, le manque de respect pour l’Islam, les mauvais rapports avec l’Iran, les bisbilles avec l’Europe, le manque d’adulation pour Fidel Castro, tout lui est bon pour battre la coulpe de l’Amérique. (…) Mais où Obama a-t-il donc appris ces inepties ? D’où vient cet amoncellement de mécomptes du monde, d’idées fausses et difformes? D’où provient ce prurit du je-vous-demande pardon ? On est habitué au Jimmycartérisme, qui se mettait à quatre pattes devant Khomeiny (« un saint »), l’URSS, Cuba, le tiers monde, le terrorisme musulman. D’où vient qu’Obama ait – dirigeant d’une république – courbé la tête devant le roi d’Arabie ? C’est là qu’il convient de se souvenir de l’homme qui fut son pasteur pendant vingt ans, ce qui est très long quand on n’en a pas encore cinquante : le pasteur Jeremy Wright, de l’Eglise de la Trinité à Chicago, dont Obama ne se sépara que contraint et forcé, pour cause de déclarations insupportablement anti-américaines et antioccidentales, délirantes et conspirationnistes, et qui « passaient mal» dans la campagne.(…) C’est Wright qui fait du diplômé de Harvard qui est maintenant un agitateur local (community organizer), un politicien en vue à Chicago. N’oublions pas que la carrière politique locale d’Obama est lancée par les fanatiques de la haine de l’Amérique, les ultragauchistes terroristes des Weathermen, à Chicago, qui répètent et confirment la même antienne idéologique. Tous les aquariums où a nagé le têtard avaient la même eau. Obama est la version manucurée de Wright : il est allé à Harvard. Il n’éructe pas, il ne bave pas, il ne montre pas le poing. Il n’émet pas de gros mots à jet continu comme le fait son gourou. Elégant, Il est tout miel – mais les dragées, même recouvertes de sucre, n’en sont pas moins au poivre. Le fond est identique. Wright insulte l’Amérique, Obama demande pardon : dans les deux cas, elle est coupable. Wright est pasteur, Obama est président. Plus encore, cette déplorable Amérique a semé le désordre et le mal partout dans le monde. Au lieu de collaborer multilatéralement avec tous, d’œuvrer au bien commun avec Poutine, Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Saddam Hussein, Bachir al-Assad, et Cie, l’insupportable Bush en a fait des ennemis. Quelle honte ! Il faut réparer les torts commis. L’Amérique ne trouvera sa rédemption que dans le retrait, la pénitence, la contrition, et une forme de disparition. (…) Il faut, à tout prix, trouver des terrains d’entente avec tous. Il faut aller loin, très loin, dans les concessions : l’autre côté finira bien par comprendre. Kim Jong-Il, Hugo Chavez, l’ayatollah Khamenei, Assad, le Hamas, on trouvera les compromis nécessaires à un deal avec les avocats des partie adverses. Sans entente, on retombe dans les errements de l’Amérique honnie. L’Amérique, quelle horreur, se laisse aller à défendre ses alliés contre ses ennemis. On se bat au Vietnam et en Corée contre le communisme agresseur. On se bat contre le Communisme soviétique. Que croyez-vous que l’Obama de la campagne électorale ait signifié à Berlin, en disant, non sans délire, que le monde avait gagné la Guerre froide « en s’unissant » comme s’il n’y avait un qu’un seul camp dans cette guerre ! L’Amérique doit être réduite dans ses prétentions et dans sa puissance. Le monde doit être réduit à un seul camp, celui des faiseurs de paix, avec lesquels l’entente est toujours trouvable. Il n’y a pas d’ennemis, il n’y a que des malentendus. Il ne peut y avoir d’affrontements, seulement des clarifications. (…) Notons à propos que la mêlée des «réalistes»de la politique étrangère, qui préconise justement de se débarrasser des alliés afin de s´arranger avec les méchants, est aux anges, et participe à la mise en oeuvre de l´obamisterie. Ah! finalement, on ne s´embarrasse plus d´autre chose que la «stabilité» à court terme. (…) Obama ne sépare ni le blanc du noir, ni l´ami de l´ennemi. Il a gratuitement offensé les Anglais en méprisant la «relation spéciale». Il a offensé le Japon, en ne se souciant pas de lui ni du survol de son territoire par le missile nord-coréen. Il n´a pas eu un mot pour l´allié taïwanais. Il prépare avec acharnement une crise avec Israel. Il a montré à la Tchéquie et à la Pologne, sur l´affaire de la défense anti- missiles, qu´il ne faut pas compter sur Washington et qu´ils seront sacrifiés sur l´autel du «nouveau départ» avec Moscou. Pour tous, la leçon est brutale: à l´ère d´Obama, mieux vaut être un ennemi qu´un ami: ami, on vous jettera aux orties. Ennemi, on fera tout pour vous plaire. Laurent Murawiec
Quand l’Autriche se moque de vous, c’est que ce n’est pas votre semaine. Pourtant qui peut blâmer Madame Fekter, vu le dédain qu’Obama a montré pour son propre pays à l’étranger, jouant au philosophe-roi au-dessus de la mêlée qui négocie entre sa patrie renégate et un monde par ailleurs chaleureux et accueillant ? (…) Il est particulièrement étrange de voir un leader mondial célébrer le déclin de son propre pays. Encore quelques tournées mondiales comme celle-ci et Obama aura beaucoup plus de déclin à célébrer. Charles Krauthammer
Bref, nous assistons au retour de l’idéalisme postnational d’un Carter mais avec cette fois le charisme d’un Reagan. Pendant 40 ans nos écoles ont enseigné l’équivalence morale, le pacifisme utopique et le multiculturalisme bien intentionné et nous apprenons maintenant que tout ceci n’était pas que de la thérapie mais est insidieusement devenu notre évangile national. Victor Davis Hanson
Le problème n’est pas la sécurité d’Israël, la souveraineté du Liban ou les ingérences de la Syrie ou du Hezbollah : Le problème est centré sur l’effort de l’Iran à obtenir le Droit d’Abolir l’Exclusivité de la Dissuasion. La prolifération sauvage, le concept de «tous nucléaires» sera la fin de la Guerre Froide et le retour à la période précédant la Dissuasion. Les mollahs et leurs alliés, le Venezuela, l’Algérie, la Syrie, la Corée du Nord et la Russie…, se militarisent à une très grande échelle sachant qu’ils vont bientôt neutraliser le parapluie protecteur de la dissuasion et alors ils pourront faire parler la poudre. Chacun visera à dominer sa région et sans que les affrontements se déroulent en Europe, l’Europe sera dépouillée de ses intérêts en Afrique ou en Amérique du Sud et sans combattre, elle devra déposer les armes. Ce qui est incroyable c’est la myopie de la diplomatie française et de ses experts. (…) Aucun d’entre eux ne se doute que la république islamique a des alliés qui ont un objectif commun: mettre un terme à une discrimination qui dure depuis 50 ans, la dissuasion nucléaire ! Cette discrimination assure à la France une position que beaucoup d’états lui envient. Ils attendent avec impatience de pouvoir se mesurer avec cette ancienne puissance coloniale que beaucoup jugent arrogante, suffisante et gourmande.  Iran-Resist
En tant que défenseur de la rue arabe, [l’Iran] ne peut pas avoir un dialogue apaisé avec les Etats-Unis, dialogue au cours duquel il accepterait les demandes de cet Etat qui est le protecteur par excellence d’Israël. Téhéran a le soutien de la rue arabe, talon d’Achille des Alliés Arabes des Etats-Unis, car justement il refuse tout compromis et laisse entendre qu’il pourra un jour lui offrir une bombe nucléaire qui neutralisera la dissuasion israélienne. Pour préserver cette promesse utile, Téhéran doit sans cesse exagérer ses capacités militaires ou nucléaires et des slogans anti-israéliens. Il faut cependant préciser que sur un plan concret, les actions médiatiques de Téhéran ne visent pas la sécurité d’Israël, mais celle des Alliés arabes des Etats-Unis, Etats dont les dirigeants ne peuvent satisfaire les attentes belliqueuses de la rue arabe. Ainsi Téhéran a un levier de pression extraordinaire sur Washington. Comme toute forme de dissuasion, ce système exige un entretien permanent. Téhéran doit sans cesse fouetter la colère et les frustrations de la rue arabe ! Il doit aussi garder ses milices actives, de chaînes de propagande en effervescence et son programme nucléaire le plus opaque possible, sinon il ne serait pas menaçant. C’est pourquoi, il ne peut pas accepter des compensations purement économiques offertes par les Six en échange d’un apaisement ou une suspension de ses activités nucléaires. Ce refus permanent de compromis est vital pour le régime. (…) Il n’y a rien qui fasse plus peur aux mollahs qu’un réchauffement avec les Etats-Unis : ils risquent d’y perdre la rue arabe, puis le pouvoir. C’est pourquoi, le 9 septembre, quand Téhéran a accepté une rencontre pour désactiver les sanctions promises en juillet, il s’est aussitôt mis en action pour faire capoter ce projet de dialogue apaisé qui est un véritable danger pour sa survie. Iran Resist
La gauche a beaucoup de chance. Des historiens et des politologues complaisants veulent toujours voir dans les turbulences qui l’agitent le fruit de divergences idéologiques, de visions du monde opposées comme l’on disait autrefois. Ainsi, on opposera une gauche girondine à une gauche jacobine, une première gauche à une seconde etc… On remarquera que pour beaucoup ces fractures internes sont issues de la révolution française. Curieusement, une période de la révolution est toujours oubliée. Si l’on excepte de rares occasions, on parle peu de la gauche thermidorienne et pourtant, pensons nous, cette période est capitale pour comprendre ce qu’est devenue, aujourd’hui, la gauche française. La période thermidorienne débute avec la chute de Robespierre le 9 thermidor (27 juillet 1794) et finit avec le coup d’Etat de Bonaparte, le 18 brumaire (9 novembre1799). Elle culminera avec le Directoire. La coalition qui mettra fin à la dictature robespierriste est, dans sa composition, assez hétéroclite. Elle va d’ex-conventionnels terroristes aux anciens girondins en passant par le centre mou de la révolution : le fameux marais. En apparence, sauf l’hostilité à Robespierre, pour des raisons diverses d’ailleurs, ils ne sont d’accord sur rien. En apparence seulement. Car comme le soulignent Furet et Richet dans leur livre La révolution française, ce qui les réunit c’est la poursuite d’un double objectif : celui de la conquête et de l’intérêt. Il ne s’agit plus de créer l’homme vertueux mais de profiter (au sens plein du terme) des acquis de la révolution. Les thermidoriens les plus célèbres, dont le fameux Barras, seront des jouisseurs. Ils aiment l’argent et la jouissance dans tous ses aspects. De ce point de vue, la gauche Canal+ vient de loin, elle n’est pas née avec le mitterrandisme, ni avec 1968. La république spartiate rêvée par Robespierre et Saint-Just fait désormais place à la République des palais et des costumes extravagants. (…) Enfin, dernier legs de Thermidor : l’institutionnalisation du pouvoir intellectuel. C’est dans cette période que va, en effet, s’institutionnaliser le pouvoir intellectuel en France avec la création de l’Institut et la domination des fameux idéologues tant raillés par Bonaparte puis Napoléon. Dès lors, l’intellectuel français va adopter des caractéristiques qui ne le quitteront plus. Il sera philosophiquement progressiste, socialement bourgeois, très souvent anticlérical ou athée, profondément élitiste (même s’il proclame le contraire) et très souvent fâché avec le monde réel. Et conclurons-nous très proche des pouvoirs établis ! L’intellectuel de gauche n’est pas né avec l’affaire Dreyfus, il est un enfant de Thermidor. (…) Pourtant, lorsque l’on examine avec attention cette période on se rend compte que toutes les contradictions de la gauche et toutes ses évolutions futures s’y trouvent contenues. La phase thermidorienne de la révolution française est en quelque sorte le laboratoire historique de la gauche contemporaine. Le cynisme, le sociétalisme des oligarques socialistes ne sont pas des accidents de l’histoire, ils sont ancrés en elle. L’argent roi et le progressisme fou sont des vieux compagnons de route de la gauche française ! Jean-Claude Pacitto
Les drones américains ont liquidé plus de monde que le nombre total des détenus de Guantanamo. Pouvons nous être certains qu’il n’y avait parmi eux aucun cas d’erreurs sur la personne ou de morts innocentes ? Les prisonniers de Guantanamo avaient au moins une chance d’établir leur identité, d’être examinés par un Comité de surveillance et, dans la plupart des cas, d’être relâchés. Ceux qui restent à Guantanamo ont été contrôlés et, finalement, devront faire face à une forme quelconque de procédure judiciaire. Ceux qui ont été tués par des frappes de drones, quels qu’ils aient été, ont disparu. Un point c’est tout. Kurt Volker
Cooperation is not an exercise in good feeling; it presupposes congruent definitions of stability. There exists no current evidence that Iran and the U.S. are remotely near such an understanding. Even while combating common enemies, such as ISIS, Iran has declined to embrace common objectives. Iran’s representatives (including its Supreme Leader) continue to profess a revolutionary anti-Western concept of international order; domestically, some senior Iranians describe nuclear negotiations as a form of jihad by other means. The final stages of the nuclear talks have coincided with Iran’s intensified efforts to expand and entrench its power in neighboring states. Iranian or Iranian client forces are now the pre-eminent military or political element in multiple Arab countries, operating beyond the control of national authorities. With the recent addition of Yemen as a battlefield, Tehran occupies positions along all of the Middle East’s strategic waterways and encircles archrival Saudi Arabia, an American ally. Unless political restraint is linked to nuclear restraint, an agreement freeing Iran from sanctions risks empowering Iran’s hegemonic efforts. Henry Kissinger and George Schultz
Obama rencontre Castro, mais a refusé de rencontrer Netanyahu. Pourquoi légitimer le dictateur cruel d’un régime répressif ? Jeb Bush
Nous assistons au retour de l’idéalisme postnational d’un Carter mais avec cette fois le charisme d’un Reagan. Pendant 40 ans nos écoles ont enseigné l’équivalence morale, le pacifisme utopique et le multiculturalisme bien intentionné et nous apprenons maintenant que tout ceci n’était pas que de la thérapie mais est insidieusement devenu notre évangile national. Victor Davis Hanson
De l’Iran au Venezuela et à Cuba, du Myanmar à la Corée du Nord et à la Chine, du Soudan à l’Afghanistan et à l’Irak, de la Russie à la Syrie et à l’Arabie Saoudite, l’administration Obama a systématiquement enlevé les droits de l’homme et la promotion de la démocratie de l’ordre du jour de l’Amérique. A leur place, elle a préconisé l’amélioration de l’image de l’Amérique, le multilatéralisme et un relativisme moral qui soit ne voit aucune distinction entre les dictateurs et leurs victimes soit considère les distinctions peu importantes à l’avancement des intérêts américains. Caroline Glick
The steady aim of this nation, as of all enlightened nations should be to strive to bring ever nearer the day when there shall prevail throughout the world the peace of justice. …Tyrants and oppressors have many times made a wilderness and called it peace. …The peace of tyrannous terror, the peace of craven weakness, the peace of injustice, all these should be shunned as we shun unrighteous war. … The right of freedom and the responsibility for the exercise of that right cannot be divorced. Theodore Roosevelt (Dec. 4, 1904)
There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants … and that is the force of human freedom…. The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. … America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one... « America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one … From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and earth. George W. Bush
On the day in November 1961, when the Air Force achieved the first successful silo launching of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the SM-80, the Western Hemisphere part of the Monroe Doctrine ceased to mean anything at all – while the ideas behind it began to mean everything in the world. At bottom, the notion of a sanctified Western Hemisphere depended upon its separation from the rest of the world by two vast oceans, making intrusions of any sort obvious. The ICBM’s – soon the Soviet Union and other countries had theirs – shrank the world in a military sense. Then long-range jet aircraft, satellite telephones, television and the Internet all, in turn, did the job socially and commercially. By Mr. Bush’s Inauguration Day, the Hemi in Hemisphere had long since vanished, leaving the Monroe Doctrine with – what? – nothing but a single sphere … which is to say, the entire world. For the mission – the messianic mission! – has never shrunk in the slightest (…) David Gelernter, the scientist and writer, argues that « Americanism » is a fundamentally religious notion shared by an incredibly varied population from every part of the globe and every conceivable background, all of whom feel that they have arrived, as Ronald Reagan put it, at a « shining city upon a hill. » God knows how many of them just might agree with President Bush – and Theodore Roosevelt – that it is America’s destiny and duty to bring that salvation to all mankind. Tom Wolfe
If Iran is able to successfully evade addressing the IAEA’s concerns now, when biting sanctions are in place, why would it address them later when these sanctions are lifted, regardless of anything it may pledge today? David Albright
Wasn’t Obama’s great international cause a nuclear-free world? Within months of his swearing-in, he went to Prague to so declare. He then led a 50-party Nuclear Security Summit, one of whose proclaimed achievements was having Canada give up some enriched uranium. Having disarmed the Canadian threat, Obama turned to Iran. The deal now on offer to the ayatollah would confer legitimacy on the nuclearization of the most rogue of rogue regimes: radically anti-American, deeply jihadist, purveyor of terrorism from Argentina to Bulgaria, puppeteer of a Syrian regime that specializes in dropping barrel bombs on civilians. In fact, the Iranian regime just this week, at the apex of these nuclear talks, staged a spectacular attack on a replica U.S. carrier near the Strait of Hormuz. Well, say the administration apologists, what’s your alternative? Do you want war? It’s Obama’s usual, subtle false-choice maneuver: It’s either appeasement or war. It’s not. True, there are no good choices, but Obama’s prospective deal is the worst possible. Not only does Iran get a clear path to the bomb but it gets sanctions lifted, all pressure removed and international legitimacy. (…) Consider where we began: six U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding an end to Iranian enrichment. Consider what we are now offering: an interim arrangement ending with a sunset clause that allows the mullahs a robust, industrial-strength, internationally sanctioned nuclear program. Such a deal makes the Cuba normalization look good and the Ukrainian cease-fires positively brilliant. We are on the cusp of an epic capitulation. History will not be kind. Charles Krauthammer
You set out to prevent proliferation and you trigger it. You set out to prevent an Iranian nuclear capability and you legitimize it. You set out to constrain the world’s greatest exporter of terror threatening every one of our allies in the Middle East and you’re on the verge of making it the region’s economic and military hegemon. Charles Krauthammer
Obama’s decision to literally extend a hand of friendship toward a Castro represents the abandonment of decades of cherished Democratic foreign affairs doctrine.  (…) By contrast, Obama has stood by and watched as the world’s most brutal regimes oversaw the reclamation of their power. Obama turned a blind eye toward the crushing of the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009, and today strengthens the Mullah’s domestic authority by inking dubious deals with Tehran that will allegedly yield great rewards for the Islamic Republic’s ruling class. In Iran, Obama is rightly seen as no friend to the friendless, and he has greatly strengthened the hand of the system’s stakeholders. The same could be said of Venezuela, where bloody anti-government riots broke out in 2014 and were subsequently crushed by Caracas. Though the global left and Nicolas Maduro’s government saw the riots as an extension of America’s desire to oust his regime from power, Obama made no statements to that effect at the rebellion’s zenith. Only over a year after the fighting in the streets had been quelled did the administration name a handful of Maduro regime officials as threats to American national security in order to target them with sanctions. Perhaps the president wanted to avoid a repeat of his galling refusal to follow up on his 2011 insistence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go. That feel-good statement was not met with action. Quite the contrary; the president stood back and allowed the regime to slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocents with conventional and chemical weapons before tepidly committing to take action. But even that reluctant acknowledgment of the president’s responsibility to posterity was not met with engagement. Only when the situation became untenable, the terrorist threat to Western security grew imminent, and the attacks on human decency in the Middle East became truly unprecedented did the United States finally begin to address them. In Moscow, where Obama’s pledge to have more flexibility with the Putin regime in his second term was taken quite literally, the Soviet approach to information management and the suppression of domestic criticism is back in vogue. Journalists who dare to censure the regime again fear for their lives and livelihoods. The institutions of civil society that the Clinton administration invested time and energy, not to mention millions of dollars, trying to build up are now being eagerly destroyed by a Russia that sees more value in repression and revanchism than openness. Once an administration success story, a modest loosening of restrictions on freedoms in Burma has been completely reversed by the military junta in Naypyidaw. (…) In China, an economic powerhouse that nevertheless remains a one-party communist autocracy, America has tacitly consented to supporting the regime’s increased interest in total command and control. (…) Even within the NATO alliance, repression is on the rise. In Turkey, the secularism Kemal Ataturk regarded as a basic value has been de-emphasized. (…) The U.S. has joined other United Nations member in expressing concern over Turkey’s authoritarian drift, but human rights groups have called Obama’s silence on this matter “deafening.” In fact, about the only nation in which Obama pursued what he claimed was a purely humanitarian foreign policy was his decision to lead from behind while Europe toppled Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya. There, the West’s attempt to stave off a humanitarian crisis yielded an even greater one. Not only is Libya a failed state today, but it serves as an incubator for fundamentalist Islamic terror groups. Obama surely hopes historians will define his legacy as one of nobly sloughing off the burdens of the past, and opening America up to a brave new dawn in which multilateral talk shops become powerful forces for good. But Obama confuses the people of the world for their governments – a distinction that his Democratic predecessors understood and frequently made. While Obama pursues what he considers a pragmatic approach to international relations, the tide of freedoms that characterized the end of the last century is waning. When the need to protect Obama’s image for the sake of the left’s sense of self-validation subsides, it will become clear that the president’s true legacy was one of accommodation toward international community’s most repressive elements purely for the sake of convenience and fleeting domestic political gain. Noah Rothman
It was U.S. policy that caused the destruction of the Libyan state, such as it was. U.S. policy, from starting a war to failing to plan for its Phase 4 post-combat aftermath, explains not only the god-awful mess that Libya has become, but also what happened to Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. (…) Like Libya, Iraq was a nasty, authoritarian hellhole before U.S. policy made it even worse. We may blame that on the Bush Administration for mis-starting a war that had not been properly planned, but Iraq would not be quite the mess it is today had the Obama Administration not mis-ended it by yanking our presence out without a SOFA agreement. (…) Did Syria’s troubles fall out of the sky, too? Here U.S. policy is mostly guilty of sins of omission rather than sins of commission, some of them circling back to our hands-off-Iran supinity, but it is guilty all the same. As we have said here at TAI many times over the past three years, a judicious early use of U.S. power and leadership well short of kinetic action—difficult though it always was, true—could have averted the still evolving worst-case calamity that Syria has become. Syria is well on its way to complete Somalization. Far be it for me to advocate the use of U.S. force in any of these places. We cannot put these states back together at an acceptable cost in blood and treasure. As I have stressed in earlier posts (for example, here), what is happening, at base, is historio-structural in nature and no mere policy nipping and tucking can restore the status quo ante. I am no more in a mood to move chess pieces around on a table than the President is, especially if I have to do it with bombers, APCs, and Aegis cruisers loaded up with SLCMs. But to pontificate about the need for Arab self-help in these three cases, as though U.S. policy had nothing whatsoever to do with their present plights, very nearly surpasses credulity. It reminds me of a three-year old not yet well experienced at hide-and-go-seek who covers his face and thereby imagines that others cannot see him. Who in the region does the President think he’s fooling? Adam Garfinkle
The pattern of which I speak, conceived by the historian Walter A. McDougall, consists of four phases that tend to repeat in cycles. First, there is a shock to the system, usually in the form of a surprise attack: the shot fired at Fort Sumter in April 1861, the sinking of the Maine in Havana Harbour in 1898, the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, Pearl Harbour in 1941, and September 11 in 2001. In the phase directly after the shock, the leader of the day—Lincoln, McKinley, Wilson, FDR, George W. Bush—vows to resurrect the status quo ante and punish the evildoers. That corresponds to Lincoln’s vow to save the Union, Wilson’s vow to defend the right of American free passage on the high seas, and Bush’s vow to find and punish the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks so that America’s minimally acceptable standard of near perfect security could be restored. But third, in the course of mobilising the national effort to achieve the limited goals set after the shock, the transcendent God-talk begins and the effort soon becomes enmeshed in the sacred narrative of American exceptionalism. This leads to a distension of goals and expectations, to geopolitical amnesia, and to what cognitive psychologists call a dominant strategy that is impervious to negative feedback and logical contradiction. And so, in the September 11 decade, we chose a war that thoughtlessly destroyed the regional balance against Iranian hegemonism without even stopping to ask about the broader implications of a Shi’a government in Baghdad. One does not, apparently, descend to the smarminess of geopolitical analysis when one is doing the Lord’s work. So, too, did we turn what could and should have remained a punitive military operation in Afghanistan into a quixotic, distracted, underfunded nation- and state-building campaign. And so, too, did we conflate all our adversaries into one monolithic demon—typical of eschatological thinking. The administration conflated secular, Ba’athi Iraq with the apocalyptical Muslim fanatics of al-Qaeda, and so went to war against a country uninvolved in 9/11 whose threat to America was not, as is commonly claimed, zero, but which hardly justified, or excused, the haste and threadbare planning with which the war was launched and conducted. Then, in the fourth phase, overreach leads to setbacks (the Korean War, for example, and the Iraq insurgency) and regrets (like the Vietnam War), ultimately resulting in at least temporary retrenchment … until the cycle starts all over again. This four-phase model fits the September 11 decade to a tee. The attack itself is of course phase 1; the Bush doctrine version 1.0 represents phase 2; the Second Inaugural signals the full efflorescence of phase 3; and the election of Barack Obama marks the consolidation of phase 4. It matters in all this, however, whether the ideological vehicle that propels phase 3 forward even remotely reflects or aligns with reality. When it does, as it did during and after World War II, no one pays attention since things tend then to turn out well. In the case of the September 11 decade, unfortunately, it did not. There have been basically two problems with it. First, the « forward strategy » for freedom’s ascription of causality for Islamist terrorism is mistaken. Second, even if it were not mistaken, the timetables in which democracy promotion was seen as a solution for mass-casualty terrorism do not even begin to match. The reason is that despite President Bush’s assertion that democracy promotion is « the work of generations » and that democracy is about more than elections, that is not the basis upon which the administration actually behaved. It rushed into premature elections in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, with troublesome and still open-ended consequences for Iraq and disastrous ones for Lebanon and Gaza. After September 11, as Americans searched for analogies that might help them understand the motivations for the attacks, most found themselves with very shallow reservoirs of historical analogies. Indeed, Americans tended almost exclusively to choose Cold War metaphors to explain September 11. Liberal idealists took their characteristic meliorist approach: It was poverty and injustice that motivated the attacks, and American policies that determined the target. There were dozens of calls for a « Marshall Plan for the Middle East », and hundreds of pleas to concentrate more than ever on solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, as if that were somehow a magic bullet that could fix all problems. Conservative idealists, as already noted, took the democracy-promotion approach, arguing that the motivation was not economic but political. Both were wrong; Islamist radicalism, in truth, is a form of chiliastic violence that has taken many forms in many cultures over the past two millennia, from the Jewish zealots of the First Century of the Common Era, to the 16th-century Peasants’ Revolt in Germany, to the 19th-century « ghost dances » of American Indians. But the obvious weaknesses of the meliorist approach encouraged conservative idealists in their conviction that their own view, therefore, must be right. (Manichean-minded Americans have real problems when any potential set of choices exceeds two.) The administration’s rhetoric went even further, however, suggesting that US policy was largely responsible for the debased condition of Arab political cultures. When Bush famously said in November 2003: « Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty », he argued in essence that it was US policy, not the long incubated political culture of the region, that accounted for Arab autocracy. The Bush White House, in essence, adopted the wrongheaded left-wing side of an old debate over « friendly tyrants » as lesser evils and what to do with and about them, a very strange position for an avowedly conservative administration to take. The President also seemed to be saying, in a locution repeated by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Cairo in June 2005 and many times thereafter, that US Cold War policy in the region was unsuccessful on its own terms, that it did not provide safety and stability. Adam Garfinkle
 The United States is the world’s pre-eminent if not hegemonic power. Since World War II it has set the normative standards and both formed and guarded the security and economic structures of the world. In that capacity it has provided for a relatively secure and prosperous global commons, a mission nicely convergent with the maturing American self-image as an exceptionalist nation. To do this, however, the United States has had to maintain a global military presence as a token of its commitment to the mission and as a means of reassurance to those far and wide with a stake in it. This has required a global network of alliances and bases, the cost of which is not small and the maintenance of which, in both diplomatic and other terms, is a full-time job. Against this definition of strategic mission there have always been those in the United States who have dissented, holding that we do, ask and expect much too much, and get into gratuitous trouble as a result. Some have preferred outright isolationism, but most serious skeptics of the status quo have preferred a posture of ‘offshore balancing’. Remove the bases and end the alliances, they have argued, and the US government will be better able, at less risk and far less cost to the nation, to balance against threatening developments abroad, much as America’s strategic mentor, Great Britain, did throughout most of the 19th century. This is the core conversation Americans have been having about the US global role since at least 1945. To one side we recall George McGovern’s 1972 ‘Come Home, America’ campaign plank, the Mansfield Amendment that would have removed US troops from Europe in mid-Cold War, and the early Carter administration’s proposal to remove US troops from South Korea spoken in rhythm to speeches decrying an “inordinate fear of communism”. To the other side has been almost everyone and everything else, so that the offshore approach has always been turned back, at least until now. Where is the Obama administration in this great debate? We don’t really know; the evidence, once again, suggests ambivalence. President Obama has rejected American exceptionalism as no American president before him ever has; he did so in London on 29 April 2009, when he answered a question as follows: “I believe in American exceptionalism just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” By relativizing what has always been an absolute, Obama showed how profoundly his image of America has been influenced by the received truths of the Vietnam anti-war movement and counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. If he has a theory of American exceptionalism, it is a far subtler, humbler and more historically contingent one than the secular messianist, attenuated Protestant version that has been common to American history. The President also believes that downward pressure on the defense budget is warranted; his projected budgets show as much, though the prospective cuts are not draconian. But in this he joins a large, politically ecumenical contingent, so his views do not imply opposition to the forward-presence approach to grand strategy. And the fact that US relations with many of its allies, notably in Europe, have worsened during Obama’s tenure is more likely a consequence of the President being distracted than it is of any active dislike for either specific allies or alliances in general. Nor does his candid view that fighting in Afghanistan for another decade and spending $1 trillion doing so is not in America’s best national interest, mean that he is reticent about using force on behalf of strategic aims when it is in America’s interest to do so. Perhaps Obama accepts the forward strategy but will end up starving it of resources to the point that it will shockingly fail some crucial test—perhaps the worst outcome of all. Taken together, then, the administration’s track record, encompassing the whole spectrum from discrete policy arenas to the lofty heights of grand strategy, suggests the foreign policy equivalent of a Rorschach inkblot. Observers can see in it what they have wanted to see. Some have tagged the Obama administration a re-run of the Carter administration, but the fit is obviously imperfect; it’s very hard to see Carter during his first or second year in office ordering those Predator strikes, even harder to imagine him holding his tongue on human rights. Some have seen a replay of Nixon and Kissinger: Realpolitik hiding behind feel-good talk about allies and peace and the rest, trying simultaneously to play an inherited weak hand and set the stage for a grand bargain—this time with Iran instead of China. Still others think they are witness to the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: a shrewd opportunist who knows the limits set by domestic constraints, and whose main concern is national economic stabilization and social strengthening against the day when American power must meet a true test of destiny. The name game can go on because, while no great successes have sprouted forth from the Obama foreign policy, no great debacles have emerged either. (…) Read any serious history of American diplomacy and it becomes readily apparent how central the character of the president is to it. One of the great mysteries of understanding US foreign policy today in its essence is that, more than any other occupant of the Oval Office, Americans and foreigners alike simply do not have a good feel for who Barack Obama really is. Aside from being relatively young and recent upon the national political scene, he doesn’t fit into any category with which we are accustomed to understand intellectual and temperamental origins. More importantly, Obama’s ‘mentality’ is not only hard for outsiders to read, he is, thanks to the facts of his nativity and life circumstances, an unusually self-constructed personality. He is black in an obvious physical way but culturally not black in any significant way. He is a person who, finding himself naturally belonging nowhere, has striven to shape himself into a person who belongs everywhere. As his books suggest, he is a man who has put himself through more reconstructive psychological surgery than any American politician in memory. A few of the resultant characteristics are critically important for understanding how he serves as both president and commander-in-chief. Obama has understood above all that he must keep his cool. His cultivated aloofness is absolutely necessary to his successful political personality, for he cannot allow himself to exude emotion lest he raise the politically fatal specter of ‘the emotional black man’. His analytical mien, however, has made it hard for him to bond with foreign heads of state and even with some members of his own staff. His relationship with General Jones, for example, lacked rapport to the point that it seems to be a major reason for Jones resigning his position. But Obama’s ‘cool’ does not imply a stunted capacity for emotional intelligence. To the contrary: he knows unerringly where the emotional balance of a conversation needs to be, and it is for this reason that Obama’s self-confidence is so imperturbable. He knows he can read other people without letting them read him. And this is why, in parallel with the complex of his racial identity, he never defers to others psychologically or emotionally, not towards individuals and not, as with the US military, towards any group. The combination of ‘cool’ and empathetic control helps explain Obama’s character as commander-in-chief. He is respected in the ranks for sacking General Stanley McChrystal after the latter’s inexcusable act of disrespect and insubordination. That was control at work. But US troops do not feel that Obama has their back. He thinks of them as victims, not warriors, and one does not defer to victims. His ‘cool’, as well as his having had no prior contact with the professional military ethos at work, enjoins a distance that diminishes his effectiveness as commander-in-chief. Obama’s mastery at projecting himself as self-confident, empathetic and imperturbable has also compensated for his lack of original policy ideas. Whether in law school, on the streets of Chicago, in the US Senate or in the race for the White House, he has commanded respect by being the master orchestrator of the ideas, talents and ambitions of others. Many claim that his personality archetype is that of the ‘professor’, but this is not so; it is that of the judge. It is the judge who sits above others; they defer to him, not he to them. It is the judge who bids others speak while he holds his peace and shows no telling emotion. It is the judge who settles disputes and orders fair and just resolution. It is the judge whose presumed intelligence trumps all others. This kind of personality archetype can succeed well within American politics. In this sense it is precisely Charles Evans Hughes, a former chief justice of the US Supreme Court, not Carter, Wilson, Niebuhr, Nixon or FDR who stands as the true forebear of Barack Obama. But in the international arena even the American president cannot pull off a judge act and get away with it. Wilson tried and failed (or was that a prophet act?). The American president among his international peers is but one of many, perhaps primus inter pares but certainly without a mandate to act like it. Obama cum ‘judge’ has not impressed these peers: not among our European allies, who are ill at ease with his aloofness; not among Arabs and Muslims, who think him ill-mannered for bad-mouthing his predecessors while being hosted in foreign lands; not among Russians and Chinese, who think him gullible and guileless. Obama may still be popular on the ‘streets’ of the world because of the color of his skin, the contrast he draws to his predecessor, the general hope for renewal he symbolizes, and his willingness to play to chauvinist sentiment abroad by apologizing for supposed past American sins; but this matters not at all in the palaces where decisions are made. As his novelty has worn off, he impresses less and less. One reason President Obama does not impress the foreigners who matter is that he looks to be a figure in political distress at home. They know, as does the President, that his legacy will be forged in the context of the American domestic moment. Success at home can empower him abroad, but the opposite is not the case. That is why it is impossible to assess the Obama foreign policy bereft of its domestic political context. (…) If we now try to put all the foregoing factors together, what do we find assembled? We find a president in a tough spot who most likely does not know if he is inspired more by Wilson or Niebuhr, because reality thus far has not forced him to choose. We don’t know if he is resigned to a strategy of forward deployment or desirous of an offshore alternative because he likely doesn’t know either, having never been posed the question in so many words. We find a man whose inexperience leaves him with an incomplete grasp of what he gives up by asserting such close control over foreign policy from the White House. We see a man whose personality does not function abroad as successfully as it has at home, and so cannot with brilliant speeches alone dissolve the conflicting interests that define the cauldron of international politics into a comforting pot of warm milk. We see a man commanding a decision system untested by crisis, and one whose core issues remain unfocused for all the distractions of other challenges in his path. We see, lastly but not least, a man whose political instincts are no more detachable from him than his own shadow. From all these sources, bumping against and mixing with one another, comes the foreign policy of Barack Obama. Where the man will lead that policy, or the policy lead the man (the rest of us in tow), is now driven by the fact that the President is adrift conceptually since his initial engagement strategies did not succeed. Obama now awaits the crisis that will forge his legacy, but what that crisis will be, and whether the president will meet it with the American national interest or his personal political concerns foremost in mind, no one knows. No one can possibly know. Adam Garfinkle
Je ne pense donc pas que le Président ait une théorie stratégique explicite sur le dossier du Proche-Orient. Je n’entends tourner aucun des mécanismes de Kissinger. Ses orientations à l’égard de la région ressemblent plus à celles de George H. W. Bush : il a des intuitions, des instincts. Et ceux-ci lui soufflent qu’obtenir ce qu’on veut dans cette partie du monde est très difficile et le devient de plus en plus, dans la mesure où la possibilité d’avoir un interlocuteur unique – dont nous « jouissions » en ayant pour alliés des régimes arabes autoritaires et stables – n’est plus ce qu’elle était. (…) Si j’ai raison de soutenir que le Président Obama a des instincts et des intuitions, mais pas de grande et ambitieuse stratégie pour le Proche-Orient, a-t-il néanmoins quelque chose de plus précis à l’esprit, replaçant le Proche-Orient dans un cadre global plus vaste ? La réponse à cette question est la même : le Président n’est pas, je pense, un homme qui a confiance dans l’exercice d’une stratégie formelle, mais il ne fonctionne pas non plus complètement au cas par cas. Il croit probablement que les États-Unis sont effectivement trop investis au Proche-Orient et pas assez en Asie. D’où l’idée du pivot et peu importe qu’on l’ait sabotée en la présentant comme une proposition alternative. Selon toute vraisemblance, il s’est un jour demandé quel était le pire scénario pour le Proche-Orient. Ce qui se passerait si tout allait mal. En quoi cela affecterait vraiment les intérêts vitaux de l’Amérique. Non ses engagements traditionnels, non sa réputation, non ses obligations découlant de l’habitude et pas d’une approche nouvelle – mais ses authentiques intérêts vitaux. Et sa réponse a probablement été que, sauf réaction en chaîne en matière de prolifération d’ADM, les conséquences seraient minimes. Une fois encore, je doute qu’Obama déploie consciemment ici une logique stratégique explicite ou formalisée ou qu’il accepte les théories universitaires du réalisme bienveillant ou de l’équilibre naturel. Mais je pense qu’il se rend compte qu’après le relatif immobilisme de la Guerre froide, le monde est devenu globalement plus confus ; que le degré de contrôle que peuvent donner les relations interétatiques traditionnelles sur une zone aux enjeux importants a baissé à mesure que, grâce aux nouvelles cyber-technologies, les mobilisations populaires et populistes se sont accrues aux niveaux à la fois sous-étatique et trans-étatique. Le Proche-Orient est certainement bien plus compliqué et confus, même si ce n’est pas, ou pas encore, le cas du reste du monde. À mon avis, cette intuition a eu pour effet de rendre le Président Obama encore plus hostile au risque de manière générale et en particulier dans une région où il manque à tout le moins d’expérience et en son for intérieur d’assurance. Il est visiblement mal à l’aise lorsque ses conseillers sont divisés. Comme un juge, il essaie de trouver un dénominateur commun entre eux, ce qui est une bonne chose dans un travail de militant associatif, mais pas nécessairement en politique étrangère. Lorsque ses conseillers se livrent à une pensée de groupe, ce qu’ils font de plus en plus depuis le départ de Gates et de Donilon, ou lorsque aucun d’eux ne fait d’objections sérieuses à quelque chose (par exemple à la lubie de Kerry sur la paix israélo-palestinienne), il est satisfait de s’investir dans la gestion de son image – la twitterisation de la politique étrangère américaine en quelque sorte – parce qu’il sait qu’il ne peut tout simplement pas ignorer toutes ces choses. La sensibilité du Président aux limites a également tendance à rendre sa politique réactive et ses objectifs réels modestes. Aussi, dans la confusion qu’est le Proche-Orient aujourd’hui, il veut que l’Irak soit gouverné de manière plus inclusive. Il veut que la Syrie et la Libye soient gouvernées, point. Il veut que l’Égypte soit stable et il n’est pas très regardant sur la manière dont cela peut se faire. Il veut que l’Iran n’ait pas d’armes nucléaires et il est prêt à beaucoup de choses pour l’empêcher par la diplomatie car il pense probablement que les dirigeants iraniens ne peuvent pas aujourd’hui exercer leur volonté au-delà de leurs frontières avec plus de réel succès que nous. Il ne semble avoir d’idées précises et ne souhaiter agir préventivement que pour empêcher que des attaques terroristes tuent des citoyens américains, en particulier sur le sol des États-Unis. D’où son goût pour les attaques de drones, sa tolérance à l’égard de Guantánamo, son refus d’émasculer une série de programmes de la NSA, sauf à la marge, et son soutien généreux à l’ouverture discrète dans le monde entier de bases petites, mais puissantes, pour les forces spéciales. Cet ensemble de positions n’est ni de l’apaisement ni de l’isolationnisme. Ce n’est manifestement pas non plus du maximalisme stratégique. C’est quelque chose d’intermédiaire et dans cet entre-deux, suspendu entre des attentes héritées du passé et des hésitations dues au flou de l’avenir, les choses deviennent parfois étranges ou pénibles lorsqu’il faut prendre un nombre sans précédent de décisions. Étrange, comme Genève II.  Adam Garfinkle
Pour Obama, le terrorisme est, à la racine, un produit de la désintégration sociale. La guerre est peut-être nécessaire pour contenir l’avancée de l’Etat islamique, mais seulement une réforme sociale peut vraiment s’en débarrasser. Ajoutez à cette vision le vécu d’un parfait ‘outsider’, moitié blanc et moitié noir avec une enfance et une famille dispersée autour du monde, et on commence à voir le profil d’un homme avec une empathie automatique pour les marginaux et un sens presque instinctif que les plus importants problèmes du monde sont enracinés, non pas dans l’idéologie, mais dans des structures sociales et économiques oppressives qui renforcent la marginalisation. Cette sensibilité est plus large que n’importe quelle orthodoxie économique, et elle est enracinée dans la dure expérience du Sud de Chicago. Après avoir pris la tête de la plus importante superpuissance du monde en janvier 2009, ce travailleur social s’est mis à construire une politique étrangère qui traduisait ses impressions en actions géopolitiques.(…) Le monde était un énorme Chicago, ses problèmes essentiels pas totalement différents de ceux des Noirs du Sud de Chicago, et les solutions à ces problèmes étaient enracinées dans la même capacité humaine à surpasser les divisions sociales et les inégalités. Voilà en quoi consistait le « provincialisme » d’Obama, sa vision d’un monde qui favorisait les désavantagés et les opprimés, qui percevait les conflits idéologiques et politiques entre les gouvernements comme secondaires par rapport à des crises plus universelles et en fin de compte sociales qui troublaient un monde déjà tumultueux. (…) L’aversion du président Obama pour Netanyahu est intense et … Il y a peu de doute que cette hostilité soit devenue personnelle – un dirigeant juif américain a affirmé que c’est le président Obama lui-même qui a donné l’interview à The Atlantic, dans laquelle un responsable anonyme s’est moqué de Netanyahu en le qualifiant de « chickenshit » [poule mouillée] – mais ses origines sont plus profondes qu’une antipathie personnelle. (…) Lorsque Netanyahu insiste pour parler de l’histoire juive à l’Assemblée générale de l’ONU, tout en refusant d’aborder la dépossession palestinienne, quand il rejette d’emblée et à plusieurs reprises l’idée qu’une éventuelle réadaptation de l’Iran pourrait être plus souhaitable qu’une confrontation permanente, Obama entend des échos de ces militants de Chicago dont le chauvinisme a fait plus de mal que de bien à leurs communautés. (…) Pour les deux hommes, l’écart est plus profond que la fracture démocrates-républicains, plus profond que la question palestinienne, plus profond encore que la bataille sur l’Iran. Obama a cherché à introduire une nouvelle conscience dans les affaires mondiales, une conscience qui a défini son identité politique. Netanyahu défend les anciennes méthodes – dont dépendent, selon lui, la sécurité nationale. Haviv Rettig Gur
Iran must be taken seriously when it says it sees this negotiation as part of a struggle with an enemy. Liberal American diplomats often delude themselves that foreigners prefer them to conservative hardliners. They think that American adversaries like the Castro brothers or the Iranians will want to work cooperatively with liberals here, and help the American liberals stay in power in order to advance a mutually beneficial, win-win agenda. Thus liberals think they can get better deals from U.S. opponents than hardliners who, as liberals see it, are so harsh and crude in their foreign policy that they force otherwise neutral or even pro-American states into opposition. What liberal statesmen often miss is that for many of these leaders it is the American system and American civilization that is seen as the enemy. It is capitalism, for example, that the communists opposed, and they saw liberal capitalism as simply one of the masks that the heartless capitalist system could wear. For the Iranians, it is our secular, godless culture combined with our economic and military power that they see as the core threatFor the Iranians, it is our secular, godless culture combined with our economic and military power that they see as the core threat. Obama’s ideas from this point of view are if anything less sympathetic to Iranian theocrats than those of, say, American evangelicals who aren’t running around supporting gay marriage, transgender rights and an industrial strength feminism that conservative Iranian mullahs see as blasphemy made flesh. The mullahs in other words, don’t see blue America as an ally against red America. It is America, blue and red, that they hate and want to bring down. And while, like the Soviets during the Cold War, they may be willing to sign specific agreements where their interests and ours coincide on some particular issue, they do not look to end the rivalry by reaching agreements. The Iranians are as likely to use negotiations to trip up and humiliate Obama as they were willing to doublecross Jimmy Carter and to drag out hostage negotiations as a way of making him look weak in the eyes of the world. American power is what they hope to break, and they don’t like it more or trust it more when a liberal Democrat stands at the head of our system. The Iranians appear to believe that Obama desperately needs an agreement with Iran, and are using the leverage they think this gives them to tease and torment the president while they push for more concessions. (…) Given that the Iranians, as much as the communists before them, believe that the conflict between them and the United States is a conflict arising from the differences between the two country’s systems rather than from personality clashes or minor and adjustable conflicts of interest, the mullahs would by their own lights be foolish indeed if they didn’t do everything possible to push their advantages in Geneva and elsewhere. Walter Russell Mead

Attention: une guerre sainte peut en cacher une autre !

En ce 100e anniversaire du premier génocide du XXe siècle …

Et modèle et début, entre nazisme, communisme et à nouveau aujourd’hui islam comme l’a rappelé le pape, d’une longue liste de violences génocidaires …

Où après la reconnaissance du droit à l’arme nucléaire d’un pays appelant explicitement à l’annihilation de l’Etat hébreu …

Et après son refus de rencontrer le dirigeant sortant de l’unique véritable démocratie du Moyen-Orient …

Ou même de se déplacer pour le 70e anniversaire de la libération d’Auschwitz ou, défendu par ses belles âmes, la Marche de Paris pour la liberté d’expression …

L’actuel chef du Monde libre et discret Predator in chief n’a rien trouvé de mieux que de célébrer les prétendument historiques retrouvailles avec l’un des derniers dictateurs stalinistes de la planète …

Comment ne pas voir avec le politologue américain Walter Russell Mead …

Derrière l’impressionnante liste de mauvaises causes que le président Obama aura épousées …

Et sous couvert, au niveau intérieur et sociétal comme dans la France socialiste, de la non moins impressionnante liste de prétendues bonnes causes et d’intérêts bien compris

Le véritable objectif …

Tant des ennemis de l’Amérique et de l’Occident …

Que du Flagellant en chef et de toute sa génération de pleureuses …

A savoir derrière l’abaissement voire l’élimination de l’Amérique et d’Israël

Celui du Monde libre qu’ils représentent ?

Not A Partner For Peace
Walter Russell  Mead

The American Interest

April 10, 2015

The Supreme Leader’s Speech and Liberal Delusions Walter Russell MeadWhat liberal statesmen often miss is that for many of America’s adversaries, it is the American system and American civilization that are the enemies.
Iran’s Supreme Leader gave a speech yesterday regarding the nuclear framework agreement, and what he said cannot have been comforting to the Obama Administration. Khamenei made two unequivocal demands: 1) sanctions must be lifted as soon as a final deal is signed, and 2) there will be no inspections of Iranian military sites. These stand in sharp contrast to the framework agreement as it has been repeatedly described by Western leaders ever since they announced it more than a week ago.

Careful observers should not be terribly surprised—at least not by the first demand. None other than Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Secretary John Kerry’s direct interlocutor at the talks in Lausanne, immediately tweeted after the announcement that in his understanding the sanctions would be lifted immediately upon signing—not gradually.

As to the question of inspections of Iranian military sites, that too was a contentious area of discussion carefully sidestepped during the framework negotiations. Leaks preceding the announcement of the agreement indicated that the talks nearly broke down due to Iran refusing to disclose what military nuclear research it had already undertaken.

It’s hard to predict how events will play out, but the Obama Administration should have no illusions on one count: Iran must be taken seriously when it says it sees this negotiation as part of a struggle with an enemy. Liberal American diplomats often delude themselves that foreigners prefer them to conservative hardliners. They think that American adversaries like the Castro brothers or the Iranians will want to work cooperatively with liberals here, and help the American liberals stay in power in order to advance a mutually beneficial, win-win agenda. Thus liberals think they can get better deals from U.S. opponents than hardliners who, as liberals see it, are so harsh and crude in their foreign policy that they force otherwise neutral or even pro-American states into opposition.

What liberal statesmen often miss is that for many of these leaders it is the American system and American civilization that is seen as the enemy. It is capitalism, for example, that the communists opposed, and they saw liberal capitalism as simply one of the masks that the heartless capitalist system could wear. For the Iranians, it is our secular, godless culture combined with our economic and military power that they see as the core threatFor the Iranians, it is our secular, godless culture combined with our economic and military power that they see as the core threat. Obama’s ideas from this point of view are if anything less sympathetic to Iranian theocrats than those of, say, American evangelicals who aren’t running around supporting gay marriage, transgender rights and an industrial strength feminism that conservative Iranian mullahs see as blasphemy made flesh.

The mullahs in other words, don’t see blue America as an ally against red America. It is America, blue and red, that they hate and want to bring down. And while, like the Soviets during the Cold War, they may be willing to sign specific agreements where their interests and ours coincide on some particular issue, they do not look to end the rivalry by reaching agreements.

The Iranians are as likely to use negotiations to trip up and humiliate Obama as they were willing to doublecross Jimmy Carter and to drag out hostage negotiations as a way of making him look weak in the eyes of the world. American power is what they hope to break, and they don’t like it more or trust it more when a liberal Democrat stands at the head of our system.

The Iranians appear to believe that Obama desperately needs an agreement with Iran, and are using the leverage they think this gives them to tease and torment the president while they push for more concessions. They think, for example, that his reluctance to intervene in the Middle East reflects his desperate hunger for a deal—and so they are doubling down on that by stepping up support for the Houthis in Yemen. With the announcement of the framework agreement and their subsequent pullback, they seem to be playing him exactly the way Lucy plays Charlie Brown: the goal is to snatch the football away after Charlie Brown is committed to kicking it.

Will Iran walk away from a deal, or will it sign? Ultimately, nobody except the Supreme Leader knows, and he may not have made up his mind quite yet. Whatever else Iran is doing, it is clearly try its best to push the final negotiations in a more favorable direction—waiting to see what else he can get before acting decisively.

Given that the Iranians, as much as the communists before, them believe that the conflict between them and the United States is a conflict arising from the differences between the two country’s systems rather than from personality clashes or minor and adjustable conflicts of interest, the mullahs would by their own lights be foolish indeed if they didn’t do everything possible to push their advantages in Geneva and elsewhere. Iran may in the end be willing to give Obama the deal he so badly wants, but the mullahs aim to make him pay the highest possible price for the smallest possible gain that they can.  From what we have seen in the days since the framework agreement was announced, Iran doesn’t think the squeezing process is over, and it thinks that the Obama administration can and will end up paying more to get less.

Voir aussi:

Iranian President: Diplomacy With U.S. is an Active ‘Jihad’
Diplomacy just as significant as new weapons, missiles
Adam Kredo
March 12, 2015
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described his country’s diplomacy with the United States as an active “jihad” that is just as significant to Tehran’s advancement as the slew of new weapons and missiles showcased by the Islamic Republic’s military.

Rouhani praised the country’s military leaders for standing “against the enemy on the battlefield” and said as president, he would carry out this “jihad” on the diplomatic front.

Rouhani’s comments echo those of foreign minister and lead nuclear negotiator Javad Zarif, who said Tuesday that Iran has emerged as “the winner” in talks with Western powers. Like Zarif, Rouhani boasted that Iran’s years-long diplomacy with Western nations over its nuclear program established the Islamic Republic as a global power.

Iran has made headway in convincing the U.S. to allow it to maintain much of its core infrastructure through diplomatic talks that Rouhani said are viewed as a “jihad.”

“Our negotiations with the world powers are a source of national pride,” Rouhani said earlier this week. “Yesterday [during the Iran-Iraq War], your brave generals stood against the enemy on the battlefield and defended their country. Today, your diplomatic generals are defending [our nation] in the field of diplomacy–this, too, is jihad.”

“Our power is growing each day, but we don’t intend to be aggressive toward anyone. However, we will certainly defend our country, nation, independence, and honor wholeheartedly.”

Iran stands “10 times more powerful” than it was during the time of the Iran-Iraq War, Rouhani said, which “reflects a serious deterrence to the enemies’ threats.”

Iranian leaders view the ongoing talks with the United States and other nations as a source of global legitimacy.

Rouhani’s remarks have “significant domestic implications,” according to an analysis published by the American Enterprise Institute.

“Iran’s negotiations team to the status of Iran-Iraq War commanders, who are traditionally revered by the regime as upholders of Islamic Revolutionary values, could potentially lead to rhetorical backlash from regime hardliners opposed to the nuclear negotiations,” AEI wrote.

Matan Shamir, director of research at United Against Nuclear Iran, said Rouhani’s latest comments show he is not a moderate leader.

“While Rouhani talks about a ‘win-win’ nuclear deal to global audiences, his comments make clear that he continues to view the U.S. an antagonistic global oppressor that must be triumphed over, in this case by a diplomatic ‘jihad,’” Shamir said. “This is clearly not the language of a moderate or of a regime with which rapprochement is at all realistic.”

Zarif said Tuesday that a final nuclear deal with the United States is meaningless at this point.

“We are the winner whether the [nuclear] negotiations yield results or not,” Zarif was quoted as saying by the Tasnim News Agency. “The capital we have obtained over the years is dignity and self-esteem, a capital that could not be retaken.”

As Rouhani and Zarif grandstand on the nuclear front, Iranian military leaders have begun to unveil a host of new missiles and sea-based weapons.

General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a leader in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, said Iran’s defensive capabilities “are non-negotiable in the nuclear talks,” AEI reported.

The comments came the same day Iran paraded its new cruise missiles.

Hajizadeh also dismissed economic sanctions on Iran, saying that “his is a message which should be understood by the bullying powers which raise excessive demands.”

On Wednesday, the State Department said any final deal with Iran was “nonbinding,” meaning that neither party would be legally obliged to uphold the agreement.

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Obama has destroyed the Democratic Party’s legacy on human rights
Noah Rothman

Hot air

April 12, 2015

Marco Rubio couldn’t have asked for a better foil than a president in the White House who eagerly shakes the hand of a Castro in the pursuit of a “legacy issue.” When he launches his presidential campaign on Monday, it’s fair to expect the Florida senator to dwell on the matter of Obama’s crass disrespect for the oppressed Cuban people. The president has said he wants to break the “shackles” that constrain his freedom of action overseas. The “shackles” he derides were those foreign policy precepts that once rendered America the shining city on a hill, a beacon of freedom, and a champion of fundamental human aspiration for the better part of a century.

If he is so inclined, Rubio might also make note of the fact that Raul Castro doesn’t seem interested in playing the docile and repentant dictator in order to help Obama recast the communists in Havana as responsible international actors. In what CNN’s Jim Acosta called “a borderline rant,” Castro’s speech at the Summit of the Americas was apparently loaded with a fair amount of good, old-fashioned America bashing.

“Castro, in a meandering, nearly hour-long speech to the Summit of the Americas, ran through an exhaustive history of perceived Cuban grievances against the U.S. dating back more than a century—a vivid display of how raw passions remain over American attempts to undermine Cuba’s government,” Time Magazine reported.

Eventually, Castro said he had become “emotional” and apologized to Obama personally “because he had no responsibility for this.” What Castro refers to as “this” is, in fact, 200 years of American policy toward the Western Hemisphere – a source of much consternation for the revolutionary left. “In my opinion, President Obama is an honest man,” Castro glowed.

Having successfully courted the communist dictator, Obama and Castro proceeded to have what the administration apparently considered a historic, if not fruitful, bilateral meeting. “In a later news conference, Obama said that he was ‘optimistic that we’ll continue to make progress, and that this can indeed be a turning point,’” a Washington Post dispatch read.

A realist might look upon Obama’s approach to thawing relations with Cuba and smile. The United States has long regarded this region as pivotal, and Washington has warily eyed Beijing’s efforts to supplant U.S. influence in South and Central America and the Caribbean for years. But Cuba has counted itself a member of any foreign camp dedicated to balancing against U.S. power for decades, and the United States has somehow soldiered on without the complicity of a placid regime in Havana.

What’s more, Obama’s decision to literally extend a hand of friendship toward a Castro represents the abandonment of decades of cherished Democratic foreign affairs doctrine. One of the precious few lasting achievements secured by Jimmy Carter’s administration was to ensure that the concept of human rights served a pillar of U.S. foreign policy. In principle if not always in practice, respect for human rights became the sine qua non for friendly bilateral relations with the United States after 1977. That has remained the case through both Democratic and Republican administrations ever since. Many on the left would argue that this focus forced more than a handful of repressive regimes to extend to their domestic dissident elements the deference they needed in order to ultimately topple the governments they opposed.

By contrast, Obama has stood by and watched as the world’s most brutal regimes oversaw the reclamation of their power.

Obama turned a blind eye toward the crushing of the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009, and today strengthens the Mullah’s domestic authority by inking dubious deals with Tehran that will allegedly yield great rewards for the Islamic Republic’s ruling class. In Iran, Obama is rightly seen as no friend to the friendless, and he has greatly strengthened the hand of the system’s stakeholders.

The same could be said of Venezuela, where bloody anti-government riots broke out in 2014 and were subsequently crushed by Caracas. Though the global left and Nicolas Maduro’s government saw the riots as an extension of America’s desire to oust his regime from power, Obama made no statements to that effect at the rebellion’s zenith. Only over a year after the fighting in the streets had been quelled did the administration name a handful of Maduro regime officials as threats to American national security in order to target them with sanctions.

Perhaps the president wanted to avoid a repeat of his galling refusal to follow up on his 2011 insistence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go. That feel-good statement was not met with action. Quite the contrary; the president stood back and allowed the regime to slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocents with conventional and chemical weapons before tepidly committing to take action. But even that reluctant acknowledgment of the president’s responsibility to posterity was not met with engagement. Only when the situation became untenable, the terrorist threat to Western security grew imminent, and the attacks on human decency in the Middle East became truly unprecedented did the United States finally begin to address them.

In Moscow, where Obama’s pledge to have more flexibility with the Putin regime in his second term was taken quite literally, the Soviet approach to information management and the suppression of domestic criticism is back in vogue. Journalists who dare to censure the regime again fear for their lives and livelihoods. The institutions of civil society that the Clinton administration invested time and energy, not to mention millions of dollars, trying to build up are now being eagerly destroyed by a Russia that sees more value in repression and revanchism than openness.

Once an administration success story, a modest loosening of restrictions on freedoms in Burma has been completely reversed by the military junta in Naypyidaw. In January, Human Rights Watch called on the government to “stop arresting peaceful protesters and immediately and unconditionally free those imprisoned.” It is a call you will not here echoed in Washington too loudly, lest the political class recall that the crowning achievement of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as America’s chief diplomat was to secure the illusory opening of Burma and to finally guarantee Aung San Suu Kyi’s pathway to power.

