Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 5, 2007

The Politics of Investment

On Monday, German chancellor Angela Merkel said that her government is thinking of enacting measures that would prevent funds controlled by foreign governments from buying German businesses. The concept is simple: if countries are not open to German capital, Germany won’t be open to them either.

The measure seems prompted by Russia’s interest in increasing its 5-percent stake in the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, the principal shareholder of Airbus. As Merkel noted on Monday, state-controlled buyers don’t always have commercial considerations in mind when they make corporate acquisitions.

Of course, Moscow is not the only predator on the global scene. There is also the world’s largest holder of foreign currency reserves: China. Today, China is sitting on $1.2 trillion in “forex” (called “the greatest fortune ever assembled”) and is creating a vehicle, the State Investment Company, to invest these holdings. Analyst Andy Xie has forecast that China could end up with over $10 trillion in net foreign assets—about five times what Japan possesses.

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On Monday, German chancellor Angela Merkel said that her government is thinking of enacting measures that would prevent funds controlled by foreign governments from buying German businesses. The concept is simple: if countries are not open to German capital, Germany won’t be open to them either.

The measure seems prompted by Russia’s interest in increasing its 5-percent stake in the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, the principal shareholder of Airbus. As Merkel noted on Monday, state-controlled buyers don’t always have commercial considerations in mind when they make corporate acquisitions.

Of course, Moscow is not the only predator on the global scene. There is also the world’s largest holder of foreign currency reserves: China. Today, China is sitting on $1.2 trillion in “forex” (called “the greatest fortune ever assembled”) and is creating a vehicle, the State Investment Company, to invest these holdings. Analyst Andy Xie has forecast that China could end up with over $10 trillion in net foreign assets—about five times what Japan possesses.


At the same time, Beijing is restricting foreign purchases of Chinese businesses. On Tuesday, Chongqing Commercial Bank announced that the China Banking Regulatory Commission will not allow the Carlyle Group to take an 8-percent stake in the regional lender. This comes on top of Beijing’s requiring the Washington-based investment firm to pare down its proposed shareholding in Xugong Group Construction Machinery.

How to stem the tide of government-backed investors implementing decisions made by distant politburos? We should begin by following Merkel’s lead and requiring investment reciprocity with China. And that may be just the first step in rethinking the free flow of capital. When autocrats begin using economic leverage against Western democracies, investment across national boundaries becomes more than a purely economic matter.

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By Hook or by Crooke

The release of Alan Johnston, the BBC Gaza correspondent held hostage for four months, is the biggest propaganda coup that Hamas has achieved so far. Predictable demands for “engagement with” (i.e., recognition of) Hamas as a reward for obtaining Johnston’s freedom from his kidnappers, the Army of Islam, were made on the BBC by Alastair Crooke.

Who is he? He seems to surface every time Islamist organizations need a Western spokesman to lend respectability to their cause. Crooke was an MI6 intelligence officer for some 30 years, specializing in the Middle East. After leaving the security service, he landed a series of international jobs: as a staff member of the Mitchell committee on the intifada convened after the Israeli-Palestinian summit at Sharm al Sheikh in 2000; then as “security adviser” to Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative and de-facto foreign minister. Crooke was assigned to the EU’s Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos in 2002, but was recalled by the British Foreign Office in 2003 after he held a series of secret meetings with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorists. At one of these, Crooke told the then-leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin: “The main problem is the Israeli occupation.” Crooke went on to say that “I hate that word [terrorism]” when applied to Hamas, whose suicide bombers were then slaughtering Israeli civilians. Crooke was already working hard to legitimize Hamas as “freedom fighters” while speaking on behalf of the EU.

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The release of Alan Johnston, the BBC Gaza correspondent held hostage for four months, is the biggest propaganda coup that Hamas has achieved so far. Predictable demands for “engagement with” (i.e., recognition of) Hamas as a reward for obtaining Johnston’s freedom from his kidnappers, the Army of Islam, were made on the BBC by Alastair Crooke.

Who is he? He seems to surface every time Islamist organizations need a Western spokesman to lend respectability to their cause. Crooke was an MI6 intelligence officer for some 30 years, specializing in the Middle East. After leaving the security service, he landed a series of international jobs: as a staff member of the Mitchell committee on the intifada convened after the Israeli-Palestinian summit at Sharm al Sheikh in 2000; then as “security adviser” to Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative and de-facto foreign minister. Crooke was assigned to the EU’s Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos in 2002, but was recalled by the British Foreign Office in 2003 after he held a series of secret meetings with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorists. At one of these, Crooke told the then-leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin: “The main problem is the Israeli occupation.” Crooke went on to say that “I hate that word [terrorism]” when applied to Hamas, whose suicide bombers were then slaughtering Israeli civilians. Crooke was already working hard to legitimize Hamas as “freedom fighters” while speaking on behalf of the EU.

