Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nicolas Sarkozy

Is Europe Heading Right?

Silvio Berlusconi is planning to appoint Roberto Calderoli, a far-Right critic of Islam, to his cabinet. Two years ago, during the first Danish cartoon firestorm, Calderoli went on television wearing a T-shirt bearing one of the offending images. A brave and admirable defense of freedom of expression in and of itself. But Calderoli didn’t stop at T-shirt activism. He threatened, cringe-inducingly, to walk a pig over the site of a proposed mosque in Padua. Then he made a headfirst dive into quasi-Fascism: After France lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup, Calderoli bragged that France had “sacrificed its identity by fielding niggers, Muslims and communists.”

Berlusconi’s plan to appoint the former Reform Minister, along with other recent electoral shifts on the continent, raise a vital two-part question: Is Europe moving right? And, if so, how far?

Over the past six or so years, continental utopianism failed to produce the kind of unified EU we had been hearing so much about. Moreover, Europe’s hush-hush approach to Euro-Muslim relations failed to address the continued waves of unassimilated Muslim immigrants, witnessed everywhere from France to Italy to Spain to England to Holland. Europe talks a fabulous game of tolerance, but plays a ruthless game of tribal rugby. With some exceptions (Spain, for example) there’s increasing evidence that that most intemperate beast, the European Right, is awakening.

Witness the candidacy of Le Pen in France, or the career of Holland’s Pim Fortuyn, ended by assassination. Or take this week. In Italy, there’s the case of Berlusconi and his extreme potential appointee. Over the weekend, in England, staunch anti-Islamist Boris Johnson defeated Islamist apologist Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral race. Not troubling (perhaps even heartening) in itself. But on the heels of that victory, the extreme-Right British National Party’s Richard Barnbrook became the first BNP candidate ever to nab a seat in the London Assembly. To get the flavor of what Barnbrook is all about, consider this from the Daily Mail:

In public, Barnbrook has long favoured what one acquaintance calls a “Stormtrooper” brown suit and matching tie, which even his supporters feel is rather too suggestive of a Nuremberg rally for his electoral good.

Yikes. The problem with the European Right is that for every Berlusconi there’s a Calderoli, and for every Boris Johnson there’s a Barnbrook. Without a politically-defined national identity comparable to that of the United States, European nations are unable to mount a defense of ideals separate from a defense of (usually racialized) identity.

But one solution to the European conundrum may lie in the example of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He has said he wants to make France more like America. This means cutting back the extensive state benefits that keep the French from fully contributing to their country and attract hordes of equally unmotivated immigrants. It means saying no to Islamization without discarding religious plurality. It’s been slow going for “Sarko the American,” but moderation takes time. Extreme policies can be enacted instantly, without regard for side-effects. But that lack of caution is precisely what makes it–and politicians like Calderoli and Barnbrook– dangerous.

Silvio Berlusconi is planning to appoint Roberto Calderoli, a far-Right critic of Islam, to his cabinet. Two years ago, during the first Danish cartoon firestorm, Calderoli went on television wearing a T-shirt bearing one of the offending images. A brave and admirable defense of freedom of expression in and of itself. But Calderoli didn’t stop at T-shirt activism. He threatened, cringe-inducingly, to walk a pig over the site of a proposed mosque in Padua. Then he made a headfirst dive into quasi-Fascism: After France lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup, Calderoli bragged that France had “sacrificed its identity by fielding niggers, Muslims and communists.”

Berlusconi’s plan to appoint the former Reform Minister, along with other recent electoral shifts on the continent, raise a vital two-part question: Is Europe moving right? And, if so, how far?

Over the past six or so years, continental utopianism failed to produce the kind of unified EU we had been hearing so much about. Moreover, Europe’s hush-hush approach to Euro-Muslim relations failed to address the continued waves of unassimilated Muslim immigrants, witnessed everywhere from France to Italy to Spain to England to Holland. Europe talks a fabulous game of tolerance, but plays a ruthless game of tribal rugby. With some exceptions (Spain, for example) there’s increasing evidence that that most intemperate beast, the European Right, is awakening.

Witness the candidacy of Le Pen in France, or the career of Holland’s Pim Fortuyn, ended by assassination. Or take this week. In Italy, there’s the case of Berlusconi and his extreme potential appointee. Over the weekend, in England, staunch anti-Islamist Boris Johnson defeated Islamist apologist Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral race. Not troubling (perhaps even heartening) in itself. But on the heels of that victory, the extreme-Right British National Party’s Richard Barnbrook became the first BNP candidate ever to nab a seat in the London Assembly. To get the flavor of what Barnbrook is all about, consider this from the Daily Mail:

In public, Barnbrook has long favoured what one acquaintance calls a “Stormtrooper” brown suit and matching tie, which even his supporters feel is rather too suggestive of a Nuremberg rally for his electoral good.

Yikes. The problem with the European Right is that for every Berlusconi there’s a Calderoli, and for every Boris Johnson there’s a Barnbrook. Without a politically-defined national identity comparable to that of the United States, European nations are unable to mount a defense of ideals separate from a defense of (usually racialized) identity.

But one solution to the European conundrum may lie in the example of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He has said he wants to make France more like America. This means cutting back the extensive state benefits that keep the French from fully contributing to their country and attract hordes of equally unmotivated immigrants. It means saying no to Islamization without discarding religious plurality. It’s been slow going for “Sarko the American,” but moderation takes time. Extreme policies can be enacted instantly, without regard for side-effects. But that lack of caution is precisely what makes it–and politicians like Calderoli and Barnbrook– dangerous.

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“Patriotic” Chinese Protests

Sunday, thousands of angry Chinese took to the streets in anti-foreigner protests in major cities in China, including Wuhan, Harbin, Jinan, Xian, Qingdao, and Dalian. The demonstrations followed those occurring on Friday and Saturday, which took place around the country, including Beijing, Kunming, and Hefei. They were the largest anti-foreign protests in three years, since anti-Japan riots shook Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities in China.

Young Chinese, upset at foreign media coverage of recent ethnic disturbances and pro-Tibetan protests around the world, gathered in front of foreign stores, declared a boycott of French retailer Carrefour, and carried pictures of Mao Zedong. “Condemn CNN” and “Shut up you French,” seen on banners over the weekend, expressed popular sentiment. “We’re supporting the Olympics and boycotting Tibetan independence,” said the organizer of one of the demonstrations in the Chinese capital. As Zhu Xiaomeng, a student in Beijing who has been organizing a boycott of French companies, noted, “After 5,000 years, we’re not so soft anymore.”

That’s the message Beijing wants you to hear. Chinese state media triggered the protests in China with noxious anti-French stories that began appearing about a week ago, and Beijing has fueled demonstrations in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, London, Birmingham, and Manchester in Europe and San Francisco, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, and Washington, D.C. by paying “patriotic” Chinese to participate.

The ugly tactic seems to be working. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, will be sending three envoys to Beijing to try to limit the damage (the first left France yesterday). He also invited Jin Jing, a disabled fencer who protected the Olympic flame in the Paris torch relay from protesters, to be his “personal guest.” There is, however, evidence that Beijing manufactured the incident that made the “wheelchair angel” a national symbol of Chinese defiance.