In China, an economic powerhouse that nevertheless remains a one-party communist autocracy, America has tacitly consented to supporting the regime’s increased interest in total command and control. A series of moves to roll back nascent freedoms of speech, religion, and expression in China in 2014 following the rise of President Xi Jinping has led many to wonder if information technology and free trade truly have the power to compel openness in closed societies. “China’s repression of political activists, writers, independent journalists, artists and religious groups who potentially challenge the party’s monopoly of power has intensified since Xi took office nearly two years ago,” The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall reported in December.

Even within the NATO alliance, repression is on the rise. In Turkey, the secularism Kemal Ataturk regarded as a basic value has been de-emphasized. As Ankara has grown friendlier toward Islamism, so has it embraced anti-democratic policies toward journalists and regime critics alike. “We feel the pressure every day,” one unnamed Turkish journalist told Haaretz in December. “We go over our articles with extreme care and remove anything that could give Erdogan’s dogs a pretext for going after us.” The U.S. has joined other United Nations member in expressing concern over Turkey’s authoritarian drift, but human rights groups have called Obama’s silence on this matter “deafening.”

In fact, about the only nation in which Obama pursued what he claimed was a purely humanitarian foreign policy was his decision to lead from behind while Europe toppled Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya. There, the West’s attempt to stave off a humanitarian crisis yielded an even greater one. Not only is Libya a failed state today, but it serves as an incubator for fundamentalist Islamic terror groups.

Obama surely hopes historians will define his legacy as one of nobly sloughing off the burdens of the past, and opening America up to a brave new dawn in which multilateral talk shops become powerful forces for good. But Obama confuses the people of the world for their governments – a distinction that his Democratic predecessors understood and frequently made. While Obama pursues what he considers a pragmatic approach to international relations, the tide of freedoms that characterized the end of the last century is waning. When the need to protect Obama’s image for the sake of the left’s sense of self-validation subsides, it will become clear that the president’s true legacy was one of accommodation toward international community’s most repressive elements purely for the sake of convenience and fleeting domestic political gain.

Voir encore:

Qu’est-ce vraiment que l’instabilité ?

Adam Garfinkle

traduit par Commentaire

Les « experts » autoproclamés du Proche-Orient ont longtemps déploré l’instabilité de la région. C’est qu’ils ne savaient rien de la véritable instabilité.

Imaginez-vous en train d’essayer de suivre un match capital de base-ball ou de football – par exemple la finale de la Série mondiale de base-ball ou un Super Bowl – sans pouvoir y assister, ni même le regarder à la télévision, sans savoir quels joueurs ont été sélectionnés à ce moment-là et sans même avoir de commentaire en direct par la radio ou Internet. Vous ne disposez en tout et pour tout que de comptes rendus de seconde ou troisième main, dont on ne peut être certain qu’ils sont fiables et impartiaux et, pire, dont on a des raisons de supposer qu’ils brouillent ou déforment les faits. C’est un peu comme essayer de suivre aujourd’hui la politique étrangère américaine, en particulier sa politique au Proche-Orient. Il se passe des choses, alors même qu’on est en plein débat intérieur et qu’il y a des désaccords. On procède à des estimations et on prend des décisions, or ces expertises, importantes ou non, emportent des conséquences. Pour ceux qui ne sont pas sur le terrain et qui sont même dans l’impossibilité de suivre le match en temps réel, il est frustrant d’essayer d’imaginer ce qui est en train de se passer, car ce que nous savons du processus de décision pourrait s’expliquer de plusieurs manières.

Il est certain que la métaphore sportive connaît des limites. La politique étrangère américaine n’est pas un jeu. Elle ne peut se mesurer par un score chiffré. Il y a plus de deux équipes. Le nombre des joueurs de part et d’autre n’est ni le même ni fixe. On ne distingue pas nettement l’offensive de la défensive. La compétition ne s’arrête jamais tout à fait. Les règles sont floues. Il n’y a pas d’arbitre, à part peut-être la logique implacable de l’interaction stratégique. Vous avez néanmoins compris l’idée de base : il se passe des choses importantes, mais nous, qui ne sommes pas dans le secret des dieux, ne pouvons que faire des hypothèses sur ce dont il s’agit. Or c’est un « grand jeu ». L’instabilité sans précédent du Proche-Orient, quels qu’en soient les autres effets, va obliger les responsables américains à prendre un nombre sans précédent de décisions qui en engendreront d’autres, créant des réalités en fonction de la réponse apportée, avec lesquelles nous devrons vivre pendant des décennies. C’est une époque de remise à plat, c’est pourquoi il est tellement nécessaire (ou il devrait l’être) de prendre de bonnes décisions.

Nous connaissons la plupart des questions qui se posent : que faire s’agissant de la guerre civile en Syrie ? Quel est le meilleur moyen d’arrêter ou de limiter le programme nucléaire militaire de l’Iran ? Que faire face à la nouvelle fragmentation de l’Irak ? Comment faire pour que la situation en Syrie et en Irak ne se propage pas en Jordanie et au Liban ? Comment traiter le problème majeur que pose la Turquie, c’est-à-dire la question kurde en Syrie et en Irak, alors que ce pays est en pleine crise politique et que celle-ci pourrait être très grave ? Jusqu’où et de quelle manière pousser des négociations de paix israélo-palestiniennes et quelle priorité leur donner ? Comment influencer l’évolution politique du « printemps arabe » en Égypte, en Tunisie, en Libye, à Bahreïn et ailleurs ? Comment envisager les clivages confessionnels en formation dans la région et propres à certains pays ? En quoi le dossier de non prolifération est-il lié aux autres défis de la région ? Comment repenser le rôle des services de renseignement antiterroristes américains, compte tenu du retrait de tant de programmes et de personnel d’Irak et bientôt d’Afghanistan ?

Ce qui est frappant dans ces questions est qu’un grand nombre d’entre elles exigent une réponse immédiate alors qu’elles ont tendance à être très diverses, très difficiles et très imbriquées. Ce qui est inhabituel. À son tour, cette observation amène à d’autres questions : l’Administration Obama a-t-elle une théorie stratégique sur ce dossier régional, susceptible d’intégrer tous ces éléments dans un cadre logique global ? Et cette théorie sur le dossier du Proche-Orient, si elle existe, est-elle consciemment liée à des objectifs stratégiques globaux ? Si c’est le cas, d’où vient cette théorie ? Du Président ? Du secrétaire d’État ? De quelqu’un d’autre ? Les dirigeants se sont-ils, ou non, mis d’accord sur une partie de cette théorie, sa plus grande partie, sa totalité ?

Ce ne sont pas des questions simples car les différents présidents et dirigeants ont manifestement des manières différentes d’établir un lien entre les abstractions stratégiques et leur comportement politique. Certains ont bel et bien des théories explicites sur le dossier et s’efforcent avec cohérence de faire coïncider leur comportement et leur stratégie. Le mandat Nixon-Kissinger était la quintessence de ce genre d’approche ; instruits par la Seconde Guerre mondiale et disciplinés par la Guerre froide, les Administrations Eisenhower et Kennedy-Johnson s’en rapprochaient elles aussi.

Certaines Administrations ont eu des théories extrêmement abstraites, souvent intensément moralistes, sur ce dossier ; mais elles étaient trop abstraites pour rester cohérentes dans le processus politique. Elles ont souvent obligé ses subordonnés à deviner et à défendre ce que voulait le Président. Ce fut le cas des présidences Reagan et George W. Bush et, dans une certaine mesure, aussi celle de Carter.

Certains présidents et leurs conseillers les plus proches ont eu beaucoup recours aux intuitions en matière politique et n’ont pas été très enclins à formaliser l’exercice stratégique ou à expliciter leurs stratégies. L’équipe Bush-Scowcroft-Baker en est un exemple, de même que celle de Truman-Acheson. Un président peut être porté à la stratégie sans avoir de stratégie formalisée et, en période de calme, c’est ce qu’il peut faire de mieux. En effet, au moment où le président doit prendre des décisions, il n’a plus un très grand nombre d’options à sa disposition. Son instinct peut l’amener à regrouper d’une certaine manière les questions à trancher, même s’il ne peut expliquer totalement, ou de manière cohérente, pourquoi la décision qu’il a prise était de nature à satisfaire un Kissinger, un Brzezinski, un Acheson ou même un Scowcroft.

Certains présidents semblent ne pas avoir besoin de stratégie, n’être ni portés à penser en ces termes ni à l’aise avec cette méthode. Ils ont donc tendance à traiter au cas par cas les questions qui ne peuvent manquer de se poser en politique étrangère. La période Clinton-Christopher en est une illustration.

Et Barack Obama ? La politique étrangère de cette Administration se contente-t-elle d’improviser, comme l’affirment beaucoup et comme le laissent penser certains éléments du processus de décision ? Ou bien, quoi qu’on en pense, cette Administration a-t-elle, comme d’autres l’affirment, une théorie stratégique explicite sur ce dossier, intégrant le Proche-Orient dans une vision globale ? Ou encore, comme l’Administration de George H. W. Bush, a-t-elle des instincts très intelligents (ou très malencontreux) n’allant pas jusqu’à une stratégie explicite et formalisée, mais n’en conduisant pas moins, peu à peu, la politique dans une direction particulière ? Laquelle ? Comment le sait-on ? Quelles en sont les preuves ?

Une situation nouvelle

C’est à ces questions que je vais tenter de répondre. Mais, pour qu’une réponse ait du sens, il faut d’abord mieux comprendre en quoi un Proche-Orient totalement déstabilisé est une chose nouvelle et comment il en est arrivé là. On examinera ensuite brièvement quelques-unes des diverses décisions à prendre au Proche-Orient (Syrie, Iran et Irak), dans l’espoir de faire émerger un modèle caractérisant le processus de décision dans l’Administration Obama. Peut-être pourra-t-on alors définir l’approche de cette Administration, afin de se prononcer sur son degré de discernement et son cap probable.

Au cours des soixante-dix dernières années s’est développée une sorte de tic intellectuel chez les observateurs occidentaux occasionnels du « Proche-Orient » consistant à considérer la région comme « instable ». (J’ai prudemment mis Proche-Orient entre guillemets pour suggérer que les susdits observateurs occasionnels définissent sans grande rigueur la région dont ils parlent.) Or, comme beaucoup de choses, une zone n’est stable ou instable que par comparaison avec un autre endroit ou avec le même endroit à une autre époque. C’est pourquoi la manière de définir la zone dont on parle affecte nécessairement les comparaisons.

Par conséquent, si ces observateurs occasionnels occidentaux entendaient par « Proche-Orient » uniquement la zone du conflit « arabo-israélien » (et ce fut souvent le cas), alors les guerres de 1948-1949, 1956, 1967, 1970-1971, 1973, 1982, etc., les périodes de « paix », truffées d’actes de terrorisme, de représailles, de raids, d’assassinats et autres, justifient probablement de considérer cette zone comme extrêmement instable par comparaison avec l’Europe, l’Amérique du Sud et la plus grande partie de l’Asie durant la Guerre froide. Si ces observateurs entendaient parler du Levant ou des pays du Golfe, ou de l’Afrique du Nord ou, plus largement, du « monde arabe », ou encore plus largement, du « monde musulman », l’étiquette « instabilité » convient beaucoup moins. Certes, il y a eu des révolutions de palais, des assassinats et des interventions de militaires en politique, plus quelques insurrections, guerres civiles et autres épisodes de violences politiques de masse dans des pays de toutes ces zones. Mais il n’y a eu en réalité qu’une seule véritable guerre interétatique, dans laquelle Israël n’ait pas été impliqué, et aucune qui ait opposé des États arabes directement l’un à l’autre.

Il y a eu aussi des régimes extrêmement stables, qui ont duré très longtemps : Kadhafi en Libye, de septembre 1969 à octobre 2011 ; les Assad en Syrie, de novembre 1970 à ce jour ; Moubarak en Égypte, d’octobre 1981 à février 2012 ; le Baath en Irak, essentiellement sous Saddam Hussein, de juillet 1968 à mars 2003, et on pourrait continuer ainsi. Bien sûr, les cimetières sont stables eux aussi, c’est pourquoi la stabilité n’est pas, contrairement à ce que croient la plupart d’entre nous, toujours une bonne chose pour des sociétés civiles saines. Mais j’emploie le mot « stabilité » dans une acception descriptive, celle des sciences sociales – ni plus ni moins.

On peut se faire une idée de la relative stabilité qu’a connue le Proche-Orient pendant la plus grande partie de ces soixante à soixante-dix dernières années, jusqu’avant la fin de l’année 2010, en la comparant à ce qui s’y passe maintenant. À présent, la région dans son ensemble – quasiment sa totalité, quelle que soit la manière de la définir – est instable. Réellement instable. Cela pourrait même s’aggraver encore et c’est probablement ce qui se passera. C’est cela l’instabilité : toute une région engagée dans l’équivalent politique d’un derby de démolition, sauf que personne ne semble beaucoup s’amuser.

À l’heure actuelle, s’il n’y a pas de guerres conventionnelles entre pays voisins, ce qui se passe dans la région est de nature à produire un cocktail d’instabilité. Guerres civiles et insurrections actives majeures ? Voyez par vous-même : Syrie, Irak, Yémen, Afghanistan et Somalie (les deux derniers si l’on inclut des pays non arabes). Violence politique n’allant pas jusqu’à des insurrections organisées ? Libye, Égypte, Bahreïn, Liban et, sans doute, Algérie. Gouvernements simplement effrayés ou plus ou moins faibles ? Jordanie, Tunisie, Arabie Saoudite, Maroc, Soudan et tout à la fois le Hamas à Gaza et l’Autorité palestinienne en Cisjordanie. Gouvernements ayant en temps normal de bonnes institutions, mais aujourd’hui en crise politique et ne contrôlant pas la totalité de leur territoire national ? Turquie. Les deux seuls grands pays de la région (j’exclus les trois familles ou groupes de familles du Golfe à la tête de leur pays : Oman, Qatar et les Émirats arabes unis) qui contrôlent leur territoire national et qui, selon leurs propres estimations, ne sont pas au bord d’une débâcle intérieure, sont l’Iran et Israël. Or ces deux pays pourraient bien entrer en guerre avant même que le reste de la région ne se remette.

De plus, comme beaucoup d’observateurs l’ont fait remarquer, nous ne sommes pas confrontés seulement à deux douzaines de pays faisant face à des problèmes, mais à quelques pays dont l’existence même, en tant qu’entités politiques, est menacée. C’est sûrement le cas de la Syrie et probablement de l’Irak. Il n’est pas davantage certain que l’intégrité territoriale de la Libye, du Liban, du Yémen et du Soudan puisse être longtemps préservée. La perspective d’un soulèvement contre le régime (non pour faire tomber le gouvernement, mais pour changer vraiment de régime) dans les monarchies du Bahreïn, d’Arabie Saoudite, de Jordanie et du Maroc est loin d’être nulle. La montée du nationalisme pankurde aura des effets sur la configuration territoriale de l’Iran et de la Turquie ainsi que sur celle de l’Irak et de la Syrie. La « Palestine », qui est moins qu’une entité politique, mais plus qu’un produit de l’imagination politique, a longtemps été dans les limbes et, malgré les négociations actuelles, y restera probablement encore un certain temps. On ne parle donc pas seulement de la somme des problèmes de chaque pays, mais de tout un sous-système étatique régional, qui ondule et se désintègre sous l’effet de la décomposition de certaines de ses unités et de la faiblesse et de l’imprévisibilité croissantes des autres.

Qui blâmer ?

De même que les observateurs occidentaux occasionnels sont prompts à gloser sur l’instabilité du Proche-Orient, ils étaient, et sont toujours, déterminés à en faire porter la responsabilité à quelqu’un. La majorité de la presse américaine fonctionne sur l’analyse biographique : qui sont les étoiles montantes, qui voit son étoile pâlir ; qui est has been et qui ne l’est pas (encore). Cela épargne aux journalistes et aux rédacteurs en chef d’avoir à comprendre vraiment les problèmes ; en outre, ils ont probablement raison de penser que c’est ce qu’attendent la plupart de leurs lecteurs. Les potins de haute volée l’emportent très largement sur l’analyse de fond.

Ce qui a pour résultat qu’en fonction de leurs opinions politiques, certains attribuent au président Obama la responsabilité de la confusion actuelle au Proche-Orient. Il aurait dû intervenir très tôt en Syrie, déclarent-ils d’un air supérieur. Il aurait dû soutenir la révolution verte iranienne en 2009. Il aurait dû défendre Moubarak, même si les propres collègues de Moubarak étaient en train de le renverser. S’il avait fait tout cela, plus une liste interminable de choses qu’il aurait dû faire, mais n’a pas faites, ou qu’il a faites, mais n’aurait pas dû faire, tout irait bien aujourd’hui.

D’autres préfèrent blâmer George W. Bush et les neocons. C’est la guerre en Irak qui a tout provoqué. Je ne plaisante pas ; dans un bref article intitulé « What the War in Iraq Wrought », paru dans le New Yorker du 15 janvier 2014, un journaliste, nommé John Lee Anderson, attribue tout ce qui va mal dans la région, et même, par voie de conséquence, ce qui se passe en Égypte, à la guerre en Irak parce que c’est elle qui aurait créé le démon sectaire lâché aujourd’hui au Proche-Orient.

Certains sont plus œcuméniques dans leur révisionnisme : ce sont les États-Unis et toutes leurs Administrations, aussi loin qu’on puisse remonter, qui sont à l’origine de tous ces problèmes. À moins que ce ne soient les Britanniques ou les Français, ou l’Occident générique, ou les Russes ou (bien sûr, ne les oublions pas) les Juifs. Il semble rarement venir à l’esprit que les peuples de cette région pourraient avoir une certaine responsabilité dans leur situation actuelle. Et l’on ne pense presque jamais que chercher un bouc émissaire n’est peut-être pas le meilleur moyen de comprendre les réalités régionales.

Il est particulièrement agaçant d’entendre des gens, qui devraient être plus avisés, tenir ce genre de discours, plus encore lorsqu’ils les tiennent sur le mode du mea culpa. J’ai été stupéfait en entendant le Président Bush dire en 2003 : « Pendant soixante ans, les États-Unis ont recherché la stabilité au Proche-Orient au détriment de la démocratie et n’ont obtenu ni l’une ni l’autre », déclaration que Condoleezza Rice a souvent répétée lorsqu’elle était secrétaire d’État (ce qui, plus que toute autre chose, m’a amené à cesser de travailler pour elle). En d’autres termes, la raison pour laquelle les pays arabes n’étaient pas des démocraties et produisaient donc des terroristes ne tenait pas aux milliers d’années de leur propre expérience historique et culturelle, mais aux décisions de politique étrangère prises par les États-Unis au cours des six précédentes décennies. Tel était le raisonnement de ceux qui, à gauche, critiquaient le soutien des États-Unis aux régimes autoritaires dans le contexte de la Guerre froide. Que des Républicains ouvertement conservateurs se mettent à le reprendre avait de quoi vous couper le souffle, notamment parce que, quel que soit celui qui le tient, ce raisonnement est absurde.

Nous avons assuré la stabilité pendant ces soixante années. Quel que soit le critère retenu, la politique américaine au Proche-Orient pendant la Guerre froide a été un succès. Bien plus important, pour revenir à la question, il n’a jamais été en notre pouvoir de transformer les États arabes en démocraties. C’est une chose qu’aujourd’hui George W. Bush (je l’espère) a apprise à ses dépens ainsi que le docteur Rice. Il est stupéfiant que, même lorsque nous nous critiquons nous-mêmes, nous le fassions avec une dose d’hubris himalayesque : tout tourne toujours autour de nous. Sauf que c’est faux. Les États-Unis ne sont pas, et n’ont jamais été, le facteur déterminant de tout ce qui se passe au Proche-Orient, ni ailleurs non plus du reste (sauf peut-être à Panama à une époque). Redescendons sur terre.

Ce qui ne signifie pas pour autant que les décisions des présidents restent totalement sans effet. Pour le meilleur ou pour le pire, une partie de ce que font les États-Unis ne reste pas, la plupart du temps, sans conséquences ou a beaucoup de répercussions, de temps en temps au moins. La guerre en Irak s’est révélée peu judicieuse : à coup sûr la manière de la mener, voire la décision même de l’entreprendre. La manière dont nous avons décidé d’opérer en Afghanistan, après la chute du régime des Talibans, était également une erreur, bien qu’il ait fallu plus de temps à la plupart des observateurs pour s’en rendre compte. Rater ces deux guerres équivalait à une défaite stratégique américaine dans l’ensemble de la région ; tous les alliés et partenaires des États-Unis en ont donc pâti, de même que tous ses adversaires et rivaux l’ont emporté d’une manière ou d’une autre.

Ayant hérité de cette défaite, l’Administration Obama a décidé de réduire les pertes américaines et de voir ensuite si cette action aggravait ou non les choses. Il est certain que l’oscillation entre interventionnisme militant et repli américain sous Obama a elle aussi désorienté les esprits. S’agissant des vastes répercussions des récentes politiques américaines, la guerre en Irak a certes attisé les charbons ardents des dissensions confessionnelles, mais ce n’est pas elle qui les a créées. La recrudescence des violences entre sunnites et chiites remonte approximativement à 1973-1974, année où le quadruplement des prix du pétrole a tout à la fois préparé le terrain de l’effondrement du régime des Pahlavi en Iran et financé le wahhabisme saoudien, laissant présager une collision future entre les clergés extrémistes sunnite et chiite. (Non que, dans l’Islam, le conflit confessionnel soit exclusivement de nature théologique, il ne l’est pas plus que ne l’étaient les guerres de religion au xvie siècle en Europe.) Si l’Administration Obama avait rapidement et efficacement jugulé la situation en Syrie, elle aurait pu retarder l’affrontement confessionnel dans la région – mais probablement pas de beaucoup, puisque le démon avait déjà brisé ses chaînes en Irak et fait des apparitions mortelles dans un pays aussi éloigné que le Pakistan.

Des facteurs inhérents à la région expliquent une grande partie de ce qui se passe aujourd’hui. À quelques exceptions près, leurs sociétés tribales et leurs identités religieuses affaiblissent les États arabes. Ces États faibles, dont la plupart sont hétérogènes ethniquement ou religieusement, ont été incapables de créer des loyautés réelles ou d’obtenir, au fil des ans, une croissance économique forte ou une plus grande justice sociale. Beaucoup d’entre eux ont été fossilisés par la malédiction des ressources. Les tendances très patriarcales et autoritaires de ces sociétés les ont empêchées de s’adapter à nombre d’aspects de la modernité ; elles ont notamment été incapables de remplacer par une économie de marché la patrimonialisation des ressources opérée par une élite vivant de la rente qui caractérise tous les pays arabes, républiques ou monarchies, depuis le début de l’époque de l’indépendance.

Malgré toutes ces insuffisances, les élites des États arabes ont préféré blâmer l’Occident, les États-Unis et spécialement Israël ; et, plus bizarre encore, elles ont réussi à en persuader de nombreux Occidentaux. Il est certain que le caractère artificiel de nombre d’États territoriaux, créés dans le sillage de la Première Guerre mondiale, n’a pas arrangé les choses. Mais, dans la plupart des cas, après tant d’années, ce n’est ni le seul ni le principal obstacle ; et on ne peut certainement pas en attribuer la responsabilité au Président Bush, au Président Obama ou aux États-Unis en général.

Bref, les désordres du type de ceux que nous observons aujourd’hui au Proche-Orient ont de nombreuses causes, certaines très anciennes, d’autres plus récentes. Elles sont difficiles à démêler et encore plus difficiles à expliquer à des gens dès lors qu’ils n’ont pas envie de savoir si cela contredit leur quête de boucs émissaires, dans un but politique ou faute de meilleure idée. On peut améliorer la connaissance d’un militant politique, mais non le faire réfléchir.

Notre lamentable politique syrienne

Examinons à présent quelques-unes des décisions à prendre, énumérées ci-dessus, pour essayer de nous y retrouver dans l’écheveau des politiques. Même si beaucoup d’éléments de ce dossier sont interconnectés, on les étudiera les uns après les autres en les combinant au fil des besoins.

Tout d’abord la Syrie. Le meilleur moyen de comprendre la politique américaine à l’égard de la Syrie est de partir de la Libye. En mars 2011, avant que la Syrie ne se soit vraiment soulevée, le Président décida de s’associer à la Grande-Bretagne et à la France et d’entreprendre une guerre en Libye. Les conseillers de l’Administration étaient divisés face au désordre croissant en Libye. Le secrétaire à la Défense, Bob Gates, et tous les membres du Comité des chefs d’état-major étaient opposés à l’intervention. De même que le vice-Président Biden et le conseiller à la Sécurité nationale de l’époque, Tom Donilon, qui était « un homme de Biden ». C’était aussi le cas de beaucoup de gens à l’extérieur de l’Administration, dont le président du Council of Foreign Relations et votre humble serviteur.

Le Président semblait partagé. Aussi posa-t-il une série de conditions strictes pour consentir à l’intervention – dont un soutien de la Ligue arabe et une résolution du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU sur la base de l’article 7. Toutefois, il écouta les partisans de la guerre lorsque le secrétaire d’État, Hillary Clinton, s’y rallia et que, peut-être à son grand regret et contre toute attente, les conditions qu’il avait posées se trouvèrent toutes réunies. Même s’il faut attendre des mémoires fiables pour en être certain, mon sentiment est que le Président ne tarda pas à regretter sa décision en voyant les conséquences multiples, sinistres et involontaires de l’intervention en Libye. Le défaut de planification par ses alliés de la phase de la guerre postérieure aux combats, malgré un triste précédent, a eu de sombres répercussions en Libye (qui ont conduit au raid sur Benghazi de septembre 2012), mais aussi au Mali, au nord du Nigéria et, sans doute, en Algérie.

Aussi, lorsque, quelques mois plus tard, ses conseillers se divisèrent à nouveau sur la Syrie, le Président Obama résolut de ne pas s’en mêler. Il est difficile de dire dans quelle mesure des considérations de politique politicienne entrèrent en jeu – l’élection de 2012 approchait –, mais il est probable selon moi qu’elles ont tenu une place importante (je l’ai dit à l’époque). En toute hypothèse, même sans échéance électorale pour altérer son jugement, la passivité américaine à l’égard de la Syrie était tout à fait prévisible.

Il ne fait pas de doute que, dès le début, le Président a entendu force analyses et propos amers sur la Syrie. Il est à mon avis malheureux qu’à cause de la Libye, on ait fait preuve d’une prudence excessive. Prendre rapidement le leadership, de concert avec la Turquie et avec le soutien de l’OTAN, aurait pu arrêter la violence avant qu’elle ne se soit métastasée, radicalisée entre camps religieux et étendue à d’autres pays. Il n’était pas nécessaire, ni même souhaitable, pour y parvenir, d’envoyer des troupes sur le terrain ni même d’instaurer dès le début des zones d’exclusion aérienne. Il y a des moyens d’exercer de l’influence sans pour autant mettre en danger un grand nombre de soldats américains : c’est pour cette raison que nous avons des alliés, des opérations de renseignement, des forces spéciales et tout un assortiment de cyberprocédés douteux. Mais l’Administration a découragé les Turcs et la politique de passivité qu’elle a adoptée s’est révélée être la plus coûteuse de toutes les politiques.

Pour être honnête, la Syrie a toujours constitué un problème difficile. Si la Libye est une île du point de vue militaire et un petit pays en termes démographiques, la Syrie est plus vaste, plus difficile à vaincre militairement et, comme on le sait, elle dispose de stocks d’armes chimiques, voire biologiques. Les armes à longue portée, comme les missiles de croisière, ne sont pas ce qu’il y a de mieux pour maîtriser l’espace aérien ou pour travailler en étroite coordination avec des forces rebelles sur le terrain. Le président du Comité des chefs d’états-majors interarmées, Martin Dempsey, a du reste abondam ment déclaré qu’il faudrait effectuer 700 sorties pour détruire le système de défense aérienne syrien avant que les avions américains puissent entrer en action. C’est un nombre qui paraît élevé et c’était bien l’impression que Dempsey voulait donner en le citant. Cependant, à la différence de la Libye, le dossier syrien comportait des enjeux très importants, pour la plupart liés à l’Iran. La combinaison d’enjeux d’intérêts nationaux incontestables et d’options militaires malaisées rendait donc les choses difficiles.

Le temps que l’Administration en vienne à envisager sérieusement d’armer les rebelles (elle commença par coordonner des accords avec des tiers, comme la Croatie, et par demander à la CIA de faire passer quelques stocks d’armes de Libye aux rebelles syriens), un grand nombre de jihadistes sunnites radicaux avaient fait leur apparition et fusionné dans Jabhat al-Nusra. Ce qui rendait encore plus difficile ce qu’on avait déjà du mal à entreprendre. Il était normal de s’inquiéter que des armes américaines puissent tomber entre de mauvaises mains, c’est pourquoi l’envoi de matériels non létaux devint la forme d’aide préférée. Mais l’inquiétude ne devrait pas être paralysante, à moins que l’on ne veuille précisément être paralysé et que l’on ait des raisons pour cela.

Même l’aide non létale arrivait lentement et en petite quantité, conduisant certains observateurs à soupçonner que l’Administration voulait à présent que le régime Assad survive pour faire contrepoids aux jihadistes sunnites. (Peu importait l’égarement qui lui avait fait déclarer « Assad doit partir » lorsqu’on avait l’impression que c’était ce qui allait se produire.) Du coup, certains allèrent jusqu’à affirmer que la passivité en Syrie était un élément de négociation pour amadouer les Iraniens. C’est bien possible. Maintenant que nous connaissons l’étendue et les dates des contacts secrets avec l’Iran, menés en partie par l’ambassadeur Jeffrey Feltman depuis son poste de l’ONU à New York, on peut imaginer lebody language des Américains, voire leur langage au sens propre. Ils ont effectivement pu tenir ce discours aux Iraniens : « Écoutez, faites ce que vous voulez en Syrie ; nous, Américains, n’avons pas l’intention de nous ingérer dans vos relations avec vos voisins. Nous ne cherchons même pas à renverser le régime. » Et, comme preuve de l’absence d’intentions agressives, on a très bien pu évoquer les débuts de la politique d’« engagement » de l’Administration, qui a conduit les États-Unis à adopter une attitude réservée lors du soulèvement de l’opposition verte en 2009.

On reviendra plus loin sur le dossier iranien, mais il est essentiel de comprendre que, dès le départ, l’Administration Obama a considéré la Syrie comme un sous-problème de moindre importance dans le cadre d’une politique centrée sur l’Iran. En cela, elle était dans la ligne des précédentes Administrations. Les États-Unis n’ont en fait jamais eu de politique spécifique à l’égard de la Syrie. Notre ligne vis-à-vis de celle-ci a toujours été un dérivé de politiques plus importantes – relations arabo-israéliennes, Irak, Turquie, Liban, etc. Par le passé, cette tendance a eu de très malheureuses conséquences, permettant même au régime syrien de tuer des Américains et de s’en prendre par ailleurs à des intérêts américains – comme en Irak, par exemple – sans en payer vraiment le prix. Cette fois-ci, elle paraissait au moins un peu plus logique.

On peut bien sûr soutenir qu’une politique américaine plus énergique à l’égard du régime Assad aurait assuré plus d’efficacité à sa politique iranienne, mais ce n’est pas l’approche adoptée par l’Administration Obama. Les Iraniens ne craignaient plus les programmes d’ADM irakiens, tournure des événements assez ironique compte tenu de l’attitude du Président à l’égard de la guerre en Irak. Je subodore en outre que l’Administration pensait que, si le régime iranien cessait de nous considérer comme une menace mortelle, son analyse en termes de coûts-avantages de l’acquisition d’armes nucléaires s’en trouverait modifiée. Nous pouvions en augmenter le coût par des sanctions et réduire par la diplomatie les avantages d’une politique aussi risquée – et nous pourrions peut-être traduire cette nouvelle approche iranienne par un accord officiel. Mais revenons pour l’instant à la Syrie.

Les lignes rouges

La passivité américaine face à la guerre civile syrienne se prolongeant, le cours de la bataille tourna à l’avantage du régime. Il est clair que l’une des raisons de la passivité initiale des États-Unis était l’impression, confirmée par les évaluations des services de renseignement, que les rebelles allaient gagner, avec ou sans notre aide. On en voyait la preuve dans les défections de sunnites de premier plan, tels Manaf Tlass et d’autres. Mais, comme c’est le cas depuis très longtemps en Syrie, les sunnites ne parvinrent pas à s’entendre entre eux ni à coopérer vraiment pour passer de leurs premiers succès à la phase de destruction du régime. Pendant ce temps, les Russes déversaient des armes et des conseillers, dont certains s’étaient battus en Tchétchénie, et les Iraniens, via le Hezbollah et les brigades al-Qods, commençaient à apporter une aide décisive à Assad. Le cours de la guerre se renversa. Mais l’Administration Obama n’agit pas davantage – si ce n’est que sa politique se concentra dès lors sur les armes chimiques syriennes : la Maison-Blanche traça la première des deux « lignes rouges » contre l’emploi d’armes chimiques.

J’imagine que le Président pensait que la première ligne rouge sur les armes chimiques ne l’engageait pas – c’était un moyen de paraître fort et impliqué, sans prendre le moindre risque. À ce moment-là, aucune arme chimique n’avait été utilisée pendant les combats. C’était profondément méconnaître le régime alaouite et ses dirigeants. L’Administration aurait dû faire plus attention à l’habileté que les Syriens mettaient à humilier Kofi Annan et au plaisir qu’ils en retiraient. En fait, le régime syrien n’aurait peut-être jamais utilisé d’armes chimiques si le Président Obama ne l’avait pas mis en garde contre leur emploi – en vérité, aucune raison strictement militaire ne les y obligeait. Sentant la réticence d’Obama à s’engager militairement, le régime syrien fit ce qu’il sait le mieux faire : intimider, provoquer et croiser le fer psychologiquement avec une partie moins engagée. De plus, en utilisant les armes chimiques sans avoir à en payer le prix, il narguait les rebelles en leur signalant qu’il était très vraisemblable que les Américains les laisseraient tomber.

Vint alors la seconde ligne rouge sur les armes chimiques et nous nous souvenons tous de ce qui suivit. N’ayant utilisé auparavant qu’une très petite quantité d’armes chimiques pour tester la réponse américaine (il n’y en eut pas), les Syriens les employèrent alors à grande échelle et de façon manifeste. Certains Américains crédules (dont l’éminent James Fallows) affirmèrent que l’opposition avait fait cela en catimini pour incriminer le régime, mais nefirent qu’étaler leur ignorance et leur mauvais jugement. Les Russes étaient eux aussi enclins à croire ce mensonge, mais on n’en attendait pas moins d’eux en tant que conseils d’Assad.

Au milieu de tous ces nocifs gaz virtuels, de peur d’être obligée d’agir, l’Administration s’efforça d’ignorer les preuves d’emploi réitéré d’armes chimiques. Il devint trop embarrassant de persister dans cette attitude, dans la mesure où les preuves s’accumulaient, venues de partout, y compris des services de renseignement français et britannique. Alors, l’Administration se mit soudain en colère et se prépara à agir, allant jusqu’à envoyer en Méditerranée six navires équipés de missiles de croisière. Mais, tout aussi subitement, après que les Britanniques lui eurent retiré leur soutien en raison de l’opposition imprévue de leur Parlement, Obama décida de ne pas se montrer moins démocrate que la Grande-Bretagne et de demander l’approbation du Congrès.

On ne sait toujours pas vraiment si Obama pensait obtenir cet accord ou s’il savait que ce ne serait pas le cas et qu’il pourrait ainsi blâmer le Congrès de l’empêcher de faire une chose qu’il n’avait jamais vraiment voulu faire. Quoi qu’il en soit, au cours de cet épisode, l’Administration laissa entendre qu’il s’agirait d’une attaque « très réduite » avec des armes commandées à distance – absurde et fâcheuse remarque de Kerry, destinée à tranquilliser les sceptiques au Congrès, inquiets d’un risque de dérive. Le Président se sentit obligé de le contredire en public (« l’armée américaine ne fait pas de piqûres d’épingle »). Mais le mal était fait ; la langue du secrétaire d’État avait fourché, privant une éventuelle attaque de la plus grande partie de son impact, avant qu’on ait même posé le doigt sur la gâchette. Finalement, comme on le sait, après avoir fait naître de faux espoirs, le Président prit le contre-pied de la plupart de ses assistants et renonça à l’usage de la force contre un simulacre d’accord sur les armes chimiques conclu sous l’égide des Russes.

Il n’y a rien de mal à éliminer les armes chimiques syriennes, compte tenu du risque d’effondrement de l’État syrien, mais cet accord n’élimine pas toutes les armes chimiques de Syrie. Il ne met fin qu’à celles que le régime a déclarées – et nous n’avons aucun moyen fiable de vérifier l’existence de ce qu’il a passé sous silence. Il est très probable que les armes les plus modernes et les plus létales n’ont pas été déclarées, laissant la soi-disant communauté internationale – essentiellement les États-Unis, comme c’était prévisible – jouer le rôle de ramasseur d’ordures de produits dangereux, qui plus est en prenant les frais en charge.

Il était extrêmement douloureux de voir le Président passer de ligne rouge en ligne rouge, puis au subterfuge du Congrès et enfin au gilet de sauvetage diplomatique russe (qui n’était pas aussi improvisé que l’Administration a voulu le faire croire à l’époque). Le nouveau conseiller à la Sécurité nationale, Susan Rice, s’est révélée parfaitement incompétente en présidant, ou en essayant de présider, à la recherche de l’excuse la plus embarrassante que j’aie jamais vue dans un processus de décision en politique étrangère.

Et pour quel résultat ? Premièrement, comme beaucoup de gens l’ont fait remarquer, l’accord sur les armes chimiques légitimait Assad et le transformait en partenaire pour la mise en œuvre de l’accord – en contradiction directe avec la politique du « Assad doit partir ». Le retard mis à évacuer les produits chimiques du pays a fait ressortir la même contradiction. La Syrie étant une zone de guerre, il fallait sécuriser le transport par voie de terre avant de transférer les produits chimiques vers un port. Or qui rendait le transport par voie de terre problématique ? Nos alliés putatifs, l’Armée syrienne libre (ASL) et ses associés. Nous étions donc obligés de nous plaindre que nos alliés retardaient la mise en œuvre d’un accord que nous avions conclu avec leur ennemi, qui est aussi le nôtre. En d’autres termes, nous voulions à présent que la partie, que nous souhaitions voir gagner, perde temporairement et localement pour faire progresser un accord de contrôle d’armement largement cosmétique et totalement dissocié du reste de la guerre civile. Si ce n’est pas la preuve de l’incohérence et de l’irresponsabilité de cette politique, je me demande bien ce que c’est.

Indépendamment de l’impression produite aux États-Unis, l’ASL l’a interprétée comme une trahison, de même que les Saoudiens. Le régime syrien a accéléré ses opérations militaires dans la foulée de l’accord sur les armes chimiques ; une fois Assad certain que les États-Unis n’emploieraient pas la force, il a risqué le tout pour le tout en essayant d’écraser l’opposition. Il s’est concentré sur le tissu conjonctif reliant la région de Damas à la province de Lattaquié (où la bataille pour al-Qusayr a été déterminante – il suffit de regarder une carte) et, plus au nord, pour reprendre Alep. Il a depuis bien progressé dans ces deux zones.
Genève II

Pourquoi se dépêcher ? La raison en était la conférence de Genève II, qui devait avoir lieu en mai dernier et qui a finalement eu lieu en janvier 2014.

En juin 2012, neuf nations se sont retrouvées à Genève, la majorité d’entre elles pour essayer de travailler à un régime de transition sans Assad. Mais deux d’entre elles voulaient tout le contraire : c’est-à-dire pas d’accord sur cette question. La réunion du Groupe d’Action, nom qui lui fut donné, constituait l’ultime effort de Kofi Annan, parrainé par l’ONU, pour arrêter la guerre. Comme il fallait s’y attendre, elle échoua, de même que toutes les autres tentatives d’Annan. La Russie et la Chine bloquèrent toute formule appelant au départ d’Assad. On s’entendit sur une déclaration constituant le plus petit commun dénominateur : elle mentionnait sans grande conviction la nécessité de créer un régime de transition, sans dire explicitement qu’Assad ne pourrait pas en faire partie. Elle indique en effet que ce régime « pourra comprendre des membres de l’actuel gouvernement et de l’opposition ainsi que d’autres groupes et sera formé sur la base du consentement mutuel ».

Le reste du communiqué relevait largement de l’ineptie et de l’utopie : s’agissant de chimériques cessez-le-feu, de la démocratie dans une zone qui ne l’avait jamais connue en quatre mille ans. Il comportait en outre des éléments involontairement humoristiques. Alors que des innocents étaient massacrés par milliers par leur propre gouvernement, les rédacteurs de l’ONU prirent le temps de réclamer que des femmes soient représentées à toutes les phases de la transition. Ce qui était vraiment gentil.

À l’approche de Genève II, tout se mit peu à peu à menacer de dérailler. L’irresponsabi lité et l’incohérence de cette politique apparurent de nouveau au grand jour. Dans un contexte où des groupes rebelles s’étaient lancés dans des luttes violentes et fratricides et où le régime avait pris l’avantage, notamment dans la région d’Alep, le gouvernement américain essaya d’obtenir de la coalition de l’ASL qu’elle assiste à la réunion de Genève II. Mais cette coalition compte 144 groupes et les récents combats contre l’État islamique d’Irak et du Levant (ISIS) l’avaient encore plus divisée. La plupart des groupes d’opposition ne voulaient pas y aller à moins que la conférence ne prévoie expressément le départ d’Assad. C’est pourquoi Kerry a répété avant Genève II que c’était précisément le sens que les États-Unis donnaient à cette conférence. Toutefois, la présence de certains groupes d’opposition, alors que nombre d’entre eux n’y participeraient pas, risquait d’accentuer les divisions et donc d’affaiblir la coalition militaire sur le terrain en Syrie.

Je n’arrive pas à comprendre comment le Département d’État peut faire cette lecture du communiqué du 30 juin 2012. Ce n’est pas la lettre du texte et ce n’est certainement pas la lecture qu’en font le régime syrien ou les Russes. Kerry a accusé les Syriens de « révisionnisme » dans leur interprétation du document du 30 juin 2012, mais l’accusation peut tout aussi aisément lui être retournée. C’est ainsi que le secrétaire général de l’ONU, Ban Ki-Moon, a pu inviter les Iraniens à la dernière minute, invitation à laquelle le gouvernement américain s’est opposé tout en semblant l’encourager. Les dernières semaines, Kerry avait en effet paru très soucieux que les Iraniens soient associés à la conférence, mais pas en tant que participants, puisqu’ils étaient censés ne pas accepter l’interprétation américaine des termes de la conférence. Cependant, les Iraniens pouvaient approuver la lettre du communiqué du 30 juin 2012, qui ne préjugeait d’aucune manière de l’avenir d’Assad. C’est pourquoi Moon, qui sait lire, les avait invités.

Ce qui mit Kerry en colère. Aucun secrétaire d’État américain n’aime qu’un type de l’ONU vienne lui couper l’herbe sous le pied, qui plus est sans avertissement et à un moment particulièrement sensible. Le Département d’État a donc demandé à Moon de retirer l’invitation faite à l’Iran, alors même que c’était le body language américain, engageant à l’égard de l’Iran, qui l’avait probablement convaincu de la lancer. Moon s’est rapidement exécuté, mais à contrecœur. L’annulation de l’invitation a épargné au gouvernement américain de devoir se retirer de la conférence qu’il parrainait, événement dans lequel nous avions assidûment et futilement mis tant de vains et faux espoirs.

Mais cela aurait peut-être été préférable. Compte tenu de la situation sur le terrain et du refus des États-Unis de faire quoi que ce soit, même de vaguement efficace, cette conférence ne pouvait aboutir à ce que l’Administration en espérait. Les adversaires ne veulent pas démordre de leur vision d’un jeu à somme nulle et les parrains de la conférence ne sont pas d’accord sur le fond, c’est-à-dire sur ses objectifs. L’échec américain sera donc vu dans toute la région comme la confirmation de l’impuissance américaine et comme une victoire d’Assad, des Iraniens, des Russes et de la brutalité totalement impitoyable exercée contre des populations civiles. J’avoue ne pas comprendre pourquoi nous devrions avoir envie d’en être complices.

Se lamenter du peu de chances de réussite de ce round de la diplomatie de Genève, tout en soulignant que « c’est la seule chose qu’il nous reste à essayer » – des responsables américains ont bien dit en public des choses de ce genre –, montre seulement, une fois encore, que la diplomatie peut bel et bien être nocive si les dirigeants ne parviennent pas à comprendre que la force et la diplomatie sont complémentaires et non opposées. Bêler que ce n’est que le début d’un long processus ou que la conférence encouragera des défections au sein du régime ou qu’une vision alternative à la guerre est en soi utile est une pure sottise. On n’arrête pas une véritable guerre civile avec des cartes de vœux rédigées de manière bien sentie ni avec une bouillie débile sur « comment réussir une négociation ». Tout ce que cette conférence a fait, fait et fera est de multiplier encore le nombre de morts tandis que les deux parties cherchent à prendre l’avantage militaire sur le terrain.

Vous faut-il un autre exemple de la nocivité que peut avoir une diplomatie bornée ? Alors que Genève II approchait, les États-Unis se sont officiellement associés à la Russie pour tenter de persuader les deux parties de déclarer des cessez-le-feu avant la conférence, y voyant un moyen de mettre fin définitivement à la guerre. Mais il y a des preuves incontes tables sur le terrain que le régime syrien offre non des cessez-le-feu locaux, mais des conditions de reddition. En échange de doses homéopathiques de nourriture et de médicaments, le régime demande aux civils assiégés de faire flotter le drapeau syrien au-dessus de la ville ou des alentours. Mais, dès que des agents du régime entrent dans la ville, ils exigent qu’on leur dise où se trouvent les combattants rebelles, arrêtent quelques personnes et abattent purement et simplement ceux qui essaient de s’enfuir. Ce sont des « cessez-le-feu » à la mode tchétchène. John Kerry peut-il vraiment l’ignorer ? Et, s’il le sait, comment peut-il les encourager ? Est-il cynique au point d’être prêt à trahir sciemment des alliés des États-Unis pour mettre fin à la guerre ?

Quoi qu’il s’y passe, le spectacle de Genève II déshonore d’ores et déjà la grande tradition du leadership politique américain. Mieux vaudrait que cette ombre jetée sur notre politique se limite au Proche-Orient. On peut néanmoins se demander ce que, par exemple, les responsables japonais pensent au fond d’eux-mêmes en ce moment. Quant à Kerry, il se borne, apparemment, à répéter qu’il faut laisser une chance à la politique d’apaisement.

Miser sur l’Iran ?

Ce qui nous ramène à l’Iran. Les équipes techniques sont parvenues à un accord sur le nucléaire qui devrait entrer en application. Ce qui est une bonne chose, pour le moment, malgré les défauts de cet accord. La brièveté de sa durée d’application (six mois seulement) et la capitulation de l’Occident sur le principe de l’enrichissement de l’uranium rendent plus probable une éventuelle bombe iranienne, et non l’inverse. Comme j’ai déjà eu l’occasion de le dire, seule la perspective d’un changement dans les relations américano-iraniennes, indépendamment de tout accord, peut justifier que l’on prenne ce risque. Or quelle est la probabilité de ce changement ?

Elle n’est pas égale à zéro, mais elle n’est pas très élevée non plus. Si les Iraniens n’ont plus peur que les Américains tentent de renverser leur régime et s’ils croient que cette Administration-là n’est pas obsédée par l’épouvantail de l’hégémonie régionale iranienne, il est possible qu’ils se disent qu’ils n’ont pas besoin d’une capacité nucléaire complète pour nous dissuader. Ce qui résout le problème, au moins pour les trois prochaines années : l’Iran ne franchira pas le seuil nucléaire tant que persistera cet engagement diplomatique. Si les États-Unis doivent payer encore et encore pour le préserver, comme cela semble très possible, le coût ne sera pas excessif – poursuit le raisonnement – s’il s’agit d’éviter une guerre. Et ne vous trompez pas : l’Administration continue à déclarer, comme émanant d’une décision présidentielle, douloureuse et de longue haleine, mais censée être à toute épreuve, que l’objectif de cette politique est et demeure la prévention et non la dissuasion. (Nous revient alors en mémoire la remarque de Bob Gates : « La parole de cette Maison-Blanche ne signifie rien. »)

Ce type d’approche par paiement au forfait me rappelle un merveilleux passage de Mon nom est Aram de William Saroyan : « Si vous donnez à un voleur, il ne peut plus vous voler et n’est donc plus un voleur. » Je ne veux pas dire par là que la politique d’Obama vis-à-vis de l’Iran n’est que de l’apaisement. C’est une interprétation de ses motivations, mais on peut l’envisager autrement. Il faut pour cela mélanger les niveaux d’analyse en faisant preuve d’inventivité.

Il est possible, comme l’ont soutenu certains, que l’Administration Obama ait une grande théorie, une stratégie ambitieuse, considérant qu’une entente avec l’Iran est le meilleur moyen de protéger la région et le monde de la menace durable que fait peser le radicalisme des jihadistes sunnites. Il est possible que l’Administration veuille s’appuyer sur les chiites pour contrebalancer la prolifération de franchises d’Al-Qaïda dans la région et au-delà de celle-ci et qu’elle pense que le prix à payer à court terme en vaut la peine. Ce prix comporterait une grave détérioration de nos relations avec l’Arabie Saoudite, qui a déjà commencé, mais, pourraient dire ses partisans, et après ? Auprès de qui d’autre les Saoudiens iraient-ils chercher une protection ? Le prix implique aussi une tension dans nos relations avec Israël : il nous faudrait le prier de nous faire confiance, afin qu’il nous soutienne au cas où les choses tourneraient mal. Ce qui rend les Israéliens nerveux, mais n’a rien d’excentrique s’agissant d’une politique de puissance – et il est certain que les jihadistes sunnites doivent inquiéter les Israéliens autant que leurs ennemis chiites inspirés par les Iraniens.

Le complément de ce raisonnement est que la crainte de l’hégémonie iranienne est largement exagérée. L’Iran n’est pas une si grande puissance. Son budget militaire annuel n’atteint même pas les rallonges budgétaires américaines de ces dernières années de guerre. La supériorité militaire technique des États-Unis sur l’Iran est quasiment écrasante. Plus encore, que signifie vraiment l’hégémonie régionale de l’Iran ? Quelles en sont les limites probables et naturelles ?

Une puissance perse et chiite fait penser à des anticorps naturels dans une région arabe et majoritairement sunnite. L’influence iranienne pourrait faire une grande différence au Bahreïn, où un régime sunnite minoritaire gouverne et opprime une majorité chiite ; elle pourrait peut-être faire une différence dans la province Al-Hasa, en Arabie Saoudite, où se trouvent tout à la fois la majorité des chiites et du pétrole du pays. Quant à l’Irak, nous savons déjà que l’Iran peut avoir une vraie forme d’influence à Bagdad, tant que les chiites sont au pouvoir, mais cela ne signifie pas pour autant qu’il dicte et contrôle tout ce qui s’y passe. L’Iran peut semer la pagaille de manière peu probante au Liban, mais la politique libanaise est structurellement peu probante – il ne peut donc en attendre de bénéfices durables. Les Iraniens peuvent fournir des armes aux Houthis chiites au Yémen, comme ils le font depuis peu ; mais quel intérêt vital les États-Unis ont-ils au Yémen, si ce n’est empêcher ce pays de devenir un terreau pour Al-Qaïda ? Et, bien sûr, les Iraniens peuvent s’allier aux alaouites en Syrie, bien que les chiites duodécimains et les alaouites n’aient pas grand-chose en commun en dehors de leur antipathie pour les sunnites.

En d’autres termes, même avec les dysfonctionnement des pays arabes, l’idée que, d’une manière ou d’une autre, les Iraniens pourraient recréer un empire territorial ayant un contrôle absolu – du genre de celui des Empires achéménide, sassanide ou safavide – au Proche-Orient actuel est une vue de l’esprit. Ils peuvent provoquer des troubles dans certaines zones, mais, sans une sérieuse capacité nucléaire, l’Iran ne peut attaquer ni conquérir la Palestine ou tout autre État du Levant ou du Golfe. Dans un siècle ou deux, les arabophones seront toujours au moins 280 millions, contrairement aux persanophones. Si la politique américaine peut maintenir l’Iran au-dessous d’une sérieuse capacité nucléaire, quel danger y a-t-il donc à laisser Téhéran s’empêtrer dans d’interminables conflits débilitants avec différents pays arabes et sunnites ? Et, si les Russes veulent les y aider, ils sont en droit de venir eux aussi piétiner en vain le bac à sable. Ils finiront probablement par le regretter (amèrement).

Ne prenons pas cela trop à la légère. Il n’est certainement pas sans risques qu’après avoir fourni des équipements de sécurité à la région pendant plusieurs décennies, les États-Unis décident soudain qu’ils ont « surinvesti » dans cette région, pour reprendre l’intempestive formule de Ben Rhodes qui a fait l’objet d’une fuite. Certains de nos partenaires commencent à envisager des contre-alliances, tandis que d’autres étudient de nouvelles formes d’autodéfense. Nous n’avons pas envie que l’Arabie Saoudite obtienne une bombe nucléaire grâce au Pakistan. Pire encore, la guerre confessionnelle a tendance à multiplier les radicaux et à marginaliser (ou à éliminer) les modérés, ce qui n’est pas non plus dans l’intérêt de notre sécurité à long terme. Soutenir tacitement Assad et ses parrains iraniens, ou être seulement considérés comme le faisant, ne peut qu’encourager le radicalisme sunnite dans la région et au-delà. C’est donc une chose d’imaginer que, si nous nous désengageons du Proche-Orient et que nous laissons jouer les équilibres naturels, ceux-ci mettront entre parenthèses les dangers que court cette région, et c’en est une autre de survivre à la transition d’un type de régime de sécurité à un autre.

Boucle d’or

Je soupçonne les responsables de cette Administration de comprendre assez bien tout cela. Je doute qu’Obama et Kerry « rêvent certainement d’un coup de maître du genre de celui de Nixon en Chine » sur l’Iran et qu’ils voient « sans aucun doute l’Iran et ses alliés chiites comme des partenaires potentiels dans le combat contre le jihadisme sunnite ». Ceux qui, pendant le premier mandat, ont participé au plus haut niveau aux délibérations sur des questions de ce genre décrivent le Président comme très méfiant à l’égard des coups ambitieux et très sceptique sur les motivations des Iraniens. Des mots tels que « certainement » et « sans aucun doute » n’ont en aucun cas leur place dans un débat de ce genre. Lorsque, plus récemment, Obama n’a pas donné à l’accord nucléaire plus de 50 % de chances de réussir, il manifestait là aussi scepticisme et réserve.

Je ne pense donc pas que le Président ait une théorie stratégique explicite sur le dossier du Proche-Orient. Je n’entends tourner aucun des mécanismes de Kissinger. Ses orientations à l’égard de la région ressemblent plus à celles de George H. W. Bush : il a des intuitions, des instincts. Et ceux-ci lui soufflent qu’obtenir ce qu’on veut dans cette partie du monde est très difficile et le devient de plus en plus, dans la mesure où la possibilité d’avoir un interlocuteur unique – dont nous « jouissions » en ayant pour alliés des régimes arabes autoritaires et stables – n’est plus ce qu’elle était. Je pense que Rhodes orientait Obama à toutes fins utiles en écrivant ce qui suit à Jeffrey Goldberg :

« En politique étrangère, les États-Unis prennent des décisions fondées sur nos intérêts. Il n’est pas dans l’intérêt de l’Amérique d’avoir des troupes dans chaque conflit du Proche-Orient ou d’y être en permanence impliqués dans des guerres sans fin.

Il est de notre intérêt de déployer d’importants efforts diplomatiques – et des ressources – pour essayer de résoudre des conflits et de renforcer les capacités de nos partenaires, ce qui est exactement ce que nous faisons.

L’idée qu’il y ait eu jadis une époque où nous dictions les affaires intérieures des pays du Proche-Orient n’est pas conforme aux faits. Lorsque nous avions bien plus d’une centaine de milliers de troupes en Irak, nous n’avons pas été capables de façonner la réalité politique de ce pays ni de mettre fin à la haine religieuse.

Qui plus est, l’idée que nous soyons désengagés est fausse puisque nous sommes plus engagés dans la région que toute autre nation – pour parvenir à un accord sur le programme nucléaire iranien, faire progresser la paix entre Israël et la Palestine, détruire les réserves d’armes chimiques syriennes, contrer Al-Qaïda et ses associés, assurer la sécurité d’Israël et de nos partenaires du Golfe et soutenir la transition vers la démocratie du Yémen à la Libye. »

Rhodes écrivant à un journaliste, il y a nécessairement du baratin là-dedans – surtout vers la fin. Notre « engagement » est avant tout de la frime ; il s’agit d’en donner l’impression, parce qu’en l’absence de toute volonté de prendre des risques et de le faire durablement, il ne peut en aller autrement. Notre diplomatie vis-à-vis de la Syrie pose problème, notre diplomatie sur la question arabo-israélienne n’aboutira pas à la paix, l’accord avec l’Iran finira peut-être bien, mais peut-être pas, il n’y aura pas de transition démocratique en Libye ni au Yémen, etc. Il s’agit donc de l’une de ces nombreuses déclarations qui est vraie en paroles, mais non en intention. L’intention est de faire passer notre passivité pour autre chose que ce qu’elle est et de la faire paraître à la fois avisée et prudente.

La vérité est que nous sommes face au problème classique de Boucle d’or. Nous ne voulons pas en faire trop peu, parce que cela comporte des risques, mais nous ne voulons pas non plus en faire trop, parce que cela comporte aussi des risques. Il est difficile de trouver le « juste » degré et même les gens honnêtes et bien informés peuvent ne pas s’entendre sur ce qu’est ce « juste » degré. Je pense personnellement que le Président sous-estime les coûts et les risques cumulatifs d’en faire trop peu, qui ne se limitent pas au Proche-Orient. Mais je ne pense pas qu’il faille lui attribuer des objectifs très ambitieux et discutables. De très nombreuses « doctrines » présidentielles ont été créées par des observateurs extérieurs qui essayaient de donner plus de cohérence aux idées d’une Administration qu’elles n’en avaient vraiment. Par pitié, n’inventons pas de toutes pièces une Doctrine Obama.

Et, bien sûr, même si l’Administration Obama recherchait un grand et nouvel équilibre régional avec les mollahs perses, le Président doit savoir qu’il n’y a aucune garantie que ce nouvel ordre régional soit assez attirant pour nous dispenser d’avoir une politique. L’effondrement de la Syrie et de l’Irak en tant qu’États pose des problèmes de zone grise au contre-terrorisme ; on pourrait dire que c’est aussi ce qui risque d’arriver à la Libye et à d’autres pays. Être moins intrusifs dans la région ne ferait pas nécessairement de nous des cibles moins privilégiées. Être vus comme acoquinés à l’Iran pourrait bel et bien nous transformer en cibles encore plus privilégiées. Les équilibres locaux ne résoudront pas tous nos problèmes actuels et risquent même d’en créer.
L’Irak à nouveau en crise

Ce qui nous amène tout naturellement à l’Irak où l’enfer s’est (à nouveau) déchaîné. Sous la forme d’ISIS, Al-Qaïda est de retour et garde le contrôle de Ramadi et Falluja. Les efforts menés depuis Bagdad pour que les chefs tribaux persuadent ISIS de quitter ces villes n’ont pas réussi et ont peut-être même débouché sur un nouveau pacte sunnite dirigé contre Maliki à Bagdad. À ce jour, Al-Qaïda a aussi placé Bagdad en mode verrouillage : les démons se rapprochent. Et tout le monde en Irak croit encore en son for intérieur qu’au combat, un sunnite des tribus du désert vaut à lui seul une centaine de villageois chiites froussards. C’est la tradition, c’est la perception et, du même coup, c’est dans une certaine mesure la réalité. Une avant-garde sunnite, islamiste ou non, pourrait-elle faire peu de cas d’une armée chiite, bien plus importante sur le papier, mais en train de se désintégrer, et atteindre Bagdad ? Évidemment qu’elle le pourrait. Celui qui en doute encore n’a toujours rien compris à l’Irak.