In 2004, together with Mark Perry, Crooke set up Conflicts Forum, a lobbying group with branches in London, Beirut, and Washington. Though it claims to “connect the West and the Muslim world,” by the latter it means radical Islamists. Conflicts Forum’s stated aim is “to engage and listen to Islamists, while challenging Western misconceptions and misrepresentations of the region’s leading agents of change.” It brings together the Arabists who have always dominated the Foreign Office and security services, and serves as a vehicle to put pressure on Western governments to appease Islamists, from the Muslim Brotherhood to Hizballah. The Conflicts Forum website boasts of a recent 500,000 euro grant from the E.U. under its Partnership for Peace program “for a project to help develop more inclusive and legitimate approaches to transforming the Middle East conflict.” (This sounds like a euphemism for pressure to legalize Hamas.)

Crooke makes “the case for Hamas” in the lead article of the current issue of the London Review of Books. Throughout the piece, Crooke speaks of Hamas as “moderate” and praises its “effective and corruption-free” record in government. He warns that Islamists everywhere are becoming impatient with the democratic route to power. He describes a conference in Beirut last April that debated “whether moderate Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hizballah will manage to retain their influence over this process of radicalization.” Meanwhile, Hizballah, Syria, and Iran are “actively preparing for conflict” with Israel and the West. All the blame for this conflict, and the radicalization that feeds it, needless to say, lies with America, Europe, and Israel.

Finally, Crooke has a chilling warning to Israel: unless it gives Hamas-led Palestine what it wants, not only will more Israeli Arabs be drawn into terrorism, but Israel will confront Islamist governments in Egypt and Jordan, too. “Conflict with Iran, were it to occur, might finish up by sweeping away many of the region’s landmarks.” (Is this an implied threat of a second Holocaust?)

However one reads Crooke’s remarks, he and they are deeply sinister. On the BBC, he claimed that Hamas had already met the three “benchmarks” stipulated by the U.S. and EU as necessary for recognition. Unusually, the BBC then gave the right of reply to an Israeli spokesman, Mark Regev. The Australian-born Regev made short work of Crooke’s mendacious claims, pointing out that for Hamas to state that it accepts Israel’s existence “as a fact” means no more than accepting AIDS, say, as a fact. Regev also reminded listeners that while Israelis were pleased by Alan Johnston’s release, their own hostage, Gilad Shalit, has been held in Gaza for much longer.

On the back of the Alan Johnston affair, we should expect a new attempt to persuade the EU to resume financing Hamas, and we should anticipate finding Alastair Crooke, a T.E. Lawrence wannabe, in the forefront of it.

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Michael Kinsley’s Whiplash

First it was Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, who underhandedly manipulated the facts of the Scooter Libby case while chastising the Bush administration for underhandedly manipulating the facts. See my It’s a Lemann. The New Yorker has yet to publish a correction to the error that I was not alone in pointing out. It is said to have published correspondence on the matter, but I must have missed it. As I know from personal experience, it can be hard to admit a mistake.

Now we have Michael Kinsley, Dean of the Snark School of Journalism, who has a collision with himself today while talking about the case. Did he suffer a whiplash injury? Will the op-ed page of the New York Times publish a correction? As I have warned in the past, do not hold your breath waiting.

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First it was Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, who underhandedly manipulated the facts of the Scooter Libby case while chastising the Bush administration for underhandedly manipulating the facts. See my It’s a Lemann. The New Yorker has yet to publish a correction to the error that I was not alone in pointing out. It is said to have published correspondence on the matter, but I must have missed it. As I know from personal experience, it can be hard to admit a mistake.

Now we have Michael Kinsley, Dean of the Snark School of Journalism, who has a collision with himself today while talking about the case. Did he suffer a whiplash injury? Will the op-ed page of the New York Times publish a correction? As I have warned in the past, do not hold your breath waiting.

Kinsley goes after the hypocrisy of “Libbyites” who cheered when Clinton was impeached for committing perjury and who now insist that “their man is being railroaded and shouldn’t have been prosecuted, let alone convicted” for lying about whether he leaked the undercover status of Valerie Plame, the wife of the administration critic, Joseph Wilson.

Fair enough, and obvious enough. But Kinsley makes another point along the way.