So the West is being intimidated once again by arrogant Chinese rulers. Eventually, we will learn that Beijing has been manipulating us all along. In the meantime, Western leaders will continue to apologize to the Middle Kingdom whenever it gets into a snit.

Sunday, thousands of angry Chinese took to the streets in anti-foreigner protests in major cities in China, including Wuhan, Harbin, Jinan, Xian, Qingdao, and Dalian. The demonstrations followed those occurring on Friday and Saturday, which took place around the country, including Beijing, Kunming, and Hefei. They were the largest anti-foreign protests in three years, since anti-Japan riots shook Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities in China.

Young Chinese, upset at foreign media coverage of recent ethnic disturbances and pro-Tibetan protests around the world, gathered in front of foreign stores, declared a boycott of French retailer Carrefour, and carried pictures of Mao Zedong. “Condemn CNN” and “Shut up you French,” seen on banners over the weekend, expressed popular sentiment. “We’re supporting the Olympics and boycotting Tibetan independence,” said the organizer of one of the demonstrations in the Chinese capital. As Zhu Xiaomeng, a student in Beijing who has been organizing a boycott of French companies, noted, “After 5,000 years, we’re not so soft anymore.”

That’s the message Beijing wants you to hear. Chinese state media triggered the protests in China with noxious anti-French stories that began appearing about a week ago, and Beijing has fueled demonstrations in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, London, Birmingham, and Manchester in Europe and San Francisco, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, and Washington, D.C. by paying “patriotic” Chinese to participate.

The ugly tactic seems to be working. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, will be sending three envoys to Beijing to try to limit the damage (the first left France yesterday). He also invited Jin Jing, a disabled fencer who protected the Olympic flame in the Paris torch relay from protesters, to be his “personal guest.” There is, however, evidence that Beijing manufactured the incident that made the “wheelchair angel” a national symbol of Chinese defiance.

So the West is being intimidated once again by arrogant Chinese rulers. Eventually, we will learn that Beijing has been manipulating us all along. In the meantime, Western leaders will continue to apologize to the Middle Kingdom whenever it gets into a snit.

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Pipes Sees Hope in Europe

COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes has a piece in today’s Philadelphia Bulletin, in which he asserts that Western Europe is beginning to show promising signs of fighting off the spread of radical Islam on the continent.

Indeed, Europeans are visibly showing signs of impatience with creeping Sharia. The legislation in France that prohibits hijabs from public school classrooms signals the reluctance to accept Islamic ways, as are related efforts to ban burqas, mosques, and minarets. Throughout Western Europe, anti-immigrant parties are generally increasing in popularity.

There’s no question that Nicolas Sarkozy represents a new level of French courage in the face of Islamification. But he’s one man and these prohibitions on hijabs and similar measures seem never to be settled. There’s always some accusation of Islamophobia followed by a call for liberté and then a new round of legal wrangling. At this moment, Turkey (an EU hopeful) is practically on the verge of collapse over the question of whether or not to lift a ban on headscarves.

Furthermore, the anti-immigrant parties that pop up across Western Europe tend to be fascistic in nature. In Holland, where there are respectable anti-Islamist parties, young politicians often can’t afford the security required to stand for election or are simply not inclined to risk their lives.

Pipes is heartened by Pope Benedict XVI’s high-profile conversion of journalist Magdi Allam and by the release of Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ film “Fitna,” which unapologetically connects Qur’anic verse to images of Islamic terrorism. However, he doesn’t see the fact that there was no widespread violent response as promising.

This relatively constrained reaction points to the fact that Muslim threats sufficed to enforce censorship. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende denounced Fitna and, after 3.6 million visitors had viewed it on the British website LiveLeak.com, the company announced that “Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, … Liveleak has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers.”

It’s important that Americans get behind the efforts that Pipes commends. There’s no schadenfreude to be derived from watching Europe succumb to the forces of intimidation and moral relativism that allow for, say, the acceptance of “limited” sharia in England. We need Europe as a cultural, economic, and military ally. But I wish the European Spirit could give us a little more to rally behind than a convert and a 15-minute video.

COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes has a piece in today’s Philadelphia Bulletin, in which he asserts that Western Europe is beginning to show promising signs of fighting off the spread of radical Islam on the continent.

Indeed, Europeans are visibly showing signs of impatience with creeping Sharia. The legislation in France that prohibits hijabs from public school classrooms signals the reluctance to accept Islamic ways, as are related efforts to ban burqas, mosques, and minarets. Throughout Western Europe, anti-immigrant parties are generally increasing in popularity.

There’s no question that Nicolas Sarkozy represents a new level of French courage in the face of Islamification. But he’s one man and these prohibitions on hijabs and similar measures seem never to be settled. There’s always some accusation of Islamophobia followed by a call for liberté and then a new round of legal wrangling. At this moment, Turkey (an EU hopeful) is practically on the verge of collapse over the question of whether or not to lift a ban on headscarves.

Furthermore, the anti-immigrant parties that pop up across Western Europe tend to be fascistic in nature. In Holland, where there are respectable anti-Islamist parties, young politicians often can’t afford the security required to stand for election or are simply not inclined to risk their lives.

Pipes is heartened by Pope Benedict XVI’s high-profile conversion of journalist Magdi Allam and by the release of Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ film “Fitna,” which unapologetically connects Qur’anic verse to images of Islamic terrorism. However, he doesn’t see the fact that there was no widespread violent response as promising.

This relatively constrained reaction points to the fact that Muslim threats sufficed to enforce censorship. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende denounced Fitna and, after 3.6 million visitors had viewed it on the British website LiveLeak.com, the company announced that “Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, … Liveleak has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers.”

It’s important that Americans get behind the efforts that Pipes commends. There’s no schadenfreude to be derived from watching Europe succumb to the forces of intimidation and moral relativism that allow for, say, the acceptance of “limited” sharia in England. We need Europe as a cultural, economic, and military ally. But I wish the European Spirit could give us a little more to rally behind than a convert and a 15-minute video.

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Look Who’s Talking

Michael Ledeen offers a rejoinder to one of the sillier promises Barack Obama makes about his approach to Iran and Syria:

We have been talking to Iran virtually non-stop for nearly 30 years. This most definitely includes the Bush administration, which has used open and back channels, including dispatching former Spanish President Felipe Gonzales to Tehran on our behalf. You can judge the results for yourself.

Let’s try it again: We have been talking to Iran. We are talking to Iran right now. The proposal that we talk to Iran is neither new nor does it represent any change in American policy. There is apparently a great desire to deny the facts in this matter.

It is also true that we have been talking to Syria. Well, maybe if we talked more earnestly? And at a higher level of representation? That’s exactly what has distinguished our engagement with Syria from that with Iran. And it hasn’t mattered.