Dans ces conditions, l’Administration Obama devrait-elle accéder à la demande de fournitures d’armes et de formations émanant du Premier ministre Maliki ? C’est tentant. N’ayant pas réussi à obtenir un accord SOFA, nous pourrions à présent garantir que la structure de commandement irakienne reste américaine pour de nombreuses années et sauver quelque chose de la relation de travail que nous envisagions avec l’Irak il y a quelques années. Si nous l’aidons, nous pourrions obtenir de lui qu’il ferme le couloir aérien entre l’Iran et la Syrie (mais voulons-nous vraiment fermer ce couloir ?). La plupart des Américains impliqués dans la politique de guerre souhaitent que nous agissions ainsi et se disent en mesure de livrer rapidement ce matériel.

Je comprends ces raisons et j’y crois jusqu’à un certain point. Maliki a besoin de nous, nous pouvons donc peut-être l’aider et le persuader ainsi de gouverner de manière plus inclusive. Pour l’instant, il s’est révélé être un crétin sectaire et maladroit. Nous avons intérêt à ce que l’Irak ne se désintègre pas complètement et, pour cela, il faut à Bagdad un gouvernement qui soit plus réellement national que d’esprit sectaire. Mais que se passera-t-il si l’on ne parvient pas à maîtriser les sunnites, quelle que soit la quantité d’armes que nous envoyons ou le nombre d’officiers irakiens que nous promettons de former ?

Que décidera le Président et quand le décidera-t-il ? S’il est d’accord avec l’idée que nous sommes trop investis dans la région et qu’il doute de la capacité de tiers à s’engager délibérément dans une région comme l’Irak, il pourrait être tenté d’ignorer Maliki. Si l’Irak se désagrège complètement, il pourra faire ce qu’il fait le mieux : en rendre George W. Bush entièrement responsable. (Ce qu’il devrait faire, si cela se produit, est se coordonner avec la Turquie pour reconnaître le Gouvernement régional kurde comme un État indépendant, mais il ne le fera pas.)

D’un autre côté, l’effondrement de l’État irakien est en soi une mauvaise chose pour nous et son effondrement ou la victoire des sunnites radicaux là-bas aggravera encore la situation en Syrie. C’est une grave décision et aucune théorie globale sur ce dossier ne peut la faciliter. Mon sentiment est qu’en définitive, c’est la politique qui l’emportera, comme c’est habituellement le cas dans cette Administration. Lorsque le Président envisage la perspective que des armes américaines et des soldats américains, fût-ce comme formateurs, retournent en Irak, il a un mouvement de recul. Je pense qu’il calera. Je me demande si les secrétaires d’État Hagel et Kerry ont une idée là-dessus et si c’est la même. Ah, pouvoir être une petite souris pendant une réunion des responsables sur cette question !
La structure mentale du Président

Si j’ai raison de soutenir que le Président Obama a des instincts et des intuitions, mais pas de grande et ambitieuse stratégie pour le Proche-Orient, a-t-il néanmoins quelque chose de plus précis à l’esprit, replaçant le Proche-Orient dans un cadre global plus vaste ?

La réponse à cette question est la même : le Président n’est pas, je pense, un homme qui a confiance dans l’exercice d’une stratégie formelle, mais il ne fonctionne pas non plus complètement au cas par cas. Il croit probablement que les États-Unis sont effectivement trop investis au Proche-Orient et pas assez en Asie. D’où l’idée du pivot et peu importe qu’on l’ait sabotée en la présentant comme une proposition alternative. Selon toute vraisemblance, il s’est un jour demandé quel était le pire scénario pour le Proche-Orient. Ce qui se passerait si tout allait mal. En quoi cela affecterait vraiment les intérêts vitaux de l’Amérique. Non ses engagements traditionnels, non sa réputation, non ses obligations découlant de l’habitude et pas d’une approche nouvelle – mais ses authentiques intérêts vitaux. Et sa réponse a probablement été que, sauf réaction en chaîne en matière de prolifération d’ADM, les conséquences seraient minimes.

Une fois encore, je doute qu’Obama déploie consciemment ici une logique stratégique explicite ou formalisée ou qu’il accepte les théories universitaires du réalisme bienveillant ou de l’équilibre naturel. Mais je pense qu’il se rend compte qu’après le relatif immobilisme de la Guerre froide, le monde est devenu globalement plus confus ; que le degré de contrôle que peuvent donner les relations interétatiques traditionnelles sur une zone aux enjeux importants a baissé à mesure que, grâce aux nouvelles cyber-technologies, les mobilisations populaires et populistes se sont accrues aux niveaux à la fois sous-étatique et trans-étatique. Le Proche-Orient est certainement bien plus compliqué et confus, même si ce n’est pas, ou pas encore, le cas du reste du monde.

À mon avis, cette intuition a eu pour effet de rendre le Président Obama encore plus hostile au risque de manière générale et en particulier dans une région où il manque à tout le moins d’expérience et en son for intérieur d’assurance. Il est visiblement mal à l’aise lorsque ses conseillers sont divisés. Comme un juge, il essaie de trouver un dénominateur commun entre eux, ce qui est une bonne chose dans un travail de militant associatif, mais pas nécessairement en politique étrangère. Lorsque ses conseillers se livrent à une pensée de groupe, ce qu’ils font de plus en plus depuis le départ de Gates et de Donilon, ou lorsque aucun d’eux ne fait d’objections sérieuses à quelque chose (par exemple à la lubie de Kerry sur la paix israélo-palestinienne), il est satisfait de s’investir dans la gestion de son image – la twitterisation de la politique étrangère américaine en quelque sorte – parce qu’il sait qu’il ne peut tout simplement pas ignorer toutes ces choses.

La sensibilité du Président aux limites a également tendance à rendre sa politique réactive et ses objectifs réels modestes. Aussi, dans la confusion qu’est le Proche-Orient aujourd’hui, il veut que l’Irak soit gouverné de manière plus inclusive. Il veut que la Syrie et la Libye soient gouvernées, point. Il veut que l’Égypte soit stable et il n’est pas très regardant sur la manière dont cela peut se faire. Il veut que l’Iran n’ait pas d’armes nucléaires et il est prêt à beaucoup de choses pour l’empêcher par la diplomatie car il pense probablement que les dirigeants iraniens ne peuvent pas aujourd’hui exercer leur volonté au-delà de leurs frontières avec plus de réel succès que nous.

Il ne semble avoir d’idées précises et ne souhaiter agir préventivement que pour empêcher que des attaques terroristes tuent des citoyens américains, en particulier sur le sol des États-Unis. D’où son goût pour les attaques de drones, sa tolérance à l’égard de Guantánamo, son refus d’émasculer une série de programmes de la NSA, sauf à la marge, et son soutien généreux à l’ouverture discrète dans le monde entier de bases petites, mais puissantes, pour les forces spéciales.

Cet ensemble de positions n’est ni de l’apaissement ni de l’isolationnisme. Ce n’est manifestement pas non plus du maximalisme stratégique. C’est quelque chose d’intermédiaire et dans cet entre-deux, suspendu entre des attentes héritées du passé et des hésitations dues au flou de l’avenir, les choses deviennent parfois étranges ou pénibles lorsqu’il faut prendre un nombre sans précédent de décisions. Étrange, comme Genève II.

Docteur (PhD) de l’université de Pennsylvanie). Fondateur et editor de la revue The American Interest. De 2002 à 2005, a été assistant du secrétaire d’État. Ancieneditor de The National Interest. A enseigné à John Hopkins University, à l’université de Pennsylvanie et à Haverford College. A été un des collaborateur du sénateur H. M. Jackson. Parmi ses livres : Jewcentricity : How the Jews Get Praised, Blamed and Used to Explain Nearly Everything (Wiley, 2009) et The Origin and Impact of the Vietnam Antiwar Movement (St. Martin’s, 1995).

What Hasn’t the U.S. Given Up in the Iran Negotiations?

Charles Krauthammer

The National Review

April 9 2015

Under Obama’s proposed deal, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would remain intact, with the centrifuges spinning. “Negotiations . . . to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability . . .” — Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, the Wall Street Journal, April 8

It was but a year and a half ago that Barack Obama endorsed the objective of abolition when he said that Iran’s heavily fortified Fordow nuclear facility, its plutonium-producing heavy-water reactor, and its advanced centrifuges were all unnecessary for a civilian nuclear program. The logic was clear: Since Iran was claiming to be pursuing an exclusively civilian program, these would have to go.

Yet under the deal Obama is now trying to sell, not one of these is to be dismantled. Indeed, Iran’s entire nuclear infrastructure is kept intact, just frozen or repurposed for the length of the deal (about a decade). Thus Fordow’s centrifuges will keep spinning. They will now be fed xenon, zinc, and germanium instead of uranium. But that means they remain ready at any time to revert from the world’s most heavily (indeed comically) fortified medical isotope facility to a bomb-making factory.

And upon the expiration of the deal, conceded Obama Monday on NPR, Iran’s breakout time to a nuclear bomb will be “almost down to zero,” i.e., it will be able to produce nuclear weapons at will and without delay.

And then there’s cheating. Not to worry, says Obama. We have guarantees of compliance: “unprecedented inspections” and “snapback” sanctions.

The inspection promises are a farce. We haven’t even held the Iranians to their current obligation to come clean with the International Atomic Energy Agency on their previous nuclear activities. The IAEA charges Iran with stonewalling on eleven of twelve issues.

As veteran nuclear expert David Albright points out, that makes future verification impossible — how can you determine what’s been illegally changed or added if you have no baseline? Worse, there’s been no mention of the only verification regime with real teeth — at-will, unannounced visits to any facility, declared or undeclared. The joint European-Iranian statement spoke only of “enhanced access through agreed procedures,” which doesn’t remotely suggest spot inspections. And on Thursday, Iran’s supreme leader ruled out any “extraordinary supervision measures.”

The IAEA hasn’t been allowed to see the Parchin weaponization facility in ten years. And the massive Fordow complex was disclosed not by the IAEA but by Iranian dissidents.

Yet even if violations are found, what then? First, they have to be certified by the IAEA. Which then reports to the United Nations, where Iran has the right to challenge the charge. Which then has to be considered, argued and adjudicated. Which then presumably goes to the Security Council where China, Russia and sundry anti-Western countries will act as Iran’s lawyers. Which all would take months — after which there is no guarantee that China and Russia will ratify the finding anyway.

As for the “snapback” sanctions — our last remaining bit of pressure — they are equally fantastic. There’s no way sanctions will be re-imposed once they have been lifted. It took a decade to weave China, Russia, and the Europeans into the current sanctions infrastructure. Once gone, it doesn’t snap back. None will pull their companies out of a thriving, post-sanctions Iran. As Kissinger and Shultz point out, we will be fought every step of the way, leaving the U.S., not Iran, isolated.

Obama imagines that this deal will bring Iran in from the cold, tempering its territorial ambitions and ideological radicalism. But this defies logic: With sanctions lifted, its economy booming, and tens of billions injected into its treasury, why would Iran curb rather than expand its relentless drive for regional dominance?

An overriding objective of these negotiations, as Obama has said, is to prevent the inevitable proliferation — Egypt, Turkey, the Gulf states — that would occur if Iran went nuclear. Yet the prospective agreement is so clearly a pathway to an Iranian bomb that the Saudis are signaling that the deal itself would impel them to go nuclear. You set out to prevent proliferation and you trigger it. You set out to prevent an Iranian nuclear capability and you legitimize it. You set out to constrain the world’s greatest exporter of terror threatening every one of our allies in the Middle East and you’re on the verge of making it the region’s economic and military hegemon.

What is the alternative, asks the president? He’s repeatedly answered the question himself: No deal is better than a bad deal.

Voir également:

The fatal flaw in the Iran deal
Charles Krauthammer

The Washington post

February 26 2015

A sunset clause?

The news from the nuclear talks with Iran was already troubling. Iran was being granted the “right to enrich.” It would be allowed to retain and spin thousands of centrifuges. It could continue construction of the Arak plutonium reactor. Yet so thoroughly was Iran stonewalling International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors that just last Thursday the IAEA reported its concern “about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed . . . development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

Bad enough. Then it got worse: News leaked Monday of the elements of a “sunset clause.” President Obama had accepted the Iranian demand that any restrictions on its program be time-limited. After which, the mullahs can crank up their nuclear program at will and produce as much enriched uranium as they want.

Sanctions lifted. Restrictions gone. Nuclear development legitimized. Iran would reenter the international community, as Obama suggested in an interview in December, as “a very successful regional power.” A few years — probably around 10 — of good behavior and Iran would be home free.

The agreement thus would provide a predictable path to an Iranian bomb. Indeed, a flourishing path, with trade resumed, oil pumping and foreign investment pouring into a restored economy.

Meanwhile, Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program is subject to no restrictions at all. It’s not even part of these negotiations.

Why is Iran building them? You don’t build ICBMs in order to deliver sticks of dynamite. Their only purpose is to carry nuclear warheads. Nor does Iran need an ICBM to hit Riyadh or Tel Aviv. Intercontinental missiles are for reaching, well, other continents. North America, for example.

Such an agreement also means the end of nonproliferation. When a rogue state defies the world, continues illegal enrichment and then gets the world to bless an eventual unrestricted industrial-level enrichment program, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is dead. And regional hyperproliferation becomes inevitable as Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others seek shelter in going nuclear themselves.

Wasn’t Obama’s great international cause a nuclear-free world? Within months of his swearing-in, he went to Prague to so declare. He then led a 50-party Nuclear Security Summit, one of whose proclaimed achievements was having Canada give up some enriched uranium.

Having disarmed the Canadian threat, Obama turned to Iran. The deal now on offer to the ayatollah would confer legitimacy on the nuclearization of the most rogue of rogue regimes: radically anti-American, deeply jihadist, purveyor of terrorism from Argentina to Bulgaria, puppeteer of a Syrian regime that specializes in dropping barrel bombs on civilians. In fact, the Iranian regime just this week, at the apex of these nuclear talks, staged a spectacular attack on a replica U.S. carrier near the Strait of Hormuz.

Well, say the administration apologists, what’s your alternative? Do you want war?

It’s Obama’s usual, subtle false-choice maneuver: It’s either appeasement or war.

It’s not. True, there are no good choices, but Obama’s prospective deal is the worst possible. Not only does Iran get a clear path to the bomb but it gets sanctions lifted, all pressure removed and international legitimacy.

There is a third choice. If you are not stopping Iran’s program, don’t give away the store. Keep the pressure, keep the sanctions. Indeed, increase them. After all, previous sanctions brought Iran to its knees and to the negotiating table in the first place. And that was before the collapse of oil prices, which would now vastly magnify the economic effect of heightened sanctions.

Congress is proposing precisely that. Combined with cheap oil, it could so destabilize the Iranian economy as to threaten the clerical regime. That’s the opening. Then offer to renew negotiations for sanctions relief but from a very different starting point — no enrichment. Or, if you like, with a few token centrifuges for face-saving purposes.

And no sunset.

That’s the carrot. As for the stick, make it quietly known that the United States will not stand in the way of any threatened nation that takes things into its own hands. We leave the regional threat to the regional powers, say, Israeli bombers overflying Saudi Arabia.

Consider where we began: six U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding an end to Iranian enrichment. Consider what we are now offering: an interim arrangement ending with a sunset clause that allows the mullahs a robust, industrial-strength, internationally sanctioned nuclear program.

Such a deal makes the Cuba normalization look good and the Ukrainian cease-fires positively brilliant. We are on the cusp of an epic capitulation. History will not be kind.

Voir encore:

An Innocent Abroad

Adam Garfinkle

American review

For all the grand speeches, President Obama has little of substance to show on the foreign policy front.
This article originally appeared in The American Review (Sydney, Australia).

If, as Winston Churchill declared on 1 October, 1939, Russia is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”, then the foreign policy of the Obama administration is an ambivalence wrapped in a mentality inside a perplexity. The latter is not as inclined to malignity as was the former in Joseph Stalin’s time, but it is just as difficult to decipher as we approach its first term halfway mark.

The fact that it is hard to speak coherently about that which turns out to be incoherent may help to account for the fact that virtually no one has offered a full-scale synthesis of the subject. Shorter sketches on discrete issues there are. Partisan op-ed length potshots and (usually) mercifully brief blog posts written by the standard assortment of fans, fanatics and fantasists both abound. But, quite uncharacteristically, little big-picture analysis has been published. Doubtless there are several reasons for this unusual state of affairs concerning the affairs of state, but the sheer difficulty of doing the deed has to be one of them.

Why the difficulty, and what might an answer to that question tell us about the subject itself? Three reasons produced by the administration’s own choices and nature come first to mind. They have to do with the interplay of policy rhetoric and behavior, management style and the key factor of personality in presidential as opposed to Westminster forms of democracy. Three other reasons of very different sorts, and having to do with existential realities not of the administration’s making, come to mind as well. One, which complements the management piece, is the notable fact that there has yet been no significant sudden crisis to condense plans and intentions into procedural precedent—no 3 am telephone call to the White House residential quarters from the National Security Advisor. The historical record shows that the precedents which matter most, those that elevate some people and privilege certain ideas, are formed from experience, not theory. So far, that experience ‘under fire’ is absent from the Obama watch.

A second extrinsic concern is a new slipperiness of definition about the subject itself. Foreign policy has always been difficult to disentangle from national security policy. Today, however, both are entwined with the extrusions of a domestic economic crisis that is beginning to look larger and more structurally grounded than was apparent in the tumultuous autumn of 2008. Foreign policy looks different to national leaders when seen through the lens of domestic priorities, and this can disorient observers used to a more conventional setup. The third extrinsic reason is so obvious that most observers neglect it: politics. Barack Obama seeks to be re-elected president in 2012, and his statecraft can not reasonably be understood in isolation from that fact.

Let us look at these factors in turn, and then assemble them in hopes of achieving a synthetic analysis. We should not be surprised if our own hard labors at understanding parallel in some ways the difficulties confronting the still new Obama administration that is our subject.

As to the rhetoric of US foreign policy in the Obama era, the one statement that may be offered without fear of contradiction is that there has been plenty of it—much of it presidential in nature. There have been not just one but two start-of-term foundational foreign policy speeches, the purpose of which is to articulate to the world the purpose of American power. The President delivered the first on 7 July 2009 in Moscow, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered the second on 15 July in Washington. Both speeches bore the structure of a standard start-of-term foundational statement in that each stressed five principles or pillars. (The problem was that the President’s five principles and those of his Secretary of State did not match up well, a fact bearing on the question of management, to which we return below.)

We also have as of late May 2010 the obligatory annual National Security Strategy, a document that is, accurately or not, taken to bear the imprimatur of an administration at its highest level. Besides these we have the presidential foreign policy addresses delivered in Ankara and Cairo, critical war policy speeches on Afghanistan and Iraq, two major presentations to the UN General Assembly, a most unusual philosophical discourse on the occasion of the President’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, and more besides in the form of interviews, news conferences, official statements on the occasion of state visits, and so on. We also have, not at all incidentally, the first Obama budget, which speaks volumes in numbers. Compared to most of his post-World War II predecessors, Obama has been a veritable one-man talkfest.

And what does all this word wrangling tell us? It tells us a good deal less than one might think, not because nothing of substance has been said, but because nearly everything has been said. Usually the President has seemed to be channeling Woodrow Wilson, dismissing balance-of-power and spheres-of-influence language as ‘so 19th century’ in favor of utopianesque ventures like Global Zero in nuclear weapons and an emphasis on taming strategic competition though legal progress towards global governance. But other times he has seemed to be channeling Reinhold Niebuhr, speaking like a moral realist who recognizes the inevitability of trade-offs and the tenacity of the will to have power among people. The sum of it is a profound ambivalence.

Beneath the rhetoric, however, there have emerged certain intellectual and policy tendencies, but these have been either unclear or unstable. For example, in its not very original but understandable desire to be the un-Dubya, the Obama administration broke from the gate offering earnest engagement to nearly every American adversary it could find—Iran, Syria, North Korea, Burma and others. With an apology or two usually to hand, it trusted that more diplomacy and less prominence for the military instruments of foreign policy would unfreeze problems large and small. At the same time that it privileged an effusive and accommodating tone, its body language was that of cold-blooded tactical realism. It sought the pragmatic deal and rigorously avoided the ‘d’-word—‘democracy’ promotion—in its rhetorical ensemble.

All this suggested that, at a time of straitened economic and political circumstances at home, the administration was eager to beat the kind of tactical retreat that would simultaneously reduce US obligations while not letting things go to hell in a hand basket. This was not an unreasonable approach, particularly with regard to bringing two difficult, expensive and divisive shooting wars to an end. Nevertheless, the policy claimed more than a tactical intent: it pointed inwards to a core source of US troubles. It strongly implied that many gridlocked danger spots around the globe were caused not by genuine conflict of interests or the aggressive designs of others, but by the wayward psychology of American machismo, its preachy holier-than-thou tone, and the temper-escalated misunderstandings that arose there from to make the world more dangerous than it needed to be. A new tone, the President seemed to think, would make a huge difference; speeches could therefore be, in some cases at least, self-executing vehicles of policy.

As it happened, the administration’s early efforts to translate a new rhetoric into policy success did not fare well. Certainly, no major problem has fallen to solution just because Obama made a speech about it. Indeed, there is scant evidence that the change in tone the President did manage to bring about has sprouted any positive concrete policy consequences at all. Polls have shown that while the President is on balance more popular abroad than his predecessor, his policies really are not—not in the Middle East, not in Europe, not in Asia.

Moreover, many of the administration’s policies are not new, and this has posed other problems for the marriage of rhetoric and reality. While what has been discontinuous has not worked (at least not yet), the major areas of policy marked by continuity are understandably not among the administration’s favorite talking points. It has stunned many, including many in the United States, that Obama’s policies in a host of sensitive areas in what used to be called the ‘global war on terror’ bear a striking resemblance to those of the two Bush administrations.

Thus, candidate Obama swore to close down the Guantanamo prison; but President Obama, finding the problem more complex than he thought once in office, has failed to do so. President Obama, while jettisoning the ‘war on terror’ for the lower-case Orwellian ‘overseas contingency operations’, has nevertheless increased the use of Predator drone strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan, many of which have the character of targeted killings. And he has duly sent forth his lawyers to explain why such killings and attempted killings, even of some self-exiled American citizens like Sheik Anwar al-Awlaqi, do not violate US law.

Before his inauguration many believed, too, that Obama would encourage lustration deep within the Central Intelligence Agency over accusations of its having been involved in torture in secret prisons abroad. He did no such thing, choosing instead to protect the autonomy and morale of CIA operations. Indeed, from all reliable accounts, as well as from Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars, his approach to national security has ramped up sharply the use of clandestine operations undertaken by the CIA and other agencies of the US government, including those engaged in warrantless wiretaps. It has to follow, whether the President yet realizes it or not, that crossing an inevitably too-inflexible legal line from time to time just goes with that territory.

The failure of the administration’s engagement initiatives to transform their targets has doubled back in certain ways on the rhetoric itself. Thus, in recent months the administration has exaggerated the success of US–Russia relations as an end in itself, when the original purpose of engaging the Russians was to gain aid for alleviating more painful pressures in Iran and Afghanistan. Some early engagement efforts, too, were counterproductive to the administration’s own aspirations. Its misguided blundering into the Israeli–Palestinian cauldron set back the re-commencement of direct Israeli–Palestinian negotiations by a year.

To his credit, the President admitted that the problem was more formidable than he had thought. But even after that bout of contrition, new mistakes along the same lines as the old ones have thrown a pall over those negotiations’ likely achievement.

Some of the administration’s engagement initiatives brought harsh criticism at home, too, and so carried political complications. This was especially true for policy towards an Iranian leadership newly challenged in the streets after its rigged June 2009 election. Even many who wished the administration well were aghast at its stony dismissal of Iranian ‘greens’ brave enough to risk their lives for freedom. Other efforts, like the outreach to Syria, simply fell flat on their faces for lack of any interest on the other side.

The attempt to truly join rhetoric and behavior into a coherent whole foundered further as the level of policy abstraction increased. Thus, in the Middle East the administration insisted that the Arab–Israeli conflict was linked to everything else that seemed to be the matter with the region (a vast exaggeration), while in relations with Russia, with its famous ‘reset’ button as another example of the belief that tone and atmospherics could trump interests in relations between major countries, it explicitly denied linkage (a sheer impossibility). It had wished to reach an understanding with Moscow on both Afghanistan and Iran without getting snared in neuralgic issues such as the Georgia–Abkhazia–South Ossetia morass. It thought to use arms control as a kind of lubricant to assuage Russian pride, a notion recommended by the fact that 95 per cent of the work on a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) had already been completed during the Bush administration—but this, it insisted, was not a form of linkage.

The Russians, for their part, insisted otherwise. They demanded payment for any help they might give, as eventually manifested in the US withdrawal of certain ballistic missile defense plans in Eastern Europe, Moscow’s refusal to unequivocally rule out the supply of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, US indulgence of Russian aid for Iran’s bringing the Bushehr nuclear plant on-line, and more besides. The administration got for all this a better understanding about logistical cooperation vis-à-vis Afghanistan and a Russian vote for tougher anti-Iran sanctions that are of dubious utility in any event. And much to the administration’s consternation and surprise, Moscow slow-rolled the START talks, less to gain advantage within that agreement than to foil administration timetables at the UN and on the ground in south-west Asia. Thus the administration learned (one hopes) that linkage is a way of life, not a procedural tap one can turn on in one place or off in another at will.

Even in areas seemingly of high priority to the administration, it could not reliably connect the rhetoric-to-policy dots. On non-proliferation policy, for example, the administration belabored efforts on its Global Zero initiative, the late April 2010 Washington Nuclear Security Summit and the May 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review conference, even as policy towards Iran and North Korea lay disconnected from these affairs. It was as if administration principals thought they could move reality by pushing on the shadows it made. Meanwhile, although US policy on the Iranian nuclear program remained unchanged—an Iranian nuclear weapons capability remains ‘unacceptable’ and no option to enforce that policy will be ‘removed from the table’—authoritative voices from within the administration signaled that the use of force against Iran is for any practical purpose not on the table as long as US efforts are still surging up and struggling on in Afghanistan.

We shall see how all this shakes out in due course, but the noises coming out of the Pentagon are inherently believable because they are logical: using force against Iran while the conflict in Afghanistan persists would be the equivalent in American politics of starting a second war. Unless a clear existential threat to the United States is believed to exist, as in World War II, sane strategists don’t open a second front while a first one is already in a mess. So when the Secretary of State, amid one of her “crippling sanctions” reveries, began musing out loud about “learning to live with an Iranian bomb”, no one was particularly surprised, least of all the Iranian leadership. Yet it seems not to have occurred to administration principals that one cannot effectively raise the prospect of a new form of extended deterrence on one hand while undermining its credibility through a Global Zero initiative on the other.

Indeed, the fuzzy indeterminacy that characterizes the Obama foreign policy holds true even at the highest echelon of strategy. The United States is the world’s pre-eminent if not hegemonic power. Since World War II it has set the normative standards and both formed and guarded the security and economic structures of the world. In that capacity it has provided for a relatively secure and prosperous global commons, a mission nicely convergent with the maturing American self-image as an exceptionalist nation. To do this, however, the United States has had to maintain a global military presence as a token of its commitment to the mission and as a means of reassurance to those far and wide with a stake in it. This has required a global network of alliances and bases, the cost of which is not small and the maintenance of which, in both diplomatic and other terms, is a full-time job.

Against this definition of strategic mission there have always been those in the United States who have dissented, holding that we do, ask and expect much too much, and get into gratuitous trouble as a result. Some have preferred outright isolationism, but most serious skeptics of the status quo have preferred a posture of ‘offshore balancing’. Remove the bases and end the alliances, they have argued, and the US government will be better able, at less risk and far less cost to the nation, to balance against threatening developments abroad, much as America’s strategic mentor, Great Britain, did throughout most of the 19th century.

This is the core conversation Americans have been having about the US global role since at least 1945. To one side we recall George McGovern’s 1972 ‘Come Home, America’ campaign plank, the Mansfield Amendment that would have removed US troops from Europe in mid-Cold War, and the early Carter administration’s proposal to remove US troops from South Korea spoken in rhythm to speeches decrying an “inordinate fear of communism”. To the other side has been almost everyone and everything else, so that the offshore approach has always been turned back, at least until now. Where is the Obama administration in this great debate? We don’t really know; the evidence, once again, suggests ambivalence.

President Obama has rejected American exceptionalism as no American president before him ever has; he did so in London on 29 April 2009, when he answered a question as follows: “I believe in American exceptionalism just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” By relativizing what has always been an absolute, Obama showed how profoundly his image of America has been influenced by the received truths of the Vietnam anti-war movement and counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. If he has a theory of American exceptionalism, it is a far subtler, humbler and more historically contingent one than the secular messianist, attenuated Protestant version that has been common to American history.

The President also believes that downward pressure on the defense budget is warranted; his projected budgets show as much, though the prospective cuts are not draconian. But in this he joins a large, politically ecumenical contingent, so his views do not imply opposition to the forward-presence approach to grand strategy. And the fact that US relations with many of its allies, notably in Europe, have worsened during Obama’s tenure is more likely a consequence of the President being distracted than it is of any active dislike for either specific allies or alliances in general. Nor does his candid view that fighting in Afghanistan for another decade and spending $1 trillion doing so is not in America’s best national interest, mean that he is reticent about using force on behalf of strategic aims when it is in America’s interest to do so. Perhaps Obama accepts the forward strategy but will end up starving it of resources to the point that it will shockingly fail some crucial test—perhaps the worst outcome of all.

Taken together, then, the administration’s track record, encompassing the whole spectrum from discrete policy arenas to the lofty heights of grand strategy, suggests the foreign policy equivalent of a Rorschach inkblot. Observers can see in it what they have wanted to see. Some have tagged the Obama administration a re-run of the Carter administration, but the fit is obviously imperfect; it’s very hard to see Carter during his first or second year in office ordering those Predator strikes, even harder to imagine him holding his tongue on human rights. Some have seen a replay of Nixon and Kissinger: Realpolitik hiding behind feel-good talk about allies and peace and the rest, trying simultaneously to play an inherited weak hand and set the stage for a grand bargain—this time with Iran instead of China. Still others think they are witness to the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: a shrewd opportunist who knows the limits set by domestic constraints, and whose main concern is national economic stabilization and social strengthening against the day when American power must meet a true test of destiny. The name game can go on because, while no great successes have sprouted forth from the Obama foreign policy, no great debacles have emerged either.

A good deal of the seeming incoherence in any US foreign policy administration stems from management decisions made early on in a president’s tenure. How a president wishes to set up his foreign and national security policy system is a function of his personality, though, as we will see below, that hardly exhausts the ways that a president’s personality affects US foreign policy.

There are as many ways to set up the system as there are presidents, but, in general, a president will prefer either formal or informal structures, and either a big or a small tent of key advisers. The less formal and smaller, the more centered in the White House a policy system is likely to be; the more formal and larger, the less White House-centric a policy system is likely to be. Classic examples: president Eisenhower’s National Security Council was formal, systemically organized and sprawlingly large; president John F Kennedy’s was less formal and much smaller. Both models have at times worked well, and both have at times worked poorly; outcomes derive from the quality of the leaders overseeing the structure as much or more than the structure itself. But structure is not irrelevant. What a large formal system gains in coverage, the use of institutional memory, bureaucratic buy-in, and an enhanced capacity to both plan and implement it may lose in speed, flexibility and creativity. What a smaller, more informal system may gain in speed, flexibility and creativity, even to the point of enabling genuine boldness, it may lose in coverage, cross-issue coherence, bureaucratic support and the ability to implement its own directives.

President Obama has chosen the small, White House-centered model, and he has made clear that no matter how pressed he is with domestic policy issues, he and he alone commands his foreign policy system, not he together with his National Security Adviser as in most prior White House-centered systems. This is as far a cry as one can imagine from what Warren Harding declared after his inauguration in 1921, when he pointed to his secretary of state, Charles Evans Hughes, and directed all media questions about foreign relations to him. The problem is that one person, or even 35 key appointees holed up in the Old Executive Office building, cannot possibly manage the foreign/national security policy of the United States.

There are two and only two ways to handle the mismatch between a small decision system and an enormous array of decision points: prioritization and delegation. President Obama has left no doubt what he cares most about. He cares about ridding the United States of its combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan without jeopardizing rock-bottom US security equities in those countries. Now that he has seen the intelligence at a new level and in more detail, he is concerned about terrorism, which leads him to be particularly concerned about Pakistan. In turn and much related, he cares deeply about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, both to rogue states and to terrorists, understanding that either would likely be strategic game-changers. As already noted, he seems to think that the Arab–Israeli conflict, especially the Palestinian dimension of it, is more intrinsically linked to this entire problem set than it actually is, and so he has reasoned that the so-called peace process must be a high priority. In the beginning of the administration, too, Russia held a high priority because, as has already been noted, it was seen as an important tactical ally in dealing with both Iran and Afghanistan. China mattered as well, of course, but less for its growing geopolitical importance than for its role in the global economy.

For most of these priority concerns the President appointed a special envoy who reports directly to him. The envoy in effect for the wars is the Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, to whom he shrewdly delegated the gist of these policy management burdens—shrewdly because Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration, gives him political cover from two directions: he blunts Republican criticism and to a point his presence distances the President symbolically from the wars themselves should things go wrong. His ‘envoy’ for all Russia/NATO issues is the Vice-President, Joe Biden, who thinks he understands them and apparently has persuaded the President as much.

This leaves nearly everything else—the care and feeding of various and sundry allies, Latin America and the Caribbean, most of Asia, all of Oceania, the Balkans, the Arctic, and a whole host of functional issues from ‘trafficking in persons’ to international religious freedom—delegated to the State Department. This puts the State Department in an even more minor position than usual, and tips its internal scales away from foreign policy to foreign relations, seemingly a subtle but really a significant difference because in a White House-centered system the State Department cannot act boldly or take major initiatives. This arrangement also delegates by default major aspects of China policy and trade policy to the Treasury and Commerce departments, respectively, and leaves a large dollop of policy towards Mexico with the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

The President’s personal style, of which more in a moment, has lent itself to this arrangement for several reasons. One is that he could place his key political operatives, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod (both now gone on to other jobs), closer to the policy action. Another, however, is concern that the inter-agency process in the Executive Branch does not work well. The subject was the focus of a major commission study before and during the transition, the Project on National Security Reform, on which several members of the incoming administration were involved—including both the President’s former national security advisor, General Jim Jones, and his first national intelligence director, Admiral Dennis Blair. The special envoy tack comes directly from that study.

As for the politics of the thing, President Obama is not yet persuaded that Hillary Clinton’s political threat to him has ended. His decision to appoint her Secretary of State, and her decision to accept the position, were both fraught with unexpressed but well understood political calculation. Turning Ms Clinton and the State Department into relatively bit players in the policymaking process was not accidental. The lack of genuine trust in that relationship also explains why the two July 2009 foundational speeches were so uncharacteristically uncoordinated with one another.

The administration has already paid a price for the President’s management decisions. To give but one of many examples, in July 2009 the president managed to rile a valuable ally, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, through complete inadvertence. Having unilaterally blessed the expansion of the G-8 into the G-20 in the face of global economic instability, he ordered members of his administration to seek the rebalancing of voting protocols within International Monetary Fund and the World Bank so that they might better reflect contemporary (and idealized) world power distributions. As he planned his own Global Zero initiative, too, offices at the National Security Council and State Department were busy continuing their work from the transition on how to reform the UN by reshaping the Security Council.

One of their ideas was to create a single European Union seat in place of the two owned by Britain and France. As is the way of government, each of these initiatives proceeded unaware of what others were doing. And so it happened that, within the course of about a month, three core symbols of what remains of French grandeur were attacked by the US government: the status of France as a nuclear power, the status of France as a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, and the status of France as a major player in international financial affairs. It is the job, in this case, of the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs to anticipate inadvertencies of this sort, and to stop a runaway policy train before it flies off the trestle. Phillip Gordon, the current Assistant Secretary, is particularly expert on France and knows Sarkozy; he even translated one of his books into English while working at the Brookings Institution. He was aware of the ‘perfect storm’ brewing in US–French relations, but whatever he tried to do to avert damage it failed to stop the French volcano from erupting—which it did when Sarkozy fumed aloud in the halls of the UN building about how the president was “living in an imaginary” as opposed to a real world. It was not easy to make the French nostalgic for the days of George W Bush, but the Obama team managed it. This is what comes from trying to run the entire foreign policy of the United States from the White House.

Read any serious history of American diplomacy and it becomes readily apparent how central the character of the president is to it. One of the great mysteries of understanding US foreign policy today in its essence is that, more than any other occupant of the Oval Office, Americans and foreigners alike simply do not have a good feel for who Barack Obama really is. Aside from being relatively young and recent upon the national political scene, he doesn’t fit into any category with which we are accustomed to understand intellectual and temperamental origins. More importantly, Obama’s ‘mentality’ is not only hard for outsiders to read, he is, thanks to the facts of his nativity and life circumstances, an unusually self-constructed personality. He is black in an obvious physical way but culturally not black in any significant way. He is a person who, finding himself naturally belonging nowhere, has striven to shape himself into a person who belongs everywhere. As his books suggest, he is a man who has put himself through more reconstructive psychological surgery than any American politician in memory. A few of the resultant characteristics are critically important for understanding how he serves as both president and commander-in-chief.

Obama has understood above all that he must keep his cool. His cultivated aloofness is absolutely necessary to his successful political personality, for he cannot allow himself to exude emotion lest he raise the politically fatal specter of ‘the emotional black man’. His analytical mien, however, has made it hard for him to bond with foreign heads of state and even with some members of his own staff. His relationship with General Jones, for example, lacked rapport to the point that it seems to be a major reason for Jones resigning his position.

But Obama’s ‘cool’ does not imply a stunted capacity for emotional intelligence. To the contrary: he knows unerringly where the emotional balance of a conversation needs to be, and it is for this reason that Obama’s self-confidence is so imperturbable. He knows he can read other people without letting them read him. And this is why, in parallel with the complex of his racial identity, he never defers to others psychologically or emotionally, not towards individuals and not, as with the US military, towards any group.

The combination of ‘cool’ and empathetic control helps explain Obama’s character as commander-in-chief. He is respected in the ranks for sacking General Stanley McChrystal after the latter’s inexcusable act of disrespect and insubordination. That was control at work. But US troops do not feel that Obama has their back. He thinks of them as victims, not warriors, and one does not defer to victims. His ‘cool’, as well as his having had no prior contact with the professional military ethos at work, enjoins a distance that diminishes his effectiveness as commander-in-chief.

Obama’s mastery at projecting himself as self-confident, empathetic and imperturbable has also compensated for his lack of original policy ideas. Whether in law school, on the streets of Chicago, in the US Senate or in the race for the White House, he has commanded respect by being the master orchestrator of the ideas, talents and ambitions of others. Many claim that his personality archetype is that of the ‘professor’, but this is not so; it is that of the judge. It is the judge who sits above others; they defer to him, not he to them. It is the judge who bids others speak while he holds his peace and shows no telling emotion. It is the judge who settles disputes and orders fair and just resolution. It is the judge whose presumed intelligence trumps all others.

This kind of personality archetype can succeed well within American politics. In this sense it is precisely Charles Evans Hughes, a former chief justice of the US Supreme Court, not Carter, Wilson, Niebuhr, Nixon or FDR who stands as the true forebear of Barack Obama. But in the international arena even the American president cannot pull off a judge act and get away with it. Wilson tried and failed (or was that a prophet act?). The American president among his international peers is but one of many, perhaps primus inter pares but certainly without a mandate to act like it. Obama cum ‘judge’ has not impressed these peers: not among our European allies, who are ill at ease with his aloofness; not among Arabs and Muslims, who think him ill-mannered for bad-mouthing his predecessors while being hosted in foreign lands; not among Russians and Chinese, who think him gullible and guileless. Obama may still be popular on the ‘streets’ of the world because of the color of his skin, the contrast he draws to his predecessor, the general hope for renewal he symbolizes, and his willingness to play to chauvinist sentiment abroad by apologizing for supposed past American sins; but this matters not at all in the palaces where decisions are made. As his novelty has worn off, he impresses less and less.

One reason President Obama does not impress the foreigners who matter is that he looks to be a figure in political distress at home. They know, as does the President, that his legacy will be forged in the context of the American domestic moment. Success at home can empower him abroad, but the opposite is not the case. That is why it is impossible to assess the Obama foreign policy bereft of its domestic political context.

When Obama entered office, the economy justifiably dominated his time and energy. Once he gained a moment to sit back and take stock, his attention flowed to what he cares most about: issues of social and economic fairness within America. Thus, even a man who has insisted on monopolizing his own foreign policy saw it ultimately as a holding action against more urgent and important domestic challenges. This explains the remark of a confidante of General Jones, that “after all that Obama had done to practically beg him to take that job… Jim had the sense that Obama didn’t really care.” Yet the decision to privilege healthcare over energy policy was a grave error, similar to the one president Clinton made in 1993 and, in reverse order of policy domains, to the one president Carter made in 1977. One does not come newly enthroned to a place like Washington and try first thing to tackle the hardest, most special-interest encrusted issue in town. That is bound to exhaust more political capital than a novice president can afford. Obama’s victory on the healthcare issue was meager on its own terms and decidedly Pyrrhic politically. It never grew the legs to burnish his image more broadly, whether at home or, except very briefly, abroad.

It soon became clear, too, that a man who bravely campaigned against the K-Street ‘transactional culture’, which he identified as the root of US political dysfunction, lacked the power once in office to do anything about it beyond decreeing a few feckless White House edicts about hiring lobbyists for executive branch jobs. When the President decided on the stimulus package, when he put together his first budget, when he needed the healthcare and then the financial reform bills drafted, what did he do? Having few ideas of his own, only the remnants of a campaign staff and, most importantly, very few close political allies, he had no choice but to turn to the Democratic leadership in Congress to commute these tasks. This, to put it mildly, is no way to fight the K-Street transactional culture. Foreign leaders saw this as well, and they saw the widespread (if largely unfair) charges of leadership forfeit over the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The conclusion they drew is that President Obama is a weak leader, a conclusion that high unemployment figures, Obama’s falling approval ratings and the results of the mid-term election have since done nothing to alter.

Clearly, this is only one way that American domestic circumstances cast their shadow on American foreign policy in the age of Obama. As foreign policy has become both inseparable from and subordinate to economic concerns, these concerns play back on foreign policy from several angles. They bring pressure for a more austere defense budget, which in turn affects key planning judgments with major strategic consequences in the future. They promote concern about trade deficits and distorted international capital flows that directly affect US policy towards China and thus, at least indirectly, towards a dozen or so important allies.

Political weakness and the subordination of foreign policy to domestic priorities also join to explain the contours of the President’s trip to the United Nations in September 2010. The President devoted his yearly General Assembly speech to a political need: rebalancing a perceived lack of commitment to democracy and human rights promotion in US policy. Though delivered before an audience of prestigious foreign diplomats and heads of state in Turtle Bay, the speech’s real audience was composed of American voters in advance of the November mid-term election. The real business of the trip, however, was transacted in a private two hour meeting with the Chinese Premier, trying to convince him to realign the value of China’s currency in the interest of greater long-term international economic stability. The Chinese military is building fast; China is asserting its sovereignty in its trans-territorial waters in ways never before seen, all as the capabilities and resources of the US Navy are shrinking. But what takes pride of place in US diplomacy towards China? Trade and money. Is this shortsighted? Perhaps, perhaps not; it is, in any case, politically unavoidable, for if Obama does not raise the specter of tariffs, the US Congress will.

So we are brought to politics. An American administration may be compared to a tea ball within a teapot. The tea ball brings name and flavor to the brew, but without the liquid surroundings and the element of heat to make the whole thing boil, nothing much would happen.

Barack Obama is a master of the political arts. To expect such a man to simply set aside that mastery once president is to expect too much. Moreover, politics provides the unifying energy that binds the various parts of a president’s obligations and aspirations together. Its sources are manifold but its consequence is seamless. Just as one rock-solid reason that Lyndon Johnson persisted as he did in the Vietnam War was to protect politically what he cared about most—his Great Society program—so Barack Obama’s decision on 1 December 2009 to juxtapose a July 2011 exit date next to his decision to “surge” 30,000 more US troops into Afghanistan turned on his need, as he reportedly expressed it to Senator Lindsay Graham, “not to lose the whole Democratic Party” before major votes on healthcare and other legislation.

Some American critics have complained precisely on this point. It is standard practice in Washington to condemn the insertion of political motives into foreign and national security policy decisions. But it is not, because it cannot be, standard practice to actually desist from it, at least much of the time—and, if anything, Thomas Donilon’s elevation to the post of National Security Advisor increases the weight of political factors in the administration’s decision-making processes.

If we now try to put all the foregoing factors together, what do we find assembled? We find a president in a tough spot who most likely does not know if he is inspired more by Wilson or Niebuhr, because reality thus far has not forced him to choose. We don’t know if he is resigned to a strategy of forward deployment or desirous of an offshore alternative because he likely doesn’t know either, having never been posed the question in so many words. We find a man whose inexperience leaves him with an incomplete grasp of what he gives up by asserting such close control over foreign policy from the White House. We see a man whose personality does not function abroad as successfully as it has at home, and so cannot with brilliant speeches alone dissolve the conflicting interests that define the cauldron of international politics into a comforting pot of warm milk. We see a man commanding a decision system untested by crisis, and one whose core issues remain unfocused for all the distractions of other challenges in his path. We see, lastly but not least, a man whose political instincts are no more detachable from him than his own shadow.

From all these sources, bumping against and mixing with one another, comes the foreign policy of Barack Obama. Where the man will lead that policy, or the policy lead the man (the rest of us in tow), is now driven by the fact that the President is adrift conceptually since his initial engagement strategies did not succeed. Obama now awaits the crisis that will forge his legacy, but what that crisis will be, and whether the president will meet it with the American national interest or his personal political concerns foremost in mind, no one knows. No one can possibly know.
Adam Garfinkle is Editor of The American Interest.

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The silent death of American grand strategy
Over the past quarter century, the American political class, its leadership included, seems to have lost the ability to think strategically about the world and America’s place in it. The reinforcing reasons for this are both remote and proximate, some buried deep within American political culture and others the result of recent and, one hopes, ephemeral distractions. But whatever the reasons may be, four generic phenomena have resulted from the recent abeyance of strategic thought.

First, the error quotient of US foreign policy has risen, and even great powers ultimately have limited margins for error. Second, US policy has become largely reactive, particularly since American leaders’ quality time has been all but monopolised by the deep post-2008 economic swoon and accompanying signs of equally deep political dysfunction. Third, the US reputation for foreign policy constancy and competence has suffered, not least in encouraging revisionist actors to take advantage of the US attention deficit. And these three phenomena have together stimulated a fourth: a shift by default from the US grand strategy in place since the end of World War II to one absentmindedly bearing a different set of prospective risks and benefits.

None of this is particularly good news for American allies.

Unlike classical European and Asian statesmen, American leaders have never developed a tradition of formal grand-strategy making. There is no American version of Clausewitz or Sun Tzu, and comparatively little grand-strategy literature written by native-born intellectuals and leaders exists. This is partly because of the idealistic anti–“Old World” mercantilist bias of the Founders’ Enlightenment ideology. It is also partly because, after the first few decades of American independence and the proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine, which warned European imperialism away from the New World, the nation no longer found itself locked in strategic competition with proximate near-equals. The American state’s initial grand strategy, which was to acquire as much of North America as possible, arose ineluctably from the conditions in which the young nation found itself. Whether it was called Jefferson’s “empire of liberty” or “manifest destiny,” this first, developmentalist grand strategy gained nearly universal, if mostly tacit, consensus. There was no need to write formal tracts about it and argue over them in private conclave, and no one did except in rare cases such as Seward’s Folly — the US purchase of Alaska in 1867.

While this first American grand strategy was simple and hence clear, as all grand strategies worth their salt must be, it was not for the saintly or faint of heart. As Machiavelli put it just past 500 years ago, every benign political order rests on antecedent crimes. The American case is no exception: the barbarous treatment of native Americans, slavery, an early avarice directed toward Canada that led to the War of 1812, and the Mexican War, which even as unsentimental a man as Ulysses S. Grant condemned as one of the most unjust wars ever inflicted by a stronger power upon a weaker one. America’s westward expansion was also a necessary precondition for the worst calamity in American history: the Civil War. Withal, the strategy succeeded and by so doing exhausted itself. By the time Frederick Jackson Turner famously wrote about the “closing of the frontier” at the end of the 19th century, the strategy had become obsolete, notwithstanding some unrequited but on balance faint imperial yearnings directed toward the Caribbean and, of course, Hawaii.

At that moment in American history, following the Spanish–American War, several strands came together to produce the second American grand strategy. Alfred Thayer Mahan, the great American navalist, fused his grasp of the British strategic tradition with the newly developing academic notion of geopolitics and out came the template for American anti-hegemonism. Long since unworried about a peer competitor in the Western Hemisphere or the return of a European power in strength to the New World, the grand strategy of the United States as a maritime-oriented World Island would be to oppose the emergence of a hegemonic power in either peninsular Europe or East Asia.

This was not a principled anti-hegemonic stance, for Mahan and others were unperturbed about America’s own New World dominance. It rather flowed from two different principles: First, in a technologically dynamic age, the impossibility that any power at either bracket of Eurasia could amass sufficient resources to literally endanger US security could no longer be taken for granted; and second, no power should be allowed to compel the United States to undertake a level of mobilisation that would undermine the small-government, no-standing-army injunctions of the Founders.

How to implement this strategy? Through self-help and key alliances. Self-help consisted mainly of building up the US Navy to world-class scale; hence President Theodore Roosevelt sent the Great White Fleet around the world in 1905; the construction of the Panama Canal, completed in 1913, needs also be seen in this light. It consisted in Asia too, many supposed, of US control of the Philippines. The alliance consisted in riding the coattails of the Royal Navy, that great fleet which bestrode the empire on which the sun never set, and aligning America’s diplomacy too, where possible, with that of Britain. Together, this maritime strategy could be aptly termed one of offshore balancing, which fairly describes the British post-Napoleonic Wars grand strategy that inspired Mahan to devise it.

American strategy also depended for its implementation on deft diplomacy to complement growing US wealth and power. For example, after World War I, Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, beyond convening the famed Washington Naval Conference of 1922, set to clean up the imperial detritus in the Pacific occasioned by the collapse of the German Empire. A series of linked negotiations involving the United States, Britain, Japan, and France established a new multilateral security balance upon the exit of Germany from the Marshall, Caroline, and Mariana Islands, Samoa, and Shantung Province in China — which Japan had seized during the World War but, thanks to American diplomatic efforts, was returned to China in 1922.

Alas, the new Pacific order depended on all participants keeping up their insurance premiums, so to speak — but with the coming of the Great Depression America’s security investments all but ceased. American military weakness, particularly its drawdown in naval power, turned the Philippines from potential strategic asset into real strategic liability in the face of rising Japanese militarism. The result was the onset of the Pacific War in 1941, the first direct fist-on-fist test of America’s Mahanian grand strategy.

World War II supplied proper nouns to American grand strategy as World War I never had. In Europe the feared hegemon was Nazi Germany; in Asia it was Japan. America’s guiding wartime two-front tactic, as the immediate application of its larger grand strategy, was so simple that it consisted of but two words: “Europe First.” The strategy was implemented successfully and, after the war, the United States found its own military forces stationed on the brackets of Eurasia, and with both its British and French allies much weaker for war’s wear. As the names of potential hegemons changed from Nazi Germany to Soviet Russia in Europe, and from Japan to Communist China in Asia, America’s two-front anti-hegemonic grand strategy changed in two ways. First, the pro-democracy ideological dimension of the Cold War, long latent in American thinking about global affairs, merged with the anti-hegemonic objectives of US grand strategy. Second, the mode of its implementation changed from offshore balancing to forward deployment. Together, these changes gave rise, in George Kennan’s famous term, to a strategy called “containment.”

Whereas in the past, the US Navy, in concert with the British Navy, was the principal military instrument of US grand strategy, after the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the outbreak of war in Korea the main instrument also came to include the US Air Force, now with nuclear weapons, deployed both at home and in bases ringing the Soviet Union and Communist China. The ongoing aim of US grand strategy now was to deter geostrategic advance by either hostile would-be hegemon, who were believed to be in league with each other for reasons of ideological affinity, but also to suppress security competitions in Europe and Asia that might provide opportunities or temptations for an adversary’s advance toward a hegemonic position.

Since US interests in both brackets of Eurasia were relatively impartial compared to those of local powers, and whereas US strength was truly unparalleled, American strategy attracted many local associates. This enabled US diplomacy to assemble a robust but flexible alliance system spanning Europe and Asia. The ideological and economic dimensions of US policy, also attractive to many abroad, became complements to this policy according to the Tocquevillian conviction that prosperous democracies make for better strategic partners. The US Navy and Air Force thus became, in effect, the ante that allowed Washington to participate in the geopolitics of the two regions, and the alliance structures, in turn, provided a politically supportable means by which US power could combine with that of others. By the advent of the Eisenhower Administration, if not a few years earlier, the grand strategy of the United States was sufficiently clear that a single sentence sufficed to express it: Prevent the emergence of a hegemon over peninsular Europe or East Asia by suppressing security competitions through the forward deployment of US forces, and through a supportive pro-democracy, pro-trade diplomacy.

Through the end of the Cold War in 1989–91, that was America’s post-World War II grand strategy. The strategy did not work perfectly, as the Vietnam War debacle illustrates. It also required some adjustment, for example to add the greater Middle East to its ambit, not mainly for its own sake, but for that region’s instrumental significance to European and Asian security in a new oil-fired age. Yet despite the tendency of the ideological aspect of the struggle to kick up much obfuscating dust, on a good day most senior American leaders, certainly those in the relevant Executive Branch offices and in the upper ranks of the military, were more or less able to articulate that single sentence.

No more. As Walter Russell Mead put it recently, “the habit of supremacy developed in the last generation” caused the “strategic dimension, in the sense of managing intractable relations with actual or potential geopolitical adversaries, [to] largely disappear … from American foreign policy debates.” That, in turn, has allowed the recurrence of those legal and moral modes of thinking about foreign and national security policy that George Kennan and many others tirelessly warned against. What passes for thought about strategic problems now transpires through what Mead calls “an uncomplicated atmosphere of Whig determinism” that manages to somehow turn Anglo-American institutions and values into supposed universal best practice.

This is not a partisan issue. Both American liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, each in their own ways, have long been bridled to Whig views of history. Both were disciplined from indulging in excessive secular messianism during the Cold War by the realism-inducing spectre of clear and present dangers. In the Cold War’s wake, however, resurgent Whiggery has trumped all — even during and just after the shock of 9/11.

The Clinton Administration acted as though the great wave of post–Cold War globalisation represented a cosmic confluence of American power, interests, and values all wonderfully woven together. Strategy was subsumed by multi-dimensional triumph, so that all foreign policy need do was remove lingering obstacles and deal with the occasional atavistic rogue-regime’s response to the galloping obsolescence of its ways of doing business. In consequence, funding for the military and foreign assistance plummeted.

The Bush 43 Administration held a similar view, except that the now obviously underestimated scale of the aforementioned atavistic reactions evoked a more muscular and ambitious promotion of presumed universal best practice. For a short time, President Bush’s “forward strategy for freedom” seemed to become the new US grand strategy. Unfortunately, the misinterpretation of the origins and nature of the 9/11 problem, as it careened through the prism of American exceptionalism, led to decisions that compounded US burdens and devalued resources, in the form of America’s alliances and its “soft power” reservoirs, that had long been vital to US grand strategy.

To take a signal example of the former, while the principal military instruments of US grand strategy are its Navy and Air Force, the doubled US defence budget in the decade after 9/11 overwhelmingly flowed to the Army and the Marines as the recapitalisation of the Navy and the Air Force languished. Had American leaders recognised and affirmed what US grand strategy actually was, launching and (mis) fighting two land wars in Asia Minor would have been the last things they would have chosen to do. By the time the second Bush term ended, the pre-9/11 strategy had not been restored, though US military and diplomatic activities remained wedded to it. But no replacement stood in its place as the 2008 economic crisis descended.

With that shock there soon came a new American administration preoccupied with domestic problems and even more prone than its post-Cold War predecessors to think in legal-moral categories rather than in strategic ones. The combination, with rare “kinetic” exceptions such as the misadventure in Libya and the failed “surge” in Afghanistan, has turned US foreign policy into an extended duck-and-cover drill. These tendencies are illustrated in the Syria and Iran policy portfolios, where a focus on non-proliferation issues has related to second tier the larger strategic stakes raised by the cases seen separately, and especially seen together. Meanwhile, the “pivot to Asia” of the first Obama term was misframed as an either-or choice, and its naval and air force components remain too resource-straitened for either adversaries or allies to yet take it very seriously.

Insofar as there is any larger thinking about strategy in the current administration, perhaps a coherent view actually does exist despite the appearance of ad hocery. That view, an optimistic or benign realism, is said to posit that the United States can withdraw from virtually all European and most Middle Eastern issues without risk because a more or less friendly post-American balance of power is latent in the structure of international affairs and will bloom forth if only America gets out of the way and lets it do so.

Such a view, identified with a neo-offshore balancing perspective, certainly exists in academic circles. Whether this view is truly characteristic of high-level Obama Administration thinking is difficult to know. The signs are ambiguous. Even outward indications of the existence of a coherent strategic view, such as the 2010 roll-out of the Navy–Air Force “Air-Sea Battle” construct — a quintessential offshore balancing proposition — sometimes turn out to be less than meets the eye. In that case, the rollout reflected less a substantive or doctrinal adjustment and more a joint attempt by two beleaguered services to advance their claims to larger defence budget shares.

Perhaps a switch from a forward-deployment method of preventing hostile hegemons in favour of an offshore-balancing one is wise. Perhaps the United States cannot afford the post–World War strategy for political reasons; perhaps, too, it runs more risks than vital US interests warrant in a post–Cold War environment. Certainly it is irresponsible to maintain commitments without willing the means to redeem them en extremis — that is the sort of derangement of ends and means that birthed the Pacific War. Perhaps the anti-hegemonic state-based objective itself is outdated, and that the threat of apocalyptical terrorism joined to weapons of mass destruction is now the principle problem to be addressed.

One would think that, under the circumstances, Americans among themselves and with allies would be discussing these issues. After all, differing means of executing an anti-hegemonic strategy demand different mixes of military-technical, intelligence, diplomatic, financial, and other skill sets. Each requires different kinds of alliances and asks different things of allies. Some regions seem more amenable to stable do-it-yourself local balances than others; but which are which? The potentially destabilising consequences of transitioning from one posture to the other, too, need to be thought through.

Unfortunately, little in the way of a strategic debate is discernible in Washington, either within the administration at high levels or among the political class at large. There is still little recognition here in Washington even of what US grand strategy has been for nearly the past seventy years, hence no basis from which to discuss alternatives. Instead, US thinking, if one can call it that, is being driven by financial strictures, some of them, like sequestration, self-inflicted beyond necessity or logic. In short, the United States is sliding toward an offshore-balancing grand strategy by default, without discussing its implications and without even calling it by its proper name.

A nation does not have a grand strategy if those responsible for devising and implementing it cannot articulate what it is. American grand strategy thus seems to have suffered a strange, silent death. One wishes to say rest in peace, as with any saddening death, but that wish may very well go unrequited. Although relatively few Americans have noticed the problem, senior figures among several allies and associates have. American commitments to allies have nowhere been formally rescinded, but the credibility of those commitments is now everywhere doubted. Even America’s larger competitors have reason to be anxious, for when the rule-maker and provider of global common security goods for more than half a century appears to suddenly abdicate much of that role, uncertainty and perhaps a bit of trouble cannot be far behind.

Voir de même:

Star-spangled anger
It was the day religion and politics collided. Ten years on, what has America done to itself?