When Libby was questioned by federal investigators, Kinsley writes, “[h]e could either tell the truth, thereby implicating colleagues and very possibly himself, in leaking classified security information (the identity of Mr. Wilson’s wife), or he could lie. In either case he would be breaking the law or admitting to having done so, and in either case he could have gone to prison.”

Really? Yes, says Kinsley, really.

Except until we get to his next paragraph where Kinsley turns around and says, “The law about ‘outing’ CIA operatives is apparently vague enough that it isn’t clear whether Mr. Libby violated it.”

Really? Yes, says Kinsley, really.

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A French Poet at 100

Last month, France commemorated the centenary of the poet René Char (1907-1988). Despite an exhibit at Paris’s Bibliothèque nationale de France, which runs until July 29, and various dutiful school commemorations, some observers have noted that Char is receiving as much disrespect as adulation in his native land. The French poet Jacques Dupin told the newspaper L’Humanité that Char, once widely admired, “is now unfairly disparaged.” In true French style, much of the current resentment against Char stems not only from his poetic accomplishments—including the rare honor of inclusion in the prestigious Gallimard Pléiade series of literary classics while still alive—but also from his very real wartime heroics.

During the German occupation of France in World War II, Char joined the Resistance under the pseudonym le capitaine Alexandre, organizing paratrooper insertions and arms drops in the south of France. In his compelling wartime collection of poetic, aphoristic prose fragments, Feuillets d’Hypnos (Leaves of Hypnos; 1946), Char explained what he called the “humanism of resistance” by declaring, “I shall write no poem of acquiescence.” (He added to this a piece of memorable advice for his fellow vanquished Frenchmen: “Bow down only in order to make love.”)

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Last month, France commemorated the centenary of the poet René Char (1907-1988). Despite an exhibit at Paris’s Bibliothèque nationale de France, which runs until July 29, and various dutiful school commemorations, some observers have noted that Char is receiving as much disrespect as adulation in his native land. The French poet Jacques Dupin told the newspaper L’Humanité that Char, once widely admired, “is now unfairly disparaged.” In true French style, much of the current resentment against Char stems not only from his poetic accomplishments—including the rare honor of inclusion in the prestigious Gallimard Pléiade series of literary classics while still alive—but also from his very real wartime heroics.

During the German occupation of France in World War II, Char joined the Resistance under the pseudonym le capitaine Alexandre, organizing paratrooper insertions and arms drops in the south of France. In his compelling wartime collection of poetic, aphoristic prose fragments, Feuillets d’Hypnos (Leaves of Hypnos; 1946), Char explained what he called the “humanism of resistance” by declaring, “I shall write no poem of acquiescence.” (He added to this a piece of memorable advice for his fellow vanquished Frenchmen: “Bow down only in order to make love.”)

A physically massive rugby player, Char was the antithesis of the neurasthenic Parisian poet of the late 19th century. Born in the south of France (where he would spend most of his life), Char was prescient about politics, writing to his friend, the poet Paul Éluard, in January 1933 to express concern about the rise of Adolf Hitler. Éluard, a leftist, dismissed Char’s fear, believing wrongly that Reichstag Communists would squelch Hitler. After the French defeat in 1940, Char became a target of the German army because, among other things, his wife, Georgette Goldstein, was Jewish.

After the war, according to one French poetry website, Char’s “pose as a living God of poetry, his entry into the Pléiade series . . . wound up irritating people. As a resistant against every kind of military or intellectual invasion, he was a monolithic block of granite in his brusque, willful points of view.” Char was also accused of writing obscurely, to which he replied that he always read his poems aloud to a shepherd in his village, who fully understood them.

Still, Char’s writing can seem hermetic—it’s certainly very hard to translate. Char’s best collection in English remains the 1992 Selected Poems edited by Mary Ann Caws and Tina Jolas from New Directions, with translators including Samuel Beckett, James Wright, and William Carlos Williams. Overdue for translation are the French critic Laurent Greilsamer’s insightful 2004 biography L’éclair au front, la vie de René Char (Lightning from his Brow: a Life of René Char), published by Fayard, and an affectionate 2003 memoir by Char’s friend and fellow Resistance combatant Georges-Louis Roux, La nuit d’Alexandre (Alexander’s Night), from Grasset.

Much by Char remains unpublished in France, including his extensive correspondence with Éluard, which would be fascinating to read in toto. Unfortunately, it seems that behaving heroically during a war is a sure way to invite sarcasm and neglect from France’s literary world.

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