The big push started immediately following the first Gulf War, with James Baker in Damascus promising Hafez Assad the return of the Golan plus an American security guarantee of the border if he would only submit himself to the peace process. Assad, after a great deal of drawn-out, exasperating back-and-forth, finally told Baker to take a hike. Clinton went even further, holding, among other parleys, an eight-day summit in Shepardstown, West Virginia, with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and a Syrian delegation headed by the Foreign Minister, and later a one-on-one meeting in Geneva at which Assad brazenly betrayed the terms of a deal to which he had previously agreed.

The Syrian modus operandi both for Hafez and Bashar has been the same: talk and bargain, but give nothing and in the end agree to nothing. This has been the pattern whether the subject of the talks has been Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syrian support for the insurgency in Iraq, or peace with Israel. The latest western leader to get suckered is Nicolas Sarkozy, who this December grew so frustrated trying to negotiate an end to the Lebanese presidential impasse that he declared to the press, “I have reached the end of the road with Assad.”

Obama appears to either not know these details, or thinks that nobody will notice the utter falsity of his claim that we haven’t been “talking to our enemies.” There is thus a Grand Canyon-sized opening for McCain to pummel Obama on the foolishness of this particular trope — an attack that would perfectly complement the wider charge that Obama seems proudly intent on sending the United States wandering naively into the Middle Eastern bazaar.

Michael Ledeen offers a rejoinder to one of the sillier promises Barack Obama makes about his approach to Iran and Syria:

We have been talking to Iran virtually non-stop for nearly 30 years. This most definitely includes the Bush administration, which has used open and back channels, including dispatching former Spanish President Felipe Gonzales to Tehran on our behalf. You can judge the results for yourself.

Let’s try it again: We have been talking to Iran. We are talking to Iran right now. The proposal that we talk to Iran is neither new nor does it represent any change in American policy. There is apparently a great desire to deny the facts in this matter.

It is also true that we have been talking to Syria. Well, maybe if we talked more earnestly? And at a higher level of representation? That’s exactly what has distinguished our engagement with Syria from that with Iran. And it hasn’t mattered.

The big push started immediately following the first Gulf War, with James Baker in Damascus promising Hafez Assad the return of the Golan plus an American security guarantee of the border if he would only submit himself to the peace process. Assad, after a great deal of drawn-out, exasperating back-and-forth, finally told Baker to take a hike. Clinton went even further, holding, among other parleys, an eight-day summit in Shepardstown, West Virginia, with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and a Syrian delegation headed by the Foreign Minister, and later a one-on-one meeting in Geneva at which Assad brazenly betrayed the terms of a deal to which he had previously agreed.

The Syrian modus operandi both for Hafez and Bashar has been the same: talk and bargain, but give nothing and in the end agree to nothing. This has been the pattern whether the subject of the talks has been Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syrian support for the insurgency in Iraq, or peace with Israel. The latest western leader to get suckered is Nicolas Sarkozy, who this December grew so frustrated trying to negotiate an end to the Lebanese presidential impasse that he declared to the press, “I have reached the end of the road with Assad.”

Obama appears to either not know these details, or thinks that nobody will notice the utter falsity of his claim that we haven’t been “talking to our enemies.” There is thus a Grand Canyon-sized opening for McCain to pummel Obama on the foolishness of this particular trope — an attack that would perfectly complement the wider charge that Obama seems proudly intent on sending the United States wandering naively into the Middle Eastern bazaar.

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Nicolas Sarkozy, Judeophile

Have you heard what the French President has been saying lately?

On Wednesday, he declared that “I won’t shake hands with people who refuse to recognize Israel,” a snub directed at Muslim leaders. On the same day he warned that France may join the U.S. and Canada in boycotting the UN’s anti-Israel hatefest (known officially as an “anti-racism conference”) in Durban, South Africa: “France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001.”

He has pledged to attend Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations in May, and after the recent suicide bombing in Dimona, sent a condolence letter to Shimon Peres in which he went out of his way to declare that he will always stand with Israel against terrorism.

His rhetoric on Iran of late has surpassed President Bush’s in its spirit of determination: “Proliferation is a grave threat to international security. We cannot sit by and do nothing while Iran develops technologies which are in violation of international law.”

Sarkozy made some of the above comments at the annual dinner of the CRIF, the umbrella organization of the French Jewish community — it was the first time a French president had ever attended.

And there’s more. The opening paragraph of a New York Times story today reads:

President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped an intellectual bombshell this week, surprising the nation and touching off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum: beginning next fall, he said, every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

All of this is the opposite of his predecessor’s approach, which involved a meticulous attention to detail when it came to denigrating and insulting the Jewish state. It was only a couple of years ago, two days into Israel’s war with Hezbollah, that Jacques Chirac sat in a garden in Paris and announced to the press that Israel’s opening salvos were “completely disproportionate” and added that “One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon.” Three days later he sent Dominique de Villepin on a solidarity mission to Beirut.

Chirac, though, was simply following tradition — French leaders have always held Israel in public contempt, such acts being viewed as necessary to earning an advantageous relationship with the Arab world (relations, it’s worth adding, that never worked out very well for France — what did Chirac and his predecessors ever get from their courtships of Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, and Ayatollah Khomeini?).

There was only one period in history when France treated Israel with anything approaching Sarkozy’s benevolence, and that was during the ambassadorship of Pierre-Etienne Gilbert from 1953 to 1959. Gilbert was the first French diplomat who actually admired the Jewish state. During his time in Israel, he learned Hebrew and lobbied vigorously for a collaborative relationship between the two countries. After the 1956 Suez War, Gilbert helped push through the nuclear deal that supplied Israel with its reactor in Dimona. This brief window of good relations was slammed shut when De Gaulle returned from retirement in 1958 and quickly put French diplomacy back on its historic track, an official policy of obsequience to the Arab states.

In the run-up to the Six Day War, France embargoed arms sales to Israel, and during the war, counting on an Israeli defeat, De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that eventually the West would thank him, as from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments” — a remark that perfectly captures the central ambition of 200 years of French Middle East policy.

Until Sarkozy, that is.

Have you heard what the French President has been saying lately?

On Wednesday, he declared that “I won’t shake hands with people who refuse to recognize Israel,” a snub directed at Muslim leaders. On the same day he warned that France may join the U.S. and Canada in boycotting the UN’s anti-Israel hatefest (known officially as an “anti-racism conference”) in Durban, South Africa: “France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001.”

He has pledged to attend Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations in May, and after the recent suicide bombing in Dimona, sent a condolence letter to Shimon Peres in which he went out of his way to declare that he will always stand with Israel against terrorism.

His rhetoric on Iran of late has surpassed President Bush’s in its spirit of determination: “Proliferation is a grave threat to international security. We cannot sit by and do nothing while Iran develops technologies which are in violation of international law.”

Sarkozy made some of the above comments at the annual dinner of the CRIF, the umbrella organization of the French Jewish community — it was the first time a French president had ever attended.