Adam Garfinkle

American review

As with the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the assassination of President Kennedy, all adult Americans know where they were on September 11, 2001. On that Tuesday morning I was five blocks from the White House at the 5th-floor offices of National Affairs in Washington, an office that housed both The National Interest and The Public Interest magazines. The Washington Monument was in its usual place outside my south-west-facing office window as were, of course, the streets below. Once it had become clear that an attack was in progress, national and local media assumed a slightly manic tone. Most private offices reacted by letting their staff go, resulting in gridlocked mayhem throughout the city.

The headless-chicken reaction of the nation’s capital to the September 11 attacks disgusted me. Having lived in Israel, it had become second nature for me to assume a stoical mien in times like these, lest one contribute to an enemy’s designs. Just as, Eleanor Roosevelt once observed, no one can make a person feel inferior without his or her consent, no one can terrorise you unless you co-operate. I was against co-operating, so I ordered my staff to stay put, do a day’s work and go home as usual. Of course we would use the phone to assure relatives and friends that we were safe and we would monitor the news; if necessary, we would adjust to further events. We all stayed until past 5pm, emerging later for the evening commute into a virtual ghost town.

In the past decade, I have often thought of those first few hours after the attacks, and I have come to realise the basic error that US leaders made was to inadvertently co-operate with an enemy too weak to achieve its ends in any other way. To me, September 11 did not « change everything ». I thought that, whatever our private worries about the future, the public face of American leadership should radiate optimism and courage, not anger or fear.

Of course, we needed to prevent follow-on attacks. That, it seemed clear to me, meant urgently removing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that had sheltered and abetted the September 11 plotters. We also eventually needed to take out, in one way or another, those who might be planning more attacks, wherever they might be. The Bush doctrine version 1.0, rolled out in the immediate wake of the attack, which held regimes complicit with terrorism to be equally liable for American retribution, was entirely appropriate. Nor did I object to President Bush terming the situation a war, for that was necessary to tell people what was at stake, to break with the failed policies of the past, and to make available certain prudent presidential legal authorities. Still, despite the need to act, I was sure we should not take ourselves psychological hostage, as the Carter administration had allowed to occur after the US Embassy in Tehran was seized by Iranian fanatics in November 1979. We should not allow the attacks to define or monopolize US foreign policy as a whole.

Alas, that is precisely what the administration did allow. The only senior US leader who seemed to take the approach I thought best was Colin Powell, whose influence had been marginalised in the administration. He did not believe that the terrorist threat was of an existential nature that required the cashiering of American strategic principles, allies or institutions. But other administration principals thought differently, quickly accepting a theory-in-waiting, widely ascribed to so-called neo-conservatives, of why September 11 had happened: a democracy deficit in the Arab-Muslim world had forced frustrated citizens into the mosque, where they had been easy prey for religious charlatans and demagogues. The answer was to open up space for dissent, democratic debate and the social balm supposedly provided by market economics. Then these stultified societies could breathe and develop normally, and would not produce demonic mass murderers like Osama bin Laden.

Thus did fear boomerang, in the way that human emotions predictably do, to encourage a form of hubris fed from the wells of post-Cold War triumph (and triumphalism). The September 11 attacks had the effect of propelling US policy to do more at a time when its capacity to influence events had diminished thanks to the end of Cold War bipolarity and the diffusion of lethal technologies to weak state and non-state actors. It propelled the US to ramp up its metabolism and inflate its definition of vital interests rather than calmly discern distinctions among them. Unrivalled US power, pre-eminently of the military kind, would end the threat by transforming the political cultures of more than two dozen Arab and Muslim-majority countries into liberal democracies. This solution in turn depended on the validity of what was known as democratic peace theory—that democracies do not make war on other democracies—and on cherished Tocquevillian views of the pacific nature of egalitarian democratic societies.

Contrary to what many claim, this theory of the sources of September 11 existed within the administration well before the Iraq war began. It existed within Bush’s mind, encouraged by, among others, his speechwriter Michael Gerson and strategic visitors like Natan Sharansky; but it did not have the force of formal policy. The theory emerged into public view when, in February 2003, Bush gave a major speech at the American Enterprise Institute in which all the basic themes of this view found expression. That constituted the Bush doctrine version 3.0, now layered on top of version 2.0, characterised by the pre-emption plank famously inserted into the September 2002 National Security Strategy.

What became known as « the forward strategy for freedom » then found full expression from the bully pulpit in November 2003, with the President’s marquee speech at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The Strategy was then canonised in his Second Inaugural of January 2005, which Thomas Wolfe aptly dubbed the globalisation of the Monroe Doctrine. The worse things got in Iraq, and the more the WMD rationale for that campaign lost persuasiveness, the higher the rhetorical bar of democracy promotion rose—a classic case of cognitive dissonance at work in what is colloquially called in American poker-speak « doubling down ».

The rush to closure over a fearful shock to US security interests, and the hubristic response to it, was part of a longstanding pattern in American foreign policy history. The Bush administration’s reactions to September 11 were not the work of any neo-con cabal. Self-avowed neo-conservatives composed a group that was always smaller, more internally diverse and less influential than is often supposed. Rather, neo-cons struck chords very familiar to American history and political culture, chords that even national interest conservatives like Vice- President Cheney and Defence Secretary Rumsfeld could harmonise with. Had there been no neo-cons, the pattern would have asserted itself anyway in some other ideological dialect.

The pattern of which I speak, conceived by the historian Walter A. McDougall, consists of four phases that tend to repeat in cycles. First, there is a shock to the system, usually in the form of a surprise attack: the shot fired at Fort Sumter in April 1861, the sinking of the Maine in Havana Harbour in 1898, the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, Pearl Harbour in 1941, and September 11 in 2001. In the phase directly after the shock, the leader of the day—Lincoln, McKinley, Wilson, FDR, George W. Bush—vows to resurrect the status quo ante and punish the evildoers. That corresponds to Lincoln’s vow to save the Union, Wilson’s vow to defend the right of American free passage on the high seas, and Bush’s vow to find and punish the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks so that America’s minimally acceptable standard of near perfect security could be restored.

But third, in the course of mobilising the national effort to achieve the limited goals set after the shock, the transcendent God-talk begins and the effort soon becomes enmeshed in the sacred narrative of American exceptionalism. This leads to a distension of goals and expectations, to geopolitical amnesia, and to what cognitive psychologists call a dominant strategy that is impervious to negative feedback and logical contradiction.

And so, in the September 11 decade, we chose a war that thoughtlessly destroyed the regional balance against Iranian hegemonism without even stopping to ask about the broader implications of a Shi’a government in Baghdad. One does not, apparently, descend to the smarminess of geopolitical analysis when one is doing the Lord’s work. So, too, did we turn what could and should have remained a punitive military operation in Afghanistan into a quixotic, distracted, underfunded nation- and state-building campaign. And so, too, did we conflate all our adversaries into one monolithic demon—typical of eschatological thinking. The administration conflated secular, Ba’athi Iraq with the apocalyptical Muslim fanatics of al-Qaeda, and so went to war against a country uninvolved in 9/11 whose threat to America was not, as is commonly claimed, zero, but which hardly justified, or excused, the haste and threadbare planning with which the war was launched and conducted.

Then, in the fourth phase, overreach leads to setbacks (the Korean War, for example, and the Iraq insurgency) and regrets (like the Vietnam War), ultimately resulting in at least temporary retrenchment … until the cycle starts all over again. This four-phase model fits the September 11 decade to a tee. The attack itself is of course phase 1; the Bush doctrine version 1.0 represents phase 2; the Second Inaugural signals the full efflorescence of phase 3; and the election of Barack Obama marks the consolidation of phase 4.

It matters in all this, however, whether the ideological vehicle that propels phase 3 forward even remotely reflects or aligns with reality. When it does, as it did during and after World War II, no one pays attention since things tend then to turn out well. In the case of the September 11 decade, unfortunately, it did not. There have been basically two problems with it. First, the « forward strategy » for freedom’s ascription of causality for Islamist terrorism is mistaken. Second, even if it were not mistaken, the timetables in which democracy promotion was seen as a solution for mass-casualty terrorism do not even begin to match. The reason is that despite President Bush’s assertion that democracy promotion is « the work of generations » and that democracy is about more than elections, that is not the basis upon which the administration actually behaved. It rushed into premature elections in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, with troublesome and still open-ended consequences for Iraq and disastrous ones for Lebanon and Gaza.

After September 11, as Americans searched for analogies that might help them understand the motivations for the attacks, most found themselves with very shallow reservoirs of historical analogies. Indeed, Americans tended almost exclusively to choose Cold War metaphors to explain September 11. Liberal idealists took their characteristic meliorist approach: It was poverty and injustice that motivated the attacks, and American policies that determined the target. There were dozens of calls for a « Marshall Plan for the Middle East », and hundreds of pleas to concentrate more than ever on solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, as if that were somehow a magic bullet that could fix all problems. Conservative idealists, as already noted, took the democracy-promotion approach, arguing that the motivation was not economic but political.

Both were wrong; Islamist radicalism, in truth, is a form of chiliastic violence that has taken many forms in many cultures over the past two millennia, from the Jewish zealots of the First Century of the Common Era, to the 16th-century Peasants’ Revolt in Germany, to the 19th-century « ghost dances » of American Indians. But the obvious weaknesses of the meliorist approach encouraged conservative idealists in their conviction that their own view, therefore, must be right. (Manichean-minded Americans have real problems when any potential set of choices exceeds two.)

The administration’s rhetoric went even further, however, suggesting that US policy was largely responsible for the debased condition of Arab political cultures. When Bush famously said in November 2003: « Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty », he argued in essence that it was US policy, not the long incubated political culture of the region, that accounted for Arab autocracy. The Bush White House, in essence, adopted the wrongheaded left-wing side of an old debate over « friendly tyrants » as lesser evils and what to do with and about them, a very strange position for an avowedly conservative administration to take. The President also seemed to be saying, in a locution repeated by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Cairo in June 2005 and many times thereafter, that US Cold War policy in the region was unsuccessful on its own terms, that it did not provide safety and stability.

These claims are nonsensical by any realistic measure. US Cold War policy in the Middle East achieved exactly what it set out to achieve within the broad framework of containment: It kept the Soviets out, the oil flowing to the benefit of the liberal economic order over which the US stood guard, and the region’s only democracy, Israel, safe. The record was not perfect, of course, and we certainly should have rethought old habits sooner than we did after the Berlin Wall fell; but it was good enough, as we say, for government work. Certainly, too, it was never in the power of the US government to bring about democracy in the Arab world during the Cold War. Yet the Bush administration’s solution for the problem whose origins it misread was just that for the post-Cold War era: deep-rooted reform of the Middle East’s sordid collection of autocracies and tyrannies (the major differences between the two were summarily overlooked) and, absent reform from within, the policy strongly implied that pro-democracy regime change would be imposed from without.

The result was almost breathtakingly counterproductive. The more the « forward strategy » bore down on the Middle East, with guns in Iraq and with projects and programs galore practically everywhere else they could gain access, the more effectively local nativists used Western energies jujitsu-like to gain leverage over their domestic adversaries. Rapid economic growth and rapid democratisation, even had they been possible, would not have stabilised Arab societies and made them less likely to spark off political violence against the West; it would have made such violence more likely. We are fortunate, therefore, that the strategy did not « succeed » for any longer than it did.

When the Bush administration campaigned to spread democracy to the Arabs, it never occurred to most of its principals that what they saw as a secular endeavour would be interpreted in the Muslim world through a religious prism, and used accordingly in intra-Islamic civilisational disputes. When Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, tried to persuade Iraqis not to vote because « democracy » was a front, in essence, for Christian evangelism, a slippery slope leading down to apostasy, he spoke a language that resonated in the ears of a great many (though happily not a majority of) Iraqis and other Muslim Arabs.

As it happens, the locals were essentially correct. Americans were speaking a creedal tongue that we thought entirely separate from « religion », a word that does not exist as such in Arabic. After all, we « separate church from state ». In truth, American political culture is not as secular as most think: The contemporary American idea of democracy, seen as the pre-eminent symbol of social egalitarianism (something very different from the Founders’ view) is an attenuated expression of aspects of Anglo-American Protestant Christian tradition. Our longing to spread it to the Muslims is the 21st-century version of what was, in the 19th century, a much more honest and self-aware missionary movement. We might fool ourselves by pretending that our deepest beliefs can be neatly compartmentalised into what is « political » and what is « religious », but Middle Easterners, who possess no such compartments by dint of a history sans Renaissance or Reformation, know better. Not that theology and ideology are identical, but as creedal systems they are bound to be seen as dramatically less distinct by cultures in which political theology, to use Mark Lilla’s apt terminology, has never been vanquished or, in most countries, even seriously challenged.

Looking at US behaviour in the September 11 decade as a manifestation of a secularised political theology explains far more than the standard parsing of the usual-suspects schools of thought: conservative and liberal realists and idealists, Jacksonians and Hamiltonians and all that. Consider for example that when, only days after September 11, Susan Sontag and other members of the professional adversary culture in the United States dared to suggest—in The New Yorker in Sontag’s case—that the perpetrators of September 11 were not cowards and that Americans were not innocent victims of terrorism, but rather were suffering just revenge for selfish and abrasive American foreign policies, they were treated exactly as heretics were in the so-called age of religion. They were not engaged or debated but shunned or excoriated. Had it still been in style, they would probably have been burned as witches.

The American penchant for seeing the world, especially the world of foreign and national security policy, in transcendental terms, is not an historical constant. It tends to rise in phase 3 of the cycle, when the God-talk emerges out of post-shock mobilisation. But there is a concurrent trend of more recent vintage that may have made things more acute during the September 11 decade.

Over the past half century, America has become increasingly deculturated. As Robert Putnam put it in his Bowling Alone argument, we have suffered a deep erosion of social capital. The face-to-face glue which enables social interactions to generate and sustain a common understanding about what is and isn’t virtuous behaviour—the very heart of what ultimately makes a society prosperous and happy—has been in ever shorter supply.

The implications of de-acculturation for American politics are are manifest. The decline of social trust abets both the polarisation of politics and popular cynicism toward government. It produces a political system in which the chain of connective institutions that link family to neighbourhood to larger community to town or region and ultimately to the national level gets broken, rendering the state both alien and intrusive at the same time as it tries to compensate for a social fabric now rent and tattered. Political parties, particularly those that tend to represent class or ideological structures, flow into the spaces once occupied by a diverse array of social interaction. They become in-group/out-group oriented as well-known psychological dynamics spread the distance between them, leading to an exaggerated perception of how much they actually differ in practical terms. The result is that compromise and horse-trading become more difficult, and the insertion of « culture war » issues into this environment has served only to harden the edges of the us-versus-them distinctions that define it. Identity groups disguised as political parties do not play well together.

The implications of all this for foreign policy are obvious. Presidential judgments necessarily become politicised, and opponents invariably try to criminalise them. Every decision becomes part of the catechism to the loyal, an act of moral enormity to the opposition. That is why the acrid debates over Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, waterboarding and warrantless wiretaps, the Patriot Act and the reach of wartime executive authority, took on the tones they did. These arguments did not remind one of the civilities of the common law tradition; they sounded more like transcripts from the Spanish Inquisition.

The great sociologist E. Digby Baltzell, the man who coined the term WASP back in the 1950s, once said to me that the greatest tragedy of 20th-century America is that the formidable energies of religion had migrated into politics, to the detriment of both. No wiser comment has ever been made about the trajectory of American politics this past half century, and here lies, I think, the key insight for those trying to comprehend the American September 11 decade at its very core. The decade has not been about what others have done to America; it has been about what Americans have done to themselves.

Adam Garfinkle served as chief staff writer of the US Commission on National Security/21st Century (Hart-Rudman Commission), which predicted mass-casualty terrorism on American soil before September 11 and first proposed creation of a Department of Homeland Security. He then served as editor of The National Interest and as speechwriter to Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. He is founding editor of The American Interest.

Indeed, the fuzzy indeterminacy that characterizes the Obama foreign policy holds true even at the highest echelon of strategy. The United States is the world’s pre-eminent if not hegemonic power. Since World War II it has set the normative standards and both formed and guarded the security and economic structures of the world. In that capacity it has provided for a relatively secure and prosperous global commons, a mission nicely convergent with the maturing American self-image as an exceptionalist nation. To do this, however, the United States has had to maintain a global military presence as a token of its commitment to the mission and as a means of reassurance to those far and wide with a stake in it. This has required a global network of alliances and bases, the cost of which is not small and the maintenance of which, in both diplomatic and other terms, is a full-time job.*

Against this definition of strategic mission there have always been those in the United States who have dissented, holding that we do, ask and expect much too much, and get into gratuitous trouble as a result. Some have preferred outright isolationism, but most serious skeptics of the status quo have preferred a posture of ‘offshore balancing’. Remove the bases and end the alliances, they have argued, and the US government will be better able, at less risk and far less cost to the nation, to balance against threatening developments abroad, much as America’s strategic mentor, Great Britain, did throughout most of the 19th century.

This is the core conversation Americans have been having about the US global role since at least 1945. To one side we recall George McGovern’s 1972 ‘Come Home, America’ campaign plank, the Mansfield Amendment that would have removed US troops from Europe in mid-Cold War, and the early Carter administration’s proposal to remove US troops from South Korea spoken in rhythm to speeches decrying an “inordinate fear of communism”. To the other side has been almost everyone and everything else, so that the offshore approach has always been turned back, at least until now. Where is the Obama administration in this great debate? We don’t really know; the evidence, once again, suggests ambivalence. . .

Taken together, then, the administration’s track record, encompassing the whole spectrum from discrete policy arenas to the lofty heights of grand strategy, suggests the foreign policy equivalent of a Rorschach inkblot. Observers can see in it what they have wanted to see. Some have tagged the Obama administration a re-run of the Carter administration, but the fit is obviously imperfect; it’s very hard to see Carter during his first or second year in office ordering those Predator strikes, even harder to imagine him holding his tongue on human rights. Some have seen a replay of Nixon and Kissinger: Realpolitik hiding behind feel-good talk about allies and peace and the rest, trying simultaneously to play an inherited weak hand and set the stage for a grand bargain—this time with Iran instead of China. Still others think they are witness to the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: a shrewd opportunist who knows the limits set by domestic constraints, and whose main concern is national economic stabilization and social strengthening against the day when American power must meet a true test of destiny. The name game can go on because, while no great successes have sprouted forth from the Obama foreign policy, no great debacles have emerged either.

Presidential Language
Be It Resolved
Adam Garfinkle
The American interest
December 30, 2014

In the course of an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep released earlier this week, President Obama tried to flatter the Supreme Leader and other assorted higher-ups in Tehran. Will it work?

NPR released yesterday a presidential interview, taped December 18, that bears on many issues, not least the Middle East. I probably should let the opportunity to comment pass, but I can’t. I probably should eat much less ice cream too, but I can’t seem to do that either. Well, more on New Year’s resolutions anon.

Two globules of presidential language in particular catch my attention, both foreshadowed by a Reuters article on December 28. Let me take the two in turn.

In the interview President Obama praises the “incredible talent and resources and sophistication inside of Iran” and adds that if Iran agrees to curb its nuclear weapons ambitions Iran “would be a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules—and that would be good for everybody.” The President offered that Iran has “legitimate defense concerns” and “suffered from a terrible war with Iraq” in the 1980s, but he criticized it for regional “adventurism, the support of organizations like Hizballah, the threats they’ve directed at Israel.”

The Reuters story commented in demur, drive-by style that, while the President thinks an agreement is still possible and perhaps likely, Vice President Biden said earlier this month that he gives the negotiations a “less than even shot” of succeeding. POTUS can’t so easily dump Biden like he dumped Hagel, because Biden got elected—besides which, the VP’s own “can’t-help-myself” problem, which manifests itself most often in his predilection for “committing a truth” (as he sees it) in public, is under better control today than at any time since his election to the Senate in 1972. (For those unaware, just by the way, the phrase “to commit a truth” is a key element of speechwriting wit; it means that one should not say something in public just because it’s true, unless it serves a particular purpose. Political speech is not a didactic exercise; it is inherently about controlling and manipulating impressions.)

Ah, but back to that other member of the Executive Branch who got elected, the President. What to make of these, one hopes, non-scripted remarks?

It’s clear—actually a little too clear—that President Obama is trying to flatter the Supreme Leader and other assorted higher ups in Tehran. Someone no doubt explained to the President in another, earlier drive-by incident that these guys believe they deserve more respect for their sovereignty, history, and culture than they get. He wants to assure them, insofar as he can, that regime change is not high up on the U.S. want list with regard to Iran, though he cannot explicitly rule it out without cutting the knees out from future U.S. policy options. He wants to let them know he’s sensitive to how the world looks from their perspective.

All of this publicly articulated respect is designed, it seems likely to me as a recovering Executive Branch speechwriter, to reduce the heat on the roiling pot that contains the conspiracy theories Iranians cook up and consume on a depressingly regular basis. The practical purpose? To get the Supreme Leader to authorize the concessions he needs to make to let the deal happen, in return for which we promise not to betray his trust. Respect worked for Aretha Franklin; maybe it’ll work for Barack Obama, too.

But note that, in the list of Iranian sins, the President did not even mention Iran’s role in Syria, or in Yemen. Note, too, that he omitted mentions of Iranian-supported terrorist and insurgent-war acts that have claimed American lives. He never warns that we now intend to link the nuclear negotiations with Iranian regional behavior, as we should have been doing all along. Note too, however, that if we have already secretly consummated a “big deal” with Iran to split U.S. regional security responsibilities with Tehran largely at Arab expense—as some commentators here but especially in the region think is a done deal already a few years ago—it would be harder to make sense of this sort of klutzy fawning language.

The Administration may still yearn for such a deal, however, which now, as in 2009, gives off the sound of one tongue flapping. Here we are, it would seem, at the second coming (or third or fourth coming, depending on what evidence you credit and how you count) of the original outstretched hand offering engagement to mutual benefit for the future. The first time the Administration did this, the Iranian “Green movement” protesting a rigged election was a victim, and our hand got slapped. (Or as Shel Silverstein once wrote: “Cast your bread on the water and what do you get? Another day older, and your bread gets wet.”) Nor did the Supreme Leader deign to answer the first of now three private presidential letters.

It remains to be seen who will suffer this time around, but one thing is certain: When the Saudis, Israelis, and other U.S. associates in the region hear presidential language like this, they head for their mental bunkers and hunker down. Meanwhile, President Obama should not be watching his mailbox for a letter from Tehran.

It will all be judged wise and worldly, perhaps, if the tactic succeeds and we get in due course a nuclear deal worth having. Me, I’m with Joe Biden on this one, as an earlier post explained in some detail. But will it succeed?

Some clever folks in the White House are sensitive to Iranian insecurities and have coached the President on how to make the Iranian lion purr. Alas, they can’t turn the Iranian lion into a vegetarian, and they have a long way to go to evoke any genuine purring. I do not think this will succeed, and let me explain why by speculating on how the Supreme Leader and other Iranians of his ilk will probably hear this sort of language.

The Iranian Lion. Not a vegetarian.

“So”, says the Supreme leader to President Rouhani over mint tea one afternoon, “the Americans think they get to judge whether we can be a successful regional power! They presume their dominance, these upstarts, as they speak to the heirs of the Achaemenid dynasty, the Sassanid dynasty, the Safavid dynasty—as these historical adolescents speak to the very founders of civilization. They speak to us not as equals but as masters. They are not and never will be our masters.”

“Yes, sir”, answers Rouhani. “You will remember when Judge [William P.] Clark, one of the NSC Advisors during the Reagan years, characterized Iranian statesmen as ‘a bunch of rug merchants’, do you not? Despite all their failures since, the hubris in Washington is undaunted. This young and inexperienced man speaks of how everyone will benefit if Iran submits to America’s will, as if life on earth can be like paradise. He speaks of international norms and rules as though everyone accepts them, despite the fact that most people in the world have suffered from the Western arrogance and oppression they symbolize.”

Yes, there is no doubt that Khamenei and Rouhani remember Judge Clark’s comment, for they assiduously collect every insult cast their way in faithful expectation of historical revenge; and you can bet your bottom dollar that the President and his advisers, including current NSC Advisor Susan Rice, lack that particular datum in their active memory banks. And much more important, yes, the Iranian government is full of geostrategic realists who know what a revisionist state is. And they are people who, for the most part—whether we can them moderates or hardliners—sincerely project the Shi’a martyrology complex onto the imagined political sociology of the world. This precisely was the Ayatollah Khomeini’s creative and expansive act of ideological genius; it still defines Iranian foreign policy ideals just as it sustained the revolution in its infancy, particularly during very hard times. So when Barack Obama tells Iranians how much they suffered during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, he comes across like a trespasser on sacred cemetery soil. “Who is this idolatrous man who presumes to narrate our holy suffering?”, the Supreme Leader asks the President.

When Robert Burns wrote, “O would God the gift to gi’ us, to see ourselves as others see us”, he weren’t just whistling Dixie folks, or suggesting that short Cliffs Notes courses in cultural studies would suffice for serious purposes. He really meant it.

The NPR interviewer asked the President whether in his last two years in office he would help war-torn countries like Libya, Syria, and Iraq. His answer was that these countries have to take the lead: “We can help, but we can’t do it for them. I think the American people recognize that. There are times here in Washington where pundits don’t; they think you can just move chess pieces around the table. And whenever we have that kind of hubris, we tend to get burned.”

Well, obviously the President is reading the wrong pundits (and in my view he acts unpresidentially even to mention them publicly). He should be reading me. I don’t want us to be engaged in a bombing campaign against the Islamic State if it is premised on a counterproductive half-strategy. I don’t want U.S. combat troops aiding the Abadi government in Baghdad, along side of Iranian Revolutionary Guard units, trying to reclaim for a unitary Iraqi state what it cannot firmly reclaim. I never argued for boots on the ground in Syria, or anything on the ground or in the air with respect to Libya. I and The American Interest with me over the years have been sympathetic to not “devoting another trillion dollars” to misbegotten foreign wars because, yes, as the President said, “we need to spend a trillion dollars rebuilding our schools, our roads, our basic science, and research here in the United States.” We at TAI used the phrase “nation-building at home” before he did (you can look it up—just check out the lead section of volume 4, number 3, published just before Obama’s inauguration).

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So then what’s wrong with this picture of presidential remarks on Libya, Syria, and Iraq? What’s wrong is that the President is apparently unable or unwilling to connect his own damned dots.

Did Libya’s troubles today, by which I mean in brief that it has not one dysfunctional government but pretenses of two, just fall out of the sky one day? Unless you mean the U.S. cruise missiles targeted on Tripoli that kicked off a war in March 2011, no. If that is what you mean, as the NPR interviewer had the temerity to suggest, than yes. It was U.S. policy that caused the destruction of the Libyan state, such as it was. U.S. policy, from starting a war to failing to plan for its Phase 4 post-combat aftermath, explains not only the god-awful mess that Libya has become, but also what happened to Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. Libya has to get its act together to deserve our help?! What Libya? There is for all practical purposes no Libyan state for us to help.

Did Iraq’s troubles today, by which I mean the state’s collapse back into roughly the three Ottoman provinces cobbled together to create it in 1920, just sort of happen, too? Like Libya, Iraq was a nasty, authoritarian hellhole before U.S. policy made it even worse. We may blame that on the Bush Administration for mis-starting a war that had not been properly planned, but Iraq would not be quite the mess it is today had the Obama Administration not mis-ended it by yanking our presence out without a SOFA agreement. Iraq has to get its act together to deserve our continued or expanded help?! What Iraq? There is, very nearly, no Iraqi state for us to help.

Did Syria’s troubles fall out of the sky, too? Here U.S. policy is mostly guilty of sins of omission rather than sins of commission, some of them circling back to our hands-off-Iran supinity, but it is guilty all the same. As we have said here at TAI many times over the past three years, a judicious early use of U.S. power and leadership well short of kinetic action—difficult though it always was, true—could have averted the still evolving worst-case calamity that Syria has become. Syria is well on its way to complete Somalization. So Syria, too, has to get its act together to deserve our help?! What Syria? There is, very nearly, no Syrian state for us to help.

Far be it for me to advocate the use of U.S. force in any of these places. We cannot put these states back together at an acceptable cost in blood and treasure. As I have stressed in earlier posts (for example, here), what is happening, at base, is historio-structural in nature and no mere policy nipping and tucking can restore the status quo ante. I am no more in a mood to move chess pieces around on a table than the President is, especially if I have to do it with bombers, APCs, and Aegis cruisers loaded up with SLCMs. But to pontificate about the need for Arab self-help in these three cases, as though U.S. policy had nothing whatsoever to do with their present plights, very nearly surpasses credulity. It reminds me of a three-year old not yet well experienced at hide-and-go-seek who covers his face and thereby imagines that others cannot see him. Who in the region does the President think he’s fooling?

I have commented in recent weeks about the dropping away of relevant context in the reporting of important news stories, which I suspect is linked to the generic disappearance of even relatively recent historical memory in our IT-addled, radically segmented collective cognitive state (see, for example, this). But this amnesic babble really takes all, and coming from the President of the United States it frankly makes me a bit uncomfortable.

One of my secular New Year’s resolutions is to read and think more, write and speak less. Another, however, is to write more quickly on the heels of breaking stories, as I’m doing now. Another is to cut back on the ice cream; I like to think that will buy me an indulgence for a bit more single malt, which is more conducive to thinking than to writing, and so the circle of my resolutions comes to completion.

I wish Vice President Biden success in his effort to cut back further on committing truths in public. I’m always here for you, Joe, if you need me.

As for the President, I hope he will add a resolution for 2015 to stop saying stupid “stuff” to his previous determination to not do stupid “stuff.” Since saying and doing are mingled behaviors, especially when they emanate from the Oval Office, a truth that even non-speechwriters can appreciate and that this President seems implicitly to credit more than most, there’s reason to expect both resolution and redemption. Happy New Year!
Adam Garfinkle is editor of The American Interest.

Voir encore:

Obama says days of U.S ‘meddling’ in Latin America are over
Dave Boyer

The Washington Times

April 10, 2015

President Obama told Latin America leaders in Panama Friday that the days of U.S. exploitation of the region are over, and that America owes a debt to the rest of the world for helping to bring equality to the U.S.

“We are respectful of the differences among our countries,” Mr. Obama said at the Summit of the Americas. “The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past.”

The crowd erupted in sustained applause.

Mr. Obama urged leaders in the region to embrace democratic principles, including public debate and dissent.

“It’s not to say that my country’s perfect, we are not. And that’s the point,” Mr. Obama said. “We have to wrestle with our own challenges from issues of race to policing to inequality. We embrace our ability to become better through our democracy.”

Referring to slavery and Jim Crow-era segregation in the U.S., Mr. Obama also said that outside forces helped to improve life in America.

“There was a time in our own country when there were groups that were voiceless and powerless,” Mr. Obama said. “Because of world opinion, that helped to change those circumstances. We have a debt to pay because the voices of ordinary people made us better. That’s a debt I want to make sure we repay in this hemisphere and around the world.”

Earlier, Mr. Obama took an apparent swipe at Cuba’s communist regime when he said “almost everybody” in Latin America has been smart enough to move their countries to a market-based economy.

“By virtue of wisdom, and some things that didn’t work and some things that did, everybody around the region … has a very practical solution, or a practical orientation,” Mr. Obama said.

Then he grinned and added, “Maybe not everybody, but almost everybody.” The audience of business leaders laughed.

The president, who is expected to meet for the first time with Cuban President Raul Castro Saturday on the sidelines of the summit, said countries in the hemisphere previously subscribed either to a “statist” economic model or a free-market approach.

“Everything was very ideological in this region in discussing how economic development went forward,” Mr. Obama said. “I believe the free market is the greatest wealth-generator and innovator and is a recipe for success for countries.”

Dave Boyer is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times. A native of Allentown, Pa., Boyer worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 2002 to 2011 and also has covered Congress for the Times. He is a graduate of Penn State University. Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

Voir encore:

Remarks by President Obama at the Civil Society Forum
On April 10, 2015, in Office of the Press Secretary, Speeches and Remarks, The President, Western Hemisphere, by The White House
Hotel El Panama
Panama City, Panama

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Buenas tardes.  Thank you, President Varela.  Thank you very much, Panama, for hosting this Summit of the Americas.  And I thank everybody who’s traveled here from across the region for the courageous work that you do to defend freedom and human rights, and to promote equality and opportunity and justice across our hemisphere and around the world.

I am proud to be with you at this first-ever official gathering of civil society leaders at the Summit of the Americas. And I’m pleased to have Cuba represented with us at this summit for the very first time.  (Applause.)

We’re here for a very simple reason.  We believe that strong, successful countries require strong and vibrant civil societies.  We know that throughout our history, human progress has been propelled not just by famous leaders, not just by states, but by ordinary men and women who believe that change is possible; by citizens who are willing to stand up against incredible odds and great danger not only to protect their own rights, but to extend rights to others.

I had a chance to reflect on this last month when I was in the small town of Selma, Alabama.  Some of you may have heard of it.  It’s a place where, 50 years ago, African-Americans marched in peaceful, nonviolent protest — not to ask for special treatment but to be treated equally, in accordance with the founding documents of our Declaration of Independence, our Bill of Rights.  They were part of a civil rights movement that had endured violence and repression for decades, and would endure it again that day, as many of the marchers were beaten.

But they kept marching.  And despite the beatings of that day, they came back, and more returned.  And the conscience of a nation was stirred.  Their efforts bent, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, the arc of the moral universe towards justice.  And it was their vision for a more fair and just and inclusive and generous society that ultimately triumphed.  And the only reason I stand here today as the President of the United States is because those ordinary people — maids, and janitors, and schoolteachers — were willing to endure hardship on my behalf.  (Applause.)

And that’s why I believe so strongly in the work that you do.  It’s the dreamers — no matter how humble or poor or seemingly powerless — that are able to change the course of human events.  We saw it in South Africa, where citizens stood up to the scourge of apartheid.  We saw it in Europe, where Poles marched in Solidarity to help bring down the Iron Curtain.  In Argentina, where mothers of the disappeared spoke out against the Dirty War.  It’s the story of my country, where citizens worked to abolish slavery, and establish women’s rights and workers’ rights, and rights for gays and lesbians.

It’s not to say that my country is perfect — we are not.  And that’s the point.  We always have to have citizens who are willing to question and push our government, and identify injustice.  We have to wrestle with our own challenges — from issues of race to policing to inequality.  But what makes me most proud about the extraordinary example of the United States is not that we’re perfect, but that we struggle with it, and we have this open space in which society can continually try to make us a more perfect union.

We’ve stood up, at great cost, for freedom and human dignity, not just in our own country, but elsewhere.  I’m proud of that.  And we embrace our ability to become better through our democracy.  And that requires more than just the work of government.  It demands the hard and frustrating, sometimes, but absolutely vital work of ordinary citizens coming together to make common cause.

So civil society is the conscience of our countries.  It’s the catalyst of change.  It’s why strong nations don’t fear active citizens.  Strong nations embrace and support and empower active citizens.  And by the way, it’s not as if active citizens are always right — they’re not.  Sometimes people start yelling at me or arguing at me, and I think, you don’t know what you’re talking about.  But sometimes they do.  And the question is not whether they’re always right; the question is, do you have a society in which that conversation, that debate can be tested and ideas are tested in the marketplace.

And because of the efforts of civil society, now, by and large, there’s a consensus in the Americas on democracy and human rights, and social development and social inclusiveness.  I recognize there’s strong differences about the role of civil society, but I believe we can all benefit from open and tolerant and inclusive dialogue.  And we should reject violence or intimidation that’s aimed at silencing people’s voices.

The freedom to be heard is a principle that the Americas at large is committed to.  And that doesn’t mean, as I said, that we’re going to agree on every issue.  But we should address those issue candidly and honestly and civilly, and welcome the voices of all of our people into the debates that shape the future of the hemisphere.  (Applause.)

Just to take one example:  As the United States begins a new chapter in our relationship with Cuba, we hope it will create an environment that improves the lives of the Cuban people -– not because it’s imposed by us, the United States, but through the talent and ingenuity and aspirations, and the conversation among Cubans from all walks of life so they can decide what the best course is for their prosperity.

As we move toward the process of normalization, we’ll have our differences, government to government, with Cuba on many issues — just as we differ at times with other nations within the Americas; just as we differ with our closest allies.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But I’m here to say that when we do speak out, we’re going to do so because the United States of America does believe, and will always stand for, a certain set of universal values.  And when we do partner with civil society, it’s because we believe our relationship should be with governments and with the peoples that they represent.

It’s also because we believe that your work is more important than ever.  Here in the Americas, inequality still locks too many people out of our economies.  Discrimination still locks too many out of our societies.  Around the world, there are still too many places where laws are passed to stifle civil society, where governments cut off funding for groups that they don’t agree with.  Where entrepreneurs are crushed under corruption.  Where activists and journalists are locked up on trumped-up charges because they dare to be critical of their governments.  Where the way you look, or how you pray, or who you love can get you imprisoned or killed.

And whether it’s crackdowns on free expression in Russia or China, or restrictions on freedom of association and assembly in Egypt, or prison camps run by the North Korean regime — human rights and fundamental freedoms are still at risk around the world.  And when that happens, we believe we have a moral obligation to speak out.

We also know that our support for civil society is not just about what we’re against, but also what we’re for.  Because we’ve noticed that governments that are more responsive and effective are typically governments where the people are free to assemble, and speak their minds, and petition their leaders, and hold us accountable.

We know that our economies attract more trade and investment when citizens are free to start a new business without paying a bribe.   We know that our societies are more likely to succeed when all our people — regardless of color, or class, or creed, or sexual orientation, or gender — are free to live and pray and love as they choose.  That’s what we believe.

And, increasingly, civil society is a source of ideas — about everything from promoting transparency and free expression, to reversing inequality and rescuing our environment.  And that’s why, as part of our Stand with Civil Society Initiative, we’ve joined with people around the world to push back on those who deny your right to be heard.  I’ve made it a mission of our government not only to protect civil society groups, but to partner with you and empower you with the knowledge and the technology and the resources to put your ideas into action.  And the U.S. supports the efforts to establish a permanent, meaningful role for civil societies in future Summits of the Americas.  (Applause.)

So let me just say, when the United States sees space closing for civil society, we will work to open it.  When efforts are made to wall you off from the world, we’ll try to connect you with each other.  When you are silenced, we’ll try to speak out alongside you.  And when you’re suppressed, we want to help strengthen you.  As you work for change, the United States will stand up alongside you every step of the way.  We are respectful of the difference among our countries.  The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past.  (Applause.)

But what it does mean — but we do have to be very clear that when we speak out on behalf of somebody who’s been imprisoned for no other reason than because they spoke truth to power, when we are helping an organization that is trying to empower a minority group inside a country to get more access to resources, we’re not doing that because it serves our own interests; we’re doing it because we think it’s the right thing to do.  (Applause.)  And that’s important.

And I hope that all the other countries at the Summit of the Americas will join us in seeing that it’s important.  Because sometimes, as difficult as it is, it’s important for us to be able to speak honestly and candidly on behalf of people who are vulnerable and people who are powerless, people who are voiceless.  I know, because there was a time in our own country where there were groups that were voiceless and powerless.  And because of world opinion, that helped to change those circumstance.  We have a debt to pay, because the voices of ordinary people have made us better.  That’s a debt that I want to make sure we repay in this hemisphere and around the world.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)  God bless you.

Voir enfin:

The Doctrine That Never Died
Tom Wolfe

The New York Times

January 30, 2005
SURELY some bright bulb from the Council on Foreign Relations in New York or the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton has already remarked that President Bush’s inaugural address 10 days ago is the fourth corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. No? So many savants and not one peep out of the lot of them? Really?

The president had barely warmed up: « There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants … and that is the force of human freedom…. The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. … America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one… » when – bango! – I flashed back 100 years and 47 days on the dot to another president. George W. Bush was speaking, but the voice echoing inside my skull – a high-pitched voice, an odd voice, coming from such a great big hairy bear of a man – was that of the president who dusted off Monroe’s idea and dragged it into the 20th century.

« The steady aim of this nation, as of all enlightened nations, » said the Echo, « should be to strive to bring ever nearer the day when there shall prevail throughout the world the peace of justice. …Tyrants and oppressors have many times made a wilderness and called it peace. …The peace of tyrannous terror, the peace of craven weakness, the peace of injustice, all these should be shunned as we shun unrighteous war. … The right of freedom and the responsibility for the exercise of that right cannot be divorced. »

Theodore Roosevelt! – Dec. 4, 1904, announcing to Congress the first corollary to the Monroe Doctrine – an item I had deposited in the memory bank and hadn’t touched since I said goodbye to graduate school in the mid-1950’s!

In each case what I was hearing was the usual rustle and flourish of the curtains opening upon a grandiloquent backdrop. But if there was one thing I learned before departing academe and heading off wayward into journalism, it was that these pretty preambles to major political messages, all this solemn rhetorical throat-clearing – the parts always omitted from the textbooks as superfluous – are inevitably what in fact gives the game away.

Theodore Roosevelt’s corollary to President James Monroe’s famous doctrine of 1823 proclaimed that not only did America have the right, à la Monroe, to block European attempts to re-colonize any of the Western Hemisphere, it also had the right to take over and shape up any nation in the hemisphere guilty of « chronic wrongdoing » or uncivilized behavior that left it « impotent, » powerless to defend itself against aggressors from the Other Hemisphere, meaning mainly England, France, Spain, Germany and Italy.

The immediate problem was that the Dominican Republic had just reneged on millions in European loans so flagrantly that an Italian warship had turned up just off the harbor of Santo Domingo. Roosevelt sent the Navy down to frighten off the Italians and all other snarling Europeans. Then the United States took over the Dominican customs operations and debt management and by and by the whole country, eventually sending in the military to run the place. We didn’t hesitate to occupy Haiti and Nicaragua, either.

Back in 1823, Europeans had ridiculed Monroe and his doctrine. Baron de Tuyll, the Russian minister to Washington, said Americans were too busy hard-grabbing and making money to ever stop long enough to fight, even if they had the power, which they didn’t. But by the early 1900’s it was a different story.

First there was T.R. And then came Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. In 1912 Japanese businessmen appeared to be on the verge of buying vast areas of Mexico’s Baja California bordering our Southern California. Lodge drew up, and the Senate ratified, what became known as the Lodge Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The United States would allow no foreign interests, no Other Hemispheroids of any description, to give any foreign government « practical power of control » over territory in This Hemisphere. The Japanese government immediately denied having any connection with the tycoons, and the Baja deals, if any, evaporated.

Then, in 1950, George Kennan, the diplomat who had developed the containment theory of dealing with the Soviet Union after the Second World War, toured Latin America and came away alarmed by Communist influence in the region. So he devised the third corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The Kennan Corollary said that Communism was simply a tool of Soviet national power. The United States had no choice, under the mandates of the Monroe Doctrine, but to eradicate Communist activity wherever it turned up in Latin America … by any means necessary, even if it meant averting one’s eyes from dictatorial regimes whose police force did everything but wear badges saying Chronic Wrongdoing.

The historian Gaddis Smith summarizes the Lodge and Kennan Corollaries elegantly and economically in « The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine, 1945-1993. » Now, Gaddis Smith was a graduate-schoolmate of mine and very much a star even then and has remained a star historian ever since. So do I dare suggest that in this one instance, in a brilliant career going on 50 years now, that Gaddis Smith might have been …wrong? … that 1945 to 1993 were not the last years of the Monroe Doctrine? … that the doctrine was more buff and boisterous than it has ever been 10 days ago, Jan. 20, 2005?

But before we go forward, let’s take one more step back in time and recall the curious case of Antarctica. In 1939 Franklin Roosevelt authorized the first official United States exploration of the South Pole, led by Admiral Richard E. Byrd. The expedition was scientific – but also military. The Japanese and the Germans were known to be rooting about in the ice down there, as were the Russians, the British, the Chileans, the Argentines, all of them yapping and stepping on one another’s heels. Gradually it dawned on the whole bunch of them: at the South Pole the hemispheres got … awfully narrow. In fact, there was one point, smaller than a dime, if you could ever find it, where there were no more Hemispheres at all. Finally, everybody in essence just gave up and forgot about it. It was so cold down there, you couldn’t shove a shell into the gullet of a piece of artillery … or a missile into a silo.

Ah, yes, a missile. On the day in November 1961, when the Air Force achieved the first successful silo launching of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the SM-80, the Western Hemisphere part of the Monroe Doctrine ceased to mean anything at all – while the ideas behind it began to mean everything in the world.

At bottom, the notion of a sanctified Western Hemisphere depended upon its separation from the rest of the world by two vast oceans, making intrusions of any sort obvious. The ICBM’s – soon the Soviet Union and other countries had theirs – shrank the world in a military sense. Then long-range jet aircraft, satellite telephones, television and the Internet all, in turn, did the job socially and commercially. By Mr. Bush’s Inauguration Day, the Hemi in Hemisphere had long since vanished, leaving the Monroe Doctrine with – what? – nothing but a single sphere … which is to say, the entire world.

For the mission – the messianic mission! – has never shrunk in the slightest … which brings us back to the pretty preambles and the solemn rhetorical throat-clearing … the parts always omitted from the textbooks as superfluous. « America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one, » President Bush said. He added, « From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and earth. »

David Gelernter, the scientist and writer, argues that « Americanism » is a fundamentally religious notion shared by an incredibly varied population from every part of the globe and every conceivable background, all of whom feel that they have arrived, as Ronald Reagan put it, at a « shining city upon a hill. » God knows how many of them just might agree with President Bush – and Theodore Roosevelt – that it is America’s destiny and duty to bring that salvation to all mankind.

This article misstated part of the history of intercontinental ballistic missiles. The silo launching of a solid-fuel SM-80 Minuteman missile in November 1961 was not the first of an ICBM; a less practical liquid-fuel Titan missile was launched from a silo earlier that year.

Tom Wolfe is the author, most recently, of « I Am Charlotte Simmons. »

Voir par ailleurs:

Journée historique entre Raul Castro et Barack Obama
Laure Mandeville
Le Figaro

12/04/2015

VIDÉO – Samed, les deux présidents américain et cubain ont échangé une poignée de main et se sont entretenus en marge du sommet des Amériques à Panama. Mais le chemin de la normalisation reste semé de nombreux points de contentieux.
De notre correspondante à Washington

Un peu plus d’une heure, à portes fermées. C’est le temps qu’ont passé ensemble les présidents Barack Obama et Raul Castro, ce samedi lors du sommet des Amériques à Panama. Il n’y avait pas eu de telle rencontre entre un dirigeant américain et un dirigeant cubain depuis 1956 quand Eisenhower y avait rencontré le dictateur Batista. Quand Obama et Castro se sont levés et se sont tendu la main, souriants et décontractés dans leurs costumes sombres, le moment historique a donc été fixé sur pellicule par des nuées de photographes et de cameramen. Un nouveau chapitre s’ouvrait dans l’histoire des Etats-Unis et de Cuba.

«Cela a été une conversation franche et fructueuse», un dialogue «très direct», a affirmé le président Obama devant les journalistes, reconnaissant toutefois que des différences importantes persistent sur les Droits de l’homme. «Nous avons réussi à parler honnêtement de nos différences et de nos préoccupations, de telle manière que je pense que nous détenons la possibilité de faire avancer la relation entre nos deux pays dans une direction différente et meilleure», a-t-il ajouté, optimiste. Raul Castro, lui, a affirmé qu’il faudrait «beaucoup de patience». «L’Histoire entre nos deux pays a été compliquée, mais nous sommes disposés à avancer et à discuter de tout, y compris des droits de l’homme». Le Cubain, visiblement de bonne humeur, avait déjà montré son intention de créer un climat détendu lors du Sommet, en plaisantant sur le fait qu’il avait droit à 8 minutes de discours multipliés par 6, puisque Cuba avait été exclu pendant six sommets. Après un long plaidoyer contre les ingérences des anciennes administrations américaines dans les affaires cubaines et latino-américaines, il a salué la probité de Barack Obama, le qualifiant «d’honnête homme». Il a dit vouloir avancer dans un ‘’dialogue respectueux, pour permettre une «coexistence civilisée» en dépit de «profondes différences».

La reprise des relations diplomatiques a figuré en bonne place dans les discussions, faisant suite à trois séries de discussions de haut niveau entre La Havane et Washington. Castro a demandé à Obama d’accélérer les démarches pour le retrait de Cuba de la liste des pays soutenant le terrorisme, indiquant qu’il verrait comme un «pas positif» une «décision rapide» des États-Unis sur ce dossier. L’Américain a indiqué qu’il avait reçu une recommandation favorable du Département d’Etat, mais qu’il n’avait pas encore eu le temps de l’étudier avant de la transmettre au Congrès. Un sujet qui risque de susciter des tiraillements au sein de la majorité républicaine, sur la colline du Capitole.

Au-delà des relations diplomatiques, le chemin de la normalisation reste semé de nombreux points de contentieux, dont le plus délicat est bien sûr l’embargo total sur les transactions économiques et financières avec Cuba, imposé depuis 1962. Le président cubain a une nouvelle fois insisté samedi sur la nécessité de «résoudre» cette question. Depuis l’annonce historique du rapprochement avec Cuba en décembre, Obama a demandé au Congrès, de travailler à la levée de l’embargo car lui seul peut le faire. Mais les deux chambres, dominées par les républicains sont pour l’instant très partagées sur la question, sous la pression notamment de la minorité cubaine américaine, dans l’ensemble très conservatrice sur la question des relations avec Cuba. Cette minorité influente exige toujours des changements préalables substantiels en matière de libertés à Cuba, que le clan conservateur des généraux de l’île, veut empêcher à toute force.

Le chemin de la normalisation s’avère donc semé d’obstacles, même si la nouvelle génération de cubains américains est plus ouverte à la réconciliation que celle de leurs parents. «Nous sommes en terre inconnue ici, il s’agit de changer fondamentalement la manière dont les Etats-Unis considèrent Cuba, son gouvernement, sa population, sa société civile», a résumé le principal conseiller de politique étrangère d’Obama, Ben Rhodes. L’équipe du président Obama espère que le développement des relations et la modernisation finissent par créer une dynamique positive d’ouverture au plan politique, une approche soutenue par l’opinion publique américaine, favorable à une évolution des relations à 59%. La normalisation avec Cuba est d’autant plus soutenue qu’elle va entraîner une normalisation des relations des Etats-Unis avec l’ensemble de la région, notent les experts. «Le fantôme de Cuba était présent dans toutes les relations bilatérales et multilatérales, à partir de maintenant, il disparaît», a confié à l’AFP Santiago Canton, responsable du centre Robert Kennedy pour la justice et les droits de l’homme.

Voir aussi:

Cuba leaves talks on US ties insisting it won’t make major changes to its system
Michael Weissenstein And Anne-Marie Garcia,

The Associated Press | The Canadian Press

25 Jan, 2015

HAVANA – The start of talks on repairing 50 years of broken relations appears to have left President Raul Castro’s government focused on winning additional concessions without giving in to U.S. demands for greater freedoms, despite the seeming benefits that warmer ties could have for the country’s struggling economy.

Following the highest-level open talks in three decades between the two nations, Cuban officials remained firm in rejecting significant reforms pushed by the United States as part of President Barack Obama’s surprise move to re-establish ties and rebuild economic relations with the Communist-led country.

« One can’t think that in order to improve and normalize relations with the U.S., Cuba has to give up the principles it believes in, » Cuba’s top diplomat for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, told The Associated Press after the end of the talks. « Changes in Cuba aren’t negotiable. »

It’s not clear if Cuba’s tough stance is part of normal negotiation tactics or a hardened position that could prevent the talks from moving forward.

The Obama administration has dedicated significant political capital to rapprochement, but closer ties with the economic giant to the north also could have major importance for Cuba, which saw growth slow sharply in 2014 and is watching with concern as falling oil prices slam Venezuela, which has been a vital source of economic support.

In a wide-ranging interview, Vidal said that before deciding whether to allow greater economic ties with the U.S., Cuba was seeking more answers about Obama’s dramatic of loosening the half-century trade embargo.

Measures put into effect this month range from permitting large-scale sales of telecommunications equipment to allowing U.S. banks to open accounts in Cuba, but Vidal said officials on the island want to know if Cuba can buy such gear on credit and whether it is now free to use dollars for transactions around the world, not just those newly permitted with U.S. institutions. Until now, at least, U.S. law and policy has banned most foreign dealings with Cuba.

« I could make an endless list of questions and this is going to require a series of clarifications in order to really know where we are and what possibilities are going to open up, » Vidal said.

Obama also launched a review of Cuba’s inclusion on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and Vidal said « it will be difficult to conceive of the reestablishment of relations » while Cuba remains on that list, which imposes financial and other restrictions.

Vidal also said full normalization will be impossible until Congress lifts the many elements of the trade embargo that aren’t affected by Obama’s executive action — a step seen as unlikely with a Republican-dominated Congress. Among key prohibitions that remain is a ban on routine tourism to Cuba.

Even a relatively simple measure such as granting U.S. diplomats freedom of movement around Cuba, she said, is tied to reduced U.S. support of dissidents, whom Cuba says are breaking the law by acting to undermine the government of behalf of U.S. interests.

« It’s associated with a change in behaviour in the diplomatic missions as such and of the diplomatic officials, who must conduct themselves as our officials in Washington do, with total respect for the laws of that country, » Vidal said.

She also said Cuba has not softened its refusal to turn over U.S. fugitives granted asylum in Cuba. The warming of relations has spawned new demands in the U.S. for the State Department to seek the return of fugitives including Joanne Chesimard, a Black Liberation Army member now known as Assata Shakur, who fled to Cuba after she was convicted in 1977 of killing a New Jersey state trooper.

Vidal said the two nations’ extradition treaty « had a very clear clause saying that the agreement didn’t apply to people who could be tied to crimes of a political nature. »

But the opening already has led to some changes, at least in the short-term: Cuba significantly relaxed its near-total control of public information during the talks in Havana, allowing the live broadcast of news conferences in which foreign reporters questioned Vidal about sensitive topics including human rights. Cuban television even broadcast part of a news conference with Vidal’s counterpart, Roberta Jacobson, to foreign reporters, state media and independent Cuban reporters who are considered members of the opposition.

Cubans said they were taken aback by the flow of information but wanted to know much more about what the new relationship with the U.S. means.

« We’ve seen so much, really so much more than what we’re used to, about very sensitive topics in our country, » said Diego Ferrer, a 68-year-old retired state worker.

Jesus Rivero, also 68 and retired from government work, sat on a park bench in Old Havana reading a report in the official Communist Party newspaper, Granma, about Jacobson’s press conference.

« It’s good that Granma reports the press conference in the residence of the head of the Interests Section, » Rivero said. « But I think they should explain much more so that the whole population really understands what’s going on. »

Voir de plus:

The Abuse of Satire
Garry Trudeau on Charlie Hebdo, free-speech fanaticism, and the problem with “punching downward”
Garry Trudeau

The New Yorker

Apr 11 2015

The following is the text of remarks Garry Trudeau delivered on April 10 at the Long Island University’s George Polk Awards ceremony, where he received the George Polk Career Award.

My career—I guess I can officially call it that now—was not my idea. When my editor, Jim Andrews, recruited me out during my junior year in college and gave me the job I still hold, it wasn’t clear to me what he was up to. Inexplicably, he didn’t seem concerned that I was short on the technical skills normally associated with creating a comic strip—it was my perspective he was interested in, my generational identity. He saw the sloppy draftsmanship as a kind of cartoon vérité, dispatches from the front, raw and subversive.

Why were they so subversive? Well, mostly because I didn’t know any better.  My years in college had given me the completely false impression that there were no constraints, that it was safe for an artist to comment on volatile cultural and political issues in public. In college, there’s no down side. In the real world, there is, but in the euphoria of being recognized for anything, you don’t notice it at first. Indeed, one of the nicer things about youthful cluelessness is that it’s so frequently confused with courage.

One of the nicer things about youthful cluelessness is that it’s so frequently confused with courage.
In fact, it’s just flawed risk assessment. I have a friend who was the Army’s top psychiatrist, and she once told me that they had a technical term in the Army for the prefrontal cortex, where judgment and social control are located. She said, “We call them sergeants.”

In the print world, we call them editors. And I had one, and he was gifted, but the early going was rocky. The strip was forever being banned. And more often than not, word would come back that it was not the editor but the stuffy, out of touch owner/publisher who was hostile to the feature.

For a while, I thought we had an insurmountable generational problem, but one night after losing three papers, my boss, John McMeel, took me out for a steak and explained his strategy. The 34-year-old syndicate head looked at his 22-year-old discovery over the rim of his martini glass, smiled, and said, “Don’t worry. Sooner or later, these guys die.”

Well, damned if he wasn’t right. A year later, the beloved patriarch of those three papers passed on, leaving them to his intemperate son, whose first official act, naturally, was to restore Doonesbury. And in the years that followed, a happy pattern emerged: All across the country, publishers who had vowed that Doonesbury would appear in their papers over their dead bodies were getting their wish.

So McMeel was clearly on to something—a brilliant actuarial marketing strategy, but it didn’t completely solve the problem. I’ve been shuttled in and out of papers my whole career, most recently when I wrote about Texas’s mandatory transvaginal probes, apparently not a comics page staple. I lost 70 papers for the week, so obviously my judgment about red lines hasn’t gotten any more astute.

I, and most of my colleagues, have spent a lot of time discussing red lines since the tragedy in Paris. As you know, the Muhammad cartoon controversy began eight years ago in Denmark, as a protest against “self-censorship,” one editor’s call to arms against what she felt was a suffocating political correctness. The idea behind the original drawings was not to entertain or to enlighten or to challenge authority—her charge to the cartoonists was specifically to provoke, and in that they were exceedingly successful. Not only was one cartoonist gunned down, but riots erupted around the world, resulting in the deaths of scores. No one could say toward what positive social end, yet free speech absolutists were unchastened. Using judgment and common sense in expressing oneself were denounced as antithetical to freedom of speech.

And now we are adrift in an even wider sea of pain. Ironically, Charlie Hebdo, which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest.

Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.

Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.
By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.

The White House took a lot of hits for not sending a high-level representative to the pro-Charlie solidarity march, but that oversight is now starting to look smart. The French tradition of free expression is too full of contradictions to fully embrace. Even Charlie Hebdo once fired a writer for not retracting an anti-Semitic column. Apparently he crossed some red line that was in place for one minority but not another.

What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility. At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.

I’m aware that I make these observations from a special position, one of safety. In America, no one goes into cartooning for the adrenaline. As Jon Stewart said in the aftermath of the killings, comedy in a free society shouldn’t take courage.

Writing satire is a privilege I’ve never taken lightly.  And I’m still trying to get it right. Doonesbury remains a work in progress, an imperfect chronicle of human imperfection. It is work, though, that only exists because of the remarkable license that commentators enjoy in this country. That license has been stretched beyond recognition in the digital age. It’s not easy figuring out where the red line is for satire anymore. But it’s always worth asking this question: Is anyone, anyone at all, laughing? If not, maybe you crossed it.

Voir aussi:

SALUTATION DU SAINT-PERE AU DÉBUT DE LA MESSE POUR LES FIDÈLES DE RITE ARMÉNIEN

Pape François

MESSE POUR LES FIDÈLES DE RITE ARMÉNIEN

Basilique vaticane
IIe Dimanche de Pâques (ou de la Divine Miséricorde), 12 avril 2015

Chers frères et sœurs Arméniens, chers frères et sœurs,

En des occasions diverses j’ai défini cette époque comme un temps de guerre, une troisième guerre mondiale « par morceaux », où nous assistons quotidiennement à des crimes atroces, à des massacres sanglants, et à la folie de la destruction. Malheureusement, encore aujourd’hui, nous entendons le cri étouffé et négligé de beaucoup de nos frères et sœurs sans défense, qui, à cause de leur foi au Christ ou de leur appartenance ethnique, sont publiquement et atrocement tués – décapités, crucifiés, brulés vifs –, ou bien contraints d’abandonner leur terre.

Aujourd’hui encore nous sommes en train de vivre une sorte de génocide causé par l’indifférence générale et collective, par le silence complice de Caïn qui s’exclame : « Que m’importe ? », « Suis-je le gardien de mon frère ? » (Gn 4, 9 ; Homélie à Redipuglia, 13 septembre 2014).