And there’s more. The opening paragraph of a New York Times story today reads:

President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped an intellectual bombshell this week, surprising the nation and touching off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum: beginning next fall, he said, every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

All of this is the opposite of his predecessor’s approach, which involved a meticulous attention to detail when it came to denigrating and insulting the Jewish state. It was only a couple of years ago, two days into Israel’s war with Hezbollah, that Jacques Chirac sat in a garden in Paris and announced to the press that Israel’s opening salvos were “completely disproportionate” and added that “One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon.” Three days later he sent Dominique de Villepin on a solidarity mission to Beirut.

Chirac, though, was simply following tradition — French leaders have always held Israel in public contempt, such acts being viewed as necessary to earning an advantageous relationship with the Arab world (relations, it’s worth adding, that never worked out very well for France — what did Chirac and his predecessors ever get from their courtships of Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, and Ayatollah Khomeini?).

There was only one period in history when France treated Israel with anything approaching Sarkozy’s benevolence, and that was during the ambassadorship of Pierre-Etienne Gilbert from 1953 to 1959. Gilbert was the first French diplomat who actually admired the Jewish state. During his time in Israel, he learned Hebrew and lobbied vigorously for a collaborative relationship between the two countries. After the 1956 Suez War, Gilbert helped push through the nuclear deal that supplied Israel with its reactor in Dimona. This brief window of good relations was slammed shut when De Gaulle returned from retirement in 1958 and quickly put French diplomacy back on its historic track, an official policy of obsequience to the Arab states.

In the run-up to the Six Day War, France embargoed arms sales to Israel, and during the war, counting on an Israeli defeat, De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that eventually the West would thank him, as from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments” — a remark that perfectly captures the central ambition of 200 years of French Middle East policy.

Until Sarkozy, that is.

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Sarkozy Shows Us Up

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is showing up the United States, and not just because he has a far better looking girlfriend than any Commander-in-Chief of recent memory. In stark contrast to the uncharacteristically silent Bush administration, Jacques Chirac’s successor has demonstrated impressive toughness in addressing the deepening Lebanese presidential crisis, in which the Hezbollah-led opposition has blocked the parliamentary majority from electing a new president since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s term officially ended in November.

While visiting Egypt earlier this week, Sarkozy announced that France would suspend contacts with Syria as punishment for Syria’s political interference in Lebanon. Sarkozy compounded this blow by prompting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to declare his support for Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora; Mubarak said that Egypt “supports the election of a president for Lebanon as soon as possible”—an implicit dig against the Assad regime. On Wednesday, Syria responded with a far-less-convincing suspension of contact with France, oddly conceding, “Syria can’t dispense with France’s role in Europe.”

The Bush administration has long seen itself as having few good options vis-à-vis Syria. Though Washington views Syria as a key player in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, it has been hesitant to normalize relations with Damascus while the U.N. probe into Rafik Hariri’s assassination—in which the Assad regime has been implicated—is ongoing. In short, the administration has correctly refused to exchange the pipedream of Arab-Israeli peace for Lebanese stability, to which the completion of the Hariri investigation is essential. But Sarkozy’s breaking of ties with Syria provides the Bush administration with a key opening through which it can promote another essential regional interest: prying Syria from Iran.

As Iranian state television reported on Wednesday, in the aftermath of soured Syrian-French relations, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared, “The pressures exerted by certain countries will never undermine the strong relations between Tehran and Damascus.” Au contraire! Only three days earlier, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly told U.S. Senator Arlen Specter that he was ready for peace talks with Israel, a move that would dampen Iranian-Syrian cooperation for years to come. With Sarkozy’s brilliant strike against Damascus, the Bush administration is now able to offer Assad a stark choice: normalization with western states that are broadly united on Lebanon and Arab-Israeli peace, or an isolated alliance with Iran. The former offers the political, strategic, and economic benefits of relations with the west and possible peace with Israel in accordance with Assad’s stated desires; the latter offers Syria’s continued confinement as a rogue state—a prospect made more costly by Sarkozy’s announcement. Most importantly, Lebanese stability—which has severe consequences for Arab democratization, Iranian ascendancy, Arab-Israeli peace—would no longer be on the table thanks to the leverage provided by Sarkozy’s move.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is showing up the United States, and not just because he has a far better looking girlfriend than any Commander-in-Chief of recent memory. In stark contrast to the uncharacteristically silent Bush administration, Jacques Chirac’s successor has demonstrated impressive toughness in addressing the deepening Lebanese presidential crisis, in which the Hezbollah-led opposition has blocked the parliamentary majority from electing a new president since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s term officially ended in November.

While visiting Egypt earlier this week, Sarkozy announced that France would suspend contacts with Syria as punishment for Syria’s political interference in Lebanon. Sarkozy compounded this blow by prompting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to declare his support for Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora; Mubarak said that Egypt “supports the election of a president for Lebanon as soon as possible”—an implicit dig against the Assad regime. On Wednesday, Syria responded with a far-less-convincing suspension of contact with France, oddly conceding, “Syria can’t dispense with France’s role in Europe.”

The Bush administration has long seen itself as having few good options vis-à-vis Syria. Though Washington views Syria as a key player in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, it has been hesitant to normalize relations with Damascus while the U.N. probe into Rafik Hariri’s assassination—in which the Assad regime has been implicated—is ongoing. In short, the administration has correctly refused to exchange the pipedream of Arab-Israeli peace for Lebanese stability, to which the completion of the Hariri investigation is essential. But Sarkozy’s breaking of ties with Syria provides the Bush administration with a key opening through which it can promote another essential regional interest: prying Syria from Iran.

As Iranian state television reported on Wednesday, in the aftermath of soured Syrian-French relations, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared, “The pressures exerted by certain countries will never undermine the strong relations between Tehran and Damascus.” Au contraire! Only three days earlier, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly told U.S. Senator Arlen Specter that he was ready for peace talks with Israel, a move that would dampen Iranian-Syrian cooperation for years to come. With Sarkozy’s brilliant strike against Damascus, the Bush administration is now able to offer Assad a stark choice: normalization with western states that are broadly united on Lebanon and Arab-Israeli peace, or an isolated alliance with Iran. The former offers the political, strategic, and economic benefits of relations with the west and possible peace with Israel in accordance with Assad’s stated desires; the latter offers Syria’s continued confinement as a rogue state—a prospect made more costly by Sarkozy’s announcement. Most importantly, Lebanese stability—which has severe consequences for Arab democratization, Iranian ascendancy, Arab-Israeli peace—would no longer be on the table thanks to the leverage provided by Sarkozy’s move.

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Je Ne Regrette Rien

The New York Times has a bittersweet piece today about a smoking ban in France which has been expanded to include cafés: “Even France, Haven of Smokers, Is Clearing the Air.” The ban, “following the spread of Starbucks and the election of pro-American, fitness-friendly President Nicolas Sarkozy,” has occasioned a small identity-crisis for café-wallflowers and everyday French (there are 12 million French smokers). To many, the coffee-and-cigarette combo is an important communal ritual, the way NFL Sunday and religion are for Americans. The Times piece is accompanied by a terrific, five-minute video showing café-owners and patrons decrying the nanny-state—“we want to live, we want to have fun . . . they’re taking that pleasure away from us,”—while engaging in another French pastime: nostalgic self-regard. Like I said, it’s bittersweet.

The New York Times has a bittersweet piece today about a smoking ban in France which has been expanded to include cafés: “Even France, Haven of Smokers, Is Clearing the Air.” The ban, “following the spread of Starbucks and the election of pro-American, fitness-friendly President Nicolas Sarkozy,” has occasioned a small identity-crisis for café-wallflowers and everyday French (there are 12 million French smokers). To many, the coffee-and-cigarette combo is an important communal ritual, the way NFL Sunday and religion are for Americans. The Times piece is accompanied by a terrific, five-minute video showing café-owners and patrons decrying the nanny-state—“we want to live, we want to have fun . . . they’re taking that pleasure away from us,”—while engaging in another French pastime: nostalgic self-regard. Like I said, it’s bittersweet.

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Sarkozy & Syria

Syria’s role in the Middle East is far from constructive, to say the least. Jihadis en route to Iraq transit through Damascus international airport; Iranian weapons shipments to Hizballah go through Syria; Syria hosts Hamas and other radical Palestinian organizations; it co-sponsors Hizballah and has been busy destabilizing Lebanon since it had to precipitously leave the Land of the Cedars in 2005. Regardless, European foreign policy makers have been loath of cutting the Syrians off for a variety of reasons. Many EU capitals believe that Syria’s alliance with Iran is tactical and that Damascus can be persuaded to change course, provided the right incentives are on the table.

In recent months, however, it seemed that Nicolas Sarkozy was willing to reconsider the position that Jacques Chirac had taken on Syria. Sarkozy has now made it clear where France stands: he gave Assad plenty of time to show, through deeds, that Syria can play a positive role. Syria spoke peace aplenty but declined to match its words with deeds. And in consequence Syria now has France as a determined opponent, at the very least until Syria stops obstructing the election of a new Lebanese president.

Given this realization, it strikes me as odd that, at the very same time that Sarkozy told the Syrians off, a bipartisan congressional delegation emerged from a two-day visit to Damascus exuding optimism about peace and calling on “George W. Bush to be forthcoming in his dealings with Syria.” Republican Senator Arlen Specter and Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy spent only two days talking with Syrian oficials. France has spent a little longer monitoring their deeds. After so many years of wrongdoing, perhaps it’s time itinerant U.S. officials stop giving a free pass to one of the most radical state sponsors of terrorism in the region, whose role in every crisis in the area runs contrary to the interests and the values of the U.S.

Syria’s role in the Middle East is far from constructive, to say the least. Jihadis en route to Iraq transit through Damascus international airport; Iranian weapons shipments to Hizballah go through Syria; Syria hosts Hamas and other radical Palestinian organizations; it co-sponsors Hizballah and has been busy destabilizing Lebanon since it had to precipitously leave the Land of the Cedars in 2005. Regardless, European foreign policy makers have been loath of cutting the Syrians off for a variety of reasons. Many EU capitals believe that Syria’s alliance with Iran is tactical and that Damascus can be persuaded to change course, provided the right incentives are on the table.

In recent months, however, it seemed that Nicolas Sarkozy was willing to reconsider the position that Jacques Chirac had taken on Syria. Sarkozy has now made it clear where France stands: he gave Assad plenty of time to show, through deeds, that Syria can play a positive role. Syria spoke peace aplenty but declined to match its words with deeds. And in consequence Syria now has France as a determined opponent, at the very least until Syria stops obstructing the election of a new Lebanese president.

Given this realization, it strikes me as odd that, at the very same time that Sarkozy told the Syrians off, a bipartisan congressional delegation emerged from a two-day visit to Damascus exuding optimism about peace and calling on “George W. Bush to be forthcoming in his dealings with Syria.” Republican Senator Arlen Specter and Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy spent only two days talking with Syrian oficials. France has spent a little longer monitoring their deeds. After so many years of wrongdoing, perhaps it’s time itinerant U.S. officials stop giving a free pass to one of the most radical state sponsors of terrorism in the region, whose role in every crisis in the area runs contrary to the interests and the values of the U.S.

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Libya and Iran

On Thursday, I listed French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s welcoming of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in Paris as the fourth best handshake of 2007. Qaddafi’s controversial mid-December visit to France—his first in 34 years—marked the first step in the West’s normalization with Libya, a reward for Qaddafi’s promise to end Libya’s nuclear weapons program, cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, accept responsibility for airline terrorist attacks that killed 440 people, and compensate the victims’ families. In her year-end press conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed these “strategic decisions,” vowing to meet with the Libyan foreign minister in early January 2008 and to visit Tripoli later in the year.

But before Rice cements Libya’s acceptability and enters Qaddafi’s ceremonial Bedouin tent, perhaps she should scrutinize Libya’s strategic decisions more carefully. Last week, Libya announced that it was expanding its cooperation with Iran, with the two states declaring “close attitudes over many issues including Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Lebanon.” Iran further expressed its appreciation for “Libya’s logical stances in regard to the country’s nuclear issue and human rights issues,” and announced that it would seek additional partners in Africa and Latin America. That means that Hugo Chavez should expect a phone call in the near future.

For the Bush administration, Libya has long been the epitome of successful foreign policy: a rogue regime that—immediately following the U.S. invasion of Iraq—destroyed its weapons of mass destruction, renounced terrorism, and sought respectability. Indeed, little has deterred the administration’s mission-accomplished attitude towards Libya. When a Libyan court sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to death earlier this year for infecting 400 children with HIV—the medics confessed under electric-shock torture—the administration never threatened to rethink normalization with Tripoli, simply calling for the medics’ release and applauding the Libyan government when it complied.

If severe human rights concerns were not reason enough to reconsider our rapprochement with Libya, its strategic alignment with Iran must raise some red flags. Normalization with Libya is only valuable when it rewards nuclear disarmament and western alignment, ideally setting an example for similar states to follow. But with Libya now leaning towards Iran, endorsing its nuclear position, and seeking joint ventures in other hemispheres, Rice needs to reassess whether Libya is deserving of its newly elevated status.

On Thursday, I listed French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s welcoming of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in Paris as the fourth best handshake of 2007. Qaddafi’s controversial mid-December visit to France—his first in 34 years—marked the first step in the West’s normalization with Libya, a reward for Qaddafi’s promise to end Libya’s nuclear weapons program, cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, accept responsibility for airline terrorist attacks that killed 440 people, and compensate the victims’ families. In her year-end press conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed these “strategic decisions,” vowing to meet with the Libyan foreign minister in early January 2008 and to visit Tripoli later in the year.

But before Rice cements Libya’s acceptability and enters Qaddafi’s ceremonial Bedouin tent, perhaps she should scrutinize Libya’s strategic decisions more carefully. Last week, Libya announced that it was expanding its cooperation with Iran, with the two states declaring “close attitudes over many issues including Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Lebanon.” Iran further expressed its appreciation for “Libya’s logical stances in regard to the country’s nuclear issue and human rights issues,” and announced that it would seek additional partners in Africa and Latin America. That means that Hugo Chavez should expect a phone call in the near future.