Notre humanité a vécu, le siècle dernier, trois grandes tragédies inouïes : la première est celle qui est généralement considérée comme « le premier génocide du XXème siècle » (Jean-Paul II et Karekin II, Déclaration commune, Etchmiadzin, 27 septembre 2001) ; elle a frappé votre peuple arménien – première nation chrétienne –, avec les Syriens catholiques et orthodoxes, les Assyriens, les Chaldéens et les Grecs. Des évêques, des prêtres, des religieux, des femmes, des hommes, des personnes âgées et même des enfants et des malades sans défense ont été tués. Les deux autres ont été perpétrées par la nazisme et par le stalinisme. Et, plus récemment, d’autres exterminations de masse, comme celles au Cambodge, au Rwanda, au Burundi, en Bosnie. Cependant, il semble que l’humanité ne réussisse pas à cesser de verser le sang innocent. Il semble que l’enthousiasme qui est apparu à la fin de la seconde guerre mondiale soit en train de disparaître et de se dissoudre. Il semble que la famille humaine refuse d’apprendre de ses propres erreurs causées par la loi de la terreur ; et ainsi, encore aujourd’hui, il y en a qui cherchent à éliminer leurs semblables, avec l’aide des uns et le silence complice des autres qui restent spectateurs. Nous n’avons pas encore appris que « la guerre est une folie, un massacre inutile » (cf. Homélie à Redipuglia, 13 septembre 2014).

Chers frères arméniens, aujourd’hui nous rappelons, le cœur transpercé de douleur mais rempli d’espérance dans le Seigneur ressuscité, le centenaire de ce tragique événement, de cette  effroyable et folle extermination, que vos ancêtres ont cruellement soufferte. Se souvenir d’eux est nécessaire, plus encore c’est un devoir, parce que là où il n’y a plus de mémoire, cela signifie que le mal tient encore la blessure ouverte ; cacher ou nier le mal c’est comme laisser une blessure continuer à saigner sans la panser !

Je vous salue avec affection et je vous remercie pour votre témoignage.

Je salue et je remercie pour sa présence Monsieur Serž Sargsyan, Président de la République d’Arménie.

Je salue aussi cordialement mes frères Patriarches et Évêques : Sa Sainteté Karekin II, Patriarche Suprême et Catholicos de tous les Arméniens ; Sa Sainteté Aram Ier, Catholicos de la Grande Maison de Cilicie ; Sa Béatitude Nerses Bedros XIX, Patriarche de Cilicie des Arméniens Catholiques ; les deux Catholicossats de l’Église Apostolique Arménienne, et le Patriarcat de l’Église Arméno-Catholique.

Avec la ferme certitude que le mal ne vient jamais de Dieu infiniment Bon, et enracinés dans la foi, affirmons que la cruauté ne peut jamais être attribuée à l’œuvre de Dieu, et en outre ne doit absolument pas trouver en son Saint Nom une quelconque justification. Vivons ensemble cette célébration en fixant notre regard sur Jésus-Christ, vainqueur de la mort et du mal.

Voir enfin:

What the War in Iraq Wrought
Jon Lee Anderson

The New Yorker
January 15, 2014

It’s been nearly eleven years since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which, almost since it began, proved to be the historically fatal element in the war on terror launched by George W. Bush’s White House. His Administration, and its sundry neoconservative wingmen, went so far as to tout the war in Iraq as a means to promote democracy across the Muslim lands. At the same time, there was a growing unease that things might not turn out well. In a 2005 conversation I had with the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq at the time, Zalmay Khalilzad, he spoke of his fears: “I shudder to think what we could face if we don’t fix Iraq.” He foresaw the possibility that an Iraqi civil war between Sunnis and Shiites could infect the entire Middle East.

Where are we today? It seems a good time to take stock.

In Iraq, two years after President Barack Obama made good on his word and pulled U.S. troops out—forty-five hundred American lives later, and God knows how many Iraqi lives later—the slumbering sectarian war has reignited. At least eight thousand Iraqis were killed in the violence in 2013, a majority of them Shiite civilians targeted for murder or killed in bomb blasts set by the reascendant Sunni extremists of Al Qaeda. That’s right: they’re back. Now calling themselves ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham—the jihadis, who were supposedly defeated by Sunni tribesmen and American troops under the tutelage of David Petraeus, in the so-called Sunni Awakening of 2006-08, are not only active again; they are dominating the Syrian battlefield on the rebel side, and in the past few weeks seized the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and a good part of nearby Ramadi, too.

Remember Fallujah? That’s the city on the outskirts of Baghdad, in the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, the homeland of restive tribes since the British occupation of Mesopotamia, a hundred years ago. It’s also where, in 2004, in a bid to beat the extremists who controlled it at the time, U.S. combat troops fought two separate battles, at a cost of more than a hundred and twenty American lives. Nearly a quarter of the American troops killed in Iraq during the war—about a thousand men and women—died in Anbar Province.

Now the Al Qaeda flag waves in the center of Fallujah. At least fifty-two people died in Iraq from terrorist bombs on Wednesday. There are car bombs nearly every day.

In Syria, more than two and a half years into a bloody civil war, as many as a hundred and twenty thousand people are dead, with more than a quarter of the country’s population now living as refugees, either displaced internally or in neighboring countries. Al Qaeda and other Islamist rebel groups have taken over what was once a popular, broad-based uprising against the Assad dictatorship, and are killing one another, and ordinary Syrian civilians, across a wide swath of that country. Having effectively lost control of much of the country’s second most important city, Aleppo, to rebels, the regime is now feeling confident enough to be preparing an assault to retake it. Syria’s conflict is about a lot of different things, of course, but in the business of killing, which is the hardtack, everyday stuff of war, it, too, is Shiite versus Sunni.

As for neighboring Lebanon—the Mediterranean rump state formed in the European carve-up of the Ottoman Empire, in the wake of the First World War—thanks to the spillover of Syria’s conflict, it is looking increasingly like a cracked pane of glass, just waiting for the next hard shake to fall apart completely. As in Syria, the violence is pitting Shiite against Sunni, and also against Christian.

And on and on. The region is, effectively, coming apart. If the Cold War helped to suppress long-standing feuds and rivalries (while helping to incubate militant Islam), which the fall of the Soviet Union exposed, it seems obvious now that key nerve endings were cut by the U.S. intervention in Iraq—and the one in Afghanistan, too—finishing off whatever uneasy compromises remained. (The death, by hanging, of Saddam Hussein, in 2006, had a vengeful quality, but it appeased none of Iraq’s demons.) The Arab Spring of 2011, that phenomenon which so raised hopes and caused hearts to flutter in the West—and, indeed, across the Middle East—has collapsed, and been replaced by increasing volatility. Egypt, the bulwark of American power in the region, a staunch Western ally ever since Anwar Sadat signed a peace deal with Israel at Camp David, is now, post-Mubarak and post-Muslim Brotherhood, in the grip of a military clique that is, by the day, widening its definition of who and what is a terrorist. Extremist violence has begun as a reaction, or possibly as a provocation, or both. Expect tyranny, and more violence, in the land of the pharaohs, and—who knows—maybe even civil war. In Bahrain, the Shiite majority simmers under a Sunni king. In Saudi Arabia, hundreds of young male volunteers, anxious for the chance to kill Shiites in Syria’s jihad, manage to go off and do just that, with the ease of Californians flying to Las Vegas for weekend gambling breaks.

And there is anarchic Libya, with its myriad armed gangs, its jihadis, and its own waves of bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations; fragile (and still marginally hopeful) Tunisia; Mali and the other shaky statelets of western Africa, Burkina Faso and Niger, in which terrorists occasionally kill and are chased but nothing is the same as it was; Nigeria, with the fanatical jihadi group Boko Haram, which seeks common cause with Al Qaeda in the region and at home, and kills Christians with breathtaking frequency, only to find its own people massacred by out-of-control government troops; and the Central African Republic, where poverty and underlying tribal enmities have now found terrifying expression within a Christian-versus-Muslim prism.

Indeed, an arc of violent political instability now links Muslim nations from Mauritania to Pakistan, affecting neighbors in Europe and Africa, and there is no end in sight. Most worryingly, in the contiguous nations of central and eastern Africa, where the states are weak, a rash of uncontained conflicts has spread, their violence and refugees flowing outward and overlapping, in a great bulge of mayhem that extends from the Horn to the Nile and from the Great Lakes region to the Sahel. It is dangerous: war thrives in a vacuum.

Nowadays, the U.S. has no interest in sending combat troops, just advisers or small SWAT teams dispatched here and there on specific missions (to kill Osama bin Laden or sundry terrorists in Somalia). Instead, it supports peacekeeping missions, sends humanitarian aid, and engages in hard-nosed diplomacy. That’s all well and good. Why fight wars if you can’t win them? More troops won’t rewind the past or undo the tragic mistakes and the stupidities of the Iraq invasion and its aftermath. But, at the same time, who says that this is not a world at war? Do we have a plan of action?

Back in the days when he was trying to fix Iraq, Ambassador Khalilzad talked about his use of chaos theory, but he lamented the lack of American strategists with the heft and the depth of Zbigniew Brzezinski, his old mentor, or Henry Kissinger, helping to steer things at the top—someone with a world view and a chess master’s eye. It was, I suppose, his way of saying that, for all its sweeping ambitions, the U.S.S. Enterprise was steering blind.

No new Brzezinski ever appeared on the scene. Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld have long since retired to their ranches to, variously, paint, get a heart transplant, and write self-serving memoirs. Robert Gates, the former Secretary of Defense, has come out with a tell-all book of his own, revealing, among other things, that he cried at night over the deaths of American troops. That’s comforting. We’re all back home now, or nearly so. But we’ve left a mess behind. So what’s next? Where do we go from here?

As for those American soldiers asking, “Was our sacrifice in Fallujah worth it?,” one is at a loss about how to reply to the thought that comes to mind this week: No, it really wasn’t. It is time to get angry.

Voir par ailleurs:

La gauche actuelle est thermidorienne et cynique
Jean-Claude Pacitto, maître de conférences à l’université Paris Est et Philippe Jourdan, professeur à l’université Paris Est

Le Monde

10.04.2015

La gauche a beaucoup de chance. Des historiens et des politologues complaisants veulent toujours voir dans les turbulences qui l’agitent le fruit de divergences idéologiques, de visions du monde opposées comme l’on disait autrefois. Ainsi, on opposera une gauche girondine à une gauche jacobine, une première gauche à une seconde etc…

On remarquera que pour beaucoup ces fractures internes sont issues de la révolution française. Curieusement, une période de la révolution est toujours oubliée. Si l’on excepte de rares occasions, on parle peu de la gauche thermidorienne et pourtant, pensons nous, cette période est capitale pour comprendre ce qu’est devenue, aujourd’hui, la gauche française. La période thermidorienne débute avec la chute de Robespierre le 9 thermidor (27 juillet 1794) et finit avec le coup d’Etat de Bonaparte, le 18 brumaire (9 novembre1799). Elle culminera avec le Directoire. La coalition qui mettra fin à la dictature robespierriste est, dans sa composition, assez hétéroclite. Elle va d’ex-conventionnels terroristes aux anciens girondins en passant par le centre mou de la révolution : le fameux marais. En apparence, sauf l’hostilité à Robespierre, pour des raisons diverses d’ailleurs, ils ne sont d’accord sur rien. En apparence seulement. Car comme le soulignent Furet et Richet dans leur livre La révolution française, ce qui les réunit c’est la poursuite d’un double objectif : celui de la conquête et de l’intérêt. Il ne s’agit plus de créer l’homme vertueux mais de profiter (au sens plein du terme) des acquis de la révolution. Les thermidoriens les plus célèbres, dont le fameux Barras, seront des jouisseurs. Ils aiment l’argent et la jouissance dans tous ses aspects. De ce point de vue, la gauche Canal+ vient de loin, elle n’est pas née avec le mitterrandisme, ni avec 1968. La république spartiate rêvée par Robespierre et Saint-Just fait désormais place à la République des palais et des costumes extravagants.

La période du Directoire sera aussi cette époque où les spéculateurs de tout poil vont nouer avec le pouvoir politique des relations troubles. Les liaisons de la gauche avec la finance ont des antécédents et on se rend compte alors que ce n’est pas simplement ici une rencontre de circonstance. Pour se maintenir au pouvoir et profiter de leurs richesses, souvent acquises de manière suspecte, les thermidoriens seront prêts à tout, notamment aux coups d’Etat. Voyant des complots royalistes partout ils sauront en profiter pour s’offrir une virginité politique à bon compte. Malgré leur cynisme et le caractère très intéressé de leur investissement en politique, ces hommes sont pourtant, d’un point de vue philosophique, des hommes de gauche. Barras, Tallien, Reubell, La Révellière-Lépeaux et bien d’autres encore communient à la philosophie des lumières. Ils croient en la politique de la table rase et vomissent le catholicisme. Leur vision du monde est celle du progressisme de Condorcet. L’anticléricalisme leur est d’autant plus utile qu’il masque l’abandon de leur part de toute volonté de transformation sociale. Car, comme les socialistes d’aujourd’hui les thermidoriens sont, pour la plupart, des bourgeois (Barras était lui issu de la noblesse) qui se méfient de la « canaille ». Les philosophes des lumières leur ont légué une méfiance du peuple qui ne fera que s’approfondir. De ce point de vue aussi, la « prolophobie » actuelle du parti socialiste vient de loin. Ainsi, plus le directoire accentuera sa politique favorable aux intérêts, plus l’anticléricalisme se fera pesant avec un point paroxystique atteint après le coup d’Etat de Fructidor qui entrainera la déportation de centaines de prêtres. Le sociétalisme de la gauche n’est pas né ces trente dernières années, il lui est consubstantiel. Comme l’a bien montré Michéa, il n’est que la manifestation politique de la vision progressiste du monde telle qu’issue de la philosophie des lumières. La nouveauté que les thermidoriens vont léguer à la gauche contemporaine réside dans leur très forte capacité à habiller le cynisme et un amour inconsidéré du pouvoir pour le pouvoir des oripeaux du progressisme. Si l’on ne saurait exonérer les thermidoriens d’un minimum de convictions, ce qui les caractérise avant tout c’est une passion pour le pouvoir et de tout ce qu’il permet. Dans cette perspective, les nombreux dirigeants du PS qui sont issus de l’extrême gauche ne sont pas sans rappeler tous ces ex-conventionnels adeptes de la terreur qui sauront très bien se reconvertir après le 9 thermidor et entamer, pour beaucoup d’entre-eux, des carrières très fructueuses (à tous les points de vue), on pense ici à Fouché5. Il y a beaucoup de thermidorisme dans la trajectoire d’un Cambadélis, passé du lambertisme au strauss-kahnisme et ce n’est pas un hasard s’il est devenu premier secrétaire du parti socialiste. Ayant à peu près tout renié, il ne cesse de déclamer son progressisme avec une insistance qui fait sourire. N’est pas homme des lumières qui veut !

Enfin, dernier legs de Thermidor : l’institutionnalisation du pouvoir intellectuel. C’est dans cette période que va, en effet, s’institutionnaliser le pouvoir intellectuel en France avec la création de l’Institut et la domination des fameux idéologues tant raillés par Bonaparte puis Napoléon. Dès lors, l’intellectuel français va adopter des caractéristiques qui ne le quitteront plus. Il sera philosophiquement progressiste, socialement bourgeois, très souvent anticlérical ou athée, profondément élitiste (même s’il proclame le contraire) et très souvent fâché avec le monde réel. Et conclurons-nous très proche des pouvoirs établis ! L’intellectuel de gauche n’est pas né avec l’affaire Dreyfus, il est un enfant de Thermidor.

La gauche est mal à l’aise avec Thermidor. C’est un héritage qu’elle ne revendique pas. D’ailleurs, c’est le parent pauvre de l’histoire de la révolution française alors que d’un point de vue chronologique c’est la période la plus longue (hors Consulat). On débat toujours de Robespierre mais qui se souvient de Barras ? Pourtant, lorsque l’on examine avec attention cette période on se rend compte que toutes les contradictions de la gauche et toutes ses évolutions futures s’y trouvent contenues. La phase thermidorienne de la révolution française est en quelque sorte le laboratoire historique de la gauche contemporaine. Le cynisme, le sociétalisme des oligarques socialistes ne sont pas des accidents de l’histoire, ils sont ancrés en elle. L’argent roi et le progressisme fou sont des vieux compagnons de route de la gauche française !


Photoshop/25e: La réécriture stalinienne de l’histoire à la portée des caniches (How Photoshop democratized revisionist history)

24 février, 2015
https://www.lds.org/bc/content/shared/content/images/gospel-library/manual/34188/p-028-1.gif
L’amour, c’est l’infini mis à la portée des caniches. Céline
L’idée selon laquelle ce qui est en face de l’objectif doit être vrai ne correspond qu’à un sens occidental de la réalité. Mary Warner Marien (université de Syracuse)
In my own reality, I know that these things did happen. But “without him in them, I can display them. I can look at those pictures and think of the laughter we were sharing, the places we went to. This new reality is a lot more pleasant. Laura Horn (police emergency dispatcher, Rochester)
If you can’t have the perfect family, at least you can Photoshop it. Heather Downs (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
It used to be that photographs provided documentary evidence, and there was something sacrosanct about that. What we’re doing is fulfilling the wish that all of us have to make reality to our liking. Chris Johnson (California College of the Arts in the Bay Area)
Although we may have the impression that photographic tampering is something relatively new – a product of the digital age – the reality is that history is riddled with photographic fakes.(…) the air-brushing of images by brutal dictators took place as a matter of course. (…) Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Fidel Castro all indulged in a spot of pre-PC Photoshopping to eradicate enemies from pictures. (…) Although there are many historical examples of photographic fakes, time-consuming and cumbersome darkroom techniques were required to create them. And so it wasn’t unreasonable for most people to believe that they could put their trust in photographs. Hany Farid

Attention: une photo peut en cacher une autre !

Correction de défauts, éclaircissement ou assombrissement, augmentation ou diminuation des contrastes, saturation des couleurs, ajouts ou suppressions de personnes ou d’objets, photomontages, trucages …
En ce 25e anniversaire de la création de Photoshop
Et en ces temps de familles recomposées et de mariages  pour tous
Hollywood continue sa propre réécriture de l’histoire …
Et où, avec la surinformation et la diffusion des théories du complot, tant le scepticisme que la crédulité ne semblent jamais avoir été aussi grands …
Confirmation, avec le New Yortk Times et le génial site d’identité photographique américain Four and six
Que la tristement célèbre réécriture stalinienne de l’histoire est non seulement à présent à la portée du premier venu …
Mais que comme le montre la fameuse photo reconstituée de Lincoln (avec le corps de homme politique sudiste Calhoun) …
La retouche photographique est presque aussi vieille que l’invention de la photographie elle-même …
Internet actu
02/09/08
Passionnant article du New York Times sur l’utilisation de plus en plus commune de la retouche d’image par tout un chacun. Grâce aux logiciels de retouche de photographies, il devient facile d’effacer un ex-mari de ses photos de vacances, d’ajouter un cousin à une photo de mariage. “Sans lui sur les photos, je peux les regarder. Je peux regarder ces images et penser aux bons moments que nous avons partagés, aux endroits où nous sommes allés”, précise une femme qui a effacé son ex-époux de la plupart de ses photos. A l’époque de la manipulation numérique, de nombreuses personnes pensent que les photos de familles ne doivent plus nécessairement évoquer ce qui a été, mais ce qu’on souhaiterait avoir vécu, explique Alex Williams, l’auteur de l’article. Même si ces fausses photographies finissent par altérer la mémoire de chacun : est-ce que ceux qu’on voit sur la photo étaient vraiment à ce mariage ?
En Inde, explique Mary Warner Marien, professeur d’histoire à l’université de Syracuse et auteur de La photographie, une histoire culturelle, il y a une tradition de copier-coller les têtes des membres de la famille absents à une cérémonie pour les y intégrer dans une volonté de respect. “L’idée selon laquelle ce qui est en face de l’objectif doit être vrai ne correspond qu’à un sens occidental de la réalité”, explique-t-elle. Après la mort de son père, Theresa Rolley, elle, a fait créer une photo d’elle et de son père ensemble, car elle n’en possédait pas. De telles manipulations représentent un nouveau mécanisme de copie pour nous, explique Heather Downs, sociologue à l’université de l’Illinois, qui a étudié le rôle que les photographies jouent dans les familles. “Ces images idéalisées peuvent changer la manière dont on abord les problèmes que toutes les familles rencontrent : mésententes, divorces…” Il ne faut pas oublier que la photographie a toujours représenté, à certains niveaux, une distorsion de la réalité, reconnait Per Gylfe, directeur du laboratoire des médias numériques au Centre de photographie international de New York. “Nous prenons toujours les photographies comme des preuves d’un évènement, alors que nous n’aurions jamais dû”, conclut-il en expliquant combien la technique sait faire varier l’appréciation que l’on a d’une image. Sans compter que la motivation à truquer et idéaliser les images de soi ou de ses proches est plus forte à l’heure où les albums de photos familiaux passent de l’espace domestique à l’internet, explique Alex Williams. En outre, les gens sont de plus en plus enclins à accepter les trucages en photographie, car ils y sont de plus en plus exposés. La manipulation de l’image a changé le climat des médias, explique Fred Ritchin, professeur de photographie à l’université de New York. “Au niveau de la famille et des amis, il y a beaucoup moins de résistance aux images modifiées”. A croire que dans un monde où la plupart des images sont retouchées, les gens ordinaires pensent parfois qu’ils doivent embellir leur propre image juste pour suivre le rythme.Il y a 23 ans, rappelle Kevin Kelly, il annonçait la fin de la photographie comme “la preuve des choses qui existent”, à une époque où Photoshop était encore loin d’être répandu et où faire des retouches et de trucages était encore compliqué et coûteux. Dès à présent, rappelle-t-il, ce sont les images vidéos qui sont en passe de devenir la nouvelle cible des trucages et des retouches réalisés par tout un chacun. Et de voir dans l’Etoile de la mort sur San Francisco – un petit film réalisé par Michael Horn, qui incruste des images tirées de Star Wars sur des vues de San Francisco, réalisé avec un logiciel du commerce comme FinalCut -, que la vidéo n’est plus une preuve de quoi que ce soit.
Voir aussi:
The New York Times
August 17, 2008
REMOVING her ex-husband from more than a decade of memories may take a lifetime for Laura Horn, a police emergency dispatcher in Rochester. But removing him from a dozen years of vacation photographs took only hours, with some deft mouse work from a willing friend who was proficient in Photoshop, the popular digital-image editing program.Like a Stalin-era technician in the Kremlin removing all traces of an out-of-favor official from state photos, the friend erased the husband from numerous cherished pictures taken on cruises and at Caribbean cottages, where he had been standing alongside Ms. Horn, now 50, and other traveling companions.“In my own reality, I know that these things did happen,” Ms. Horn said. But “without him in them, I can display them. I can look at those pictures and think of the laughter we were sharing, the places we went to.”“This new reality,” she added, “is a lot more pleasant.”As image-editing software grows in sophistication and ubiquity, alterations go far beyond removing red-eye and whitening teeth. They include substituting head shots to achieve the best combination of smiles, deleting problematic personalities or adding family members who were unable to attend important events, performing virtual liposuction or hair restoration, even reanimating the dead. Revisionist history, it seems, can be practiced by just about anyone.As people fiddle with the photos in their scrapbooks, the tug of emotion and vanity can win out over the objective truth. And in some cases, it can even alter memories — Cousin Andy was at the wedding, right?In an age of digital manipulation, many people believe that snapshots and family photos need no longer stand as a definitive record of what was, but instead, of what they wish it was.“It used to be that photographs provided documentary evidence, and there was something sacrosanct about that,” said Chris Johnson, a photography professor at California College of the Arts in the Bay Area.If you wanted to remove an ex from an old snapshot, you had to use a Bic pen or pinking shears. But in the digital age, people treat photos like mash-ups in music, combining various elements to form a more pleasing whole.“What we’re doing,” Mr. Johnson said, “is fulfilling the wish that all of us have to make reality to our liking.”And he is no exception. When he photographed a wedding for his girlfriend’s family in upstate New York a few years ago, he left a space at the end of a big group shot for one member who was unable to attend. They caught up with him months later, snapped a head shot, and Mr. Johnson used Photoshop to paste him into the wedding photo.Now, he said, everyone knows it is phony, but “this faked photograph actually created the assumption — people kind of remember him as there.”THE impulse to record family history that is more wishful than accurate is as old as photography itself. In the 19th century, people routinely posed with personal items, like purses or scarves, that belonged to absent or dead relatives to include them, emotionally, in the frame, said Mary Warner Marien, an art history professor at Syracuse University and the author of “Photography: A Cultural History.”

In India, she said, it is a tradition to cut-and-paste head shots of absent family members into wedding photographs as a gesture of respect and inclusion. “Everyone understands that it’s not a trick,” she said. “That’s the nature of the photograph. It’s a Western sense of reality that what is in front of the lens has to be true.”

As recently as early in this decade, most people still recorded their family history primarily in film, photography experts said, meaning modifications were limited. Even among digital devotees, only professionals or ambitious amateurs typically would buy computer programs like Adobe Photoshop.

But now, with the professional-grade Photoshop CS3’s consumer-priced sibling, Photoshop Elements, often selling for under $100, its popularity is on the rise. Sales for the program have grown about 20 percent over the last year, said Kevin Connor, an Adobe vice president.

Similar software like GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program ) is free on the Internet. Photo kiosks in supermarkets, as well as popular photo programs like iPhoto and Picasa, can also manipulate photographs. In addition, professional retouching services, which can dramatically alter photographs, are burgeoning, often advertising on the Internet. And professional photographers will also alter reality to suit a client’s tastes.

After her father died several years ago, Theresa Newman Rolley, an accountant in Williamsport, Pa., hired Wayne Palmer, a photographic retoucher, to create a composite portrait of the two of them because she had no actual one of them together.

That photograph — of a moment that never happened — now hangs in her living room. It still brings tears to her eyes, she said.

“It’s the only picture of my dad and me together,” Ms. Rolley said, adding, “If the only reason I can get one is cropping it in, it still means the same to me.”

Such manipulations represent “a new coping mechanism for us,” said Heather Downs, a visiting assistant professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has studied the role photographs play in families. Idealized images , she said, can give people “a new script for dealing with problems families have always had: family members who don’t get along, divorce.”

“If you can’t have the perfect family,” she added, “at least you can Photoshop it.”

Ellen Robinson, a volunteer college trustee in Denver, commissioned Sara Frances, a local photographer, to shoot a formal family portrait to hang prominently in their new house. Working for $150 an hour, Ms. Frances changed expressions of family members and swapped the dog’s head between images. She slenderized bodies, adjusted skin tones and changed the color of several outfits to make for a more unified palette. She even straightened the collar on one son’s shirt.

“You’re spending a lot of money on these portraits,” Ms. Robinson said. “They’re supposed to last a lifetime — generations, really. So why not get a helping hand to do it right?”

Photography has always represented, to some degree, a distortion of reality, said Per Gylfe, the manager of the digital media lab at the International Center of Photography in New York. A photographer can create different impressions of the same scene by including some elements in the frame and omitting others, by changing lenses, or by tweaking the color and tone of the image in the darkroom.

“We’ve always taken photographs as proofs of events, and we probably never should have,” Mr. Gylfe said.

The motivation to craft an idealized image of oneself or one’s family is even greater in an era when the family photo album is migrating from the closet to the Internet. In addition, people are growing more accepting of fakery in photography, in part because doctored photographs — and commentary about them — are so pervasive online.

An incident last month in which the Iranian government apparently manipulated an image of a missile test to show off the size of its arsenal became blog fodder around the world.

Exposing photo fakery has become an entertainment genre of its own on the blog Photoshop Disasters, which catalogs the more obvious examples taken from magazines, newspapers, advertisements and other media.

“The entire media climate is filled with manipulation,” said Fred Ritchin, a professor of photography and imaging at New York University. Therefore, he added, “on the level of family and friends, there’s much less resistance to altering images.”

INDEED, in a world where so many images of the beautiful and famous are enhanced, ordinary people sometimes believe they need to prettify pictures of themselves just to keep pace. Keze Stroebel-Haft, 23, a retoucher for an advertising agency in San Francisco, said she uses Photoshop to remove blemishes or double chins from photos of herself she posts on MySpace and Facebook.

“It’s everywhere,” she said. “On the covers of magazines, all the beautiful women are Photoshopped, their skin is cleaned up. Everybody does it.”

But even as evolving technology gives people more power to reconstruct their personal histories, those old, unretouched photographs in their family album retain a powerful psychological value.

Alan D. Entin, a clinical psychologist in Richmond, Va., uses patients’ family photographs as raw material to inspire discussion and analysis of their roles and relationships within their family.

“They’re a record,” he said. “They have existed over time and space. They are important documents.”

To alter them is to invite self-deception, he said. “The value to accepting a photograph of yourself as you are is that you’re accepting the reality of who you are, and how you look, and accepting yourself that way, warts and all. I think the pictures you hate say as much about you as pictures you love.”

Voir également:
The Ethics of Digital Manipulation
Is it real, or is it Photoshop?
Jerry Lodriguss
Astropix
How can we believe anything we see anymore? With today’s technology, we can literally do anything we want with images.In the example see above, we have changed the red color of M8, the Lagoon Nebula, whose main spectral emission lies in the red portion of the spectrum, to blue with a simple adjustment in Photoshop.When photography was first invented, its overwhelming power came from the fact that it recorded nature more realistically than any other art form had ever done before. Because of this, people trusted it and believed it portrayed « reality » and « truth ».But, just as story telling could portray the « truth » with an accurate accounting of the facts, it could just as easily become fiction. Fake and manipulated photographs – visual fiction – began circulating not long after the invention of photography.With the invention of motion pictures, and certainly television, the public came to know that not every picture they saw was necessarily factual in its depiction of reality.Historical Image ManipulationMany people think that the manipulation of images started with the invention of Photoshop, but there have been fake photographs since the invention of photography.Arthur Conon Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, believed these photos to be real, and wrote pamphlets attesting to their truthfulness. Even today some people believe these photographs are real.At about the same time, photographic composites of different images were created by commercial photographic studios to bring family members together into one picture when they were not together in reality for the portrait session (right).Notice that the three people on the left in the image appear to be floating in mid air in this photographic portrait of the Daquilla family from the early 20th century by A. Werner and Sons in New York.They were apparently cut out of other photos and pasted on top of a photo of the woman at right and re-photographed in a composite image.Ethics and AestheticsWhen we correct, manipulate and enhance images in Photoshop, we must deal with questions of both ethics and aesthetics. This discussion is not only limited to digital manipulation, but also includes conventional darkroom methods.Ethics are a set of rules that we invent that define what we think is good and bad. The dictionary says ethics are « a set of moral principles or values » and that ethical means « conforming to accepted professional standards of conduct ».

Aesthetics, on the other hand, deal with the nature of beauty, art and taste, and things that are pleasing in appearance.

With digital processing, there is almost no limit to what can be done to an image, and many things are done to images with the best intentions. The question is, when does the pursuit of aesthetics violate our ethics?

Changes can be made to images that are undetectable, so much so that there is now discussion that photographs will no longer be allowed as evidence in courts of law.

Today’s viewers however, are very sophisticated visually. They know full well that anything, literally, can be done to an image. They have seen dinosaurs and aliens portrayed with lifelike realism in the movies. Problems arise though because viewers expect to be fooled in the movies, and tend to get upset and feel betrayed when they are fooled in an allegedly factual medium such as the news business.

In this discussion, there will be no simple black and white answers, everything will fall along a continuum and it is humans who decide the rules for what is considered ethical behavior and these rules can and do change over time.

The Myths of Objective Reality and Absolute Truth

The fundamental fact that we usually forget is that when we take a picture we do not make a perfectly objective recording of reality. What we make is an interpretation of reality.Another problem in the « accurate » recording of nature is inherent in the choice of technology used by a photographer. Do you prefer Kodachrome of Velvia color film? Take your pick. Which particular Canon digital picture style do you like: Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral, Faithful, or Monochrome? Which is a « true » recording of nature? None of these are. Each is an interpretation of nature. There is no film or digital camera that perfectly and accurately records nature even on this simple level.It is also a fact that color is created in the mind of the observer. It is not a physical property of objects in the world, just as pain is not a physical property of the baseball that hits you in the eye.Another way that still photography departs from reality is that it « freezes » time. We experience reality as a continuous stream while we are conscious. Motion video mimics this, but traditional still photography does not.InterpretationsPhotographers interpret what they see in a myriad of ways. The choice of lens by focal length and working f/stop alter spatial relationships between objects in the frame. The choice of location and focal length changes the very content of the picture. The choice of when to trip the shutter freezes a particular moment in a fluid and continuously changing time stream.The real world is not recorded with strict objectivity in photographs because they are taken by human photographers who exercise editorial judgments in the taking of the photo, which includes the personal preferences, aesthetics, prejudices, intentions and philosophies of the photographer who takes the image.Ethical LimitsHow much is too much, how far is too far?It depends on what you are trying to do. I am trying to share the beauty and wonder of the universe with others through my astrophotography. The question is more one of aesthetics than ethics for me because I am not formally trying to produce science with my images. My images do have documentary aspects however, so ethical considerations do come into play.It’s simple to me. The special qualities of long-exposure astrophotography allow the recording of objects and details that are mostly invisible to normal human vision. It is really out there in nature, we just can’t see it. Some of this detail is incredibly faint and low contrast. If I enhance this faint detail in the original image to make it more visible, or more aesthetically appealing, that is ethically acceptable to me.If you add something that wasn’t there in the original scene, you’ve crossed the line from a documentary art form into a fictional one. This may or may not be OK, depending on what your purpose is. If your purpose is to portray a scene as truthful, then it’s not OK. If your purpose was to create fiction, or « art », then it is OK. You just have to be up front and tell the viewer what you are doing in either case.This position is, however, an opinion, and a completely subjective value judgment on my part. Like all ethical judgments, it can be unique and different for each individual.Moon Composite
As for changing the contents of an image, personally I don’t think much of the practice. For example, consider an image that shows a double exposure of a gigantic moon or an eclipse shot with a telephoto lens and a foreground scene that was shot with a wide angle. It’s fake. I know it immediately when I look at it. A scene like that can’t exist in nature. It doesn’t do anything for me. I also know how difficult it is to take a photo of the real thing, and personally I place a tremendous amount of value on knowing an image is an attempt at being accurate.However, other people might find a big moon in a wide-angle scene interesting and really enjoy it. On several occasions I have seen both photographically knowledgeable people, as well as the general public, get really excited over such an image. In my opinion, as long as the artist does not try to misrepresent what they are doing and methods are completely explained in the caption, it is an aesthetic judgment as to their success or failure.

I think the acceptance and popularity of images like this are mostly due to the proclivities of the viewer – they would rather be entertained and don’t care that much that they were fooled. In fact, many people take great delight in being fooled, for example, at magic shows.

Most people who willingly suspend disbelief do so only in the context of entertainment and fiction. Although you could argue that others, such as those who really believe in things such as ghosts and fairies, have different, lower, standards of credulity than most rational, scientifically inclined people.

What most people get justifiably upset at is when someone intentionally lies and presents something as truthful when it is not.

ExceptionsIn some situations it would be unethical not to digitally alter the content of a photograph, such as when a photo definitely records something incorrectly, such as red eye. The red eye would never have been there if we didn’t change the original scene by adding the flash.

Another example would be correcting the green cast of an image shot under fluorescent lights on daylight film. Our eyes adapt to the green color of the light and we see it as normal in the scene, but the daylight film actually records it accurately as green. You would have a hard time getting most people to accept that the green is more « truthful ».

Blue Moon Composite
In other cases, the only way to present a truer representation of reality is through a composite rather than with a single exposure.

For instance this photograph of the moon over the Philadelphia skyline is a fairly accurate representation of the scene as it really appeared to the eye.

However, there was no way to take this image in a single exposure because of the difference in brightness between the full moon and the foreground – some 14 stops difference.

Two exposures were made, one correct for the moon, and one correct for the foreground. They were then composited together in Photoshop. The moon is in the exact location it was when the photo was taken, and both photos were made with the same focal length lens.

The result was more true to the reality of the scene and the way it really looked than a single exposure could have captured. In this case the only way to faithfully represent the original scene was through some Photoshop « trickery ». Was this truthful and ethical? I believe so and the procedure was fully explained in the caption.

Now, if I had moved the moon to make it better in composition, would I have crossed the ethical line if I presented this as a documentary photo? Yes, I think so.

Purposes and intentionsThe important questions when we manipulate an image are, why are we doing this, and what are our purposes and intentions? Where do we draw the line? What is ethical in the digital manipulation and enhancement of a photo?

To answer these questions we must consider why we took the picture and what we are going to do with it. If the picture is taken for artistic purposes only, then pretty much anything goes because only aesthetic considerations come into play. If the photo was taken for documentary or journalistic reasons, then another set of ethical considerations come into play that have been developed by the photographer and the viewers of the image.

My personal opinion is that the answer hovers somewhere around the line that gets crossed when the manipulation is done with the intent to deceive the viewer, such as when two separate photos of John Kerry and Jane Fonda were put together for political purposes in a presidential election campaign to make it look like they appeared together at an anti-war rally.

Some people say that I go too far in the digital enhancement of my astrophotos, and that the colors in some of my images are over-exaggerated and garish. And that opinion is OK with me. However, it is my job as an artist to present my interpretation of reality, and it is their job as viewers to accept it and get something out of it, or not, and reject it.

As a journalist in my sports photography, my job and responsibility are to faithfully and truthfully interpret and represent reality in an image as well as I can understand it.

Do The Tools Make A Difference?We start out with nature. We can only observe it intimately with our own senses. Some might argue that a perfect experience can only be a first person experience. But if we find something interesting or beautiful, we may want to share something of that experience with others.

If others are not there with us to view the original scene personally, we can only share our own interpretation of the original experience. And we can only share this experience through some other media than reality. It may be verbal, through an oral story that tells of what we experienced, or it may be written down in words. It may be through some technology such as a simple drawing with pencil and paper, or a more complex technology such as film, CCD imaging or video.

The tool or technology does not really matter. Do you really care whether Hemingway wrote with a pen and paper or a typewriter? What matters is what the artist does with the tool or technology. Is he true to the subject and reality as he sees it?

Is it the tool, or the user of the tool, that the viewer trusts? The viewer must trust the creator of the work. The artist’s credibility is the only commodity of value that he has to exchange with the viewer for their trust.

The Bottom LineIf an artist painted an entire picture from a photograph, would this be unethical? Only if he tried to misrepresent what it was and how he did it. If the creator was honest about exactly what was done, then the viewer could make his own judgment.

Personally I would not place as much value on a painting of a photographic scene, because you had to have the photo first, and getting the photo was the hard part. I would also not put much value on an photo where details were added that were not in the original image.

Of course, you could argue, completely legitimately, that the real beauty is out there in nature, in reality, and that any recording, or representation of that beauty in a photograph or painting is only a pale imitation of the real thing. This is undoubtedly true, to a very large degree. It is also true that a photograph or painting by a skilled artist can capture some of the spirit of beauty of the scene, and that artifact can transmit some of that nature to others.

Final ThoughtsBecause of the ease in manipulating digital images with Photoshop, some people are questioning whether images are « real » or « art », and wondering if they can believe anything they see anymore. But people have been faking photos since the invention of photography – this is nothing new.

People have also been making things up since the invention of language. It’s called fiction! And lots of people get a lot of enjoyment out of it. As long as the purpose of the « art » is not to intentionally mislead or misrepresent, and the artist is clear about his methods and intentions, no one gets fooled. Of course, there are some art forms, such as magic, where the intention is specifically to deceive, and the viewer willingly goes along with it.

It only becomes a problem, and a question of ethics, when the artist or photographer lies about his motivations, methods, and conclusions, and presents images with the purpose to intentionally deceive.

Through my astrophotograhy I can share with others the wonders and beauty of the universe that are sometimes invisible to the human eye. Digital enhancement can add to these aesthetic experiences.

What is important is our motivation. Why are we doing these things? Are we doing them to deceive people? No, most of us are not. We are doing it to make the subject more visually interesting. We are simply trying to make it a better picture. Just as a writer enhances his factual stories with metaphor and adjectives, photographers can enhance their images with digital techniques such as contrast and color enhancement.

Writers massage the language of words; photographers massage the language of light.

Voir aussi:
28 February 2012
Here’s the proof that photo fakery is nothing new.These days magazine ‘artists’ can indulge every whim of the vainest covergirls, but pictures involving celebrities have been modified for many a long year.Take this 150-year-old portrait of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, in which he looks every bit the all-American hero. All is not as it appears – as although it is undoubtedly the 16th Commander in Chief’s face staring at the camera, the body in fact belongs to a prominent southern politician.It has led to claims the 1860 portrait, stitched together from two pictures as ‘no sufficiently heroic portrait of Lincoln had yet been taken’, could be the first ever Photoshopped image. And a study of interesting images from down the years show how the art of photograph trickery has developed over time. Digital forensics expert Dr Hany Farid said: ‘Although we may have the impression that photographic tampering is something relatively new – a product of the digital age – the reality is that history is riddled with photographic fakes.’Farid, from Dartmouth College, said the air-brushing of images by brutal dictators took place as a matter of course.A touch too much! As fashion firms take picture retouching… Look Mom, I’m flying! Eerie photographs show baby floating… The rise of the spirit shadows: Photographer’s haunting…He said Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Fidel Castro all indulged in a spot of pre-PC Photoshopping to eradicate enemies from pictures.He added: ‘Although there are many historical examples of photographic fakes, time-consuming and cumbersome darkroom techniques were required to create them.’And so it wasn’t unreasonable for most people to believe that they could put their trust in photographs.’Farid has published a series of pre-digital age doctored photographs on his website.

One appears to be of General Ulysses S Grant in front of his troops at City Point, Virginia, during the Civil War.

But, as he says researchers at the Library of Congress revealed, it is actually three different photographs merged together.

The head is taken from a portrait of Grant, the horse and body are those of Major General Alexander M McCook and the background is of Confederate prisoners captured at the battle of Fisher’s Hill, VA.

In a third picture, by famed photographer Mathew Brady, General Sherman is seen posing with his Generals, including Francis P Blairr – who was in fact later added to the image.

Voir encore:

Four and six

Though photo manipulation has become more common in the age of digital cameras and image editing software, it actually dates back almost as far as the invention of photography. Gathered below is an overview of some of the more notable instances of photo manipulation in history. For recent years, an exhaustive inventory of every photo manipulation would be nearly impossible, so we focus here on the instances that have been most controversial or notorious, or ones that raise the most interesting ethical questions.

We’ll continue to update this gallery as more incidents come to our attention, so if you come across any notable ones you think we should include, feel free to send us an e-mail at 

 

This nearly iconic portrait (in the form of a lithograph) of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is a composite of Lincoln’s head and the Southern politician John Calhoun’s body.

Stalin routinely air-brushed his enemies out of photographs. In this photograph a commissar was removed from the original photograph after falling out of favor with Stalin.

In this doctored photograph, Mao Tse-tung (right) had Po Ku (left) removed from the original photograph, after Po Ku fell out of favor with Mao.

In this doctored photograph, Adolf Hitler had Joseph Goebbels (second from the right) removed from the original photograph. It remains unclear why exactly Goebbels fell out of favor with Hitler.

In this doctored photo of Queen Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon — mother of Queen Elizabeth II — and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in Banff, Alberta, King George VI was removed from the original photograph. This photo was used on an election poster for the Prime Minister. It is hypothesized that the Prime Minister had the photo altered because a photo of just him and the Queen painted him in a more powerful light.

In order to create a more heroic portrait of himself, Benito Mussolini had the horse handler removed from the original photograph.

A World War II photo published in the Russian magazine Ogoniok shows several Russian soldiers raising the Soviet flag atop the German Reichstag building. At the request of the editor-in-chief of the magazine, the photo was altered prior to publication to remove what appeared to be a watch from the right arm of the solider supporting the flag-bearer. Though in reality the object on his right arm was most likely a compass, there was concern that viewers would conclude that he had watches on both wrists, and take that as evidence that he had been looting.

This digitally altered photograph of OJ Simpson appeared on the cover of Time magazine shortly after Simpson’s arrest for murder. This photograph was manipulated from the original mug-shot that appeared, unaltered, on the cover of Newsweek. Time magazine was subsequently accused of manipulating the photograph to make Simpson appear “darker” and “menacing”.

A digital composite of a British soldier in Basra, gesturing to Iraqi civilians urging them to seek cover, appeared on the front page of the Los Angeles Times shortly after the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. Brian Walski, a staff photographer for the Los Angeles Times and a 30-year veteran of the news business, was fired after his editors discovered that he had combined two of his photographs to “improve” the composition.

A photo purporting to show Senator John Kerry and Jane Fonda sharing a stage at an anti-war rally emerged during the 2004 Presidential primaries as Senator Kerry was campaigning for the Democratic nomination. It was later determined to be a photo composite. The picture of Senator Kerry was captured by photographer Ken Light as Kerry was preparing to give a speech at the Register for Peace Rally held in Mineola, New York, in June 1971. The picture of Jane Fonda was captured by Owen Franken as Fonda was speaking at a political rally in Miami Beach, Florida, in August 1972.

A political ad for George W. Bush, as he was running for President, shows a sea of soldiers as a back drop to a child holding a flag. The original image included Bush standing at a podium, but he was removed by digitally copying and pasting several soldiers from other parts of the image. After acknowledging that the photo had been doctored, the Bush campaign said that the ad would be re-edited and re-shipped to TV stations.

An image was widely circulated on the Internet showing a U.S. Marine posing for a photo with two Iraqi children holding a sign reading “Lcpl Boudreaux killed my Dad then he knocked up my sister”. Boudreaux claims that this image was tampered with from the original, in which the sign read “Welcome Marines”. A military investigation into potential wrong-doing was inconclusive. It remains unclear if this image is authentic.

A photo, taken of U.S. President George W. Bush as he sat in a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, shows Bush scribbling a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reading, “I think I may need a bathroom break. Is this possible?” Reuters’ picture editor, Gary Hershorn, explained that sections of the photo were overexposed so a Reuters’ processor used the Photoshop technique to “burn down the note.” Hershorn says that the photo was not manipulated in any way, but that it was standard practice for such news photos to be enhanced.

A doctored photo of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared alongside a USA Today news story about Rice’s comments to U.S. Lawmakers regarding U.S. Troops in Iraq. After receiving complaints from readers, the photograph was removed from USA Today’s website, and the following Editor’s note appeared alongside a “properly adjusted copy”: “Photos published online are routinely cropped for size and adjusted for brightness and sharpness to optimize their appearance. In this case, after sharpening the photo for clarity, the editor brightened a portion of Rice’s face, giving her eyes an unnatural appearance. This resulted in a distortion of the original not in keeping with our editorial standards.”

The San Antonio Observer ran a cover story featuring a San Antonio police officer wearing a white hood of the Ku Klux Klan. The newspaper admitted that they digitally inserted the hood and gun into the original photograph. Police spokesman Joe Rios said that the Observer defamed the character of the officer in the photograph. “You can clearly read his badge number,” Rios said. “I can tell you that the officer who was depicted in that picture is very upset.” Ida Brown, an Observer spokeswoman, disputed that the officer’s badge number could be discerned on the cover and said the image was not intended as a personal attack. “Primarily, the picture shows that there are racist police officers on the force, and they do target minorities who are innocent,” Brown said.

A controversial ad appeared as part of the Ohio Senate campaign between incumbent Mike DeWine (R) and challenger Sherrod Brown (D). DeWine’s campaign created a video of the World Trade Center in flames to attack Brown as soft on terrorism. The ad shows the south tower burning; however, the north tower was hit first, so the south tower could not be burning without the north tower burning as well. A DeWine spokesman acknowledged the image was a “graphic representation” by the firm that produced the ad, which used a still photo of the towers with computer-generated smoke added.

The Charlotte Observer fired Patrick Schneider, a staff photographer, for altering an image of a fire fighter. Following the incident, the paper released the following statement: “Photographer Patrick Schneider’s photo depicted a Charlotte firefighter on a ladder, silhouetted by the light of the early morning sun. In the original photo, the sky in the photo was brownish-gray. Enhanced with photo-editing software, the sky became a deep red and the sun took on a more distinct halo. The Observer’s photo policy states: No colors will be altered from the original scene photographed.” Schneider said that he only meant to restore the actual color of the sky that was lost when he underexposed the photo. Schneider was suspended in an earlier episode after it was revealed that his award-winning photographs had been manipulated. Scheider allowed this case to be used to educate other professional photographers in ethics seminars. At the time he pledged, “I will no longer tone my background down that far.”

A photograph by Adnan Hajj, a Lebanese photographer, showed thick black smoke rising above buildings in the Lebanese capital after an Israeli air raid. The Reuters news agency initially published this photograph on their web site and then withdrew it when it became evident that the original image had been manipulated to show more and darker smoke. “Hajj has denied deliberately attempting to manipulate the image, saying that he was trying to remove dust marks and that he made mistakes due to the bad lighting conditions he was working under”, said Moira Whittle, the head of public relations for Reuters. “This represents a serious breach of Reuters’ standards and we shall not be accepting or using pictures taken by him.” A second photograph by Hajj was also determined to have been doctored.

A photograph of CBS news anchor Katie Couric was digitally altered from the original to give Couric a trimmer waistline and a thinner face. This photo appeared in CBS’ in-house magazine Watch! CBS spokesman, Gil Schwartz, said “the doctored image was the work of a CBS photo department employee who got a little zealous”. Schwartz added, “I talked to my photo department; we had a discussion about it; I think photo understands this is not something we’d do in the future.”

This image of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan appeared on the cover of Time magazine under the headline “How the Right Went Wrong”. The image was doctored to include a tear on Reagan’s face. Time issued a statement saying it regularly runs what it calls “conceptual covers.” They said: “This week’s cover image is clearly credited on the table of contents page, naming both the photographer of the Reagan photo and the illustrator of the tear.”

Newspaper photographer Allan Detrich resigned from The Blade of Toledo, Ohio after admitting he had altered a photo that appeared in the paper. Detrich submitted at least 79 photos for publication since the beginning of the year that were digitally altered, 58 of which appeared in print. In a printed letter to readers, Blade Editor Ron Royhab said “the changes Mr. Detrich made included erasing people, tree limbs, utility poles, electrical wires, electrical outlets, and other background elements from photographs. In other cases, he added elements such as tree branches and shrubbery.” The Blade released three examples of how Detrich altered photos. “Readers have asked us why this was such a big deal. What’s wrong with changing the content of a photograph that is published in a newspaper? The answer is simple: It is dishonest,” Royhab wrote. “Journalism, whether by using words or pictures, must be an accurate representation of the truth.

The New York Times published this digitally altered photograph. In a correction, the Times’ editor said “The wood siding at the far left of the building was out of alignment because the picture was retouched by a Times staff member who took the picture, but who is not a staff photographer. He altered it because a flash created a white spot on the picture when he shot it through the window of a train. Also, the retouching tool left a round circle on the building’s window at the right”. The Editor’s note concludes with “Times policy forbids the manipulation of any photograph. Had editors been aware of the manipulation and seen the original picture, they would have either published the picture with the blemish or not used it.”

In an advertisement for IMAX 3D theaters promoting the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the bust of actress Emma Watson was digitally enlarged. A similar advertisement in regular theaters was unaltered. Warner Brothers Pictures released a statement that said “This is not an official poster. Unfortunately this image was accidentally posted on the IMAX website. The mistake was promptly rectified and the image taken down.”

The biceps of tennis player Andy Roddick were conspicuously enlarged on the cover of Men’s Fitness magazine. Roddick commented that he was “pretty sure I’m not as fit as the Men’s Fitness cover suggests”. He also noted that a prominent birthmark on his right arm had been erased. Richard Valvo, a spokesman for Men’s Fitness, said, “We wouldn’t comment on any type of production issue.” Adding, “I don’t see what the big issue is here.”

The cover of Redbook magazine featured a heavily retouched (and thinner) image of singer and actress Faith Hill. Redbook was accused of contributing to the unattainable body image created by digital retouching. In response, Redbook’s editor-in-chief Stacy Morrison said, “The retouching we did on Faith Hill’s photo for the July cover of Redbook is completely in line with industry standards.”

The August 2007 cover of the scientific publication Nature featured three autonomous aircraft taking atmospheric measurements. The top and bottom aircrafts, however, were cloned copies of each other. After a keen-eyed reader discovered this photo alteration, the Editors printed the following clarification: “The cover caption should have made it clear that this was a montage. Apologies.”

The French Magazine Paris Match altered a photograph of French President Nicolas Sarkozy by removing some body fat. The magazine said it had tried adjusting the lighting on the picture. “The correction was exaggerated during the printing process,” the magazine said.

 

A study by Dario Sacchi, Franca Agnoli and Elizabeth Loftus, published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, shows that people’s memories of events can be altered by viewing doctored images. For example, when presented with doctored images of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest participants recalled the event as larger and more violent. (Shown in the lower panel is the doctored image in which the crowd was added.)

Artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese created the exhibit “Line Up” depicting doctored photographs of George W. Bush and members of his administration. The exhibit, shown at the New York City Public Library, was critical of the war in Iraq. “It is simply inappropriate to have political attack art, in the form of egregious doctored photographs of the President and other high-ranking officials who have dedicated their lives to public service, in a taxpayer-funded building frequented by schoolchildren and the general public,” said Matthew Walter, director of communications for the state GOP. In response, Roberta Waddell, curator of the library’s print collection, said the exhibit was in keeping with a historical tradition, calling the exhibit a relevant example of political commentary.

The Asbury Park Press published a doctored photo of New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine as part of a story critical of Corzine’s financial restructuring plans. In a letter to the Press, Corzine’s chief of staff, wrote, in part, “Images that are nothing more than editorial cartoons morphed into photographs are fine — for the editorial page. But placement of such images on the front page of the Sunday edition demonstrates a disregard for objective reporting.” The Press’s executive editor said that the photo did not blur the line between news reporting and editorial commentary. “That wasn’t what we were trying to do,” he said. “We were just trying to frame the story for readers. We were doing it in a way that was a little edgy, and in a way that would grab your attention.”

Blender magazine issued a cover featuring pop star Britney Spears’s head composited over a model’s body. The magazine cover states “Truthiness Alert: This cover image is a composite photo. Britney did not pose for this picture. That, sadly, is not her body.”

Taiwan’s newspaper Liberty Times published a doctored photo of a delegation, led by the chairman of the Franz Collection, being met by the Pope. In the original photo, Wang Shaw-lan, a publisher of competing newspaper United Daily News, was removed. A Liberty Times reporter said that she removed Wang because she was “not an essential presence” and in order to shrink the picture for “better display”. Later, Liberty Times said that the doctored picture came from the Franz Collection, but a Franz Collection spokesman said the newspaper had asked it to airbrush out Wang.

A photograph, by Liu Weiqiang of the Daqing Evening News, won an award for “one of the ten most impressive news photos of 2006”. This photograph was later revealed to be a composite of two separate photographs: the antelopes and the train. Weiqiang says that he never published the picture as a news photograph. Weiqiang also wrote in his blog, “I admit it’s unfaithful, as well as immoral for a photographer to present a fabricated picture. I’m truly sorry.”

When The Sun published a photo of Britian’s Prince William in their print edition, a person in the back of the boat was digitally removed (except for their knee). The Metro ran the unaltered photo, as did the on-line version of The Sun.

A photo of Governor Sarah Palin was widely distributed across the Internet shortly after Palin was announced as the vice presidential nominee for the Republican ticket, depicting her in a patriotic bikini holding a rifle. Shortly after its release the photo was revealed to be a composite of Palin’s head, and somebody else’s body.

A front-page photo of Justice Minister Rachida Dati appeared in the French newspaper Le Figaro in June of 2008,with a large diamond ring on Dati’s hand digitally removed. This photo editing caused controversy regarding the alleged influence that the Sarkozy administration wields over the French press. The head of Le Figaro’s photo department defended the editorial decision saying that the newspaper did not want to distract readers from the content of its interview with Dati.

A ceremony on March 7th in Taiwan was held to honor Chinese soldiers who died in Papua, New Guinea during World War II. A photo from the event shows a “spirit tablet” used as part of the ceremony. When the photo appeared on Sina, a Chinese website, the text which read “The army of Republic of China” was digitally removed. In Taiwan, the government uses the phrase The Republic of China, while the Chinese government uses the phrase The People’s Republic of China.

The cover of Toronto’s summer edition of Fun Guide was digitally altered to be more inclusive, keeping with an editorial policy to reflect diversity. “We superimposed the African-Canadian person onto the family cluster in the original photo,” said communications director John Gosgnach. The original image was of a family of indeterminate ethnic background. “When you’re publishing something with the deadlines and you don’t have the right photo, the objective is to communicate the service,” Mr. Sack, director of strategic communications, said.

A picture essay in The New York Times Sunday Magazine entitled “Ruins of the Second Gilded Age”, by Edgar Martins, showed large housing construction projects that were halted due to the housing market collapse. The introduction said that the photographer “creates his images with long exposures but without digital manipulation.” After discovering the photo manipulations, the Times posted the following on their website. “After a reader discovered that the photos were digitally altered, Editors later confronted the photographer and determined that most of the images did not wholly reflect the reality they purported to show. Had the editors known that the photographs had been digitally manipulated, they would not have published the picture essay, which has been removed from NYTimes.com.”

In perhaps the most notorious example of extreme retouching in fashion advertising, a magazine advertisement by Ralph Lauren depicted a heavily manipulated photo of model Filippa Hamilton. After numerous complaints that the resulting image had impossibly inhuman proportions, a Ralph Lauren representative admitted to “poor imaging and retouching”, and added, “we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman’s body. We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the calibre of our artwork represents our brand appropriately.” Despite this promise, at least one subsequent image also featured unrealistic proportions.

A magazine ad for an Olay beauty product featuring the model Twiggy was banned in the United Kingdom by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). “Olay is my secret to brighter-looking eyes,” read the ad, and “… reduces the look of wrinkles and dark circles for brighter, younger-looking eyes.” In its ruling, the ASA said that it considered that the post-production retouching of the original ad, specifically in the eye area, could give consumers a “misleading impression of the effect the product could achieve”. An Olay spokesperson said the “minor retouching” had been inconsistent with its policies and it had already replaced the image with one with “no postproduction work in the eye area”.

A photo of an injured Israeli commando lying on the deck of a ship was published by the Reuters news agency. Reuters was accused of editorializing by cropping the original photo which showed that one of the men surrounding the commando was holding a knife. A Reuters representative attributed the cropped photos to normal editorial practice and added that once the omission of the knife was realized, the original photo was released.

A photo of Winston Churchill, featured above the entrance of The Britain At War Experience, in South-East London, was digitally altered to remove Churchill’s trademark cigar. Museum manager John Welsh was astonished to be told the image was digitally altered: “We’ve got all sorts of images in the museum, some with cigars and some without,… we wouldn’t have asked for there to be no cigar”, said Welsh.

The cover of The Economist depicted a solitary President Obama on the Louisiana beach inspecting the oil spill. The original photo, shot by Reuters photographer Larry Downing shows Coast Guard Admiral Thad W. Allen and Charlotte Randolph, a local parish president, standing alongside the President. A Reuters spokesperson stated that “Reuters has a strict policy against modifying, removing, adding to or altering any of its photographs without first obtaining the permission of Reuters and, where necessary, the third parties referred to.” In response, Emma Duncan, deputy editor of The Economist, stated: “I was editing the paper the week we ran the image of President Obama with the oil rig in the background. Yes, Charlotte Randolph was edited out of the image (Admiral Allen was removed by the crop). We removed her not to make a political point, but because the presence of an unknown woman would have been puzzling to readers. We often edit the photos we use on our covers, for one of two reasons. Sometimes – as with a cover we ran on March 27 on U.S. health care, with Mr. Obama with a bandage round his head – it’s an obvious joke. Sometimes – as with an image of President Chavez on May 15 on which we darkened the background, or with our “Its time” cover endorsing Mr. Obama, from which the background was removed altogether – it is to bring out the central character. We don’t edit photos in order to mislead. I asked for Ms. Randolph to be removed because I wanted readers to focus on Mr. Obama, not because I wanted to make him look isolated. That wasn’t the point of the story. “The damage beyond the spill” referred to on the cover, and examined in the cover leader, was the damage not to Mr. Obama, but to business in America.”