For the Bush administration, Libya has long been the epitome of successful foreign policy: a rogue regime that—immediately following the U.S. invasion of Iraq—destroyed its weapons of mass destruction, renounced terrorism, and sought respectability. Indeed, little has deterred the administration’s mission-accomplished attitude towards Libya. When a Libyan court sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to death earlier this year for infecting 400 children with HIV—the medics confessed under electric-shock torture—the administration never threatened to rethink normalization with Tripoli, simply calling for the medics’ release and applauding the Libyan government when it complied.

If severe human rights concerns were not reason enough to reconsider our rapprochement with Libya, its strategic alignment with Iran must raise some red flags. Normalization with Libya is only valuable when it rewards nuclear disarmament and western alignment, ideally setting an example for similar states to follow. But with Libya now leaning towards Iran, endorsing its nuclear position, and seeking joint ventures in other hemispheres, Rice needs to reassess whether Libya is deserving of its newly elevated status.

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Top Five Handshakes of 2007

The most choreographed aspect of any meeting between two heads-of-state is the handshake. Of course, some handshakes are better choreographed than others, but the essential elements are usually the same: warm smiles, tight clenches, and an eye towards the camera—no matter what the two leaders think of each other.

Given the prevalence of the handshake in international relations, most handshakes are entirely unspectacular. Yet, among the thousands of picture-perfect handshakes that leaders deliver to the media each year, some inevitably stand out as especially encouraging, disappointing, or ironic. With this in mind, I present the top five handshakes of 2007:

5. Saudi King Abdullah greets Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at Annapolis.

5. Russian President Vladimir Putin and George H.W. Bush’s dog. Granted, this isn’t a handshake, per se. Yet the intense look on Putin’s face indicates that serious business is being accomplished. With a respected former president looking on, Putin’s meeting with the well-connected mutt has the appearance of a major diplomatic success.

4. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. This handshake proves that memories are impressively short in international affairs. In 1989, Libya was implicated in the UTA 772 bombing, in which 170 people were murdered while flying to Paris; a French court found Qaddafi’s own brother-in-law, among five others, culpable. But this month, Qaddafi—having since accepted responsibility for the attack, compensated the families, and destroyed his WMD—was welcomed in Paris. It rarely gets more awkward than this, and not just because of Qaddafi’s beatnik-styled facial hair.

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The most choreographed aspect of any meeting between two heads-of-state is the handshake. Of course, some handshakes are better choreographed than others, but the essential elements are usually the same: warm smiles, tight clenches, and an eye towards the camera—no matter what the two leaders think of each other.

Given the prevalence of the handshake in international relations, most handshakes are entirely unspectacular. Yet, among the thousands of picture-perfect handshakes that leaders deliver to the media each year, some inevitably stand out as especially encouraging, disappointing, or ironic. With this in mind, I present the top five handshakes of 2007:

5. Saudi King Abdullah greets Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at Annapolis.

5. Russian President Vladimir Putin and George H.W. Bush’s dog. Granted, this isn’t a handshake, per se. Yet the intense look on Putin’s face indicates that serious business is being accomplished. With a respected former president looking on, Putin’s meeting with the well-connected mutt has the appearance of a major diplomatic success.

4. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. This handshake proves that memories are impressively short in international affairs. In 1989, Libya was implicated in the UTA 772 bombing, in which 170 people were murdered while flying to Paris; a French court found Qaddafi’s own brother-in-law, among five others, culpable. But this month, Qaddafi—having since accepted responsibility for the attack, compensated the families, and destroyed his WMD—was welcomed in Paris. It rarely gets more awkward than this, and not just because of Qaddafi’s beatnik-styled facial hair.

3. U.S. President George W. Bush poses with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. As I noted last month, the Annapolis Conference ended with a shutout: three Olmert-Abbas-with-Bush-in-between handshakes, and zero peace-promoting accomplishments.

2. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad greets his favorite basketball player Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. I know: Syria sent its deputy foreign minister to Annapolis, so it’s entering the U.S. orbit and moving away from Iran. Apparently the Syrian president and his Iranian counterpart haven’t gotten the memo.

1. Abbas shakes hands with Hamas leaders Khalid Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh. Like so many Hamas-Fatah truces before it, this one started with Hamas’s reeling from Israeli strikes and political isolation and ended with Hamas stronger than it had ever been previously. Hamas now controls Gaza, and has set its sights on the West Bank. Yet, for a few moments in February, this latest Hamas-Fatah truce held so much promise—as a symbol of their unity, Abbas, Meshal, and Haniyeh had even coordinated their outfits. It doesn’t get more choreographed than that.

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Sarkozy, Nuke Salesman

Nicolas Sarkozy has earned high marks for reorienting French diplomacy in a more pro-American direction. But he is also undertaking a little-noticed and potentially dangerous initiative. This Financial Times article reports that he is actively promoting the sale of French nuclear-power technology to Middle Eastern countries:

Since becoming president in May he has signed nuclear co-operation agreements with Morocco, Algeria and Libya as well as overseeing the sale of two nuclear power stations to China.

France is also looking to provide nuclear facilities or technical assistance to Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Egypt and Jordan.

The motive for this initiative is undoubtedly innocent: The French nuclear power industry leads the world, and Sarkozy no doubt figures he can help his economy by generating more sales. He is also probably interested in strengthening French influence in a region that it has long seen as its backyard.

But the outcome may be not-so-innocent. Every nation that has acquired nuclear weapons since the 1940’s has done so initially by launching a “nuclear power” program. The expertise and facilities needed to generate nuclear power can readily be converted to create nuclear weapons. The West barely nipped Libya’s nuclear program in the bud in 2003. What is Sarko thinking in helping Libya to rebuild its capacity? Even giving aid to more pro-Western regimes (such as those in Egypt and Jordan) is a dubious move, since they might be tempted to acquire a nuclear arsenal if Iran leads the way. The result could be a destabilizing nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.

The French claim there will be enough safeguards built in to their sales to prevent such a scenario. Let us hope so. But it still seems like an unnecessary risk simply to earn a few more euros.

Nicolas Sarkozy has earned high marks for reorienting French diplomacy in a more pro-American direction. But he is also undertaking a little-noticed and potentially dangerous initiative. This Financial Times article reports that he is actively promoting the sale of French nuclear-power technology to Middle Eastern countries:

Since becoming president in May he has signed nuclear co-operation agreements with Morocco, Algeria and Libya as well as overseeing the sale of two nuclear power stations to China.

France is also looking to provide nuclear facilities or technical assistance to Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Egypt and Jordan.

The motive for this initiative is undoubtedly innocent: The French nuclear power industry leads the world, and Sarkozy no doubt figures he can help his economy by generating more sales. He is also probably interested in strengthening French influence in a region that it has long seen as its backyard.

But the outcome may be not-so-innocent. Every nation that has acquired nuclear weapons since the 1940’s has done so initially by launching a “nuclear power” program. The expertise and facilities needed to generate nuclear power can readily be converted to create nuclear weapons. The West barely nipped Libya’s nuclear program in the bud in 2003. What is Sarko thinking in helping Libya to rebuild its capacity? Even giving aid to more pro-Western regimes (such as those in Egypt and Jordan) is a dubious move, since they might be tempted to acquire a nuclear arsenal if Iran leads the way. The result could be a destabilizing nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.

The French claim there will be enough safeguards built in to their sales to prevent such a scenario. Let us hope so. But it still seems like an unnecessary risk simply to earn a few more euros.

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NATO Goes Soft in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the hard-won progress of Afghan and international forces is being undermined by NATO’s inefficiency, and it’s a scandal. Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands are looking to withdraw troops by 2010. If these forces remain hindered by the restrictions already imposed upon them, their exit may very well go unnoticed. Self-imposed checks on NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISF) keep most European soldiers out of southern Afghanistan, where they’re needed to fight a resurgent Taliban. Moreover, these troops are only allowed to fire in self-defense.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he’ll support a stronger French effort in the south. Meanwhile, a story in the Sun—about a leaked memo written by Afghan-stationed German commanders, in which they describe themselves as “useless cake-eaters”—states: “Last month German rescue helicopters refused to fly at night. And their troops are not allowed to travel more than two hours from a military hospital—making huge areas supposedly under their control off-limits.”

Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd remains a committed U.S. ally in Afghanistan, but has made intimations about not wanting to pick up the slack for NATO. New Zealand is mulling the idea of sending additional troops.

Washington and NATO have ordered a series of appraisals of policy in Afghanistan. Additionally, Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is asking for fresh ideas. On loan to the U.S., former Australian Army Lieutenant Colonel David Kilcullen played a critical role in the counterinsurgency strategy that’s turned Iraq around. This kind of collaborative ingenuity could help forces secure and build upon the advances made in Afghanistan. However, if NATO doesn’t step up, the heavy lifting may become too much to bear.

In Afghanistan, the hard-won progress of Afghan and international forces is being undermined by NATO’s inefficiency, and it’s a scandal. Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands are looking to withdraw troops by 2010. If these forces remain hindered by the restrictions already imposed upon them, their exit may very well go unnoticed. Self-imposed checks on NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISF) keep most European soldiers out of southern Afghanistan, where they’re needed to fight a resurgent Taliban. Moreover, these troops are only allowed to fire in self-defense.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he’ll support a stronger French effort in the south. Meanwhile, a story in the Sun—about a leaked memo written by Afghan-stationed German commanders, in which they describe themselves as “useless cake-eaters”—states: “Last month German rescue helicopters refused to fly at night. And their troops are not allowed to travel more than two hours from a military hospital—making huge areas supposedly under their control off-limits.”

Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd remains a committed U.S. ally in Afghanistan, but has made intimations about not wanting to pick up the slack for NATO. New Zealand is mulling the idea of sending additional troops.

Washington and NATO have ordered a series of appraisals of policy in Afghanistan. Additionally, Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is asking for fresh ideas. On loan to the U.S., former Australian Army Lieutenant Colonel David Kilcullen played a critical role in the counterinsurgency strategy that’s turned Iraq around. This kind of collaborative ingenuity could help forces secure and build upon the advances made in Afghanistan. However, if NATO doesn’t step up, the heavy lifting may become too much to bear.

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Goodbye Qaddafi

Today, Brother Leader Muammar Qaddafi packs up the tent in the gardens of the Hotel Marigny, the official guest residence next to the Elysee Palace, and ends his five-day stay in the City of Lights. The visit was too much, even for the French. Said Manuel Valls, a veteran socialist: “I have the impression that France has been humiliated.”

Make that humiliated and criticized. Nobody seems to be defending the French government of Nicolas Sarkozy for inviting the Libyan strongman. The erratic autocrat has managed to outrage just about everybody on his first official visit to a Western state since 2003, when he renounced terrorism and nuclear weapons. Controversy has followed almost every one of his outlandish and insulting comments on a wide range of topics, but the larger issue is the West’s engagement of reforming tyrants. Qaddafi is now considered “a socially acceptable dictator.”

But Qaddafi remains a dictator nonetheless, and that has caused heartburn for the center-right French government. President Sarkozy has been on the defensive about his warm welcome for the charismatic, mercurial, and despotic Libyan, who came with 400 followers and his contingent of female bodyguards in desert fatigues. In his best reply to critics, the French leader asked, “If we don’t welcome those who take the road to respectability, then what do we say to those who take the opposite road?”

Sarko, of course, has a point and Qaddafi may theoretically have a “right to redemption,” but it is the nature of France’s engagement that has been wrong. “It’s a question of balance, and in this case, the balance wasn’t right,” said Dominique Moisi, director of the French Institute on International Relations. Even some ministers in the French government have thought their president has gone too far in pandering to the “Supreme Guide of the Revolution.” Unfortunately, the Libyan, with petrodollars to spend, has been able to bend the normally clear-thinking leader of France. “Qaddafi is not perceived as a dictator in the Arab world,” Sarkozy told a French magazine on Wednesday. “He is the longest serving head of state in the region, and in the Arab world, that counts.”

What really counts is that Western leaders speak plainly. It’s all right to deal with autocrats from time-to-time, but we need to make sure that we do not legitimize them and create incentives for regressive behavior. As it happens, in the glow of his pomped-up stay, Qaddafi felt comfortable enough in, among other things, turning back the clock and repeating his denials that his government has never sponsored terrorism. This step in the wrong direction shows that Sarkozy has not found the right way to keep the Libyan on the right road.

Today, Brother Leader Muammar Qaddafi packs up the tent in the gardens of the Hotel Marigny, the official guest residence next to the Elysee Palace, and ends his five-day stay in the City of Lights. The visit was too much, even for the French. Said Manuel Valls, a veteran socialist: “I have the impression that France has been humiliated.”

Make that humiliated and criticized. Nobody seems to be defending the French government of Nicolas Sarkozy for inviting the Libyan strongman. The erratic autocrat has managed to outrage just about everybody on his first official visit to a Western state since 2003, when he renounced terrorism and nuclear weapons. Controversy has followed almost every one of his outlandish and insulting comments on a wide range of topics, but the larger issue is the West’s engagement of reforming tyrants. Qaddafi is now considered “a socially acceptable dictator.”

But Qaddafi remains a dictator nonetheless, and that has caused heartburn for the center-right French government. President Sarkozy has been on the defensive about his warm welcome for the charismatic, mercurial, and despotic Libyan, who came with 400 followers and his contingent of female bodyguards in desert fatigues. In his best reply to critics, the French leader asked, “If we don’t welcome those who take the road to respectability, then what do we say to those who take the opposite road?”

Sarko, of course, has a point and Qaddafi may theoretically have a “right to redemption,” but it is the nature of France’s engagement that has been wrong. “It’s a question of balance, and in this case, the balance wasn’t right,” said Dominique Moisi, director of the French Institute on International Relations. Even some ministers in the French government have thought their president has gone too far in pandering to the “Supreme Guide of the Revolution.” Unfortunately, the Libyan, with petrodollars to spend, has been able to bend the normally clear-thinking leader of France. “Qaddafi is not perceived as a dictator in the Arab world,” Sarkozy told a French magazine on Wednesday. “He is the longest serving head of state in the region, and in the Arab world, that counts.”