Malaysian politician Jeffrey Wong Su En produced a doctored photo as evidence that he was knighted by the Queen of England. “We can confirm that we have no record of any honour having been conferred at any time by the British Government on Jeffery Wong Su En,” said a spokesperson from the British High Commission. Mr. Wong was inserted into an original photo of Ross Brawn receiving the Order of the British Empire from the Queen.

A magazine cover from the Aspen Institute showed former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice. In the original photo, the moderator Nicholas Burns is seated between Albright and Rice, but he was eliminated from the cover shot. When asked about the photo alteration, Editor-In-Chief Jamie Miller responded that “We didn’t really feel like it affected any kind of news value of the story”. The photo credit in the table of contents reads “On the Cover: Institute trustees and former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Condoleeza Rice. Photo by Michael Brands. Photo Illustration by Steve Johnson and TMG.” When asked if this credit was sufficient disclosure of the photo alteration, Miller said “we didn’t feel that we really needed to get into it any further than that.”

Elle magazine was accused of lightening the skin of actress and former Miss World Aishwanya Rai. A similar complaint was also leveled against the October 2010 issue of Elle, which featured actress Gabourey Sidibeon (of the hit movie Precious). With regard to the photo of Sidibeon, Elle’s editor-in-chief Robbie Myers explained. “At a photo shoot, in a studio, that is a fashion shoot, that’s glamorous, the lighting is different. The photography is different than a red carpet shot from a paparazzi.” She emphasized, “We absolutely did not lighten her skin. Retouching is when we take a piece of hair and move it out of her eye, so you can’t compare a picture on a press line from what you do in a studio, where your job is to make them look beautiful.

China’s state-run CCTV aired a news story describing air force training exercises. A portion of the video showing an exploding jet plane was taken from the movie “Top Gun”, as seen in this side-by-side comparison. The BBC reported that one person familiar with CCTV said that this was not the first time movie footage was used in a news report, which is most common in stories about the military, science, and technology.

Tails magazine needed to post a notice on their blog that a photograph of their October 2010 cover was in fact a fake. The cover featured a photo of TV personality Rachel Ray with the subheading “Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog.” In fact, the original magazine cover included the necessary commas that significantly alter the meaning of the sentence: “Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking, her family, and her dog.” Illustrating the persistent life of online fakes, the magazine needed to repost the notice again in June 2012 when the image went even more widely viral

Jack Cashill, author of the book Deconstructing Obama claimed to have discovered a fake photo of President Obama and his grandparents sitting on a New York City bench (from David Remnick’s biography of President Obama, The Bridge). As evidence of the fake, Cashill produced what was claimed to be the original photo showing only the grandparents. In this photo, however, portions of President Obama’s knee is visible: the purported original version of a fake photo is a fake version of the original.

A photo montage on the cover of Newsweek magazine showing Princess Diana walking alongside Duchess Catherine (Kate) Middleton, was widely criticized as being in poor taste. The cover photo accompanies a story by Tina Brown speculating on what the future may have held for Princess Diana had she not died in 1997. In defending the cover, Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown stated “we wanted to bring the memory of Diana alive in a vivid image that transcends time and reflected my piece.”

The British Advertising Standards Authority banned two ads by cosmetics company L’Oreal due to excessive retouching. The first was an ad for Lancome featuring Julia Roberts, which claimed to “recreate the aura of perfect skin.” The second was an ad for Maybelline featuring Christy Turlington promoting a product called “The Eraser”. In making their judgment on the Lancome ad, the ASA stated that they “could not conclude that the ad image accurately illustrated what effect the product could achieve, and that the image had not been exaggerated by digital post production techniques.”

The official photo of newly elected Canadian member of parliament (MP), Rathika Sitsabaiesan, was altered to remove her cleavage. The photo was retouched by a House of Commons photographer in what a spokesperson says is common practice. Communications spokesperson Heather Bradley did not say why the photo was retouched but confirmed that MPs approve their final photo.

Pakistani actress Veena Malik sued the India edition of men’s magazine FHM for $2 million in damages, claiming that they “morphed” her cover photo to make her appear to be posing nude. Kabeer Sharma, the editor of FHM India responded that “We have not photoshopped or faked the cover. This is what she looks like.” He suggested that she denied agreeing to the photos only because of the public backlash the cover generated.

It was revealed that most of the model photos featured on the website of clothing retailer H&M are actually computer-generated and “completely virtual.” The company drapes clothing over the virtual models and then pastes on the faces of real models.

Under pressure from the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus in the U.S., Procter and Gamble pulled an advertising campaign for their NatureLuxe Mousse Mascara featuring singer Taylor Swift. The ads claimed that the mascara would provide “2X more volume” to lashes, but small print at the bottom of the ads admitted that the lashes were actually “enhanced in post-production” using image editing tools. “It is well established that product demonstrations in advertisements must be truthful and accurate and cannot be enhanced,” the NAD said. “Consequently, NAD appreciated the advertiser’s action, which NAD deemed necessary and proper.”

The Egyption Ministry of Information published on their official Facebook page manipulated photos of a women’s march protesting military rule and brutality against women. In the photos, signs bearing the slogan “down with military rule” had been replaced with signs depicting blue and pink bras. The Ministry later apologized for the incident. The symbolism was particularly troubling given the sensitivity around a previous incident in which a female protester had been stripped down to her bra and dragged through the street by a group of soldiers.

Pakistan’s Press Information Department distributed a photo of prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani speaking with two generals in which his fingers were extended in an awkward pose, and partially clipped. Further investigation determined that the original photo showed him holding a teacup, which had been removed prior to publication of the photo. The department eventually replaced the modified photo with the original.

A Russian newspaper distributed by a pro-Kremlin group printed a photograph showing blogger/activist Aleksei Navalny standing beside Boris A. Berezovsky, an exiled financier being sought by Russian police. The photograph was revealed to be a fake within hours when the photographer declared that it was doctored and the original image was published on other websites. The incident quickly led to a flood of image parodies in which Navalny was depicted alongside a range of unlikely companions, including Stalin, Putin, and an alien.

After an estimated 8-10,000 people demonstrated in the streets of Tunis to protest extermism and violence, the daily newspaper Le Maghreb published a photograph in which the crowd was digitally duplicated to appear even larger. The manipulation was discovered by readers, who posted online examples of where the same people could be found in multiple locations in the crowd. Zied Krichen, the editor-in-chief of the paper, later said that the image was digitally manipulated by the photographer, and they were unaware of the manipulation when they published the photo.

The Sacramento Bee newspaper fired award-winning photojournalist Bryan Patrick after it came to light that a photo of his that they had published was actually a composite. The photo depicted an egret with a frog in its mouth, but he had combined the best parts of two different photos. Initially, the photographer was just suspended, but further investigation found two more cases in which it was judged he crossed ethical boundaries in manipulating his images. The changes all appeared to have been made for aesthetic considerations. Sean Elliot, the president of the National Press Photographers Association, agreed with the decision, saying that, “If he’s willing to move a couple of egrets around, if he’s willing to jazz up flames to make a photo more exciting, how do we know there aren’t more?…How do we trust the work?”

After a string of tornadoes in the midwest, a graphic design student in Michigan posted on her Facebook page a photo of funnel clouds which she claimed was taken from behind her apartment. The photo quickly spread across Facebook until it was posted to the Facebook page of local station WNEM and, ultimately, broadcast on the news. Afterwards, the student admitted that the photo was a fake, saying, “I AM SO SORRY EVERYONE! I Photoshopped that photo of the tornado. I didn’t really think it would be so big!” WNEM news director Ian Rubin said that, “We’ve used this experience as a reminder to the whole news team to review (viewer submitted photos) with the meteorologists before they go on the air.”

The Russian Orthodox church was forced to apologize for a manipulated photo of their leader, Patriarch Kirill I, which was posted on their website. In the posted photo, they had eliminated a $30,000 Breguet watch from the patriarch’s wrist, but a reflection of the watch was still visible in the table upon which his arm was resting. Initially, the patriarch denied that he had ever worn the watch, and insisted that any photo showing it on his wrist had been doctored. Later, though, the church put the original image including the watch on its website, along with a statement that “a gross violation of our internal ethics has occurred, and it will be thoroughly investigated. The guilty will be severely punished.”

The managing editor of the Miami Herald demanded that Florida Governor Rick Scott remove a photo from his Facebook page, because it depicted the front page of the newspaper with a doctored headline. The image was intended to promote an editorial written by the Governor with the headline “New Law Helps Put Floridians Back to Work.” However, the real newspaper featured no mention of the editorial on the front page. In fact, someone on the Governor’s social media team had replaced one of the original headlines on an older issue of the newspaper, but had neglected to remove the byline reading “Guatemala City.”

High-fashion model Coco Rocha publicly complained about a magazine cover that she said violated her standards as well as her contract. Said Ms. Rocha, “For my recent Elle Brazil cover shoot I wore a body suit under a sheer dress, but recently discovered that the body suit was Photoshopped out to give the impression that I am showing much more skin than I actually was or am comfortable with.”

After being questioned by an online reader, the Chicago Tribune published an explanation for a 1955 photo of former Mayor Richard J. Daley that appeared in their Almanac section featuring photos from their archives. The reader noticed what appeared to be the line of a felt-tip marker highlighting the edge of the mayor’s hand. The newspaper explained that this line was Spotone ink which was applied to enhance contrast to the image in preparation for print production—which in those days could not reproduce photos with as much detail. Because the newspaper no longer had the original negative, they reproduced the version that had been retouched in the 1950’s. Though such retouching was standard practice in 1955, the fact that it seemed so obviously inappropriate in 2012 illustrates that ethical standards necessarily shift as technology evolves.

Perhaps aiming to make the June 2011 work by other Chinese officials look reasonable in comparison, the government in Yuhang District published a photo promoting a recent landscaping project in which officials appear to levitate over the scene—some with their legs only partially cloned in.

Proving that some fake photos refuse to die, the London’s Sunday Times ran a story entitled “Iran issues stark threat to Israel” and accompanied it with the widely debunked and ridiculed Iranian missile test photo that is featured elsewhere in this gallery.

Austria’s largest newspaper, Kronen Zeitung, ran a photo of a family fleeing a bombed-out neighborhood in war-torn Aleppo, Syria. Online commentors soon noted that the background in the photo had been changed from the original, European Pressphoto Agency image. In the original image, there is no visible bomb damage within the scene.

Spanish sports newspaper AS published a photo as evidence of an offside violation in a match between Spanish teams Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona. The original, however, shows that a defender had been digitally removed from the photo, and thus no violation occurred. AS apologized saying that it was caused by an infographics error.

Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces in Pakistan on May 2nd, 2011. A photo reported to be of Bin Laden was shown on Pakistani television. This photo was also published in the British newspapers Mail, Times, Telegraph, Sun, and Mirror. The photo, however, is a composite of two separate photos: The lower portion is of an alive Bin Laden, and the top portion is of another person.

The Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic newspaper Der Tzitung published a photo of President Obama and his national security team in the White House Situation Room. This photo was taken as the team watched a raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Prior to publication, the paper removed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director for Counterterrorism Audrey Tomason from the photo. In response to criticism, the paper responded, in part: “In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status. Publishing a newspaper is a big responsibility, and our policies are guided by a Rabbinical Board. Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive.”

The Associated Press announced that it would no longer work with freelance photographer Miguel Tovar, and that they were eliminating all of Tovar’s photos from its archives. This move came after Tovar removed his shadow from a photo taken at a soccer match in Argentina. Following the incident, the Director of Photography at the AP, Santiago Lyon, sent the following memo to all AP staff:

On Sunday we were faced with a case of deliberate and misleading photo manipulation by a freelancer on assignment for the AP at the Copa America soccer tournament in Argentina. Miguel Tovar chose to clone some dust from one part of a feature photo to another in order to obscure his own shadow, which was visible in the original photograph showing children playing soccer. An alert photo editor noticed that the pattern on the dust repeated itself in an unlikely way and subsequent investigations revealed the visual fraud. There is no indication that Tovar’s other images were manipulated. However, we have severed all relations with Tovar and removed him from the assignment. He will not work for the AP again in any capacity. In addition, we have removed all of his images from AP Images, our commercial photo licensing division, and its website. I would remind you of the AP’s policies regarding image manipulation, which can be found within our Statement of News Values and Principles: http://www.ap.org/newsvalues/index.html. Please be sure to read carefully the section on Images reproduced below and make sure that it is well understood — not only by staff photographers and editors, but also by freelancers or occasional contributors to the AP. Our reputation is paramount and we react decisively and vigorously when it is tarnished by actions such as the one described above.

Under the headline “Russia refuses to recognize Libya rebels as legitimate government, clashing with West”, Saudi-owned English news website Al-Arabiya published a photo into which fighter jets were digitally inserted. The original photo (by Marco Longari for AFP/Getty) shows Libyan rebel fighters near a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ras Lanuf.

The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) released a photo purporting to show President Bashar al-Assad swearing in the new governor of Hama after the previous governor was fired in response to anti-regime demonstrations. Critics quickly noticed the myriad problems in this crude Photoshop job, including the table shadow that doesn’t change as it moves from the glossy floor to the soft carpet, the nearly nonexistent shadows from the two figures, and the distorted perspective.

The Associated Press withdrew a news photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency after it was determined that the photograph was a digital composite. The image depicted North Korean citizens wading through high floodwaters, but critics noticed that the people looked crudely pasted into the scene, because their clothes were not wet. It was speculated that the photo was an attempt to gain sympathy for North Korea so that they could receive more international aid.

ESPN published an article about African-American quarterback Michael Vick, posing the question “What if Michael Vick were white?” Though the content of the article itself was relatively non-controversial, ESPN received substantial criticism for publishing alongside the article a photo illustration depicting the athlete as a caucasian.

Photographer Terje Hellesö won the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s Nature Photographer of the Year award for his stunning photos of endangered animals. Several of Hellesö’s photographs of the lynx, however, were digitally created by compositing stock photos into nature scenes. This photo manipulation was first noticed when conservationist Gunnar Gloerson noticed that one of Hellesö’s photos, taken in July, showed a lynx with a winter fur. When first questioned, Hellesö denied the allegations of photo tampering, but later admitted “not all of the pictures are manipulated, just a few of the lynx pictures.” Ultimately, the deception was found to be widespread, with more than 100 manipulated images of various subjects over a six-year period, as well as fabrication of stories about his photography.

Several major wire services had to pull a photo of Kim Jong-il’s funeral procession issued by North Korea’s state news agency after it was determined that the photo had been manipulated. A separate photo taken by Japan’s Kyodo news agency revealed that a small cluster of people standing around a camera tripod on the left side had been removed from the “original” photo. It was unclear why the people had been removed, but there was some speculation that it may have been for purely aesthetic reasons. The standalone cluster of people disrupted the otherwise regimented lines of mourners.

In its coverage of the dispute between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands, China’s Xiamen Daily ran a front-page photo showing a group of Hong-Kong-based protesters standing on the island waving Chinese flags. Soon, an observant blogger noted that one of the flags had been modified. In the original photo, one of the protesters was holding a Taiwanese flag rather than the flag of the People’s Republic of China. The paper had removed the Taiwanese markings from the flag. Other Chinese papers also had obscured the Taiwanese flag when running the photo, but they did so by blocking the central part of the photo with a headline.

After taking harsh criticism, South African newspaper The Citizen apologized for cloning out bodies from an AFP wire photo of the wreckage from a bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan that killed eight South Africans. The paper stated that the editors had directed that the bodies in the photo be blurred to make the photo less graphic, but that the person doing the modifications cloned the bodies out instead. Some readers even questioned whether racism played a part in the decision, considering that the bodies that were removed were of white victims, whereas similalry graphic photos of black victims of a mining accident were recently run in the same paper without modification. In their apology, however, the paper denied that assessment: “This photo [Marikana] was not nearly as graphic as the Kabul one, which is why the bodies were not blurred. Due to the much more graphic nature of the Kabul blast photo, we felt that blurring the bodies was appropriate. Removing them completely is, however, completely inexcusable and we readily admit that this never should have happened.”

The National Review drew criticism for publishing a cover photo in which the campaign signs being held by a crowd of Obama supporters were modified so that the original slogan of “Forward” was replaced with the word “Abortion”. The image was attributed to the wire service Reuters, and no mention was made that it was actually a photo-illustration based on the original Reuters photo. Publisher Jack Fowler ultimately provided a clarification on the magazine’s website stating that the image was “not the original photograph as provided by Reuters/Newscom, and therefore should not have been attributed to this organization, nor attributed to the photographer.”

After its publication by the Malaysion national news agency Bernana, a photo of a crowd of supporters of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was soon being called out on Facebook as a fake, with commenters noting signs that portions of the crowd had been duplicated to appear larger. Ultimately, Bernana admitted to the mistake and withdrew the photo, vowing to “take appropriate action against those responsible for the irregularities.”

There was much misinformation surrounding the September 11 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya and the resulting death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, but perhaps none as blatantly egregious as a photo published by the Algerian newspaper Ennahar. Initial reports from the U.S. government claimed an association between the embassy attack and anti-U.S. protests in other countries triggered by the anti-Islamic film “Innocence of Muslims”. That claim was later shown to be false. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, however, Ennahar published a photo showing Stevens eating lunch with Sam Bacile, the producer of the film. The U.S. Embassy in Algiers quickly called the photo a fake and urged Ennahar to retract the article. Though Ennahar ultimately did remove the photo, they defended its use by saying that “the photograph was found on Internet sites and on Facebook, and that the newspaper had no need to doctor a photo to defend the prophet and Islam.”

Even in 2012, not all photo manipulation involves digital trickery. Russian blogger Andrey Konoval discovered crude manipulation of a billboard promoting a local zoo, featuring Alexander Volkov, the president of the Russian republic Udmurtia. In the original billboard, Volkov’s wrist could be seen to be proudly displaying a Breguet watch, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Later, however, Konoval noticed that this watch had been replaced with a nondescript and far less pricey timepiece. A closer inspection revealed that the revised watch had been applied to the photo using a photographic sticker. This was the second notable instance in 2012 in which a Russian public figure’s photo was manipulated to hide an expensive Breguet timepiece.

The media frenzy anticipating once-in-a-lifetime flooding and destruction as Hurricane Sandy made landfall near New York City provided the backdrop for an unprecedented flurry of photo hoaxes, dominating Facebook and Twitter with both real and fraudulent hurricane images that were almost equally hard to believe. The Atlantic magazine even was compelled to set up a live blog site that distinguished genuine hurricane photos from hoaxes. Nevertheless, many viewers—and some press—were fooled, and some of the fake photos were widely forwarded. Notable hoaxes included that of an enormous supercell storm cloud hovering over the Statue of Liberty, a still from the disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow showing an enormous wave crashing into the same statue, and the inevitable photo composite showing a shark fin in a flooded street. Sadly, though, some of the real photos were more dramatic than the fakes.

Australia’s Veterans Affairs office published a Rememberance Day poster featuring a photo from the Vietnam war, depicting a team of four carrying a wounded soldier. In addition to colorizing portions of the photo, they also digitally removed a cigarette from the hand of the soldier holding a plasma bottle above the injured soldier. More significantly, though, they identified the soldier with the bottle as well-known Australian rugby player Dr. Jack Bromley rather than Kerry Williams, the soldier listed in photographer Barrie Ward’s records for the photo. Adding to the confusion, both the Williams and the Bromley families insisted that their family member was the one in the photo, despite the fact that the soldier’s uniform has a name tag saying “Williams”. Ultimately, the Australian War Memorial ruled that it was Williams in the photo.

The official Iranian news agency released a photo touting their recent development of a sophisticated new drone. However, Gary Mortimer of sUAS News noticed that their drone looked suspiciously like one that had been developed previously by Chiba University in Japan. Sure enough, he was able to track down a photo from Chiba University that looks identical to the one released from Iran, with the exception of a few deleted details from the building in the background.

Iranian defense officials once again made the news with their blatant misuse of Photoshop after releasing a photo purporting to show their much-trumpeted stealth fighter jet soaring over snow-capped Mount Damavand. Earlier, aviation experts had claimed that the jet shown in the hangar in their press photos was not genuine, because there were clear visual signs that it was a fake model not capable of flying. A blogger soon produced clear evidence that the flight photo was also faked. The jet in the photo was viewed at the exact same angle—and with the exact same light reflections—as in one of the photographs from the hangar. Furthermore, the scene of the mountain—with some exposure adjustments—was identical to one found on a stock image site. Thus, the flight image was revealed to be a composite photo.

When the movie “Argo”, which dramatized the 1970’s Iranian hostage crisis, received an Academy Award for Best Picture, the Iranian state news agency accompanied its coverage with a doctored photo. In the original Oscar broadcast, first lady Michelle Obama appeared via satellite video to present the award. She was wearing a sleeveless dress that was deemed a “transgression” by Iranian authorities, so they modified the photo to give her sleeves and a more modest neckline.

The White House News Photographers Association disqualified a winner of the organization’s annual contest when it was revealed that the photo had been modified to hide a distracting figure visible in the background. The sports photo depicted two wrestlers on the floor in front of a darkened background, but in the version of the photo originally published in the Washington Post a third person was visible standing behind one of the wrestlers. The manipulation was discovered by editors at the Post, who then notified the WHNPA.

As the North Korean government was threatening hostilities against South Korea and the U.S., the official Korean Central News Agency released a photo of military activities being conducted along North Korea’s east coast. Photo editor Alan Taylor at The Atlantic noticed that several of the hovercraft depicted in the photo looked suspiciously similar, and their outlines had unrealistic feathered edges. It appears that some of the hovercraft were duplicated in the photo to make the scene appear more intimidating.

After Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended the funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, he was criticized for a photo that depicted him consoling Chavez’s mother. Conservatives in Iran said that it was sinful for him to touch a woman who was not his own family member. In response, Ahmadinejad’s aides distributed a different version of the same photo which they claimed proved that Ahmadinejad was actually embracing his own uncle. In fact, however, the version they distributed was a photo composite, and the person in the manipulated version was not even Ahmadinejad’s uncle, but Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei.

 

The death of local Chinese official Wu Renbao was greeted with complimentary eulogies throughout Chinese media. An article and photo from state-run Xinhua even claimed that Renbao had been featured on the cover of Time magazine in 2005 for an article oddly titled “The Man Who Men of the Moment.” It didn’t take Chinese bloggers long to figure out that this was a fake cover in which Renbao’s head had been swapped with disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, in part because Abramoff’s name still appeared in the subtitle. Regardless, the fake cover had already been picked up by media throughout China.

The Neijiang Daily, a local newspaper in the Sichuan region of China, apologized to readers who mocked an obviously manipulated photo that had been published. The photo, which depicted local officials visiting a building site, made it look as if Communist Party Secretary Zeng Wanli was standing in the middle of his own shadow. The paper then admitted that they had deleted from the photo a photographer who was standing behind the secretary. Said the paper, “We thank and welcome readers and netizens for the supervision of our work.”

The New York Daily News ran on its front page a photo of the Boston Marathon bombing which appeared to have been doctored to be less disturbing. The original photo, taken by John Tlumacki for the Boston Globe, shows a significant amount of blood on the leg of an injured person lying on the ground in the upper left of the frame. In the version published by the Daily News, however, no wound is visible. When questioned about the discrepancy, a spokesperson for the paper said that “The Daily News does not comment on its editorial decision-making.”

In the second fake Time magazine cover incident of the year, Philippines newspaper The Daily Inquirer was embarrassed by the erroneous publication of a photo found on the internet indicating that Philippine president Benigno Aquino III had been featured on a Time cover. In fact, he had been among the people profiled in the “100 Most Influential People in the World” cover story, but his face had not graced the cover. According to a spokesperson for the paper, “standard newsroom protocols to vet online images” were unfortunately skipped in this instance.

Relatively minor compared to past examples of North Korean photo manipulation, this photo from the official North Korean news agency depicts leader Kim Jong Un meeting with former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman, who appears to have three hands. It was speculated that the extra hand belonged to an interpreter, who was digitally removed from the photo in order to put more focus on Kim Jong Un and have him appear in a more favorable light.

There have been some outrageously bad manipulated photos released by local Chinese government officials, but few are quite as bad as the photo released by the local government in Annhui province to mark the Double Ninth Festival, which is an event honoring ancestors. The photo purports to show the vice mayor and other local officials visiting with an elderly citizen, but the missing legs and mismatched scale make it immediately obvious that this is a photo composite. After the photo was ridiculed on the Chinese social media site Weibo, the government admitted to the manipulation, but claimed that it was necessary due to the cramped space on the balcony and the poor lighting that didn’t allow the photographer to capture an inclusive shot. They said that the employee of the municipal civial affairs department who merged the two photographs would be censured.

After it came to light that a September 2013 photo of the conflict in Syria had been modified to remove a video camera that was visible in the frame, the Associated Press terminated its relationship with Pulitzer-prize-winning freelance photographer Narciso Contreras. The AP also removed from commercial availability all of the nearly 500 other AP photographs captured by the photographer—despite the fact that no other instances of improper manipulation were found. The Associated Press has a zero tolerance policy for image manipulation. Said VP and Director of Photography Santiago Lyon, “Deliberately removing elements from our photographs is completely unacceptable and we have severed all relations with the freelance photographer in question. He will not work for the AP again in any capaicty.”

The Associated Press removed seven photos of Fidel Castro from its archive after it was discovered that the government-run Estudios Revolucion had modified them prior to release so as to remove Castro’s hearing aid. In some higher-resolution original photos, a hearing aid wire was clearly visible near Castro’s ear, but the wire was not seen in the official versions. The photographer, Castro’s son Alex Castro, said that he was unaware that the photos had been manipulated before their release.

As rumors circulated that U.S. airstrikes had killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State militant group that had seized control of portions of Iraq and Syria, a photo also circulated online and in Iraqi news media purporting to show the dead leader. Investigators, however, found striking similarities between the alleged photo of al-Baghdadi and an older photo of Sami Hafez Al-Abdullah, who was an Albanian killed in Syria in 2013. The similarities made it clear that the alleged photo of a dead al-Baghdadi was merely a photo composite, and it was later confirmed that he had not been killed.

After months of denying any responsibility for the downing of Malaysian Air’s flight MH17 over Ukraine, Russian state media ran a story featuring supposedly new satellite imagery it said proved that MH17 had been shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet. It took very little time, however, for experts and online commentors to debunk the photo. The photo, in fact appears to have been composed of pieces of Google Earth imagery from 2012, a portion from Yandex maps, and a stock photo of a Boeing jet. Furthermore, careful analysis also showed that the location of the plane in the photo does not exactly correspond to the known path that MH17 took.


Mort de Rémi Fraisse: Attention, une victime peut en cacher bien d’autres (Warning: inequalities may not be where they seem)

7 novembre, 2014
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Les fascistes de demain s’appelleront eux-mêmes antifascistes. Winston Churchill
Le coefficient de Gini est une mesure statistique de la dispersion d’une distribution dans une population donnée, développée par le statisticien italien Corrado Gini. Le coefficient de Gini est un nombre variant de 0 à 1, où 0 signifie l’égalité parfaite et 1 signifie l’inégalité totale. Ce coefficient est très utilisé pour mesurer l’inégalité des revenus dans un pays. (…) Les pays les plus égalitaires ont un coefficient de l’ordre de 0,2 (Danemark, Suède, Japon, République tchèque…). Les pays les plus inégalitaires au monde ont un coefficient de 0,6 (Brésil, Guatemala, Honduras…). En France, le coefficient de Gini est de 0,2891. La Chine devient un des pays les plus inégalitaires du monde avec un indice s’élevant à 0.61 en 2010 selon le Centre d’enquête et de recherche sur les revenus des ménages (institut dépendant de la banque centrale chinoise). Le coefficient de Gini est principalement utilisé pour mesurer l’inégalité de revenu, mais peut aussi servir à mesurer l’inégalité de richesse ou de patrimoine. Le coefficient de Gini en économie est souvent combiné avec d’autres données. Se situant dans le cadre de l’étude des inégalités, il va de pair avec la politique. Ses liens avec l’indicateur démocratique (élaboré par des chercheurs, entre -2.5 au pire et +2.5 au mieux) sont réels mais pas automatiques. Wikipedia
The trend of modern times appears to indicate that citizens of democracies are willing heedlessly to surrender their freedoms to purchase social equality (along with economic security), apparently oblivious of the consequences. And the consequences are that their ability to hold on to and use what they earn and own, to hire and fire at will, to enter freely into contracts, and even to speak their mind is steadily being eroded by governments bent on redistributing private assets and subordinating individual rights to group rights. The entire concept of the welfare state as it has evolved in the second half of the twentieth century is incompatible with individual liberty, for it allows various groups with common needs to combine and claim the right to satisfy them at the expense of society at large, in the process steadily enhancing the power of the state which acts on their behalf.  Richard Pipes (“Property and Freedom”, 2000)
It was one of the fastest decimations of an animal population in world history—and it had happened almost entirely in secret. The Soviet Union was a party to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, a 1946 treaty that limited countries to a set quota of whales each year. By the time a ban on commercial whaling went into effect, in 1986, the Soviets had reported killing a total of 2,710 humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, the country’s fleets had killed nearly 18 times that many, along with thousands of unreported whales of other species. It had been an elaborate and audacious deception: Soviet captains had disguised ships, tampered with scientific data, and misled international authorities for decades. In the estimation of the marine biologists Yulia Ivashchenko, Phillip Clapham, and Robert Brownell, it was “arguably one of the greatest environmental crimes of the 20th century.” It was also a perplexing one. Environmental crimes are, generally speaking, the most rational of crimes. The upsides are obvious: Fortunes have been made selling contraband rhino horns and mahogany or helping toxic waste disappear, and the risks are minimal—poaching, illegal logging, and dumping are penalized only weakly in most countries, when they’re penalized at all. The Soviet whale slaughter followed no such logic. Unlike Norway and Japan, the other major whaling nations of the era, the Soviet Union had little real demand for whale products. Once the blubber was cut away for conversion into oil, the rest of the animal, as often as not, was left in the sea to rot or was thrown into a furnace and reduced to bone meal—a low-value material used for agricultural fertilizer, made from the few animal byproducts that slaughterhouses and fish canneries can’t put to more profitable use. Charles Homans
A l’image d’Astérix défendant un petit bout périphérique de Bretagne face à un immense empire, les opposants au barrage de Sivens semblent mener une résistance dérisoire à une énorme machine bulldozerisante qui ravage la planète animée par la soif effrénée du gain. Ils luttent pour garder un territoire vivant, empêcher la machine d’installer l’agriculture industrialisée du maïs, conserver leur terroir, leur zone boisée, sauver une oasis alors que se déchaîne la désertification monoculturelle avec ses engrais tueurs de sols, tueurs de vie, où plus un ver de terre ne se tortille ou plus un oiseau ne chante. Cette machine croit détruire un passé arriéré, elle détruit par contre une alternative humaine d’avenir. Elle a détruit la paysannerie, l’exploitation fermière à dimension humaine. Elle veut répandre partout l’agriculture et l’élevage à grande échelle. Elle veut empêcher l’agro-écologie pionnière. Elle a la bénédiction de l’Etat, du gouvernement, de la classe politique. Elle ne sait pas que l’agro-écologie crée les premiers bourgeons d’un futur social qui veut naître, elle ne sait pas que les « écolos » défendent le « vouloir vivre ensemble ». Elle ne sait pas que les îlots de résistance sont des îlots d’espérance. Les tenants de l’économie libérale, de l’entreprise über alles, de la compétitivité, de l’hyper-rentabilité, se croient réalistes alors que le calcul qui est leur instrument de connaissance les aveugle sur les vraies et incalculables réalités des vies humaines, joie, peine, bonheur, malheur, amour et amitié. Le caractère abstrait, anonyme et anonymisant de cette machine énorme, lourdement armée pour défendre son barrage, a déclenché le meurtre d’un jeune homme bien concret, bien pacifique, animé par le respect de la vie et l’aspiration à une autre vie.  A part les violents se disant anarchistes, enragés et inconscients saboteurs, les protestataires, habitants locaux et écologistes venus de diverses régions de France, étaient, en résistant à l’énorme machine, les porteurs et porteuses d’un nouvel avenir. Le problème du barrage de Sivens est apparemment mineur, local. Mais par l’entêtement à vouloir imposer ce barrage sans tenir compte des réserves et critiques, par l’entêtement de l’Etat à vouloir le défendre par ses forces armées, allant jusqu’à utiliser les grenades, par l’entêtement des opposants de la cause du barrage dans une petite vallée d’une petite région, la guerre du barrage de Sivens est devenue le symbole et le microcosme de la vraie guerre de civilisation qui se mène dans le pays et plus largement sur la planète. (…) Pire, il a fait silence officiel embarrassé sur la mort d’un jeune homme de 21 ans, amoureux de la vie, communiste candide, solidaire des victimes de la terrible machine, venu en témoin et non en combattant. Quoi, pas une émotion, pas un désarroi ? Il faut attendre une semaine l’oraison funèbre du président de la République pour lui laisser choisir des mots bien mesurés et équilibrés alors que la force de la machine est démesurée et que la situation est déséquilibrée en défaveur des lésés et des victimes. Ce ne sont pas les lancers de pavés et les ­vitres brisées qui exprimeront la cause non violente de la civilisation écologisée dont la mort de Rémi Fraisse est devenue le ­symbole, l’emblème et le martyre. C’est avec une grande prise de conscience, capable de relier toutes les initiatives alternatives au productivisme aveugle, qu’un véritable hommage peut être rendu à Rémi Fraisse. Edgar Morin
Est-ce que ces policiers se sont cantonnés à se déguiser en casseur ou est-ce qu’ils sont allés un peu plus loin ? Olivier Besancenot
Mais les policiers pris dans la tourmente ont un argument de poids. Preuve à l’appui, ils expliquent que les manifestants n’hésitent plus à publier les photos de leurs visages sur des sites « anti-flics » et que se masquer est le seul moyen pour eux de ne pas être identifiés. RTL
Depuis début septembre, les heurts entre forces de l’ordre et zadistes ont été particulièrement violents, au point que 56 policiers et gendarmes ont été blessés. La préfecture du Tarn a tenu plusieurs réunions avec les organisateurs de la manifestation dans un esprit de calme et, parallèlement, le ministre de l’Intérieur n’a cessé de donner des consignes d’apaisement. Malgré cela, nous avons très vite compris qu’une frange radicale de casseurs viendrait se mêler aux manifestants pacifiques. (…) Le préfet du Tarn, qui détient l’autorité publique, a fait appel aux forces de gendarmerie car il y avait des risques d’affrontement avec des contre-manifestants favorables au barrage. Il y avait aussi la crainte de voir des casseurs se rendre dans la ville proche de Gaillac. Enfin il fallait éviter le « piégeage » du site qui aurait compromis la reprise des travaux. (…) Ces munitions ne peuvent être utilisées que dans deux situations : soit à la suite de violences à l’encontre des forces de l’ordre, soit pour défendre la zone liée à la mission confiée aux gendarmes. Il faut que le chef du dispositif donne son aval à son utilisation, et celui-ci a donné l’ordre en raison des menaces qui pesaient sur les effectifs. Le tireur est un gradé et agit sur ordre de son commandant, après que les sommations d’usage ont été faites. Donc, je maintiens qu’il n’y a pas eu de faute de la part du gradé qui a lancé cette grenade.(…) Entre minuit et 3 heures du matin, ce sont 23 grenades qui ont été lancées. Environ 400 le sont tous les ans, c’est dire que les affrontements ont été particulièrement violents. J’ai vu des officiers, présents dans la gendarmerie depuis trente ans, qui m’ont dit ne jamais avoir vu un tel niveau de violence. Nous sommes face à des gens qui étaient présents pour « casser » du gendarme. Général Denis Favier (directeur général de la gendarmerie nationale)
Tanzania … with a relatively low Gini of 35 may be less egalitarian than it appears since measured inequality lies so close to (or indeed above) its inequality possibility frontier. … On the other hand, with a much higher Gini of almost 48, Malaysia … has extracted only about one-half of maximum inequality, and thus is farther away from the IPF. (…)  As a country becomes richer, its feasible inequality expands. Consequently, if recorded inequality is stable, the inequality extraction ratio must fall; and even if recorded inequality goes up, the ratio may not. Branko Milanovic
Branko Milanovic, Peter H. Lindert, Jeffrey G. Williamson (…) develop two new interesting concepts: the inequality possibility frontier, which sets the limit of possible inequality, and the extraction ratio, the ratio between the feasible maximum and the actual level of inequality. The idea in a nutshell is that the higher a society’s mean income, the more there is for the ruling class possibly to take. So how much of that have they actually been taking historically, and how does it differ from today?  Amidst a great deal of interesting discussion of the problems inherent in estimating incomes and their distribution in ye olden times, Messrs Milanovic, Lindert, and Williamson find that the extraction ratio in pre-industrial societies of yore were much higher than in pre-industrial nations today, although their actual levels of inequality (as measured by the Gini coefficient) are very similar. A really, really poor country may have a low level of actual inequality, since even the rich have so little. But they may have nevetheless taken all they can get from the less powerful. A richer and nominally less equal place may also be rather less bandit-like; the powerful could hoard more, but they don’t. Because potential and actual inequality come apart, measured actual inequality may therefore tell us less than we think. The Economist
Marx and Engels were pretty good economic reporters. Surveying the economic history literature, Milanovic finds that between 1800 and 1849, the wage of an unskilled laborer in India, one of the poorest countries at the time, was 30 percent that of an equivalent worker in England, one of the richest. Here is another data point: in the 1820s, real wages in the Netherlands were just 70 percent higher than those in the Yangtze Valley in China. But Marx and Engels did not do as well as economic forecasters. They predicted that oppression of the proletariat would get worse, creating an international – and internationally exploited – working class. Instead, Milanovic shows that over the subsequent century and a half, industrial capitalism hugely enriched the workers in the countries where it flourished – and widened the gap between them and workers in those parts of the world where it did not take hold. One way to understand what has happened, Milanovic says, is to use a measure of global inequality developed by François Bourguignon and Christian Morrisson in a 2002 paper. They calculated the global Gini coefficient, a popular measure of inequality, to have been 53 in 1850, with roughly half due to location – or inequality between countries – and half due to class. By Milanovic’s calculation, the global Gini coefficient had risen to 65.4 by 2005. The striking change, though, is in its composition: 85 percent is due to location, and just 15 percent due to class. Comparable wages in developed and developing countries are another way to illustrate the gap. Milanovic uses the 2009 global prices and earnings report compiled by UBS, the Swiss bank. This showed that the nominal after-tax wage for a building laborer in New York was $16.60 an hour, compared with 80 cents in Beijing, 60 cents in Nairobi and 50 cents in New Delhi, a gap that is orders of magnitude greater than the one in the 19th century. Interestingly, at a time when unskilled workers are the ones we worry are getting the rawest deal, the difference in earnings between New York engineers and their developing world counterparts is much smaller: engineers earn $26.50 an hour in New York, $5.80 in Beijing, $4 in Nairobi and $2.90 in New Delhi. Milanovic has two important takeaways from all of this. The first is that in the past century and a half, « the specter of communism » in the Western world « was exorcised » because industrial capitalism did such a good job of enriching the erstwhile proletariat. His second conclusion is that the big cleavage in the world today is not between classes within countries, but between the rich West and the poor developing world. As a result, he predicts « huge migratory pressures because people can increase their incomes several-fold if they migrate. » I wonder, though, if the disparity Milanovic documents is already creating a different shift in the global economy. Thanks to new communications and transportation technologies, and the opening up of the world economy, immigration is not the only way to match cheap workers from developing economies with better-paid jobs in the developing world. Another way to do it is to move jobs to where workers live. Economists are not the only ones who can read the UBS research – business people do, too. And some of them are concluding, as one hedge fund manager said at a recent dinner speech in New York, that « the low-skilled American worker is the most overpaid worker in the world. » At a time when Western capitalism is huffing and wheezing, Milanovic’s paper is a vivid reminder of how much it has accomplished. But he also highlights the big new challenge – how to bring the rewards of capitalism to the workers of the developing world at a time when the standard of living of their Western counterparts has stalled. Chrystia Freeland
At a very basic, agrarian level of development, Milanovic explains, people’s incomes are relatively equal; everyone is living at or close to subsistence level. But as more advanced technologies become available and enable workers to differentiate their skills, a gulf between rich and poor becomes possible. This section also gingerly approaches the contentious debate over whether inequality is good or bad for economic growth, but ultimately quibbles with the question itself. “There is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ inequality,” Milanovic writes, “just as there is good and bad cholesterol.” The possibility of unequal economic outcomes motivates people to work harder, he argues, although at some point it can lead to the preservation of acquired positions, which causes economies to stagnate. In his second and third essays, Milanovic switches to his obvious passion: inequality around the world. These sections encourage readers to better appreciate their own living standards and to think more skeptically about who is responsible for their success. As Milanovic notes, an astounding 60 percent of a person’s income is determined merely by where she was born (and an additional 20 percent is dictated by how rich her parents were). He also makes interesting international comparisons. The typical person in the top 5 percent of the Indian population, for example, makes the same as or less than the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American population. That’s right: America’s poorest are, on average, richer than India’s richest — extravagant Mumbai mansions notwithstanding. It is no wonder then, Milanovic says, that so many from the third world risk life and limb to sneak into the first. A recent World Bank survey suggested that “countries that have done economically poorly would, if free migration were allowed, remain perhaps without half or more of their populations.” Catherine Rampell
Considérez le mouvement actuel des indignados, le mouvement des (comme le slogan le dit) « 99% contre le 1% ». Mais si l’on demande où, dans la distribution du revenu mondiale, se trouvent ces « 99% » qui manifestent dans les pays riches, nous trouvons qu’ils sont dans la position supérieure de la distribution du revenu mondiale, disons, autour du 80e percentile. En d’autres mots, ils sont plus riches que les 4/5e des individus vivant dans le monde. Ceci étant, ce n’est pas un argument pour dire qu’ils ne devraient pas manifester, mais ce fait empirique soulève immédiatement la question suivante, celle dont traitent les philosophes politiques. Supposons, pas tout à fait de manière irréaliste, que la mondialisation marche de telle façon qu’elle augmente les revenus de certains parmi ces « autres » 4/5e de l’humanité, ceux vivant en Chine, en Inde, en Afrique, et qu’elle réduit les revenus de ceux qui manifestent dans les rues des pays riches. Que devrait être la réponse à cela ? Devrions-nous considérer ce qui est meilleur pour le monde dans son entièreté, et dire ainsi à ces « 99% » : « vous autres, vous êtes déjà riches selon les standards mondiaux, laissez maintenant quelques autres, qui sont prêts à faire votre travail pour une fraction de l’argent que vous demandez, le faire, et améliorer ce faisant leur sort d’un rien, gagner un accès à l’eau potable ou donner naissance sans danger, par exemple, des choses que vous avez déjà et tenez pour acquises ». Ou bien, devrions-nous dire au contraire que la redistribution doit d’abord avoir lieu dans chaque pays individuellement, c’est-à-dire que l’on redistribue l’argent depuis le 1% le plus riche vers les autres 99% dans le même pays, et, seulement une fois cela accompli, pourrions-nous commencer à envisager ce qui devrait se faire à l’échelle mondiale ? Un optimum global serait ainsi atteint quand chaque pays prendrait soin de lui-même au mieux en premier lieu. Cette dernière position, où l’optimum global n’existe pas en tant que tel mais est le « produit » des optimums nationaux, est la position de John Rawls. La précédente, qui considère l’intérêt de tous sans se préoccuper des pays individuellement, est celle de philosophes politiques plus radicaux. Mais, comme on le voit, prendre une position ou l’autre a des conséquences très différentes sur notre attitude envers la mondialisation ou les revendications des mouvements comme les indignados ou Occupy Wall Street.
Nous sommes souvent pessimistes ou même cyniques quant à la capacité des politiciens d’offrir du changement. Mais notez que cette capacité, en démocratie, dépend de ce que la population veut. Aussi, peut-être devrions-nous nous tourner davantage vers nous-mêmes que vers les politiciens pour comprendre pourquoi changer le modèle économique actuel est si difficile. Malgré plusieurs effets négatifs du néolibéralisme (que j’ai mentionnés plus haut), un large segment de la population en a bénéficié, et même certains parmi ceux qui n’y ont pas gagné « objectivement » ont totalement internalisé ses valeurs. Il semble que nous voulions tous une maison achetée sans acompte, nous achetons une deuxième voiture si nous obtenons un crédit pas cher, nous avons des factures sur nos cartes de crédit bien au-delà de nos moyens, nous ne voulons pas d’augmentation des prix de l’essence, nous voulons voyager en avion même si cela génère de la pollution, nous mettons en route la climatisation dès qu’il fait plus de vingt-cinq degrés, nous voulons voir tous les derniers films et DVDs, nous avons plusieurs postes de télévision dernier cri, etc. Nous nous plaignons souvent d’un emploi précaire mais nous ne voulons renoncer à aucun des bénéfices, réels ou faux, qui dérivent de l’approche Reagan/Thatcher de l’économie. Quand une majorité suffisante de personnes aura un sentiment différent, je suis sûr qu’il y aura des politiciens qui le comprendront, et gagneront des élections avec ce nouveau programme (pro-égalité), et le mettront même en œuvre. Les politiciens sont simplement des entrepreneurs : si des gens veulent une certaine politique, ils l’offriront, de la même manière qu’un établissement vous proposera un café gourmet pourvu qu’un nombre suffisant parmi nous le veuille et soit prêt à payer pour cela.
L’inégalité globale, l’inégalité entre les citoyens du monde, est à un niveau très élevé depuis vingt ans. Ce niveau est le plus élevé, ou presque, de l’histoire : après la révolution industrielle, certaines classes, et puis certaines nations, sont devenues riches et les autres sont restées pauvres. Cela a élevé l’inégalité globale de 1820 à environ 1970-80. Après cela, elle est restée sans tendance claire, mais à ce niveau élevé. Mais depuis les dix dernières années, grâce aux taux de croissance importants en Chine et en Inde, il se peut que nous commencions à voir un déclin de l’inégalité globale. Si ces tendances se poursuivent sur les vingt ou trente prochaines années, l’inégalité globale pourrait baisser substantiellement. Mais l’on ne devrait pas oublier que cela dépend crucialement de ce qui se passe en Chine, et que d’autres pays pauvres et populeux comme le Nigeria, le Bangladesh, les Philippines, le Soudan, etc., n’ont pas eu beaucoup de croissance économique. Avec la croissance de leur population, il se peut qu’ils poussent l’inégalité globale vers le haut. D’un autre côté, le monde est plus riche aujourd’hui qu’à n’importe quel autre moment dans l’histoire. Il n’y a aucun doute sur ce point. Le 20e siècle a été justement appelé par [l’historien britannique] Eric Hosbawm « le siècle des extrêmes » : jamais des progrès aussi importants n’avaient été réalisés auparavant pour autant de monde, et jamais autant de monde n’avait été tué et exterminé par des idéologies extrêmes. Le défi du 21e siècle est de mettre fin à ce dernier point. Mais les développements de la première décennie de ce siècle n’ont pas produit beaucoup de raisons d’être optimiste.
Il y a trois moyens pour s’y prendre. Le premier est une plus grande redistribution du monde riche vers le monde pauvre. Mais l’on peut aisément écarter ce chemin. L’aide au développement officielle totale est un peu au-dessus de 100 milliards de dollars par an, ce qui est à peu près équivalent à la somme payée en bonus pour les « bonnes performances » par Goldman Sachs depuis le début de la crise. De telles sommes ne seront pas une solution à la pauvreté mondiale ou à l’inégalité globale, et de plus, ces fonds vont diminuer dans la mesure où le monde riche a du mal à s’extraire de la crise. La deuxième manière consiste à accélérer la croissance dans les pays pauvres, et l’Afrique en particulier. C’est en fait la meilleure façon de s’attaquer à la pauvreté et à l’inégalité tout à la fois. Mais c’est plus facile à dire qu’à faire. Même si la dernière décennie a été bonne généralement pour l’Afrique, le bilan global pour l’ère post-indépendance est mauvais, et dans certains cas, catastrophiquement mauvais. Ceci étant, je ne suis pas tout à fait pessimiste. L’Afrique sub-saharienne a commencé à mettre de l’ordre dans certains de ses problèmes, et pourrait continuer à avoir des taux de croissance relativement élevés. Cependant, le fossé entre les revenus moyens d’Afrique et d’Europe est désormais si profond, qu’il faudrait quelques centaines d’années pour l’entamer significativement. Ce qui nous laisse une troisième solution pour réduire les disparités globales : la migration. En principe, ça n’est pas différent du fait d’accélérer la croissance du revenu dans un quelconque pays pauvre. La seule différence – mais politiquement c’est une différence significative – est qu’une personne pauvre améliore son sort en déménageant ailleurs plutôt qu’en restant là où elle est née. La migration est certainement l’outil le plus efficace pour la réduction de l’inégalité globale. Ouvrir les frontières de l’Europe et des États-Unis permettrait d’attirer des millions de migrants et leurs niveaux de vie s’élèveraient. On voit cela tous les jours à une moindre échelle, mais on l’a vu également à la fin du 19e siècle et au début du 20e siècle, quand les migrations étaient deux à cinq fois supérieures (en proportion de la population d’alors) à aujourd’hui. La plupart de ceux qui migraient augmentaient leurs revenus. Cependant il y a deux problèmes importants avec la migration. Premièrement, cela mènerait à des revenus plus bas pour certaines personnes vivant dans les pays d’accueil, et elles utiliseraient (comme elles le font actuellement) tous les moyens politiques pour l’arrêter. Deuxièmement, cela crée parfois un « clash des civilisations » inconfortable quand des normes culturelles différentes se heurtent les unes aux autres. Cela produit un retour de bâton, qui est évident aujourd’hui en Europe. C’est une réaction compréhensible, même si beaucoup d’Européens devraient peut-être réfléchir à l’époque où ils émigraient, que ce soit de manière pacifique ou de manière violente, vers le reste du monde, et combien ils y trouvaient des avantages. Il semble maintenant que la boucle soit bouclée : les autres émigrent vers l’Europe. Branko Milanovic

Attention: une victime peut en cacher bien d’autres !

En ce 97e anniversaire du coup d’Etat bolchévique qui lança une révolution et les flots de sang dont on attend toujours le Nuremberg

Et où, à l’occasion du décès accidentel d’un jeune militant écologiste contestant la construction d’un barrage dans le Tarn, nos zélotes de la philosophie la plus criminelle de l’histoire viennent jeter de l’huile sur le feu avec leurs insinuations conspirationnistes contre les forces de l’ordre

Pendant que nos philosophes auto-proclamés dénoncent la « guerre de civilisation » libérale qui aurait déclenché le « meurtre » (sic) d’un jeune « amoureux de la vie, communiste candide, solidaire des victimes de la terrible machine » …

Et que, dans nos écoles, pour défendre le droit des casseurs à attaquer la police à coup de cocktails molotov ou tout autre projectile potentiellement mortel,  des agents provocateurs issus du même mouvement criminel prennent en otage les études de nos enfants  …

Comment ne pas voir avec l’économiste serbo-américain Branko Milanovic …

Et derrière les indignations sélectives de nos enfants gâtés de Wall Street ou des plaines du Tarn …

Les véritables victimes de la mise au ban proposée …

D’un modèle capitaliste qui avec toutes ses tares n’a jamais sorti autant de monde de la pauvreté ?

Le Gini hors de la bouteille. Entretien avec Branko Milanovic
Branko Milanovic
Niels Planel
Sens public
23 novembre 2011

Résumé : Branko Milanovic compte sans doute parmi les spécialistes des inégalités les plus importants sur la scène internationale. Économiste à la Banque mondiale, il se penche sur les questions des disparités depuis plusieurs décennies. Dans son livre paru cette année, The Haves and the Have-Nots (Les nantis et les indigents), il réussit le tour de force de rendre accessibles au plus grand nombre des idées complexes sur les inégalités entre les individus, entre les pays, et entre les citoyens du monde dans un style attrayant. Pour ce faire, l’auteur illustre ses propos au travers de petites histoires (des « vignettes ») audacieuses et d’une incroyable originalité, dans lesquelles il répond à des questions fascinantes : les Romains prospères étaient-ils comparativement plus riches que les super riches d’aujourd’hui ? Dans quel arrondissement de Paris valait-il mieux vivre au 13e siècle, et qu’en est-il aujourd’hui ? Sur l’échelle de la redistribution du revenu au Kenya, où se situait le grand-père de Barack Obama ? Est-ce que le lieu de naissance influence le salaire que vous aurez au long d’une vie, et si oui, comment ? Qu’a gagné Anna Karénine à tomber amoureuse ? La Chine survivra-t-elle au mitan du siècle ? Qui a été la personne la plus riche au monde ? Reprenant également les travaux de Vilfredo Pareto, Karl Marx, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Rawls ou Simon Kuznets à une époque où la question des inégalités préoccupe de plus en plus, son ouvrage fait le pari d’éclairer un enjeu aussi ancien que passionnant. Branko Milanovic a accepté de répondre aux questions de Sens Public.

Sens Public – D’où votre intérêt pour le sujet des inégalités vous vient-il ?

Branco Milanovic – Depuis le lycée, et même depuis l’école élémentaire, j’étais toujours très intéressé par les enjeux sociaux. J’ai choisi l’économie précisément pour cela. C’était une science sociale et elle traitait de ce qui était probablement l’une des questions les plus importantes à l’époque : comment augmenter le revenu des gens, comment leur permettre de vivre de meilleures vies, dans de plus grands appartements, avec un accès à l’eau chaude, au chauffage, des rues mieux pavées, des trottoirs plus propres.

J’ai étudié dans ce qui était alors la Yougoslavie, qui avait un fort taux de croissance. Le bien être des gens (y compris celui de ma propre famille) augmentait chaque année ; atteindre un taux de croissance de 7-10% par an semblait presque normal. J’aimais l’économie empirique, et j’ai choisi les statistiques (dans le département d’économie). Dans les statistiques, on travaille beaucoup avec les questions de distributions. Et puis, soudainement, les deux intérêts que j’avais préservés, en l’état, dans deux compartiments séparés de mon cerveau, celui pour les enjeux sociaux, et celui pour les statistiques, se sont rejoints.

J’étais assez fasciné (j’avais alors vingt ou vingt-et-un ans), quand j’ai appris pour la première fois des choses au sujet du coefficient de Gini, Pareto ou de la distribution log-normale, et j’ai commencé à voir si les données sur les revenus que j’avais épouseraient la courbe. C’était une époque où l’on utilisait du papier et un stylo, une calculatrice à la main, pour chiffrer la taille de chaque groupe, leur part du revenu total, et pour appliquer une fonction statistique afin de voir si elle correspondait aux nombres ou non. Il me semblait que, d’une certaine manière, le secret de la façon dont l’argent est distribué parmi les individus, ou celui de la manière dont les sociétés sont organisées, apparaîtraient en face de moi. J’ai passé de nombreuses nuits à parcourir ces nombres. Je l’ai souvent préféré à aller dehors avec des amis.

S.P. – Combien de temps vous a pris l’écriture de votre livre sur l’inégalité, et où avez-vous puisé votre inspiration pour rédiger autant d’histoires aussi diverses (vos “vignettes”) ? Les économistes semblent souvent penser d’une manière très abstraite. En utilisant des exemples ancrés dans la vie quotidienne des gens (la littérature, l’histoire, etc.), quelle était votre intention ?

B.M. – Le livre a été rédigé en moins de cent jours, et cela inclut les jours où je ne pouvais pas écrire à cause d’autres choses que j’avais à faire, ou parce que je voyageais. Les meilleurs jours furent ceux où je rédigeais une, voire deux vignettes en moins de vingt-quatre heures. Ceci étant, toutes les idées pour les vignettes et les données requises existaient déjà. C’est pourquoi il m’a été possible d’écrire le livre aussi vite. C’est au cours des nombreuses années où je faisais un travail plus « sérieux » qu’une idée (qui deviendrait plus tard une « vignette ») me frappait, et je passais alors plusieurs heures ou journées à penser et calculer des choses pour lesquelles je ne voyais pas encore un moyen évident de publication. Le vrai défi a été de trouver un format qui permettrait de rassembler tous ces morceaux que j’aimais, et que les gens semblaient apprécier lorsque je les présentais à des conférences, dans un livre. Une fois que, avec l’éditeur de mon premier livre, Tim Sullivan, je parvins à la présente structure, où chaque sujet est introduit par un essai assez sérieux, assez académique, puis illustré par des vignettes, écrire le livre devint facile et vraiment plaisant. J’écris d’ordinaire facilement et rapidement et il me semble que je n’ai jamais rien écrit avec autant d’aise. Et je pense que cela se voit dans le texte.

J’ai tâché d’accomplir deux choses : prendre du plaisir en écrivant les vignettes, et montrer aux lecteurs que bien des concepts secs de l’économie n’ont pas pour sujet des « agents économiques » (comme on appelle les gens en économie), ou des « attentes rationnelles », ou des « marchés efficaces », etc., mais des personnes comme eux-mêmes, ou des personnes célèbres, ou des personnages de fiction. Et que, eux, les lecteurs, ont rarement fait cette transition, à savoir, réaliser que l’économie, et la distribution du revenu, ont vraiment pour sujet les gens, les personnes réelles : comment ils gagnent et perdent de l’argent, comment les riches influencent le processus politique, qui paye des impôts, pourquoi des pays prospèrent et déclinent, pourquoi ce sont toujours les mêmes équipes de football qui gagnent, et même comment une inégalité élevée a pu engendrer la crise actuelle. Ce sont là, je pense, des sujets qui nous concernent tous, fréquemment, au quotidien, et que les économistes rendent compliqués en utilisant un jargon impénétrable.

S.P. – En France, des écrivains comme Victor Hugo et Émile Zola ont produit une œuvre impressionnante sur les conditions sociales et les inégalités de leur époque. Et l’une des vignettes les plus fameuses de votre livre se fonde sur le roman de Tolstoï, Anna Karénine. Vous faites également référence à Orgueil et Préjugés, de Jane Austen… Est-ce que la littérature est un outil aussi efficace que l’économie pour comprendre, observer et expliquer les inégalités ? Et si oui, est-ce que la littérature est toujours une force puissante pour sensibiliser les gens aux inégalités dans le monde d’aujourd’hui, ou bien l’économie est-elle plus efficace pour cela ?

B.M. – La littérature européenne du 19e siècle, et la française en particulier, sont des trésors d’informations sur les sociétés européennes de l’époque et, de ce fait, sur la distribution du revenu. Les grands romans de cette période se préoccupaient de décrire les sociétés telles qu’elles étaient, de regarder les destins individuels dans le cadre d’ensemble de l’évolution sociale, et puisque l’argent jouait un rôle si important, les livres sont pleins de données détaillées sur les revenus, les salaires, le coût de la vie, le prix des choses, etc. C’est vrai de Victor Hugo (dont je connais moins bien les livres) mais bien sûr, également, de Zola et Balzac, ou Dickens. Je pense que la Comédie humaine de Balzac pourrait être aisément convertie en une étude empirique sur l’inégalité de revenu, et la mobilité sociale, au sein de la société française de l’époque. Balzac voyait bien sûr son œuvre comme un portrait de la société dans son ensemble. Orgueil et préjugés et Anna Karénine sont plus limités dans leur prisme (particulièrement le premier) mais ils se concentrent sur une chose qui me semble intéressante : le revenu au sommet de la pyramide de la richesse, les énormes différences de revenus entre ceux qui sont bien lotis et ceux qui sont extrêmement riches, et sur la position des femmes pour qui la seule voie vers une vie confortable et riche passait par le mariage. C’est pourquoi le mariage et l’argent, les « alliances » et les « mésalliances » avaient tant d’importance dans la littérature de l’époque.

Je ne connais pas bien la littérature d’aujourd’hui. Un changement clair me semble avoir eu lieu au cours du siècle dernier. L’objectif est moins de présenter une peinture de la société que de se concentrer sur les individus, leur vie intérieure. Je pense que par principe, une telle littérature est bien moins critique des arrangements sociaux, principalement parce qu’elle les considère comme acquis, ou, si elle est critique, les regarde comme reflétant un malaise humain de base, une condition humaine immuable. Pour prendre un exemple, j’ai aimé et presque tout lu de Sartre et Camus, mais vous ne trouverez presque aucun chiffre dans leurs livres sur combien untel gagne ou sur combien les choses coûtent. Ceci, malgré l’ostensible gauchisme politique de Sartre. De ce point de vue, Balzac était bien plus gauchiste que ce dernier. Pareillement, vous ne trouverez rien de tel dans les sept volumes de Proust malgré le fait que son œuvre est largement au sujet de la société et des changements de fortune (souvent, littéralement, des changements de richesses) parmi la classe aux plus hauts revenus. Mais savons-nous combien Mme de Guermantes gagne par an ? De combien est-elle plus riche que Swann ? Ou, d’ailleurs, quel est le revenu du père du narrateur ?

Je ne vois pas la littérature d’aujourd’hui comme une force puissante pour le changement. Je pense qu’elle a perdu l’importance qu’elle avait au 19e siècle en Europe, en Russie et aux États-Unis. Aujourd’hui, vous avez des hystéries au sujet de tel ou tel livre, et pas plutôt que le volume a été lu, ou plutôt semi-lu, il tombe dans l’oubli.

S.P. – Dans le paysage d’aujourd’hui, où voyez-vous les Tolstoï et les Austen – des auteurs et des artistes qui présentent une vue détaillée des inégalités ?

B.M. – Je pense que ce rôle a été « spécialisé » comme tant d’autres rôles dans les sociétés modernes. Il appartient maintenant aux économistes et aux philosophes politiques. Je vois ces deux groupes (combinés peut-être aux sociologues dans la mesure où ceux-ci sont désireux d’étudier des phénomènes sociaux sérieux plutôt que les menus détails du comportement humain) comme les personnes, peut-être mues par leurs intérêts professionnels, qui peuvent dire quelque chose au sujet des inégalités dans les sociétés où nous vivons. Et dire quelque chose qui ne soit pas simplement des « conjectures » ou des « sentiments », mais fondé sur une preuve empirique ou (dans le cas des philosophes politiques) sur une étude sérieuse et une analyse de la manière dont les sociétés peuvent ou devraient être organisées.

Pour être clair, j’aimerais donner un exemple. Considérez le mouvement actuel des indignados, le mouvement des (comme le slogan le dit) « 99% contre le 1% ». Mais si l’on demande où, dans la distribution du revenu mondiale, se trouvent ces « 99% » qui manifestent dans les pays riches, nous trouvons qu’ils sont dans la position supérieure de la distribution du revenu mondiale, disons, autour du 80e percentile. En d’autres mots, ils sont plus riches que les 4/5e des individus vivant dans le monde. Ceci étant, ce n’est pas un argument pour dire qu’ils ne devraient pas manifester, mais ce fait empirique soulève immédiatement la question suivante, celle dont traitent les philosophes politiques.

Supposons, pas tout à fait de manière irréaliste, que la mondialisation marche de telle façon qu’elle augmente les revenus de certains parmi ces « autres » 4/5e de l’humanité, ceux vivant en Chine, en Inde, en Afrique, et qu’elle réduit les revenus de ceux qui manifestent dans les rues des pays riches. Que devrait être la réponse à cela ? Devrions-nous considérer ce qui est meilleur pour le monde dans son entièreté, et dire ainsi à ces « 99% » : « vous autres, vous êtes déjà riches selon les standards mondiaux, laissez maintenant quelques autres, qui sont prêts à faire votre travail pour une fraction de l’argent que vous demandez, le faire, et améliorer ce faisant leur sort d’un rien, gagner un accès à l’eau potable ou donner naissance sans danger, par exemple, des choses que vous avez déjà et tenez pour acquises ». Ou bien, devrions-nous dire au contraire que la redistribution doit d’abord avoir lieu dans chaque pays individuellement, c’est-à-dire que l’on redistribue l’argent depuis le 1% le plus riche vers les autres 99% dans le même pays, et, seulement une fois cela accompli, pourrions-nous commencer à envisager ce qui devrait se faire à l’échelle mondiale ? Un optimum global serait ainsi atteint quand chaque pays prendrait soin de lui-même au mieux en premier lieu. Cette dernière position, où l’optimum global n’existe pas en tant que tel mais est le « produit » des optimums nationaux, est la position de John Rawls. La précédente, qui considère l’intérêt de tous sans se préoccuper des pays individuellement, est celle de philosophes politiques plus radicaux. Mais, comme on le voit, prendre une position ou l’autre a des conséquences très différentes sur notre attitude envers la mondialisation ou les revendications des mouvements comme les indignados ou Occupy Wall Street.

S.P. – Jusqu’à la fin, votre livre se refuse à entrer dans des considérations politiques sur l’inégalité. Quel est le rôle de la politique dans le combat ou le développement des inégalités ?

B.M. – Je voulais que mon livre reste relativement neutre par rapport à la politique d’aujourd’hui. Les livres de plaidoyer avec des titres longs et idiots ne font pas long feu. Ce sont des « éphémérides ». Qui se souvient aujourd’hui des livres qui, il y a vingt ans, nous mettaient en garde contre la prise de pouvoir mondiale du Japon et pressaient les gouvernements occidentaux de réagir ? Et avant cela, c’était l’OPEC, et encore avant cela, l’Union soviétique.

Réduire les inégalités sera un processus long et laborieux. Depuis la fin des années 1970, une large poussée des inégalités en Occident a eu lieu en conséquence d’un changement idéologique à l’avant-garde de laquelle se trouvaient des économistes comme Hayek et Friedman, et l’école de Chicago en général. Leurs prescriptions furent mises en œuvres par Margaret Thatcher et Ronald Reagan. A la même époque, Deng Xiaoping, suivant la même idéologie (« être riche, c’est être glorieux »), initia des réformes néolibérales similaires en Chine. Et à bien des égards, les réformes en Occident et en Chine ont eu un succès extraordinaire.

Mais elles ont échoué à offrir une société plus heureuse. L’argent, très inégalement distribué, a alimenté la corruption, permis un mode de vie ostentatoire, a rendu triviaux les soucis liés à la pauvreté des autres au travers de fausses organisations-jouets détenues par les riches, a réduit les services sociaux de base dans lesquels l’idée de la citoyenneté était ancrée, comme l’éducation et la santé. Les sociétés occidentales sont devenues beaucoup plus riches, mais, pour reprendre la raillerie de Thatcher, elles sont devenues bien moins sociétés : elles sont souvent seulement des collections d’individus en compétition mutuelle. La Chine est devenue immensément plus riche qu’en 1978, mais c’est l’un des quelques pays dans le monde où les gens sont de moins en moins heureux année après année, selon la World Values Survey. Et les mêmes programmes néolibéraux, mis en œuvre en Russie, après avoir presque détruit le pays, ont conduit à des augmentations massives de la mortalité, ils ont détruit les liens sociaux et les ont remplacés par du cynisme et de l’anomie.

Aussi, pour défaire certains de ces développements, il nous faudra des années de changement. Qui plus est, on ne voit pas même à l’horizon comment ces demandes pour du changement peuvent être traduites dans le processus politique, et comment les politiciens peuvent les utiliser pour gagner des élections. Parce que, tant qu’ils ne les considéreront pas comme des stratégies gagnantes, ils n’iront pas vraiment, l’un après l’autre, concourir sur cette plateforme. Obama a été une grande déception de ce point de vue. Il était chargé d’un mandat massif pour le changement mais a fait peu de choses.

Nous sommes souvent pessimistes ou même cyniques quant à la capacité des politiciens d’offrir du changement. Mais notez que cette capacité, en démocratie, dépend de ce que la population veut. Aussi, peut-être devrions-nous nous tourner davantage vers nous-mêmes que vers les politiciens pour comprendre pourquoi changer le modèle économique actuel est si difficile. Malgré plusieurs effets négatifs du néolibéralisme (que j’ai mentionnés plus haut), un large segment de la population en a bénéficié, et même certains parmi ceux qui n’y ont pas gagné « objectivement » ont totalement internalisé ses valeurs.

Il semble que nous voulions tous une maison achetée sans acompte, nous achetons une deuxième voiture si nous obtenons un crédit pas cher, nous avons des factures sur nos cartes de crédit bien au-delà de nos moyens, nous ne voulons pas d’augmentation des prix de l’essence, nous voulons voyager en avion même si cela génère de la pollution, nous mettons en route la climatisation dès qu’il fait plus de vingt-cinq degrés, nous voulons voir tous les derniers films et DVDs, nous avons plusieurs postes de télévision dernier cri, etc. Nous nous plaignons souvent d’un emploi précaire mais nous ne voulons renoncer à aucun des bénéfices, réels ou faux, qui dérivent de l’approche Reagan/Thatcher de l’économie.

Quand une majorité suffisante de personnes aura un sentiment différent, je suis sûr qu’il y aura des politiciens qui le comprendront, et gagneront des élections avec ce nouveau programme (pro-égalité), et le mettront même en œuvre. Les politiciens sont simplement des entrepreneurs : si des gens veulent une certaine politique, ils l’offriront, de la même manière qu’un établissement vous proposera un café gourmet pourvu qu’un nombre suffisant parmi nous le veuille et soit prêt à payer pour cela.

S.P. – Est-ce que l’inégalité est devenue une devise commune dans le monde d’aujourd’hui, ou bien la prospérité est-elle davantage partagée que par le passé ?

B.M. – L’inégalité globale, l’inégalité entre les citoyens du monde, est à un niveau très élevé depuis vingt ans. Ce niveau est le plus élevé, ou presque, de l’histoire : après la révolution industrielle, certaines classes, et puis certaines nations, sont devenues riches et les autres sont restées pauvres. Cela a élevé l’inégalité globale de 1820 à environ 1970-80. Après cela, elle est restée sans tendance claire, mais à ce niveau élevé. Mais depuis les dix dernières années, grâce aux taux de croissance importants en Chine et en Inde, il se peut que nous commencions à voir un déclin de l’inégalité globale. Si ces tendances se poursuivent sur les vingt ou trente prochaines années, l’inégalité globale pourrait baisser substantiellement. Mais l’on ne devrait pas oublier que cela dépend crucialement de ce qui se passe en Chine, et que d’autres pays pauvres et populeux comme le Nigeria, le Bangladesh, les Philippines, le Soudan, etc., n’ont pas eu beaucoup de croissance économique. Avec la croissance de leur population, il se peut qu’ils poussent l’inégalité globale vers le haut.

D’un autre côté, le monde est plus riche aujourd’hui qu’à n’importe quel autre moment dans l’histoire. Il n’y a aucun doute sur ce point. Le 20e siècle a été justement appelé par [l’historien britannique] Eric Hosbawm « le siècle des extrêmes » : jamais des progrès aussi importants n’avaient été réalisés auparavant pour autant de monde, et jamais autant de monde n’avait été tué et exterminé par des idéologies extrêmes. Le défi du 21e siècle est de mettre fin à ce dernier point. Mais les développements de la première décennie de ce siècle n’ont pas produit beaucoup de raisons d’être optimiste.

S.P. – Quel serait le meilleur moyen de limiter les inégalités dans un monde globalisé ?

B.M. – Il y a trois moyens pour s’y prendre. Le premier est une plus grande redistribution du monde riche vers le monde pauvre. Mais l’on peut aisément écarter ce chemin. L’aide au développement officielle totale est un peu au-dessus de 100 milliards de dollars par an, ce qui est à peu près équivalent à la somme payée en bonus pour les « bonnes performances » par Goldman Sachs depuis le début de la crise. De telles sommes ne seront pas une solution à la pauvreté mondiale ou à l’inégalité globale, et de plus, ces fonds vont diminuer dans la mesure où le monde riche a du mal à s’extraire de la crise.

La deuxième manière consiste à accélérer la croissance dans les pays pauvres, et l’Afrique en particulier. C’est en fait la meilleure façon de s’attaquer à la pauvreté et à l’inégalité tout à la fois. Mais c’est plus facile à dire qu’à faire. Même si la dernière décennie a été bonne généralement pour l’Afrique, le bilan global pour l’ère post-indépendance est mauvais, et dans certains cas, catastrophiquement mauvais. Ceci étant, je ne suis pas tout à fait pessimiste. L’Afrique sub-saharienne a commencé à mettre de l’ordre dans certains de ses problèmes, et pourrait continuer à avoir des taux de croissance relativement élevés. Cependant, le fossé entre les revenus moyens d’Afrique et d’Europe est désormais si profond, qu’il faudrait quelques centaines d’années pour l’entamer significativement.

Ce qui nous laisse une troisième solution pour réduire les disparités globales : la migration. En principe, ça n’est pas différent du fait d’accélérer la croissance du revenu dans un quelconque pays pauvre. La seule différence – mais politiquement c’est une différence significative – est qu’une personne pauvre améliore son sort en déménageant ailleurs plutôt qu’en restant là où elle est née. La migration est certainement l’outil le plus efficace pour la réduction de l’inégalité globale. Ouvrir les frontières de l’Europe et des États-Unis permettrait d’attirer des millions de migrants et leurs niveaux de vie s’élèveraient. On voit cela tous les jours à une moindre échelle, mais on l’a vu également à la fin du 19e siècle et au début du 20e siècle, quand les migrations étaient deux à cinq fois supérieures (en proportion de la population d’alors) à aujourd’hui. La plupart de ceux qui migraient augmentaient leurs revenus.

Cependant il y a deux problèmes importants avec la migration. Premièrement, cela mènerait à des revenus plus bas pour certaines personnes vivant dans les pays d’accueil, et elles utiliseraient (comme elles le font actuellement) tous les moyens politiques pour l’arrêter. Deuxièmement, cela crée parfois un « clash des civilisations » inconfortable quand des normes culturelles différentes se heurtent les unes aux autres. Cela produit un retour de bâton, qui est évident aujourd’hui en Europe. C’est une réaction compréhensible, même si beaucoup d’Européens devraient peut-être réfléchir à l’époque où ils émigraient, que ce soit de manière pacifique ou de manière violente, vers le reste du monde, et combien ils y trouvaient des avantages. Il semble maintenant que la boucle soit bouclée : les autres émigrent vers l’Europe.

Entretien réalisé et traduit de l’anglais par Niels Planel.

Voir aussi:
Workers of the Western world
Chrystia Freeland
Reuters
Dec 2, 2011

(Reuters) – Branko Milanovic has some good news for the squeezed Western middle class – and also some bad news.

Good news first: The past 150 years have been an astonishing economic victory for the workers of the Western world. The bad news is that workers in the developing world have been left out, and their entry into the global economy will have complex and uneven consequences.

Milanovic’s first conclusion is contrarian, at least in its tone. After all, with unemployment in the United States at more than 9 percent and Europe struggling to muddle through its most serious economic crisis since the Second World War, Western workers are feeling anything but triumphant.

But one of the pleasures of Milanovic’s work is a point of view that is both wide and deep.

Milanovic, a World Bank economist who earned his doctorate in his native Yugoslavia, has an intuitively international frame of reference. Both qualities are in evidence in « Global Inequality: From Class to Location, From Proletarians to Migrants, » a working paper released this autumn by the World Bank Development Research Group.

Milanovic contends that the big economic story of the past 150 years is the triumph of the proletariat in the industrialized world. His starting point is 1848 when Europe was convulsed in revolution, industrialization was beginning to really bite, and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto.

Their central assertion, Milanovic writes, was that capitalists (and their class allies, the landowners) exploited workers, and that the workers of the world were equally and similarly oppressed.

It turns out that Marx and Engels were pretty good economic reporters. Surveying the economic history literature, Milanovic finds that between 1800 and 1849, the wage of an unskilled laborer in India, one of the poorest countries at the time, was 30 percent that of an equivalent worker in England, one of the richest. Here is another data point: in the 1820s, real wages in the Netherlands were just 70 percent higher than those in the Yangtze Valley in China.

But Marx and Engels did not do as well as economic forecasters. They predicted that oppression of the proletariat would get worse, creating an international – and internationally exploited – working class.

Instead, Milanovic shows that over the subsequent century and a half, industrial capitalism hugely enriched the workers in the countries where it flourished – and widened the gap between them and workers in those parts of the world where it did not take hold.

One way to understand what has happened, Milanovic says, is to use a measure of global inequality developed by François Bourguignon and Christian Morrisson in a 2002 paper. They calculated the global Gini coefficient, a popular measure of inequality, to have been 53 in 1850, with roughly half due to location – or inequality between countries – and half due to class. By Milanovic’s calculation, the global Gini coefficient had risen to 65.4 by 2005. The striking change, though, is in its composition: 85 percent is due to location, and just 15 percent due to class.

Comparable wages in developed and developing countries are another way to illustrate the gap. Milanovic uses the 2009 global prices and earnings report compiled by UBS, the Swiss bank. This showed that the nominal after-tax wage for a building laborer in New York was $16.60 an hour, compared with 80 cents in Beijing, 60 cents in Nairobi and 50 cents in New Delhi, a gap that is orders of magnitude greater than the one in the 19th century.

Interestingly, at a time when unskilled workers are the ones we worry are getting the rawest deal, the difference in earnings between New York engineers and their developing world counterparts is much smaller: engineers earn $26.50 an hour in New York, $5.80 in Beijing, $4 in Nairobi and $2.90 in New Delhi.

Milanovic has two important takeaways from all of this. The first is that in the past century and a half, « the specter of communism » in the Western world « was exorcised » because industrial capitalism did such a good job of enriching the erstwhile proletariat. His second conclusion is that the big cleavage in the world today is not between classes within countries, but between the rich West and the poor developing world. As a result, he predicts « huge migratory pressures because people can increase their incomes several-fold if they migrate. »

I wonder, though, if the disparity Milanovic documents is already creating a different shift in the global economy. Thanks to new communications and transportation technologies, and the opening up of the world economy, immigration is not the only way to match cheap workers from developing economies with better-paid jobs in the developing world. Another way to do it is to move jobs to where workers live.

Economists are not the only ones who can read the UBS research – business people do, too. And some of them are concluding, as one hedge fund manager said at a recent dinner speech in New York, that « the low-skilled American worker is the most overpaid worker in the world. »

At a time when Western capitalism is huffing and wheezing, Milanovic’s paper is a vivid reminder of how much it has accomplished. But he also highlights the big new challenge – how to bring the rewards of capitalism to the workers of the developing world at a time when the standard of living of their Western counterparts has stalled.

(Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Voir également:

Thy Neighbor’s Wealth
Catherine Rampell
NYT
January 28, 2011

Who needs to keep up with the Joneses? What people really care about is keeping up with the Rockefellers. That’s the main theme of “The Haves and the Have-Nots,” an eclectic book on inequality that attempts to document the long history of coveting by the poor, and the grim consequences of that coveting.

THE HAVES AND THE HAVE-NOTS

A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality

By Branko Milanovic

258 pp. Basic Books. $27.95.
Written by the World Bank economist and development specialist Branko Milanovic, this survey of income distribution past and present is constructed as a sort of textbook-almanac hybrid. It revolves around three technical essays summarizing the academic literature on inequality, which are each followed by a series of quick-hit vignettes about quirkier subjects, like how living standards in 19th-century Russia may have influenced Anna Karenina’s doomed romance, or who the richest person in history was.

The first essay is a primer on how economists think about income inequality within a country — in particular, how it is measured, and how it is related to a country’s overall economic health. At a very basic, agrarian level of development, Milanovic explains, people’s incomes are relatively equal; everyone is living at or close to subsistence level. But as more advanced technologies become available and enable workers to differentiate their skills, a gulf between rich and poor becomes possible.

This section also gingerly approaches the contentious debate over whether inequality is good or bad for economic growth, but ultimately quibbles with the question itself. “There is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ inequality,” Milanovic writes, “just as there is good and bad cholesterol.” The possibility of unequal economic outcomes motivates people to work harder, he argues, although at some point it can lead to the preservation of acquired positions, which causes economies to stagnate.

In his second and third essays, Milanovic switches to his obvious passion: inequality around the world. These sections encourage readers to better appreciate their own living standards and to think more skeptically about who is responsible for their success.

As Milanovic notes, an astounding 60 percent of a person’s income is determined merely by where she was born (and an additional 20 percent is dictated by how rich her parents were). He also makes interesting international comparisons. The typical person in the top 5 percent of the Indian population, for example, makes the same as or less than the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American population. That’s right: America’s poorest are, on average, richer than India’s richest — extravagant Mumbai mansions notwithstanding.

It is no wonder then, Milanovic says, that so many from the third world risk life and limb to sneak into the first. A recent World Bank survey suggested that “countries that have done economically poorly would, if free migration were allowed, remain perhaps without half or more of their populations.” Mass-migration attempts are met with sealed borders in the developed world, which then results in the deaths of thousands of anonymous indigents journeying to promised lands only to be swallowed up by the Mediterranean or charred in the Arizona desert.

But while Milanovic demonstrates that inequality between countries is unquestionably toxic, he is less persuasive about the effects of inequality within countries. He frequently assumes that this kind of inequality is by its very nature problematic, but provides scant historical evidence about why, particularly if mobility is ­possible.

In general, mobility — and the policies that promote it — are given disappointingly little space. The same goes for how income inequality might affect the functioning of a democracy.

As a result of such blind spots, “The Haves and the Have-Nots” can feel somewhat patchy or disorganized at times. Milanovic’s more colorful vignettes, on the other hand, are almost uniformly delightful. No matter where you are on the income ladder, Milanovic’s examination of whether Bill Gates is richer than Nero makes for great cocktail party ­conversation.

Catherine Rampell is the economics editor at NYTimes.com.

Voir encore:

The frontiers of inequality
The Economist
Free Exchange | Washington, DC
Dec 6th 2007

AN inventive October NBER paper by Branko Milanovic, Peter H. Lindert, Jeffrey G. Williamson sets itself the task of « Measuring Ancient Inequality ». Therein the authors develop two new interesting concepts: the inequality possibility frontier, which sets the limit of possible inequality, and the extraction ratio, the ratio between the feasible maximum and the actual level of inequality. The idea in a nutshell is that the higher a society’s mean income, the more there is for the ruling class possibly to take. So how much of that have they actually been taking historically, and how does it differ from today?

Amidst a great deal of interesting discussion of the problems inherent in estimating incomes and their distribution in ye olden times, Messrs Milanovic, Lindert, and Williamson find that the extraction ratio in pre-industrial societies of yore were much higher than in pre-industrial nations today, although their actual levels of inequality (as measured by the Gini coefficient) are very similar. A really, really poor country may have a low level of actual inequality, since even the rich have so little. But they may have nevetheless taken all they can get from the less powerful. A richer and nominally less equal place may also be rather less bandit-like; the powerful could hoard more, but they don’t. Because potential and actual inequality come apart, measured actual inequality may therefore tell us less than we think. For example:

Tanzania … with a relatively low Gini of 35 may be less egalitarian than it appears since measured inequality lies so close to (or indeed above) its inequality possibility frontier. … On the other hand, with a much higher Gini of almost 48, Malaysia … has extracted only about one-half of maximum inequality, and thus is farther away from the IPF.
Likewise:

As a country becomes richer, its feasible inequality expands. Consequently, if recorded inequality is stable, the inequality extraction ratio must fall; and even if recorded inequality goes up, the ratio may not.
I have some serious philosophical qualms about they way the authors construct the idea of the inequality possibility frontier, and about the bias inherent in thinking of inequality as necessarily involving some kind of « extraction »–though I don’t doubt that as a historical rule it has. Nevertheless, this work contains the germ of an important advance in thinking about inequality.

First, it moves us away from the sheer craziness of thinking about levels of inequality in isolation from levels of income. Second, it moves us toward thinking about the relationship between the mechanisms of growth and the mechanisms responsible for patterns of income.

For example, robust property rights and effective constraints on predation by and through the state should help explain both economic growth and a falling or stable extraction ratio.

The great cause of inequality is political power. As the authors put it:

The frequent claim that inequality promotes accumulation and growth does not get much support from history. On the contrary, great economic inequality has always been correlated with extreme concentration of political power, and that power has always been used to widen the income gaps through rent-seeking and rent-keeping, forces that demonstrably retard economic growth.
The implication is that a system that limits political power, and keeps rent-seeking to a minimum, will tend to grow, other things equal. Now, my question is this: If there is a way to prevent the economic inequality that emerges through the process of economic exchange from translating into concentrayed political power, such that whatever level of inequality emerges over time is not in fact due to « extraction »–not due to predation, rent-seeking, or anyone’s rigging the system in their favour–then should it still worry us?

Who Was the Richest Person Ever?
Marcus Crassus, John D. Rockefeller, Carlos Slim, Mikhail Khodorovsky — who’s the richest of them all?
By Branko Milanovic, October 21, 2011

When the richissime decide to play a political role in their own countries, then their power there may exceed even the power of the most globally rich.

Mikhail Khodorovsky was richer, and potentially more powerful, than Rockefeller in the United States in 1937.

No stadium in Mexico, not even the famous Azteca, would come close to accommodating all the compatriots Mr. Slim could hire with his annual income.

Crassus’s income was equal to the annual incomes of about 32,000 people, a crowd that would fill about half of the Colosseum.

Comparing incomes from the past with those of the present is not easy. We do not have an exchange rate that would convert Roman sesterces or Castellan 17th-century pesos into dollars of equal purchasing power today.

Even more, what “equal purchasing power” might mean in that case is far from clear. “Equal purchasing power” should mean that one is able to buy with X Roman sesterces the same bundle of goods and services as with Y U.S. dollars today. But not only have the bundles changed (no DVDs in Roman times), but were we to constrain the bundle to cover only the goods that existed both then and now, we would soon find that the relative prices have changed substantially.

Services then were relatively cheap (because wages were low). Nowadays, services in rich countries are expensive. The reverse would be true for bread or olive oil. Thus, to compare the wealth and income of the rich in several historical periods, the most reasonable approach is to situate them in their historical context and measure their economic power in terms of their ability to purchase human labor (of average skill) at that time and place.

In some sense, a given quantum of human labor is a universal yardstick with which we measure welfare. As Adam Smith wrote more than 200 years ago, “[A person] must be rich or poor according to the quantity of labor which he can command.” Moreover, this quantum embodies improvements in productivity and welfare over time, since the income of somebody like Bill Gates today will be measured against the average incomes of people who currently live in the United States.

A natural place to start is ancient Rome, for which we have data on the extremely wealthy individuals and whose economy was sufficiently “modern” and monetized to make comparisons with the present, or more recent past, meaningful. We can consider three individuals from the classic Roman age.

The fabulously rich triumvir Marcus Crassus’s fortune was estimated around the year 50 BCE at some 200 million sesterces (HS). The emperor Octavian Augustus’s imperial household fortune was estimated at 250 million HS around the year 14 CE. Finally, the enormously rich freedman Marcus Antonius Pallas (under Nero) is thought to have been worth 300 million HS in the year 52.

Take Crassus, who has remained associated with extravagant affluence (not to be confused, though, with the Greek king Croesus, whose name has become eponymous with wealth). With 200 million sesterces and an average annual interest rate of 6% (which was considered a “normal” interest rate in the Roman “golden age” — that is, before the inflation of the third century), Crassus’s annual income could be estimated at 12 million HS.

The mean income of Roman citizens around the time of Octavian’s death (14 CE) is thought to have been about 380 sesterces per annum, and we can assume that it was about the same 60 years earlier, when Crassus lived. Thus expressed, Crassus’s income was equal to the annual incomes of about 32,000 people, a crowd that would fill about half of the Colosseum.

Let us fast-forward more closely to the present and apply the same reasoning to three American wealth icons: Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Bill Gates. Carnegie’s fortune reached its peak in 1901 when he purchased U.S. Steel. His share in U.S. Steel was $225 million. Applying the same return of 6%, and using U.S. GDP per capita (in 1901 prices) of $282, allows us to conclude that Carnegie’s income exceeded that of Crassus.

With his annual income, Carnegie could have purchased the labor of almost 48,000 people at the time without making any dent in his fortune. (Notice that in all these calculations, we assume that the wealth of the richissime individual remains intact. He simply uses his annual income, that is, yield from his wealth, to purchase labor.)

An equivalent calculation for Rockefeller, taking his wealth at its 1937 peak ($1.4 billion), yields Rockefeller’s income to be equal to that of about 116,000 people in the United States in the year 1937. Thus, Rockefeller was almost four times as rich as Crassus and more than twice as rich as Andrew Carnegie. The people whom he could hire would easily fill Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, and even quite a few would have remained outside the gates.

How does Bill Gates fare in this kind of comparison? Bill Gates’s fortune in 2005 was put by Forbes at $50 billion. Income could then be estimated at $3 billion annually, and since the U.S. GDP per capita in 2005 was about $40,000, Bill Gates could, with his income, command about 75,000 workers. This places him somewhere between Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, but much above the “poor” Marcus Crassus.

But this calculation leaves open the question of how to treat billionaires such as the Russian Mikhail Khodorovsky and Mexican Carlos Slim, who are both “global” and “national.” Khodorovsky’s wealth, at the time when he was the richest man in Russia in 2003, was estimated at $24 billion.

Globally speaking, he was much less rich than Bill Gates. Yet if we assess his fortune locally and again use the same assumptions as before, he was able to buy more than a quarter million annual units of labor, at their average price. In other words, contrasted with the relatively low incomes of his countrymen, Mikhail Khodorovsky was richer, and potentially more powerful, than Rockefeller in the United States in 1937. It is probably this latter fact — the potential political power — that brought him to the attention of the Kremlin.

Without touching a penny of his wealth, Khodorovsky could, if need be, create an army of a quarter-million people. He was negotiating with both the Americans and the Chinese, almost as a state would, the construction of new gas and oil pipelines. Such potential power met its nemesis in his downfall and eventual jailing. However, Russian history being what it is, the shortest way between two stints in power often takes one through a detour in Siberia. We might not have seen the last of Mr. Khodorovsky.

The Mexican Carlos Slim does Khodorovsky one better. His wealth, also according to Forbes magazine, prior to the global financial crisis in 2009, was estimated at more than $53 billion. Using the same calculation as before, we find that Slim could command even more labor than Khodorovsky at his peak: some 440,000 Mexicans. So he appears to have been, locally, the richest of all! No stadium in Mexico, not even the famous Azteca, would come close to accommodating all the compatriots Mr. Slim could hire with his annual income.

Another complication that may be introduced is the size of populations. When Crassus lived and commanded the labor incomes of 32,000 people, this represented one out of each 1,500 people living in the Roman Empire at the time. Rockefeller’s 116,000 Americans were a higher proportion of the U.S. population: one person out of each 1,100 people. Thus, in both respects Rockefeller beats Crassus.

Can we then say who was the richest of them all? Since the wealthy also tend to go “global” and measure their wealth against the wealth of other rich people living in different countries, it was probably Rockefeller who was the richest of all because he was able to command the highest number of labor units in the then-richest country in the world.

But when the richissime decide to play a political role in their own countries (which may not be the richest countries in the world, such as, for example, Russia and Mexico), then their power there may exceed even the power of the most globally rich.

Editor’s Note: This feature is adapted from THE HAVES AND THE HAVE-NOTS: A BRIEF AND IDIOSYNCRATIC HISTORY OF GLOBAL INEQUALITY by Branko Milanovic. Copyright Basic Books 2011. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher.

Voir enfin:

Rémi Fraisse, victime d’une guerre de civilisation

Edgar Morin (Sociologue et philosophe)

Le Monde

04.11.2014

A l’image d’Astérix défendant un petit bout périphérique de Bretagne face à un immense empire, les opposants au barrage de Sivens semblent mener une résistance dérisoire à une énorme machine bulldozerisante qui ravage la planète animée par la soif effrénée du gain. Ils luttent pour garder un territoire vivant, empêcher la machine d’installer l’agriculture industrialisée du maïs, conserver leur terroir, leur zone boisée, sauver une oasis alors que se déchaîne la désertification monoculturelle avec ses engrais tueurs de sols, tueurs de vie, où plus un ver de terre ne se tortille ou plus un oiseau ne chante.

Cette machine croit détruire un passé arriéré, elle détruit par contre une alternative humaine d’avenir. Elle a détruit la paysannerie, l’exploitation fermière à dimension humaine. Elle veut répandre partout l’agriculture et l’élevage à grande échelle. Elle veut empêcher l’agro-écologie pionnière. Elle a la bénédiction de l’Etat, du gouvernement, de la classe politique. Elle ne sait pas que l’agro-écologie crée les premiers bourgeons d’un futur social qui veut naître, elle ne sait pas que les « écolos » défendent le « vouloir vivre ensemble ».

Elle ne sait pas que les îlots de résistance sont des îlots d’espérance. Les tenants de l’économie libérale, de l’entreprise über alles, de la compétitivité, de l’hyper-rentabilité, se croient réalistes alors que le calcul qui est leur instrument de connaissance les aveugle sur les vraies et incalculables réalités des vies humaines, joie, peine, bonheur, malheur, amour et amitié.

Le caractère abstrait, anonyme et anonymisant de cette machine énorme, lourdement armée pour défendre son barrage, a déclenché le meurtre d’un jeune homme bien concret, bien pacifique, animé par le respect de la vie et l’aspiration à une autre vie.

Nouvel avenir
A part les violents se disant anarchistes, enragés et inconscients saboteurs, les protestataires, habitants locaux et écologistes venus de diverses régions de France, étaient, en résistant à l’énorme machine, les porteurs et porteuses d’un nouvel avenir.

Le problème du barrage de Sivens est apparemment mineur, local. Mais par l’entêtement à vouloir imposer ce barrage sans tenir compte des réserves et critiques, par l’entêtement de l’Etat à vouloir le défendre par ses forces armées, allant jusqu’à utiliser les grenades, par l’entêtement des opposants de la cause du barrage dans une petite vallée d’une petite région, la guerre du barrage de Sivens est devenue le symbole et le microcosme de la vraie guerre de civilisation qui se mène dans le pays et plus largement sur la planète.

L’eau, qui, comme le soleil, était un bien commun à tous les humains, est devenue objet marchand sur notre planète. Les eaux sont appropriées et captées par des puissances financières et/ou colonisatrices, dérobées aux communautés locales pour bénéficier à des multinationales agricoles ou minières. Partout, au Brésil, au Pérou, au Canada, en Chine… les indigènes et régionaux sont dépouillés de leurs eaux et de leurs terres par la machine infernale, le bulldozer nommé croissance.

Dans le Tarn, une majorité d’élus, aveuglée par la vulgate économique des possédants adoptée par le gouvernement, croient œuvrer pour la prospérité de leur territoire sans savoir qu’ils contribuent à sa désertification humaine et biologique. Et il est accablant que le gouvernement puisse aujourd’hui combattre avec une détermination impavide une juste rébellion de bonnes volontés issue de la société civile.

Pire, il a fait silence officiel embarrassé sur la mort d’un jeune homme de 21 ans, amoureux de la vie, communiste candide, solidaire des victimes de la terrible machine, venu en témoin et non en combattant. Quoi, pas une émotion, pas un désarroi ? Il faut attendre une semaine l’oraison funèbre du président de la République pour lui laisser choisir des mots bien mesurés et équilibrés alors que la force de la machine est démesurée et que la situation est déséquilibrée en défaveur des lésés et des victimes.

Ce ne sont pas les lancers de pavés et les ­vitres brisées qui exprimeront la cause non violente de la civilisation écologisée dont la mort de Rémi Fraisse est devenue le ­symbole, l’emblème et le martyre. C’est avec une grande prise de conscience, capable de relier toutes les initiatives alternatives au productivisme aveugle, qu’un véritable hommage peut être rendu à Rémi Fraisse.

Voir par ailleurs:

The Ultimate Global Antipoverty Program
Extreme poverty fell to 15% in 2011, from 36% in 1990. Credit goes to the spread of capitalism.
Douglas A. Irwin
WSJ
Nov. 2, 2014

The World Bank reported on Oct. 9 that the share of the world population living in extreme poverty had fallen to 15% in 2011 from 36% in 1990. Earlier this year, the International Labor Office reported that the number of workers in the world earning less than $1.25 a day has fallen to 375 million 2013 from 811 million in 1991.

Such stunning news seems to have escaped public notice, but it means something extraordinary: The past 25 years have witnessed the greatest reduction in global poverty in the history of the world.

To what should this be attributed? Official organizations noting the trend have tended to waffle, but let’s be blunt: The credit goes to the spread of capitalism. Over the past few decades, developing countries have embraced economic-policy reforms that have cleared the way for private enterprise.

China and India are leading examples. In 1978 China began allowing private agricultural plots, permitted private businesses, and ended the state monopoly on foreign trade. The result has been phenomenal economic growth, higher wages for workers—and a big decline in poverty. For the most part all the government had to do was get out of the way. State-owned enterprises are still a large part of China’s economy, but the much more dynamic and productive private sector has been the driving force for change.

In 1991 India started dismantling the “license raj”—the need for government approval to start a business, expand capacity or even purchase foreign goods like computers and spare parts. Such policies strangled the Indian economy for decades and kept millions in poverty. When the government stopped suffocating business, the Indian economy began to flourish, with faster growth, higher wages and reduced poverty.

The economic progress of China and India, which are home to more than 35% of the world’s population, explains much of the global poverty decline. But many other countries, from Colombia to Vietnam, have enacted their own reforms.

Even Africa is showing signs of improvement. In the 1970s and 1980s, Julius Nyerere and his brand of African socialism made Tanzania the darling of Western intellectuals. But the policies behind the slogans—agricultural collectives, nationalization and price controls, which were said to foster “self-reliance” and “equitable development”—left the economy in ruins. After a new government threw off the policy shackles in the mid-1980s, growth and poverty reduction have been remarkable.

The reduction in world poverty has attracted little attention because it runs against the narrative pushed by those hostile to capitalism. The Michael Moores of the world portray capitalism as a degrading system in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Yet thanks to growth in the developing world, world-wide income inequality—measured across countries and individual people—is falling, not rising, as Branko Milanovic of City University of New York and other researchers have shown.

College students and other young Americans are often confronted with a picture of global capitalism as something that resembles the “dark satanic mills” invoked by William Blake in “Jerusalem,” not a potential escape from horrendous rural poverty. Young Americans ages 18-29 have a positive view of socialism and a negative view of capitalism, according to a 2011 Pew Research poll. About half of American millennials view socialism favorably, compared with 13% of Americans age 65 and older.

Capitalism’s bad rap grew out of a false analogy that linked the term with “exploitation.” Marxists thought the old economic system in which landlords exploited peasants (feudalism) was being replaced by a new economic system in which capital owners exploited industrial workers (capitalism). But Adam Smith had earlier provided a more accurate description of the economy: a “commercial society.” The poorest parts of the world are precisely those that are cut off from the world of markets and commerce, often because of government policies.

Some 260 years ago, Smith noted that: “Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things.” Very few countries fulfill these simple requirements, but the number has been growing. The result is a dramatic improvement in human well-being around the world, an outcome that is cause for celebration.

Mr. Irwin is a professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Project at Dartmouth College.

Voir aussi:

The Berlin Wall Fell, but Communism Didn’t
From North Korea to Cuba, millions still live under tyrannous regimes.
Marion Smith
WSJ
Nov. 6, 2014

As the world marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989, we should also remember the many dozens of people who died trying to get past it.

Ida Siekmann, the wall’s first casualty, died jumping out of her fourth-floor window while attempting to escape from East Berlin in August 1961. In January 1973, a young mother named Ingrid hid with her infant son in a crate in the back of a truck crossing from East to West. When the child began to cry at the East Berlin checkpoint, a desperate Ingrid covered his mouth with her hand, not realizing the child had an infection and couldn’t breathe through his nose. She made her way to freedom, but in the process suffocated her 15-month-old son. Chris Gueffroy, an East German buoyed by the ease of tensions between East and West in early 1989, believed that the shoot-on-sight order for the Berlin Wall had been lifted. He was mistaken. Gueffroy would be the last person shot attempting to flee Communist-occupied East Berlin.

But Gueffroy was far from the last victim of communism. Millions of people are still ruled by Communist regimes in places like Pyongyang, Hanoi and Havana.

As important as the fall of the Berlin Wall was, it was not the end of what John F. Kennedy called the “long, twilight struggle” against a sinister ideology. By looking at the population statistics of several nations we can estimate that 1.5 billion people still live under communism. Political prisoners continue to be rounded up, gulags still exist, millions are being starved, and untold numbers are being torn from families and friends simply because of their opposition to a totalitarian state.

Today, Communist regimes continue to brutalize and repress the hapless men, women and children unlucky enough to be born in the wrong country.

In China, thousands of Hong Kong protesters recently took to the streets demanding the right to elect their chief executive in open and honest elections. This democratic movement—the most important protests in China since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and massacre 25 years ago—was met with tear gas and pepper spray from a regime that does not tolerate dissent or criticism. The Communist Party routinely censors, beats and jails dissidents, and through the barbaric one-child policy has caused some 400 million abortions, according to statements by a Chinese official in 2011.

In Vietnam, every morning the unelected Communist government blasts state-sponsored propaganda over loud speakers across Hanoi, like a scene out of George Orwell ’s “1984.”

In Laos, where the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party tolerates no other political parties, the government owns all the media, restricts religious freedom, denies property rights, jails dissidents and tortures prisoners.

In Cuba, a moribund Communist junta maintains a chokehold on the island nation. Arbitrary arrests, beatings, intimidation and total media control are among the tools of the current regime, which has never owned up to its bloody past.

The Stalinesque abuses of North Korea are among the most shocking. As South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye recently told the United Nations, “This year marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the Korean Peninsula remains stifled by a wall of division.” On both sides of that wall—a 400-mile-long, 61-year-old demilitarized zone—are people with the same history, language and often family.

But whereas the capitalist South is free and prosperous, the Communist North is a prison of torture and starvation run by a family of dictators at war with freedom of religion, freedom of movement and freedom of thought. President Park is now challenging the U.N. General Assembly “to stand with us in tearing down the world’s last remaining wall of division.”

To tear down that wall will require the same moral clarity that brought down the concrete and barbed-wire barrier that divided Berlin 25 years ago. The Cold War may be over, but the battle on behalf of human freedom is still being waged every day. The triumph of liberty we celebrate on this anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s destruction must not be allowed to turn to complacency in the 21st century. Victory in the struggle against totalitarian oppression is far from inevitable, but this week we remember that it can be achieved.

Voir enfin:

The Most Senseless Environmental Crime of the 20th Century
Charles Homans
Pacific & Standard
November 12, 2013

Fifty years ago 180,000 whales disappeared from the oceans without a trace, and researchers are still trying to make sense of why. Inside the most irrational environmental crime of the century.

In the fall of 1946,  a 508-foot ship steamed out of the port of Odessa, Ukraine. In a previous life she was called the Wikinger (“Viking”) and sailed under the German flag, but she had been appropriated by the Soviet Union after the war and renamed the Slava (“Glory”). The Slava was a factory ship, crewed and equipped to separate one whale every 30 minutes into its useful elements, destined for oil, canned meat and liver, and bone meal. Sailing with her was a retinue of smaller, nimbler catcher vessels, their purpose betrayed by the harpoon guns mounted atop each clipper bow. They were bound for the whaling grounds off the coast of Antarctica. It was the first time Soviet whalers had ventured so far south.

The work began inauspiciously. In her first season, the Slava caught just 386 whales. But by the fifth—before which the fleet’s crew wrote a letter to Stalin pledging to bring home more than 500 tons of whale oil—the Slava’s annual catch was approaching 2,000. The next year it was 3,000. Then, in 1957, the ship’s crew discovered dense conglomerations of humpback whales to the north, off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand. There were so many of them, packed so close together, the Slava’s helicopter pilots joked that they could make an emergency landing on the animals’ backs.

In November 1959, the Slava was joined by a new fleet led by the Sovetskaya Ukraina, the largest whaling factory ship the world had ever seen. By now the harpooners—talented marksmen whose work demanded the dead-eyed calm of a sniper—were killing whales faster than the factory ships could process them. Sometimes the carcasses would drift alongside the ships until the meat spoiled, and the flensers would simply strip them of the blubber—a whaler on another fleet likened the process to peeling a banana—and heave the rest back into the sea.

The Soviet fleets killed almost 13,000 humpback whales in the 1959-60 season and nearly as many the next, when the Slava and Sovetskaya Ukraina were joined by a third factory ship, the Yuriy Dolgorukiy. It was grueling work: One former whaler, writing years later in a Moscow newspaper, claimed that five or six Soviet crewmen died on the Southern Hemisphere expeditions each year, and that a comparable number went mad. A scientist working aboard a factory ship in the Antarctic on a later voyage described seeing a deckhand lose his footing on a blubber-slicked deck and catch his legs in a coil of whale intestine as it slid overboard. By the time his mates were able to retrieve him from the water he had succumbed to hypothermia. He was buried at sea, lowered into the water with a pair of harpoons to weight down his body.

Still, whaling jobs were well-paying and glamorous by Soviet standards. Whalers got to see the world and stock up on foreign products that were prized on the black market back home, and were welcomed with parades when they returned. When a fourth factory ship, the Sovetskaya Rossiya, prepared for her maiden voyage from the remote eastern naval port of Vladivostok in 1961, the men and women who found positions onboard would have considered themselves lucky.

When the Sovetskaya Rossiya reached the western coast of Australia late that year, however, the whalers found themselves in a desert ocean. By the end of the season the ship had managed to round up only a few hundred animals, many of them calves—what the whalers called “small-sized gloves.” Harpooners on the other fleets’ catcher ships, too, accustomed to the miraculous abundance of years past, now looked upon a blank horizon. Alfred Berzin, a scientist aboard the Sovetskaya Rossiya, offered an alarmed and unequivocal summary in his seasonal report to the state fisheries ministry. “In five years of intensive whaling by first one, then two, three, and finally four fleets,” he wrote, the populations of humpback whales off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand “were so reduced in abundance that we can now say that they are completely destroyed!”

It was one of the fastest decimations of an animal population in world history—and it had happened almost entirely in secret. The Soviet Union was a party to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, a 1946 treaty that limited countries to a set quota of whales each year. By the time a ban on commercial whaling went into effect, in 1986, the Soviets had reported killing a total of 2,710 humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, the country’s fleets had killed nearly 18 times that many, along with thousands of unreported whales of other species. It had been an elaborate and audacious deception: Soviet captains had disguised ships, tampered with scientific data, and misled international authorities for decades. In the estimation of the marine biologists Yulia Ivashchenko, Phillip Clapham, and Robert Brownell, it was “arguably one of the greatest environmental crimes of the 20th century.”

The Aleut, the Soviet Union’s oldest factory ship, works off the coast of Kamchatka in 1958. (Photo: Yulia Ivashchenko)
It was also a perplexing one. Environmental crimes are, generally speaking, the most rational of crimes. The upsides are obvious: Fortunes have been made selling contraband rhino horns and mahogany or helping toxic waste disappear, and the risks are minimal—poaching, illegal logging, and dumping are penalized only weakly in most countries, when they’re penalized at all.

The Soviet whale slaughter followed no such logic. Unlike Norway and Japan, the other major whaling nations of the era, the Soviet Union had little real demand for whale products. Once the blubber was cut away for conversion into oil, the rest of the animal, as often as not, was left in the sea to rot or was thrown into a furnace and reduced to bone meal—a low-value material used for agricultural fertilizer, made from the few animal byproducts that slaughterhouses and fish canneries can’t put to more profitable use. “It was a good product,” Dmitri Tormosov, a scientist who worked on the Soviet fleets, wryly recalls, “but maybe not so important as to support a whole whaling industry.”

This was the riddle the Soviet ships left in their wake: Why did a country with so little use for whales kill so many of them?

“It was a good product,” a scientist who worked on the Russian fleets wryly recalls, “but maybe not so important as to support a whole whaling industry.”
ONE AFTERNOON LAST APRIL, I visited Clapham and Ivashchenko at their home in Seattle, a century-old Craftsman overlooking the city’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. When I rapped the mermaid-shaped knocker, the two scientists, who are married, appeared in the doorway together, a study in opposites. Ivashchenko is a 38-year-old willowy blonde of almost translucent complexion; Clapham, a 57-year-old Englishman with the build of a bouncer and arms sleeved in Maori tattoos, looks less like a man who studies whales than one who might have harpooned them 150 years ago.

At their feet was a lanky, elderly dog named Cleo, assembled from various shepherds and wolfhounds, whose fur Ivashchenko had shaved into a Mohawk earlier that day. “We’re going to dye it red,” she said matter-of-factly, as she went into the kitchen to put on a pot of Russian caravan tea. We settled into the book-crammed dining room (on one shelf I noticed a first edition of the 1930 Rockwell Kent–illustrated Moby-Dick). At the head of the table was a mannequin, dressed in a bustier and a Carnival mask.

Ivashchenko’s and Clapham’s research, when I’d first stumbled across it, had struck me as similarly eccentric. The papers they had published over the previous decade, as co-authors and with a handful of colleagues, nearly all concerned a single, obscure historical episode: the voyages the Soviet Union’s whaling fleets made in the middle years of the 20th century. On the most basic level, it was an accounting exercise, an attempt to correct the false records the Soviets had released to the world at the time.

But it was in this space, between the false numbers and the real ones, that the researchers’ work became engrossing in ways that had little to do with marine biology. In gathering the figures, the researchers had also gathered stories that explained how the figures had come to be—the scientist who had stashed heaps of documents in his potato cellar; the whaling ship captain accused of espionage; elaborate acts of high-seas tactical misdirection and disguise usually reserved for navies in battle. The authors, I realized, were assembling not just a scientific record but also a human history, an account of a remarkable collision between political ideology and the natural world—and a lesson for anyone seeking to protect the fragile ecosystems that exist in the world’s least governed spaces.

The first time I called him, Clapham explained that the work had begun around the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse, when an earlier generation of Russian scientists and their foreign colleagues began gathering the fragmented documentary records of the program. The Soviet Union had kept the records secret for years, and many had been lost; the scientists were reconstructing the numbers from files that had been left behind in obscure provincial repositories, or quietly preserved by the scientists themselves.

This was not quite what Ivashchenko had envisioned doing with her life. Growing up in Yaroslavl, a landlocked city northeast of Moscow, she pursued a career in marine biology in part because she imagined it would offer everything Yaroslavl did not: “tropics, dolphins, bikinis.” Instead, she told me, laughing, “I ended up with dusty reports.” On her laptop, she pulled up images of thousands of pages’ worth of files she had found the month before in a municipal archive in Vladivostok, the largest new cache of Soviet whaling documents anyone had discovered since the early 1990s. “We thought that all of this stuff had been shredded,” Clapham said. “There’s still some sensitivity—some of the people who did this are still around.” Instead, it turned out to be a matter of knowing where to look.

COMMERCIAL WHALING WAS BANNED just 27 years ago, but it is difficult to think of the industry as anything other than an exotic holdover from a long-receded age—to imagine anyone sailing a small armada of ships to the end of the Earth to kill an animal the size of a school bus whose flesh, to the uninitiated, would seem too gamey to eat. And yet as recently as the mid-20th century, the waters surrounding Antarctica—the most populous whale habitat on Earth, what the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton half a century earlier called “a veritable playground for these monsters”—were crowded with whaling ships not just from Norway and Japan but also Britain and the Netherlands. Farther north, Australian and New Zealander whalers, operating from shore-based stations, plied their own coastlines. There were so many of them that even in an era when marine ecosystems were poorly understood, the need for some sort of regulations became impossible to ignore.

In December 1946, representatives of the whaling nations gathered in Washington to draw up the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. “[T]he history of whaling has seen overfishing of one area after another and of one species of whale after another,” the treaty read, “to such a degree that it is essential to protect all species of whales from further overfishing.” The countries that were party to the treaty were limited to an annual quota set by the newly formed International Whaling Commission. But the science guiding the quotas was rudimentary at best, and it was only in 1960 that the IWC enlisted the help of three respected fisheries scientists to take the measure of the hunt’s impact.

One of the three scientists—the only one still living—was Sidney Holt, then working for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Reviewing the data from the British and Norwegian fleets, Holt saw quickly that the quotas the IWC had set were vastly too high; both countries’ figures showed that whalers were traveling farther and farther in search of whales whose numbers were shrinking at an ominous pace. When the researchers turned their attention to the Soviet ships’ data, however, they were surprised to find that they looked nothing like the others. “We couldn’t make sense of it at all,” Holt told me recently. “It had no pattern. We didn’t know what the hell was wrong.”

In the following years, observers noticed other differences, too. The Soviet Union had many more ships in the Antarctic than any other country, sometimes twice as many catchers for each factory ship. And they worked differently, sweeping the sea in a line like a naval blockade. Holt had met Alexei Solyanik, the captain of the Slava fleet, on several occasions, and had dined with Soviet scientists onboard the country’s research vessels. (Friends of Holt’s who were well-versed in the Soviet crews’ liberality with their ships’ vodka supplies had instructed him to fortify himself with butter before coming aboard.) But, he recalls, “It never occurred to us in the 1960s that the USSR was falsifying the submitted catch statistics.” And even though later scientists had their suspicions, they were impossible to confirm without access to the Soviets’ own records—which would remain classified until 1993, when a Russian scientist named Alexey Yablokov made a remarkable confession.

Twenty-six years earlier, Yablokov, then a prominent Soviet whale researcher, had met a young American scientist named Robert Brownell at the Moscow airport. The two men had been corresponding for years, and Yablokov urged Brownell to stop by on his way back from a research trip to Japan. For the next three days, Brownell recalls, “Yablokov took me all over, showed me the museums. I asked if I could take photos; he said, ‘Go ahead. If you’re taking pictures of something you’re not supposed to, I’ll stop you.’”

Years later, in late 1990, Brownell’s colleague Peter Best was trying to track down data on right whale fetuses. Right whales were the first whale species to come under international protection, in 1935, and Best had been able to locate records of just 13 fetus specimens. On a hunch, he thought to ask Yablokov. Replying months later, Yablokov reported that he had records of about 150 fetuses. At first, Best recalls, he thought he had misunderstood: 150 fetuses would mean that the Soviets had killed at least one or two thousand members of the most protected whale species in the world.

In fact, it turned out to be more than three thousand. Brownell arranged for Yablokov—now the science adviser to the new Russian president, Boris Yeltsin—to make his confession public, in a short speech before a marine mammalogy conference in Galveston, Texas, in 1993. The catch records the Soviets had given the IWC for decades, Yablokov told the scientists in Galveston, had been almost entirely fictitious. Exactly how wrong they were Yablokov didn’t yet know. The Soviet fisheries ministry had classified its whaling data—even doctoral dissertations based on the numbers couldn’t be made public—and as a matter of protocol had destroyed most of the original records.

Yablokov and Brownell both began piecing together the real figures with the assistance of several scientists who had worked aboard the whaling fleets. (Brownell cheekily dubbed them the Gang of Four.) In some cases, they had preserved clandestine troves of documents for decades in hopes of eventually correcting the historical record. The false figures, they knew, had informed years of thinking about whale conservation and population science. It was possible that much of what scientists outside of Russia believed they understood was wrong.

The most valuable set of records came from the scientist Dmitri Tormosov, who had been stationed aboard the factory ship Yuriy Dolgorukiy beginning in the late 1950s. Tormosov had quietly instructed his colleagues to save their individual catch records—what they called “whale passports”—instead of burning them after the record of the season had been filed, as required by the fisheries ministry. When the collection grew into the tens of thousands of pages, Tormosov moved it into his potato cellar. The records covered 15 whaling seasons, and they allowed the non-Russian scientists to grasp, for the first time, the scale of the killing. Even scientists who for years had harbored suspicions of the Soviets were stunned by the true numbers. “We had no idea it was a systematic taking of everything that was available,” Best told me. “It was amazing they got away with it for so long.”

IN NOVEMBER 1994, A letter arrived at Brownell’s office in La Jolla, California. It was addressed from Alfred Berzin, the scientist who had chronicled the disappearance of the Antarctic’s humpbacks from the deck of the Sovetskaya Rossiya. Berzin had spent his entire career at a government laboratory in Vladivostok, and sailed with several Soviet whaling fleets; he and Brownell had known each other since the 1970s. Brownell remembers that Berzin, more than the other Soviet researchers, seemed burdened by what he had seen, and what he had failed to stop. “Nobody paid any attention to him,” Brownell told me. “I think that affected him.”

Berzin had not kept the volume of records that Tormosov had, but he did seem to have an unusually vivid recollection of the day-to-day details of whaling, and Brownell had once suggested that he write down what he remembered. But they hadn’t discussed the matter further, and Brownell was surprised to find in the envelope a short summary of a memoir Berzin was preparing.

Seven months later, a package arrived from Vladivostok, containing a manuscript written in Russian and bound in a hand-drawn cover. Berzin died the next year, and Brownell, who couldn’t read Russian and didn’t have the funding to have the manuscript translated, filed it away in his desk. It was only a decade later that he thought to give it to Yulia Ivashchenko, who had worked for him in the late 1990s on a research trip in the Russian Far East.

Ivashchenko’s translation—the work remains unpublished in Russian—appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of Marine Fisheries Review, a small research journal published by the U.S. Department of Commerce, under the title “The Truth About Soviet Whaling: A Memoir.” It is an uncommonly urgent document, animated by Berzin’s understanding that he had witnessed something much stranger than a simple act of industrialized killing.

The Soviet whalers, Berzin wrote, had been sent forth to kill whales for little reason other than to say they had killed them. They were motivated by an obligation to satisfy obscure line items in the five-year plans that drove the Soviet economy, which had been set with little regard for the Soviet Union’s actual demand for whale products. “Whalers knew that no matter what, the plan must be met!” Berzin wrote. The Sovetskaya Rossiya seemed to contain in microcosm everything Berzin believed to be wrong about the Soviet system: its irrationality, its brutality, its inclination toward crime.

Berzin contrasted the Soviet whalers with the Japanese, who are similarly thought to have caught whales off the books in the Antarctic (though in numbers, scientists believe, far short of the Soviets). The Japanese, motivated as they were by domestic demand for whale meat, were “at least understandable” in their actions, he wrote. “I should not say that as a scientist, but it is possible to understand the difference between a motivated and unmotivated crime.” Japanese whalers made use of 90 percent of the whales they hauled up the spillway; the Soviets, according to Berzin, used barely 30 percent. Crews would routinely return with whales that had been left to rot, “which could not be used for food. This was not regarded as a problem by anybody.”

This absurdity stemmed from an oversight deep in the bowels of the Soviet bureaucracy. Whaling, like every other industry in the Soviet Union, was governed by the dictates of the State Planning Committee of the Council of Ministers, a government organ tasked with meting out production targets. In the grand calculus of the country’s planned economy, whaling was considered a satellite of the fishing industry. This meant that the progress of the whaling fleets was measured by the same metric as the fishing fleets: gross product, principally the sheer mass of whales killed.

Whaling fleets that met or exceeded targets were rewarded handsomely, their triumphs celebrated in the Soviet press and the crews given large bonuses. But failure to meet targets came with harsh consequences. Captains would be demoted and crew members fired; reports to the fisheries ministry would sometimes identify responsible parties by name.

Soviet ships’ officers would have been familiar with the story of Aleksandr Dudnik, the captain of the Aleut, the only factory ship the Soviets owned before World War II. Dudnik was a celebrated pioneer in the Soviet whaling industry, and had received the Order of Lenin—the Communist Party’s highest honor—in 1936. The following year, however, his fleet failed to meet its production targets. When the Aleut fleet docked in Vladivostok in 1938, Dudnik was arrested by the secret police and thrown in jail, where he was interrogated on charges of being a Japanese agent. If his downfall was of a piece with the unique paranoia of the Stalin years, it was also an indelible reminder to captains in the decades that followed. As Berzin wrote, “The plan—at any price!”

Berzin recalled seeing so many spouting humpbacks that their blows reminded him of a forest. Years later, he saw only blubber-stripped carcasses bobbing on the waves.
AS THE PLAN TARGETS rose year after year, they inevitably exceeded what was allowed under the IWC quotas. This meant that the Soviet captains faced a choice: They could be persona non grata at home, or criminals abroad. The scientific report for the Sovetskaya Rossiya fleet’s 1970-71 season noted that the ship captains and harpooners who most frequently violated international whaling regulations also received the most Communist Party honors. “Lies became an inalienable part and perhaps even a foundation of Soviet whaling,” Berzin wrote.

By the mid-1960s, the situation was sufficiently dire that several scientists took the unusual risk of complaining directly to Aleksandr Ishkov, the powerful minister of fisheries resources. When one of them was called in front of Ishkov, he warned the minister that if the whaling practices didn’t change, their grandchildren would live in a world with no whales at all. “Your grandchildren?” Ishkov scoffed. “Your grandchildren aren’t the ones who can remove me from my job.”

By then, there were too few humpbacks left in the Southern Hemisphere to bother hunting, and the Soviet fleets had turned their attention northward, to other species and other oceans—in particular the North Pacific. From 1961 to 1964, Soviet catches in the North Pacific jumped from less than 4,000 whales a year to nearly 13,000. In 1965, a Soviet scientist noted that the blue whale was “commercially extinct” in the North Pacific and would soon be gone entirely. “After one more year of such intensive catches,” another researcher warned of the region’s humpbacks, “whale stocks will be so depleted that it will be impossible to continue any whaling.” Berzin, who had sailed along the Aleutian Islands to the Gulf of Alaska and back aboard the Aleut in the late 1950s, recalled seeing so many spouting humpbacks that their blows reminded him of a forest. Scanning the same horizon from the deck of the Sovetskaya Rossiya years later, he saw only blubber-stripped carcasses bobbing on the waves.

In one season alone, from 1959 to 1960, Soviet ships killed nearly 13,000 humpback whales. (Photo: Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images)
On a 1971 voyage north of Hawaii, Berzin watched a catcher vessel systematically run down a mother sperm whale and her calf, betrayed by their telltale blows—two of them, huddled close together, one large and one small. The Sovetskaya Rossiya’s crew, it seemed to him, had become ghastly parodies of the Yankee whalers of the 19th century. “Even now,” he wrote in his memoir, “I can recall seeing the bow of a catcher moving through warm blue tropical waters, and a harpooner behind the gun, dressed only in bathing trunks and with a red bandana on his head, chasing, obviously, a female with a calf. … What dignity this was….” The last was a biting reference to a passage from Moby-Dick: “The dignity of our calling,” Melville wrote, “the very heavens attest.”

In 1972, the IWC finally passed a rule that conservationists had sought for years, requiring that international observers accompany all commercial whaling vessels to independently monitor their catches. The new system proved easy enough to circumvent—the Soviets arranged to have their fleets staffed with Japanese observers who were willing to look the other way as necessary. But by that point, Berzin later recalled, the country’s illegal whaling program had reached its inevitable conclusion anyway. It ended, he wrote, “simply because we killed all the whales.”

Clapham and Ivashchenko now think that Soviet whalers killed at least 180,000 more whales than they reported between 1948 and 1973. It’s a testament to the enormous scale of legal commercial whaling that this figure constitutes only a small percentage—in some oceans, about five percent—of the total killed by whalers in the 20th century. The Soviets, Dmitri Tormosov told me, were well aware of all that had come before them, and were driven by a kind of fatalistic nationalism. “The point,” he says, “was to catch up and get their portion of whale resources before they were all gone. It wasn’t intended to be a long industry.”

But if other countries had already badly pillaged the oceans before the Slava ever sailed from Odessa, scientists now believe that the timing and frenetic pace of Soviet whaling lent it an outsized impact. The Soviets did not lead the world’s whales to the precipice—but they likely pushed the most vulnerable of them over it. Bowhead whales in the Sea of Okhotsk, which were severely depleted by 19th-century whaling, are believed to be endangered today as a result of Soviet whaling. The IWC now charges the Soviets with delaying the recovery of right whale populations in the Southern Hemisphere by 20 years. Blue whales in the North Pacific, whose population had been reduced to an estimated 1,400 by the mid-1970s, now number only between 2,000 and 3,000. The condition of the populations of sperm whales in the Pacific, of which the Soviets killed more than any other species, is still uncertain.

Grimmest is the case of the North Pacific right whale, which appears to have been all but killed off by Soviet whalers over the course of three years in the mid-1960s. “The species is now so rarely sighted in the region,” Clapham and Ivashchenko wrote in 2009, “that single observations have been publishable in scientific journals. We cannot be sure, but it is entirely possible that when the few remaining right whales in the eastern North Pacific live out their lives and die, the species will be gone forever from these waters.”

This was the riddle the Soviet ships left in their wake: Why did a country with so little use for whales kill so many of them?
STILL, THE OCEAN IS a confounding place. In 2004, scientists from 10 countries set out in research vessels across the same North Pacific latitudes the Soviets had once hunted. It was the first comprehensive effort to measure the region’s humpback whale population, which had dwindled to just 1,400 animals by the mid-1960s. The findings, published five years ago, suggested that there were just under 20,000 humpback whales alive and well in the North Pacific—more than twice the previous estimate. The Antarctic humpback population, too, is believed to have rebounded to upwards of 42,000 animals—a steady recovery, if not a complete one.

The need to save the whales has been assumed for so long now, with such urgency, that the idea of some of them actually having been saved is oddly difficult to grapple with. And it’s true that many species soon may be as threatened by the vast changes imposed upon their habitat—the overfishing and climatic transformations that stand to upend entire ocean ecosystems—as they once were by the harpoon. Still, the cloud of existential peril has lifted enough that in 2010, the IWC began considering a possibility that not long before would have been unthinkable: ending the moratorium on commercial whaling.

The whaling nations lobbying for the change have been joined, improbably, by several countries that generally oppose commercial whaling, including the United States. These supporters point to the increasing number of whales that are being killed, in spite of the moratorium, by Norway, Iceland, and Japan. (Japan categorizes its hunting of minke and endangered fin whales in the Antarctic as “scientific:” Its whaling fleet is operated by the government-funded Institute of Cetacean Research, a research institution in little more than name that also supplies whale meat to the country’s seafood markets.)

Legitimizing whaling again under a carefully supervised quota system, the thinking goes, would be preferable to the uncontrolled status quo, allowing the IWC to once again exert some influence over where and how whales are hunted. “We think the moratorium isn’t working,” Monica Medina, the U.S. representative to the IWC, told Time in 2010. “Many whales are being killed, and we want to save as many whales as possible.” In other words, better to have the whalers inside a permissive system than outside a tougher one.

History is always studied with one eye on the present, and Ivashchenko brought up this argument when we spoke about her work. The lesson of the Soviet experience, she told me in Seattle, is that “you cannot trust an individual country to control its own industry. There’s always a temptation to violate the rules, to close your eyes [to] some problems.” (And although its catches today are a fraction of those of years past, the Japanese whaling fleet has come to echo the Soviets’ in its lack of connection to the marketplace; demand for whale meat in Japan is declining, and the government loses about $10 million a year on whaling subsidies.)

It’s difficult to look at the Soviet story and see anything other than a remarkable anomaly, one that seems wildly unlikely to occur again. But in a way, this is the point: If the same international regime that exists today allowed 180,000 whales to vanish without a trace, how can anyone reasonably expect it to notice two or three thousand missing whales tomorrow?

In the last pages of his memoir, Alfred Berzin wrestled with the relevance of his story—with the question of what purpose was served, exactly, by an unsparing account of something that had happened four decades earlier. “When I started to work on this memoir,” he wrote, “some serious people asked me: ‘Do you really need it?’” In answering them, he offered a quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. “There can be no acceptable future,” Solzhenitsyn said, “without an honest analysis of the past.”


Islam: C’est l’Apocalypse, imbécile ! (This is the final jihad: It’s the book of Revelation, stupid !)

18 août, 2014
Puis je vis descendre du ciel un ange, qui avait la clef de l’abîme et une grande chaîne dans sa main. Il saisit le dragon, le serpent ancien, qui est le diable et Satan, et il le lia pour mille ans. Il le jeta dans l’abîme, ferma et scella l’entrée au-dessus de lui, afin qu’il ne séduisît plus les nations, jusqu’à ce que les mille ans fussent accomplis. Après cela, il faut qu’il soit délié pour un peu de temps. Et je vis des trônes; et à ceux qui s’y assirent fut donné le pouvoir de juger. Et je vis les âmes de ceux qui avaient été décapités à cause du témoignage de Jésus et à cause de la parole de Dieu, et de ceux qui n’avaient pas adoré la bête ni son image, et qui n’avaient pas reçu la marque sur leur front et sur leur main. Ils revinrent à la vie, et ils régnèrent avec Christ pendant mille ans. Les autres morts ne revinrent point à la vie jusqu’à ce que les mille ans fussent accomplis. C’est la première résurrection. Heureux et saints ceux qui ont part à la première résurrection! La seconde mort n’a point de pouvoir sur eux; mais ils seront sacrificateurs de Dieu et de Christ, et ils régneront avec lui pendant mille ans. Quand les mille ans seront accomplis, Satan sera relâché de sa prison. Et il sortira pour séduire les nations qui sont aux quatre coins de la terre, Gog et Magog, afin de les rassembler pour la guerre; leur nombre est comme le sable de la mer. Et ils montèrent sur la surface de la terre, et ils investirent le camp des saints et la ville bien-aimée. Mais un feu descendit du ciel, et les dévora. Apocalypse 20: 1-9
C’est la lutte finale Groupons-nous et demain L’Internationale Sera le genre humain … Refrain bien connu
Le soir, vous dites: Il fera beau, car le ciel est rouge; et le matin: Il y aura de l’orage aujourd’hui, car le ciel est d’un rouge sombre. Vous savez discerner l’aspect du ciel, et vous ne pouvez discerner les signes des temps. Jésus (Matthieu 16 : 2-3)
Jusqu’à présent, les textes de l’Apocalypse faisaient rire. Tout l’effort de la pensée moderne a été de séparer le culturel du naturel. La science consiste à montrer que les phénomènes culturels ne sont pas naturels et qu’on se trompe forcément si on mélange les tremblements de terre et les rumeurs de guerre, comme le fait le texte de l’Apocalypse. Mais, tout à coup, la science prend conscience que les activités de l’homme sont en train de détruire la nature. C’est la science qui revient à l’Apocalypse. René Girard
J’annonce au monde entier, sans la moindre hésitation, que si les dévoreurs du monde se dressent contre notre religion, nous nous dresserons contre leur monde entier et n’auront de cesse avant d’avoir annihilé la totalité d’entre eux. Ou nous tous obtiendrons la liberté, ou nous opterons pour la liberté plus grande encore du martyre. Ou nous applaudirons la victoire de l’Islam dans le monde, ou nous tous irons vers la vie éternelle et le martyre. Dans les deux cas, la victoire et le succès nous sont assurés. Ayatollah Khomeiny
La possibilité d’une annihilation existe. Le projet sioniste entier est apocalyptique. Il existe dans un environnement hostile et dans un certain sens son existence n’est pas raisonnable. (…) Oui, je pense à Armageddon. C’est possible. Dans les vingt prochaines années, il pourrait y avoir une guerre atomique ici. Benny Morris
Dans l’Islam, de même que dans le Judaïsme et le Christianisme, certaines croyances portent sur une bataille cosmique marquant la fin des temps – Gog et Magog, l’Antéchrist, Armageddon et, pour les Musulmans chiites, le retour tant attendu de l’Imam caché, qui doit déboucher sur la victoire finale des forces du bien sur celles du mal, quelle qu’en soit la définition. Il est évident qu’Ahmadinejad et ses adeptes croient que ce temps est venu et que la lutte finale est déjà entamée, et même bien avancée. Bernard Lewis
Vous comprendrez d’autant mieux la perplexité de Jacques Chirac qui a entendu, un jour de 2003, George W. Bush lui expliquer qu’il fallait intervenir militairement en Irak, parce que Gog et Magog y étaient à l’œuvre. Quand il livre ses convictions les plus intimes sur la politique proche-orientale, George W. Bush ne pense donc pas au pétrole ou à des bases susceptibles d’accueillir ses GI. Il ne parle ni d’économie ni de géostratégie. Il réagit comme un croyant qui attend que se réalise une prophétie biblique… (…) Comme ni Jacques Chirac ni ses services n’ont compris la référence du président américain, Paris s’est mis au travail. George W. Bush appartenant à la mouvance chrétienne évangélique, l’Élysée s’est orienté vers les protestants de France, qui ont transmis la requête à Thomas Römer. Jocelyn Rochat
Dans le vocabulaire politique, l’expression « millénarisme » peut servir à désigner, de manière métaphorique, une forme de doctrine aspirant à une révolution radicale, qui aboutirait à la mise en place définitive d’un ordre social supposé plus juste, et sans commune mesure avec ce qui a existé jusqu’à présent. Dans cette acception, le terme a pu servir à qualifier aussi bien le communisme que le nazisme. Wikipedia
It is a series of images that come out of the Book of Revelation. There is a Millenarian idea, of an impending calamity, that something unspeakable is about to occur. (…) At the end of the First World War, these currents in poetry, from the romantic to the symbolist poets at the end of the century and the beginning of the new century, finally convert themselves into a series of political movements, which are mass movements against the idea of liberalism. They are movements of rebellion against the belief in the many instead of the one, against the idea that life should be divided into a series of spheres — the public and the private, the state and society, the civil and the religious — and at some level, in different ways, they are movements of rebellion against the idea of rational analysis. Instead, they are movements in favor of the one, the solid, the granite, of authority, as opposed to rational analysis — sometimes of mysticism, but in any case of authority. These movements were founded by Lenin, Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, the leaders of the Iron Guard in Romania, various figures from the extreme right in France, and through every single country in Europe in some version or another — the Bolshevik movement on the Left, all of the other movements on the Right. The movements were utterly different one from the other, and the Left and the Right hated each other, and sometimes the Right and the Right hated each other. But (…)  In all of these cases, the similarities consisted of a belief in a deep myth, the Ur myth of the twentieth century and into our own time. The name of this myth is the Book of Revelation. It is a variation on the themes of the symbolist poets. It takes the idea of transgressive rebellion, which the earlier Romantics had already come up with, of murder and rebellion as satanic acts of rebellion against liberal society, the conversion of this idea into the mythology that you see in the Book of Revelation, and then finally these political movements convert that same notion into political doctrines in this way. The story in the Book of Revelation says: There is a people of God; the people of God are being afflicted and polluted by forces from within their own society, who worship at the synagogue of Satan. At the same time, the people of God are being afflicted by cosmic foes from abroad. The people of God who are oppressed rise up in rebellion against these polluting forces from within and against the cosmic forces from abroad. The name of this war is Armageddon, and it lasts, according to St. John, the author of Revelation, one hour. And at the end of the war, with all of those foes dispatched, the reign of Christ is established and lasts a thousand years. It is a perfect, stable society with no polluting elements. It is the millennium. (…) But the totalitarian ideal also arose in two other versions, which were distinctly not European. The radical Islamist movement — that is, the notion of Islam as a revolutionary political movement, not just as a religion — was founded in 1928 with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Pan-Arabist movement in its most radical version, the Baath, was founded formally in 1943 in Damascus. (…)  There is a people of God. The people of God should be described as the “true Muslims” in the case of the Islamists, or as the “true Arabs” in the case of the Baath. The people of God are afflicted by internal corruptors within Muslim society. These internal corruptors are the Jews or the Masons or the Muslim hypocrites. The people of God are afflicted by sinister external foes, Western imperialists or the worldwide Zionist conspiracy. The people of God will resist these internal foes and external foes in a gigantic war of Armageddon. This war will be the liberation of Jerusalem or it will be the jihad. Afterwards the reign of purity will be established and this reign of purity is described in the case of both of those movements in the same way: it is the re-resurrection of the Caliphate of the seventh century in the years after the Prophet Mohammed. The Caliphate is described by each of these movements in a slightly different way. For the Islamists, it means the reinstating of Shar’iah or Qur’anic law. For the Baathists the emphasis is secular; it is the recreating, the resurrecting, of the Arab empire when the Arab empire was on the march. Finally, these two movements have lacked for nothing in the realm of practical achievement – killing millions. In the last twenty years, several million people have been killed in the course of the Iran-Iraq war, which pitted one of these movements against the other — the mass human wave suicide attacks on the part of the Iranian Islamists against the cult of cruelty, and of chemical weapons on the part of the Baathists. It is estimated that between one and a half million and two million people were killed in Sudan; 100,000 are thought killed in Algeria over the last several years. (…) The success of Muslim totalitarianism has depended on liberal naïveté — in fact, blindness. The eyes of the world have not been on these millions who have been killed in the last twenty years. Always the liberals all over the world have wanted to describe these movements as in some way rational and conventional, as movements based on grievances — “The movements are anti-Zionist, and isn’t it the case that Israel has often been at fault?” “The movements are anti-American, and isn’t it the case that the United States has often been at fault?” And these grievances do exist, but the effort to take them seriously tends often to distort their madness in such a way as to make it unrecognizable, for totalitarian doctrines are always mad. The Nazis thought they were engaged in a biological struggle. The Stalinists thought they were the proletariat and their enemies were the bourgeois exploiters. The Baathists and Islamists see a cosmic Zionist-Crusader conspiracy. It is important to keep a sense of the madness in these ideas, even if it is true that in the years after World War I some Germans were oppressed outside of the borders of Germany, and Israel and the U.S. have done bad things. All of the totalitarian movements were at bottom ideological movements, not based on a normal sense of grievances of political claims or expression of real-life interests, but movements based on ideological visions. Each of these movements in the past was defeated not militarily but ideologically. World War II was violent and military, but although D-Day was important, de-Nazification was the actual victory. The defeat of Nazism militarily would not have been all that helpful if Germany, which is inherently an extremely wealthy and powerful society, had continued to remain a society of millions and millions of convinced Nazis. The same is true now. The struggle we are involved in now has, had, and will continue to have a military aspect, but this aspect must be secondary to the ideological aspect, to the war of ideas. The basic danger we are facing now is not weapons of mass destruction, per se, because we know very well that box cutters can be lethal weapons of the worst sort. The danger that we face is not inherently military; it’s not armies in the conventional sense. It is above all ideological. As long as millions of people are committed fanatically to doctrines that are ultimately mad and that follow in the tradition of the totalitarian madnesses of Europe in the twentieth century, the danger persists. I maintain that the struggle we are involved in is, or ought to be, ultimately a war of ideas. Paul Berman

Attention: une lutte finale peut en cacher une autre !

A l’heure où, entre deux parties de golf ou condamnations d’Israël, les autruches qui nous gouvernent semblent enfin prendre conscience de la menace djihadiste pour la planète entière …

Comment ne pas repenser, avec Paul Berman, au mythe qui, du communisme au nazisme et aujourd’hui à l‘islamisme, soutend l’ensemble de ces mouvements totalitaristes …

A savoir le mythe millénariste du livre de l’Apocalypse de Saint Jean ?

Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, Joanne J. Myers
Carnegie Council
April 15, 2003

Introduction

JOANNE MYERS: On behalf of the Carnegie Council I would like to welcome members and guests to our Author in the Afternoon program.

Today we are delighted to have Paul Berman, a writer who has been especially recognized for his penetrating philosophical perspectives on a vast array of social and cultural topics. His latest work, Terror and Liberalism, focuses on a subject that is generating a great deal of interest, as it is the first book to address the political/philosophical dimensions of the current conflict found in Islamic fundamentalism and on the War on Terror.

I have asked Jack Diggins to introduce Mr. Berman. Jack is a Distinguished Professor of American History at the City University of New York. He has also taught at Princeton, Cambridge, and the University of London. Jack has published a number of books dealing with American politics and history, including Up From Communism: The Liberal Persuasion; Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and the Challenge of the American Past; The Promise of Pragmatism; The Rise and Fall of the American Left, and The Proud Decades, America in War and Peace, 1941-1960. Just by listening to these titles you can easily conclude that Jack has concerned himself with, among other things, American intellectual history, liberalism, pragmatism, and the American past and its influence on the present, which makes him the ideal person to introduce our guest today.

JACK DIGGINS: Thank you. I am very pleased to be here and to introduce my old friend, Paul Berman.

I came to know Paul many years ago when I was living on the West Coast and there was an essay in the Village Voice on the philosopher Sidney Hook. I thought I was the only person in the United States who admired Sidney Hook, but there was one other, Paul Berman. Hook was a leading philosopher of pragmatism and Marxism and became an ardent anti-communist, which in the 1960s was not politically correct, at least on the campuses.

And then, watching television, the Iraq war, the aftermath of the war, and seeing the scenes of fists in the air and anti-American statements and rumors of Baath police being lynched and the scenes of looting, I said to myself, “This is not going to bother Paul.”

Many years ago Paul was with me in California and said, “I’m going to take a trip to Tijuana.” At that time, if you went to Tijuana and parked your car for ten minutes, the tires were gone. But Paul came back just smiling and praising it as a land of moral solidarity and all the people with hearts of gold. I couldn’t help remember the last time I was there I was taken to the police station because I refused to pay a cop a $50 bribe for crossing the street the wrong way. But Paul is so much more optimistic than I am, and maybe he is right.

With the fall of Communism, he and I would debate every day, and I would side with Gorbachev and he would side with Yeltsin or anyone who let the whole system come down. Paul describes himself as a democratic socialist, but deep down he has an anarchist impulse and he does think that out of chaos will come freedom. I am a little bit more cautious.

But the fall of Communism was, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, the greatest peaceful transfer of power in modern history, and Paul was right about it, and perhaps he will be right about his position on the Iraq war.

Some people will be curious why I dedicated a book that is about the great prudent conservative President-statesman John Adams to a radical activist from the 1960s. People wonder if there is an incongruence there. But I would like to read you the last sentence of my acknowledgement: “In the 1790s John Adams reflected on events in France, in the 1980s Paul Berman on events in Nicaragua. Both faced the wrath of some of their own friends for telling us that a revolution without representation is destined to devour itself. Truth dared to speak before its time.”

Remarks

PAUL BERMAN: I’d like to thank the Carnegie Council for inviting me to speak and my dear friend, the slyly brilliant Professor Diggins, for this introduction.

I would like to offer ten propositions with which our present crisis could be observed.

1) In the nineteenth century, the belief arose that the secret of human progress had been discovered and had been proved to be correct. This secret was thought to be a belief in the many instead of the one, a belief that each aspect of life should be allowed to remain in its own sphere — the public and the private, the state and society, the religious and the civil. There was a belief that society ought to govern itself through rational analysis.

Many different philosophies and political movements expressed this idea. None of them, none of the large ones, expressed it fully consistently. Marx had some aspects of this idea. The French Revolution stood for some aspects and could not quite get the other aspects right. Thomas Jefferson stood for a very pure version of this idea and yet couldn’t quite straighten out the part regarding human slavery. Each separate movement in the nineteenth century, or in the early eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century, had some aspect of it and some contradiction which was yet to be worked out.

And yet, in spite of the contradictions, there was consensus about general principles which were seen to be working in some of the societies that we think of as the West and which were regarded by some people in all regions around the world as the secret of human progress universally, not just in the places where they were seen to be prospering at that moment.

There was among a very large number of people, a general feeling of underlying optimism, which you can see in many of the writers of the nineteenth century, in many of the doctrines that came to dominate political movements.

2) At the same time, there was reason to be suspicious of these doctrines. There was a whole series of criticisms about hypocrisies or inconsistencies or lies that were concealed within it. Marx was the great prophet of this.

But beyond these doctrines of suspicion, there were also some elements that not even Marx discussed, something that went beyond exploitation and hypocrisy. This could be seen by the late-nineteenth century in King Leopold’s war in the Congo or in German Southwest Africa at the turn of the century, where the very countries, Germany and Belgium, who were among the principal exemplars of the doctrine of human progress, were in some other aspect of their national activity somehow engaged in the most grotesque genocide. The combination of the sense of optimism and the genocidal atrocities, seemed to be beyond the capability of the liberal imagination to conceive.

In the First World War, these darkest aspects, which had already been visible in the Congo and in Southwest Africa, finally rolled back across Europe. What had been unimaginable throughout the nineteenth century finally took place in Europe itself, which was mass death on the most colossal scale, nine or ten million people killed for reasons that were ultimately unintelligible. Each country went into the war with a logical set of reasons instead of treaties and alliances. The final outcome was a catastrophe beyond that which anyone would have or did predict.

3) From the nineteenth century and onward, a series of rebellions against this prevailing liberal optimism arose. Some of these rebellions are particularly worth observing.

First, there was a rebellion within the romantic literary tradition, in romantic poetry. An important sign of this was Victor Hugo’s verse play Hernani in 1830, which already broached certain themes. The play ends with the attempted assassination of the King of Spain and a triple suicide. The theme of murder and suicide in the context of rebellion had already been broached.

Baudelaire picks up the same theme. In the second edition of The Flowers of Evil, the inscription mentions enrolling in the rhetorical school of Satan.

And, in fact, there is a religious subtext that underlies this notion of rebellion, which is the romantic cult of Satan, which, within the literary tradition, begins to mean a cult of murder and suicide as literary postures.

Later in the nineteenth century among the poets, the religious aspect of this rebellion, of this notion of transgressive rebellion against the existing order, takes a new form. You can see it in Rimbaud and in a marvelous version in the greatest of the turn-of-the-century Spanish-language poets, Ruben Dario.

This new version is not the cult of Satan. It is a series of images that come out of the Book of Revelation. There is a Millenarian idea, of an impending calamity, that something unspeakable is about to occur. You can see it in Yeats. This idea emerges as the new religious underpinning.

There is something self-ironic about the writers who were writing about Satan but there is nothing ironic or self-ironic about the writers who were drawing on images from the Book of Revelation.

At the end of the First World War, these currents in poetry, from the romantic to the symbolist poets at the end of the century and the beginning of the new century, finally convert themselves into a series of political movements, which are mass movements against the idea of liberalism. They are movements of rebellion against the belief in the many instead of the one, against the idea that life should be divided into a series of spheres — the public and the private, the state and society, the civil and the religious — and at some level, in different ways, they are movements of rebellion against the idea of rational analysis. Instead, they are movements in favor of the one, the solid, the granite, of authority, as opposed to rational analysis — sometimes of mysticism, but in any case of authority.

These movements were founded by Lenin, Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, the leaders of the Iron Guard in Romania, various figures from the extreme right in France, and through every single country in Europe in some version or another — the Bolshevik movement on the Left, all of the other movements on the Right.

The movements were utterly different one from the other, and the Left and the Right hated each other, and sometimes the Right and the Right hated each other. But what I am struck by is the similarities.

4) In all of these cases, the similarities consisted of a belief in a deep myth, the Ur myth of the twentieth century and into our own time. The name of this myth is the Book of Revelation.

It is a variation on the themes of the symbolist poets. It takes the idea of transgressive rebellion, which the earlier Romantics had already come up with, of murder and rebellion as satanic acts of rebellion against liberal society, the conversion of this idea into the mythology that you see in the Book of Revelation, and then finally these political movements convert that same notion into political doctrines in this way.

The story in the Book of Revelation says: There is a people of God; the people of God are being afflicted and polluted by forces from within their own society, who worship at the synagogue of Satan. At the same time, the people of God are being afflicted by cosmic foes from abroad.

The people of God who are oppressed rise up in rebellion against these polluting forces from within and against the cosmic forces from abroad. The name of this war is Armageddon, and it lasts, according to St. John, the author of Revelation, one hour.

And at the end of the war, with all of those foes dispatched, the reign of Christ is established and lasts a thousand years. It is a perfect, stable society with no polluting elements. It is the millennium.

Each of the movements that arose in the period after World War I found a new way to tell this story. There was always a people of God. The people of God were proletariat. The people of God were the children of the Roman wolf, the Italian people. The people of God were the Catholic warriors of Christ, according to the King in Spain. The people of God were the Aryan race.

There were always polluting elements from within society, such as the bourgeoisie, or the Trotskyite wreckers, or the Jews, or the Masons, or the Communists.

There were always external foes from abroad. These were the forces of capitalist encirclement, or Anglo-American imperialism, or what Heidegger described as the “pincer pressure” of the United States and the Soviet Union pressing on the people of Germany.

There was always going to be a war, which would be a war of extermination against these external and internal foes. This war would be the class war, or the crusade in Franco’s version, or the biological war in the Nazi version.

At the end was always the perfect society, which was pictured either as a sci-fi leap into the future or as a return to the golden age of the past, usually as some version of both.

The Communist version was a leap into the future, though if you read your Marx carefully, you understand that this is also a leap into the primitive Communism of the past. And in the Soviet version there are many references to the primitive Communist traditions of the Russian peasants.

All of the right-wing versions were variations of a slightly different sort.

Mussolini was going to recreate the Roman Empire, and when he marched on Rome in 1922, he organized his followers into legions. They were centurions marching on Rome. The Roman Empire was going to be recreated in a modern version. They weren’t going to go back to the ancient version. It was would be a modern version of the Roman Empire.

Franco was going to recreate the medieval Crusades of Spain at its greatest. He would do this in a modern version.

Hitler was also going to recreate the Roman Empire. The Third Reich meant the new Reich after the Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire. He would recreate the Roman Empire, but in an Aryan version instead of an Italian version.

And likewise, this cult of the ancient, the reestablishing of the ancient, was a leap into the future at the same time, a modernism.

The symbolist cult of the Book of Revelation is also a cult of ancient myth, which is a cult of modernism at the same time. If you want to see that artistically, picture some of Picasso, where he is evoking the ancient myths of the Mediterranean but in the most modern of ways.

5) All of these movements proposed impractical programs which were unachievable except in one way, which was through mass death. Mass death showed that these were movements of transgressive rebellion, not movements of reform, not conservative movements of reform or social democratic movements of reform, Left or Right, but movements that would break through the ordinary morality of behavior, thus would break through the existing world view.

The reassuring demonstration that one had really gone beyond the ordinary was a commitment to mass death. All of these movements failed completely in achieving what they stated to be their worldly aims, and in achieving mass death.

6) The liberal society which in its weaknesses and contradictions and inability to conceive of the dark in human nature, the liberal society which in some way had inspired these movements and against which these movements now arose in rebellion, also had a great deal of trouble in identifying what these movements were.

We are all too familiar with the failures of the left-wing Fellow Travelers, who could not understand Stalinism and could only understand it as an exceptionally advanced form of social democracy. But you can take examples of this kind of error across the spectrum.

I write about the French socialists of the 1930s, who were a deeply democratic and liberal, in my sense of the word, movement with an impeccable record of liberal democratic credentials going back into the nineteenth century, without any of the aspects of Bolshevism, Marxism, or Leninism. One has to remember that in the 1930s, the French socialists were the enemies of Nazism and of the Right.

And yet, the majority of the French socialists finally voted for Marshall Pétain because they could not get themselves to understand the nature of Nazism. They managed to tell themselves that Nazism was a legitimate movement, that the Germans did have grievances, that the Treaty of Versailles had been unjust, that Hitler might be raving but he was stating truths.

The French socialists in their majority faction certainly did not regard themselves as anti-Semites, and yet they asked themselves: “Every time somebody rails against the Jews, is it always an example of anti-Semitism?” The French socialists were, by definition, the enemy of financiers — “and weren’t some of the financiers Jewish?”

The French socialists finally thought that the great danger to France was represented not by Hitler and the Nazis but by the hawks in their own society. And who was the leading hawk? Unfortunately, it was their own leader, the leader of the minority faction, who had managed to get himself elected Prime Minister, Léon Blum, whose ethnic identity now became itself a source of much speculation.

With this kind of reasoning, the French socialists in the majority faction not only managed to vote for Pétain, but quite a few ended up joining his government, and in this way the impeccable liberal democrats of the French Left managed to convert themselves into fascists.

7) The progress of totalitarianism depends on and is inseparable from this kind of liberal naïveté. Without the cooperation of the Fellow Travelers with Stalin, without the French anti-war socialists in the case of Hitler, without the naïveté of any number of conservatives and democratic right-wingers in the case of a variety of fascists and Nazis, without the naïveté even of the United States with regard to Hitler straight through the 1930s, it would be inconceivable to imagine that these movements would have gotten very far.

So it is a mistake to think of the totalitarian movements as isolated. They existed in a dynamic, and part of the dynamic is the liberal naïve unwillingness to recognize them as what they are.

8) Totalitarianism arose in Europe in the fifteen years after the First World War. In the first twenty-five years, similar or identical movements arose on the other side of the Mediterranean too, in the Muslim world.

One of these movements was certainly Muslim Communism, which everyone forgets about. In the interpretation of the clash of civilizations, one would imagine that a Western movement like Communism would be inconceivable in what is called a non-Western society. In fact, Communism was a large and lasting movement.

But the totalitarian ideal also arose in two other versions, which were distinctly not European. The radical Islamist movement — that is, the notion of Islam as a revolutionary political movement, not just as a religion — was founded in 1928 with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Pan-Arabist movement in its most radical version, the Baath, was founded formally in 1943 in Damascus.

These movements are conventionally seen as opposites. If you turn on the TV, you will see any number of people automatically saying that these movements have nothing in common; one is religious, the other is secular; they despise each other. And it is true that they have despised each other and have committed mutual massacres on a gigantic scale.

It is useful to point out the ways in which these two movements resemble each other. The totalitarian movements in Europe also were different one from the other, and sometimes were at war with one another, and yet there were underlying similarities.

In the case of Baathism and Islamism, these similarities are easy to see. There is a people of God. The people of God should be described as the “true Muslims” in the case of the Islamists, or as the “true Arabs” in the case of the Baath. The people of God are afflicted by internal corruptors within Muslim society. These internal corruptors are the Jews or the Masons or the Muslim hypocrites.

The people of God are afflicted by sinister external foes, Western imperialists or the worldwide Zionist conspiracy. The people of God will resist these internal foes and external foes in a gigantic war of Armageddon. This war will be the liberation of Jerusalem or it will be the jihad.

Afterwards the reign of purity will be established and this reign of purity is described in the case of both of those movements in the same way: it is the re-resurrection of the Caliphate of the seventh century in the years after the Prophet Mohammed. The Caliphate is described by each of these movements in a slightly different way. For the Islamists, it means the reinstating of Shar’iah or Qur’anic law. For the Baathists the emphasis is secular; it is the recreating, the resurrecting, of the Arab empire when the Arab empire was on the march.

Finally, these two movements have lacked for nothing in the realm of practical achievement – killing millions. In the last twenty years, several million people have been killed in the course of the Iran-Iraq war, which pitted one of these movements against the other — the mass human wave suicide attacks on the part of the Iranian Islamists against the cult of cruelty, and of chemical weapons on the part of the Baathists. It is estimated that between one and a half million and two million people were killed in Sudan; 100,000 are thought killed in Algeria over the last several years.

It is conventionally said that in these movements today we face nothing like Hitler or Stalin, but statistically this is not true.

9) The success of Muslim totalitarianism has depended on liberal naïveté — in fact, blindness. The eyes of the world have not been on these millions who have been killed in the last twenty years.

Always the liberals all over the world have wanted to describe these movements as in some way rational and conventional, as movements based on grievances — “The movements are anti-Zionist, and isn’t it the case that Israel has often been at fault?” “The movements are anti-American, and isn’t it the case that the United States has often been at fault?”

And these grievances do exist, but the effort to take them seriously tends often to distort their madness in such a way as to make it unrecognizable, for totalitarian doctrines are always mad. The Nazis thought they were engaged in a biological struggle. The Stalinists thought they were the proletariat and their enemies were the bourgeois exploiters. The Baathists and Islamists see a cosmic Zionist-Crusader conspiracy.

It is important to keep a sense of the madness in these ideas, even if it is true that in the years after World War I some Germans were oppressed outside of the borders of Germany, and Israel and the U.S. have done bad things.

10) All of the totalitarian movements were at bottom ideological movements, not based on a normal sense of grievances of political claims or expression of real-life interests, but movements based on ideological visions.

Each of these movements in the past was defeated not militarily but ideologically. World War II was violent and military, but although D-Day was important, de-Nazification was the actual victory. The defeat of Nazism militarily would not have been all that helpful if Germany, which is inherently an extremely wealthy and powerful society, had continued to remain a society of millions and millions of convinced Nazis.

The same is true now. The struggle we are involved in now has, had, and will continue to have a military aspect, but this aspect must be secondary to the ideological aspect, to the war of ideas.

The basic danger we are facing now is not weapons of mass destruction, per se, because we know very well that box cutters can be lethal weapons of the worst sort. The danger that we face is not inherently military; it’s not armies in the conventional sense. It is above all ideological. As long as millions of people are committed fanatically to doctrines that are ultimately mad and that follow in the tradition of the totalitarian madnesses of Europe in the twentieth century, the danger persists.

I maintain that the struggle we are involved in is, or ought to be, ultimately a war of ideas.

Thank you.

JOANNE MYERS: I would like to open the floor to questions.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: A fascinating rendition of history. The problem underlying all of these movements that have done so much damage in the world is that they are the result of liberalism. Liberalism, therefore, because of its very nature of considering a wide spectrum of good and evil, as opposed to taking a position on one side, is very negative and probably should be considered unacceptable in the war of ideas. Liberals have fomented some of the major problems in the history of the world.

I’d like your comments.

PAUL BERMAN: I agree with you up until your final conclusion. Liberalism in the broadest sense, the notion of a liberal society, does in fact generate these movements.

I am not the first to make that observation. In The Open Society and its Enemies, Karl Popper explains at length, in a book written or completed in 1943, a very evocative date, that the notion of freedom itself, which he traces back to Greece, inspires a rebellion of fear against it.

There is a relation between liberal society and its enemies, and that liberalism does inspire these movements of rebellion, and has inherently a difficulty in coping with them. If that is what you are suggesting, I agree completely.

We must recognize, first, that liberalism itself does bear some responsibility for the rise of these movements, and then bears a responsibility for failing to recognize them and to engage with them.

At a time of war people want to wave a flag and say, “these are the totally good guys and those are the totally bad guys.” I am with you on saying “those are the totally bad guys.” But about saying “these are the totally good guys” I have a moment of reservation.

QUESTION: Have you been in touch with fellow intellectuals in Europe? How do they respond to your thesis, they who have suffered from Nazism and Franco and Communism, and yet seem so naïve when it comes to understanding what the United States is trying to do to combat the dangerous ideologies in the Islamic world?

How can we find again a common basis with the Europeans and others, and with Muslims all over the world, to transform this Armageddon-directed Islamism, militant Islamism, into a more open society?

PAUL BERMAN: I’m sorry to say that in the current issue of the New York Review of Books I’ve been hanged by Ian Buruma, who takes the occasion to observe that he is Dutch-born and expresses a lot of resentment at some implicit analyses of contemporary Europe that he finds in my book. So there are some tensions.

I was at a conference in Paris last summer where the tensions between some of the American and European intellectuals were in fact quite great.

At the same time, my book occupies a strange place in this debate because it has already been criticized for being anti-European and having a naïve American nationalism implicit in it.

The ideas that I have just expounded, come, insofar as they aren’t my own, from Popper in some degree, from Albert Camus, and especially André Glucksmann, the French philosopher, who in his hugely unappreciated book of 1991, Le Onzième Commandement, which is his answer to Francis Fukuyama, lays out some aspects of this notion of the Book of Revelation as an Ur myth underlying modern totalitarianism.

I just had this same discussion with a reporter from Le Monde, who called to ask me if I wasn’t anti-European, based on what she had read about my book in the New York Review. I said, “I don’t think so because all my ideas are actually French, except that I have given them a different twist.”

The great chasm that has opened up between the United States and Western Europe, at least, is much more conjunctural, much more a matter of chance events, than it is anything deeper or structural. I disagree with Robert Kagan on this point. Much of it is the fault of George Bush and could have been avoided.

In France, before the Iraq war, a poll showed that 33 percent of the French supported the war. Of those 33 percent, most were on the Right, some were on the Left. But apart from the 33 percent, the polls showed consistently that the single most admired politician in France is Bernard Kouchner, who was a socialist, Mitterand’s Minister of Health, NATO Administrator in Kosovo, and long ago had been the founder of Doctors Without Borders. Kushner supported the war.

So if you figure that the most popular politician in France, who is a socialist, supported the war, 33 percent of the population supported the war, most of whom were on the Right, meaning that you could have got much support on the Left, all you had to do was convince 9 percent of the French to change their opinion and you would have had a majority of France in favor of the war. The popular support for the war in France is much above that in Spain, where Aznar did support the war.

If Bush had presented the arguments for the war along the lines that a Bernard Kouchner would have proposed, if he had argued for the war as a further extension of what NATO had done in the Balkans finally in the Kosovo war, he would have been able to carry that extra 9 percent in France, and if Chirac saw that even a small majority was leaning in favor of the war, he would have found a way to interpret the international situation rather differently.

World War II was an age of giants, of Roosevelt and Churchill. Today we have Churchill but we don’t have Roosevelt and we don’t have de Gaulle. I attribute the breach between the United States and Europe above all to these errors of Bush.

QUESTION: Would you give us your views on the modalities by which an ideological struggle can be conducted? It is difficult for outsiders to argue with or conduct an ideological debate with the Muslim world. An ideological debate must occur within a community.

PAUL BERMAN: First, it’s a mistake to regard Muslims as outsiders to the West. In many respects the intellectual capital of the Arab world is Paris and London, where you have the freest press and the most open debate. The leading philosopher of the most moderate, fairly reasonable wing of modern Islamism is a Swiss professor who is the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Second, the founders of the Muslim totalitarian movements, the most important theoreticians, like Sayyid Qutb in the case of radical Islamism, or Michel Aflaq in the case of Baathism, are Western-educated intellectuals.

A quarter of my book is devoted to the writings of Sayyid Qutb, born in 1906, hanged by Nassar in 1966. During his many years in prison he wrote a gigantic commentary of the Qur’an. It looks strictly Islamic and Qur’anic, but if you sit back and look at the ideas, it’s not hard to recognize a bit of Heidegger, of existentialism, all of the familiar doctrines of modern European philosophy.

And this guy knew what he was doing. He did not come up with totally modern ideas strictly out of the seventh-century Qur’an. He did succeed in finding a Qur’anic language to express these ideas, but this writer does not live on a different planet or come from a different universe than the intellectuals of New York or Paris or London.

If my analysis is correct, I don’t mean to deny a distinctly regional and denominational aspect of Muslim totalitarianism. I am happy to acknowledge the differences between Egypt and Italy, or for that matter Egypt and its immediate neighbors. But if the fundamentals of my analysis are correct, then all of these movements reflect the intellectual currents of the twentieth century coming out of the nineteenth century, and it is a great mistake on our part to think that the intellectuals behind these movements are coming from a different universe.

So we can argue with these people directly. And we shouldn’t assume that they are not reading us or would not be willing to read us. I came on the works of Qutb prowling the Islamic bookstores of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. There is every reason to think that the other people prowling those bookstores, who might have a different ethnic origin than my own, are nonetheless reading some of the same books that I am reading, and that the gap between us and them is not so great.

QUESTION: You describe the totalitarian forces as the people of God in their minds. Do you not think that this concept is slightly different in this context, because one could say that about an aspect of what is going on in this country? After all, there is a rather large segment of people in this country who have affected policy who call themselves the Christian Right. They believe in Armageddon, Revelation.

There is this aspect in what you would characterize as the liberalism force as also the people of God. Our President has said that God is on our side. This is slightly different from the analysis that you presented of all the other contexts.

PAUL BERMAN: An excellent question. I have two responses.

First, it is not true that everyone who calls himself a fundamentalist is the same. The mainstream of American Christian fundamentalism has, even if they allow themselves flights of fancy, political goals, such as prayer in schools, the end of the right to abortion, etc.

Maybe if they were given free rein, they would lose control of themselves and the goals would multiply. I don’t rule that out.

The mainstream of these people are not dreaming of abolishing the U.S. Constitution and replacing it with a theocracy. It’s a limited movement.

However, there are groups like the David Koresh cult and certain kinds of cults that arise on the fringe of the American Christian fundamentalist movement that have this idea. If you could picture one of those cults becoming a mass movement led by David Koresh, then you would have something much more like radical Islamism, or the Taliban.

One of Bush’s worst failures is that he is so locked into a conventional American understanding of Christianity and its role in American politics that he has no idea whatsoever how this plays in the rest of the world. He hasn’t the faintest idea that to European ears when he evokes God he sounds like a fascist. He knows he is not a fascist, and most Americans know that he is not a fascist, that he doesn’t want to overthrow the Constitution.

But the language he is using is not so different from a language that you can trace among American politicians way back into the nineteenth century and is well understood both on the Right and the Left.

So when we hear Bush invoking his Christian faith and saying “God bless America,” we shrug. But to many people around the world, in Europe especially, this is language that only a follower of Franco would use.

Bush has no idea how badly he has weakened the United States internationally by using this language and how badly he has weakened the struggle ideologically. After all, the most important thing that we want to do is persuade millions of people in the Muslim world that Islam is excellent but what they want to establish is a secular society which is not theocratic, which has the qualities of a liberal society, and that there is a fine and esteemed place for religion within it. Bush sounds like a Christian Crusader, exactly the worst fantasy of the Islamists and Baathists who are against the United States.

QUESTION: Paul, I would like to make a defense of liberalism. You’re conflating the failure of nerve of liberals in the 1930s to stand up against Hitler, and then later to see the treacheries of Stalin. But just because these movements identify themselves as opposition to liberalism is no discredit to liberalism.

How do you expect this next phase of our confrontation with the Islamic world to be a struggle of ideas? When has liberalism been able to persuade others to give up their ways? The liberal society of the North couldn’t even persuade the South to give up its ways. And in every encounter that liberalism has had in the twentieth century, it was a winning philosophy. Liberalism prevailed over fascism, over Communism, and what the Islamic world now faces is that they are isolated and in a state of desperation, backwardness and poverty.

Oscar Wilde said, “How do you reason someone out of what they have not reasoned into?”

PAUL BERMAN: They have not reasoned their way into it. When you read some of the theoreticians of these movements, you see that they are quite intelligent, and that people reasoned their way into fascism, Nazism, and Communism, and then they reasoned their way out of those movements.

In the case of Communism, the liberal world engaged in an excellent war of ideas, which, in Europe at least, meant that Communism collapsed, outside of Romania, in an entirely peaceful way, which is the ideal solution to the problem. And it was done largely through a war of ideas, that liberals of the Left and Right upheld their ideas. Liberal movements eventually began to spring up within the Communist societies, and some of the Communists themselves began to question their ideas in the face of these criticisms.

Communism has always contained something of a contradictory element, going back to Marx, who was partly wrong but partly right. The intellectual aspect of the Cold War in Europe was huge.

In the case of the Islamists and Baathists, again they are not so remote from us. Ultimately, they have to be reasoned with.

The whole history of totalitarian movements up to now has been one in which liberalism has finally triumphed, and so there is reason to feel some deep confidence about this. One actually has to go out and engage in this fight, which is largely intellectual.

There are two obstacles that exist, that make it difficult for us to engage in this fight.

One is a liberal naïveté, which has always been the case in regard to totalitarian movements, where one doesn’t want to believe that these movements are as bad as they are and one finds reasons for saying that they are reasonable and, therefore, not to take them seriously.

The other obstacle is the belief in the clash of civilizations, which attributes to the Muslim world an exoticism, that might lead us to suppose that we can’t argue with them because they come from another planet.

We must avoid the naïveté of failing to recognize what some of these movements represent and the dangers they pose and the crimes that they have already committed, and we must avoid the belief that there is no way we can speak to these people because they come from such a faraway place.

JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much.

Voir aussi:

ISIL could pose threat to US, Europe, officials say

The group is now considered “the most potent military force” of any terrorist outfit in the world
Michael Isikoff
Yahoo News
August 15, 2014

U.S. air strikes not « breaking the threat » of ISIL: Pentagon

U.S. counterterrorism officials have dramatically ramped up their warnings about the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), concluding that the well-armed group is expanding its ambitions outside the Middle East and may be planning terror attacks against western Europe — and even the U.S. homeland.
ISIL’s conquest of vast swaths of Iraqi territory this spring and summer netted it a “significant” arsenal of U.S. weapons from two Iraqi military bases, including hundreds of tanks, heavily armored Humvees, assault rifles, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, officials say. One U.S official tells Yahoo News ISIL is now considered “the most potent military force” of any terrorist group in the world.

Led by its charismatic chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the radical Islamist group is looking beyond its short-term goal of overthrowing the Iraqi and Syrian governments and replacing them with a self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate. “We’re seeing an expansion of its external terrorist ambitions,” one U.S. counterterrorism official said in a briefing for reporters Thursday. “As its capabilities grow, it has attracted thousands of foreign extremists — some of whom are going home to start cells. As it carves out territory [in Iraq], it wants to go beyond that and do attacks outside. ” U.S. counterterrorism agencies had put the number of ISIL fighters at about 10,000, but that figure is now being reassessed and is likely to be raised, officials say.

Just four years ago the group, then calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq, was scattered and on the run from American forces, aided by Sunni tribes horrified by the group’s often grotesque violence. Its reign has been marked by summary executions, ritual stonings, beheadings and even crucifixions.

What fueled its resurgence? Officials say the group fed off Sunni resentment over the Shia-dominated government of Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who announced his resignation Thursday night. It took advantage of the power vacuum in northern Iraq to seize large chunks of essentially ungoverned territory. It saw an opportunity in recruiting prisoners; in July 2013, its suicide bombers blew their way into the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, freeing up to 500 inmates, including al-Qaida leaders.

These demonstrable successes gave the group new credibility among jihadis around the world, especially after it joined the civil war in Syria and changed its name to ISIL. (It has at times also been known as ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.) It has since changed its name again to the Islamic State after proclaiming itself a caliphate, the latest in a succession of Muslim empires dating back to the seventh century. Its ranks were soon swelled by foreigners, including hundreds of followers of the red-bearded Chechen militant Omar al-Shishani, a former Georgian army sergeant known for his deep hatred of America.

Concerns about terrorism spilling over from Syria and Iraq hit home in June when French police arrested an « armed jihadi » who had just returned from Syria in connection with the May 24 killing of four people — including two Israeli tourists — at a Jewish Center in Brussels.

Since then, authorities in Europe have broken up terror cells linked to ISIL, including one in Kosovo where officials this week arrested 40 suspects who had returned from Iraq and Syria—including some who had fought with ISIL — and seized weapons and explosives in dozens of locations.

ISIL and its followers have also proven adept at using social media, making a steady barrage of threats against the West, including the United States.

“Probably most striking are the threats on Twitter,” said a U.S. official who monitors the postings. “We’ve seen tens of thousands of postings by ten of thousands of people supporting ISIL, making threats to blow up U.S. Embassies. » One posting showed an ISIL banner apparently superimposed on an image of the White House.

It is still unclear how real those threats are, at least while ISIL is focused on its war with the Iraqi government. And the resignation of the deeply unpopular Maliki could allow for more U.S.-Iraqi cooperation in the fight against the insurgents.

But increasingly, officials say, ISIL has the perception of momentum. For the first time there are signs that some jihadis linked to al-Qaidaare expressing sympathy, if not allegiance, to ISIL — despite al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri’s disavowal of the group.

One thing ISIL does not lack is funds. The group has seized banks, accumulating vast amounts of cash and raking in more by selling oil and other commodities to smugglers. ISIL “is flush with cash. It has plenty of money. They control oil fields, they have refiners. They have hundreds of millions of dollars,” said one U.S. analyst at the Thursday briefing.

And it is exceptionally well armed. When ISIL forces assaulted two Iraqi military bases, Camp Speicher and Rasheed Air Base, in July, they got the keys to the kingdom — hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of American tanks, armored personal carriers, howitzers and other equipment. ISIL fighters have posed for videos brandishing MANPADS, shoulder-launched surface to air missiles that can shoot down low-flying aircraft.

This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is …
“They’ve got enough supplies, equipment and ammunition to last them five years,” said John Maguire, a former top CIA officer in Iraq who retains close ties to the Kurdish regional government. Thanks in part to assistance from former Iraqi military officers who have defected to ISIL, “they know how to operate American equipment.”

What they also have, at least for the moment, is a de facto safe haven. Al-Baghdadi — who officials say sees himself as the true successor to Osama bin Laden — is believed to be constantly on the move. But ISIL appears to have established a headquarters in Raqqa in northern Syria, where the group’s black banners reportedly fly over administrative buildings.

Given that President Obama has placed sharp limits on U.S. airstrikes and confined them to Iraq, that effectively makes Baghdadi and his top deputies — almost all of whom were once in U.S. custody — off-limits to U.S. military action. The Raqqa safe haven “is a problem,” acknowledged one U.S. official.

The bottom line, U.S. counterterrorism officials say, is that new strategies are urgently needed to counter the surging ISIL threat. In the briefing for reporters Thursday, one senior official made the point in the most understated way possible: “We don’t assess at the moment this [the threat from ISIL] is something that will collapse on its own.”

Voir également:

TEA LEAF NATION
China Sees Islamic State Inching Closer to Home
Chinese media lights up after a Hong Kong weekly says IS aims to expand into Xinjiang.
Alexa Olesen
Foreign Policy
August 11, 2014

They’ve been grabbing headlines nearly everywhere else, but the jihadis of northern Iraq haven’t been getting much play in China. But a threat by the Islamic State (IS) of revenge against countries, including China, for seizing what IS calls « Muslim rights » appears to have changed all that. The comments were made in early July, but the news didn’t jump the language barrier from Arabic into Mandarin until August 8, when Phoenix Weekly, a Hong Kong-based newsmagazine widely distributed in China, made the IS revenge threats against China its cover story. Since then, the article has been widely syndicated on Chinese news websites and has gained traction on social media as well. Ordinary Chinese who may have felt distant from the carnage now feel it creeping closer to home.

The glossy cover of the Phoenix issue features a picture of masked gun-toting jihadis advancing through a desert landscape. The piece inside sounds the alarm over a July 4 speech in Mosul, Iraq, by IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in which he urged Muslims around the world to pledge their allegiance to him. It quotes Baghdadi saying that « Muslim rights are forcibly seized in China, India, Palestine » and more than a dozen other countries and regions. « Your brothers all over the world are waiting for your rescue, and are anticipating your brigades, » Baghdadi told his followers. Phoenix noted that China was mentioned first on Baghdadi’s list. (The article also includes a map that some news reports have said shows the vast territory IS plans to occupy in the next five years, which appears to include a significant portion of Xinjiang. Although the authenticity of the map, which was widely shared on English-language social media sites in early July, has been questioned, the Phoenix piece reports it as fact.)

Online, Chinese are both agitated and bemused. One Chinese reader wrote on the social media site Weibo:
« This is good. It offends all five of the hooligans on the UN Security Council » — that is, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — which means the IS jihadis « are going to be roadkill. » Anotherresponded to a photo of Baghdadi: « Looking at this bearded pervert makes me sick. Hurry up and incinerate this kind of trash, and send him to enjoy his 72 virgins in heaven. » A third wrote that ISIS seemed to have « a death wish, » but that people should be grateful because the jihadist group was giving Beijing « a reasoned and evidence-based opportunity to crack down on terrorist activities. »

This may constitute a welcome opening for Chinese authorities. China has been fighting a low-level separatist insurgency of its own in Xinjiang for decades and worries that foreign Islamic groups are infiltrating the region, emboldening the simmering independence movement. Uighur exile groups say China’s government overstates its terrorism problem and falsely paints protests that turn into riots as premeditated terror attacks. In any case, Beijing is likely alarmed by IS’s criticism of its treatment of the Muslim Uighurs and the group’s alleged plan to seize Xinjiang, no matter how far-fetched the idea might be. But just how actively authorities will deal with any IS threat remains to be seen.

Beijing has consistently tried to keep itself removed from the political and military crises roiling Iraq, even as China has poured billions of dollars into Iraqi oil, enough that about 10 percent of its oil imports come from the Middle Eastern country. China’s most decisive action since ISIS’s surge has been to evacuate 10,000 Chinese working in Iraq. On July 8, Chinese special envoy Wu Sike met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and pledged anti-terror support, but added that Beijing would fully respect the country’s sovereignty. When Wu returned to Beijing he briefed reporters about the trip on July 29, telling them that China was a victim of terror with roots in Syria and Iraq. « Solving the conflicts in Iraq and Syria will benefit China and the entire world, » he said.

But Beijing’s reaction to U.S. airstrikes in Iraq betrays its conflicted allegiances. China usually bristles at or condemns U.S. intervention in global hot spots and has opposed U.S. sanctions against Sudan, Syria, Russia, and Iran. But the interests of Washington and Beijing are unusually closely aligned when it comes to Iraq. On August 8, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesperson as saying that China was « keeping an open mind » about operations that would « help maintain security and stability » in Iraq. The statement came in response to a request for comment on U.S. President Barack Obama’sannouncement that the United States would carry out airstrikes against insurgents in northern Iraq. Wang Chong, a researcher at Charhar Institute, a public diplomacy think tank in Beijing, wrote on Weibo that he « firmly supported » the U.S. crackdown on IS. Wang added that the United States « ought to send ground troops to wipe out those brutal terrorists » and that if there was a need, « China could also send troops to help and provide training. »

That’s possible — within limits. Zhu Weilie, director of the Middle East Studies Institute at Shanghai International Studies University, toldthe state-run Global Times on July 29 that China believes the United Nations should lead anti-terror operations in the Middle East. « China will be more actively involved in these efforts but will never be as involved in Middle East affairs as the United States, » he said.

Voir enfin:
Hezbollah sees Islamic State insurgents as threat to Gulf, Jordan
Tom Perry
Reuters
Beirut Aug 15, 2014

(Reuters) – The Hezbollah leader described the radical Islamist movement that has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria as a growing « monster » that could threaten Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states, according to an interview printed on Friday.

In a separate speech, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Islamic State also posed an existential threat to his own nation, Lebanon, the target of an incursion by Islamist insurgents fromSyria this month. He said his heavily armed Shi’ite Muslim group was ready to fight the threat in Lebanon – if required.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah has been helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fight a Sunni Islamist-dominated insurgency that spilled into the Lebanese border town of Arsal on Aug. 2, triggering five days of battles between the Lebanese army and militants including members of Islamic State.

« Here we live, and – if the battle is imposed on us – here we fight and here we will be martyred, » said Nasrallah. Hezbollah said it stayed out of the Arsal battle, wary of inflaming sectarian tensions with Lebanese Sunnis, many of whom have supported the uprising against Assad.

Nasrallah was speaking on the eighth anniversary of the conclusion of Hezbollah’s one-month war with Israel.

Addressing the wider threat to the region from Islamic State, Nasrallah said it could easily recruit in other Arab states where its hardline ideology exists. Even Turkey, the passage for many foreign fighters into Syria, should beware.

« Wherever there are followers of the ideology there is ground for (Islamic State), and this exists in Jordan, in Saudi Arabia, in Kuwait and the Gulf states, » Nasrallah said in the interview with the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.

Nasrallah, whose group is backed by Shi’ite power Iran, said Islamic State was encountering resistance in some parts of Iraq and Syria. But « it appears that the capabilities, numbers and capacities available to (Islamic State) are vast and large. This is what is worrying everyone, and everyone should be worried. »

Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim monarchy that has been in a state of cold war with Shi’iteIran and its allies, has shown growing signs of alarm about the spread of Islamic State. Last month, it deployed 30,000 soldiers at its border with Iraq.

Saudi Arabia has also been a major sponsor of the anti-Assad uprising.

Hezbollah’s role in Syria has helped Assad beat back the rebellion against his rule in critical areas of the country including Damascus and a corridor of territory stretching north from the capital. But large parts of Syria’s less densely populated north and east have fallen to Islamic State.

« A REAL DANGER »

« This danger does not recognise Shi’ites, Sunnis, Muslims, Christians or Druze or Yazidis or Arabs or Kurds. This monster is growing and getting bigger, » said Nasrallah.

Nasrallah reiterated his defence of Hezbollah’s role in the Syrian conflict, the focus of criticism from Lebanese opponents who say the group has provoked Sunni militant attacks in Lebanon.

Most recently, insurgents including members of Islamic State seized the town of Arsal at the Syrian border, battling the Lebanese army for five days before withdrawing with 19 soldiers and 17 policemen as captives.

Nasrallah said the insurgents would have advanced as far as the Lebanese coast were it not for Hezbollah’s role fighting them in areas of Syria just east of the Lebanese border.

« Going to fight in Syria was, in the first degree, to defend Lebanon, the resistance in Lebanon, and all Lebanese, » he said.

A Hezbollah commander was last month killed in Iraq near Mosul, a city seized by Islamic State in June, suggesting the group may also be helping pro-government forces there.

Hezbollah has not officially announced any role in Iraq.

Nasrallah linked the threat posed by Islamic State to the spread of Wahhabism, a puritanical school of Islam followed in Saudi Arabia that demands obedience to the ruler but which has been widely blamed for fuelling Sunni radicalism.

« (Islamic State) does not have borders. There is a real danger and a real fear among many states and authorities, because one of the advantages of this organisation is its capacity to recruit among followers of al Qaeda-Wahhabi thought, » he said.

(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; Editing by Mark Heinrich)