What really counts is that Western leaders speak plainly. It’s all right to deal with autocrats from time-to-time, but we need to make sure that we do not legitimize them and create incentives for regressive behavior. As it happens, in the glow of his pomped-up stay, Qaddafi felt comfortable enough in, among other things, turning back the clock and repeating his denials that his government has never sponsored terrorism. This step in the wrong direction shows that Sarkozy has not found the right way to keep the Libyan on the right road.

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China’s Attack Plan

Will China launch some major and dangerous move against Taiwan—a blockade? missile firings? worse?—next March, just five months ahead of the opening of the triumphant Beijing Olympics (motto: “one world, one dream”)?

Such madness seems inconceivable. Yet the pattern of Beijing’s diplomacy with respect to Taiwan’s referendum on its application to the United Nations is convincing me that some such action is possible, even likely.

China is intent on denying any international status to Taiwan, a democratic country of some 23 million people having a gross national product approaching four hundred billion dollars.

She was expelled from the UN in 1971 when China joined and has failed a dozen times to rejoin thereafter. Now she plans a referendum on how to word her next application. (I have explained these basic issues in an earlier posting.)

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Will China launch some major and dangerous move against Taiwan—a blockade? missile firings? worse?—next March, just five months ahead of the opening of the triumphant Beijing Olympics (motto: “one world, one dream”)?

Such madness seems inconceivable. Yet the pattern of Beijing’s diplomacy with respect to Taiwan’s referendum on its application to the United Nations is convincing me that some such action is possible, even likely.

China is intent on denying any international status to Taiwan, a democratic country of some 23 million people having a gross national product approaching four hundred billion dollars.

She was expelled from the UN in 1971 when China joined and has failed a dozen times to rejoin thereafter. Now she plans a referendum on how to word her next application. (I have explained these basic issues in an earlier posting.)

As China seeks to stanch leaks in the diplomatic embargo, it is becoming clear that Beijing has decided to make the referendum into a casus belli: into the “red line,” the provocation that cannot be tolerated and that must force her to turn to military coercion. She is preparing the ground carefully, lining up support for her position from the very countries that might back Taiwan.

Thus, for months last year the Chinese embassy hammered the relevant American Deputy Assistant Secretary of State with threats. The result: on August 27, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte stated unequivocally that “any kind of provocative steps” on Taiwan’s part were unacceptable.

Shortly thereafter, Chinese President Hu Jintao directly warned President Bush “that this year and the next will be a ‘highly dangerous period’ in the Taiwan Strait.” He referred, ominously, to China’s 2005 “Anti-Secession Law,” which requires the use of “nonpeaceful means” to counter “major incidents entailing Taiwan’s secession from China.” Hu stated that the referendum would be just such a “major incident.”

Now France and Britain have, unwittingly I think, added their signatures to the international permission slip that China appears to be preparing. According to Reuters, on November 26, French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated “that France opposes Taiwan’s contentious plan to hold a referendum on UN membership next year.” Then, according to AFP, Foreign Secretary David Miliband made clear on December 5 Britain’s opposition to the referendum on pushing for UN membership, adding that any “reckless maneuvers” were to be “deplored.”

Without insistent Chinese prompting, one suspects, neither Negroponte nor Sarkozy nor Miliband would have spoken. Yet all did, in complete ignorance, one suspects, of the net China is weaving.

For who will protest or act if China does use the referendum as a pretext for military action next March? One would expect democratic powers such as the United States, France, and Britain to take the lead. But they have already stated their support for China’s political position (though not for force). My fear is that such statements of seeming acquiescence may persuade China that she could get away with a turn to force. Such miscalculation could in fact lead to war.

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Talking to Enemies, Losing Friends

My friend Lee Smith has a terrific piece in the Weekly Standard about what the peace process is doing to the democracy movement in Lebanon:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recused herself from every other issue in the region, including Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. As for Syria and Lebanon, she contracted this out to France, whose new president Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner butchered the affair, with some assistance from Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who has looked to placate Syria since the Hariri murder. Secretary Rice says nice things about Lebanese democracy, but the fact is that nothing matters to her half as much as the peace process. This myopia is what led Rice to make room for Syria in her three-ring circus on the Chesapeake Bay. Since Israeli-Palestinian comity warrants all of the time and prestige of the Secretary of State, and since Damascus’s friends in Hamas can make things very tough for peace processing, they must be rewarded for their blackmail and invited to Annapolis.

Consciously or not, Rice signaled where America’s real priorities lie — not with protecting a fledgling democracy in Beirut from the terrorist state next door, but in trying to reward a society that breeds terrorism within its own state.

Lee predicts that the peace process will imperil the Hariri tribunal and deliver Lebanon back to Syria and Hezbollah. Read the whole thing.

My friend Lee Smith has a terrific piece in the Weekly Standard about what the peace process is doing to the democracy movement in Lebanon:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recused herself from every other issue in the region, including Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. As for Syria and Lebanon, she contracted this out to France, whose new president Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner butchered the affair, with some assistance from Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who has looked to placate Syria since the Hariri murder. Secretary Rice says nice things about Lebanese democracy, but the fact is that nothing matters to her half as much as the peace process. This myopia is what led Rice to make room for Syria in her three-ring circus on the Chesapeake Bay. Since Israeli-Palestinian comity warrants all of the time and prestige of the Secretary of State, and since Damascus’s friends in Hamas can make things very tough for peace processing, they must be rewarded for their blackmail and invited to Annapolis.

Consciously or not, Rice signaled where America’s real priorities lie — not with protecting a fledgling democracy in Beirut from the terrorist state next door, but in trying to reward a society that breeds terrorism within its own state.

Lee predicts that the peace process will imperil the Hariri tribunal and deliver Lebanon back to Syria and Hezbollah. Read the whole thing.

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No War on Puberty

Jewcy blogger Abe Greenwald lets us know today just how far reporters from the New York Times to Time to the BBC are willing to go not to admit the obvious about the participants in the riots that began in France this past weekend.

For some reason, I can’t imagine why, these news outlets avoid stating that the rioters are Muslim. In fact, consistently referring to the rioters as “youths,” the news outlets make it sound as though, as Greenwald points out, what France and Nicolas Sarkozy are confronting is “teenage extremism” that “demands nothing less than a fully committed War on Puberty.”

Jewcy blogger Abe Greenwald lets us know today just how far reporters from the New York Times to Time to the BBC are willing to go not to admit the obvious about the participants in the riots that began in France this past weekend.

For some reason, I can’t imagine why, these news outlets avoid stating that the rioters are Muslim. In fact, consistently referring to the rioters as “youths,” the news outlets make it sound as though, as Greenwald points out, what France and Nicolas Sarkozy are confronting is “teenage extremism” that “demands nothing less than a fully committed War on Puberty.”

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Effete Europeans in Beijing

Today, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson delivered a stinging rebuke to Beijing. “During the summer some Chinese officials pointed out that less than 1 percent of China’s exports to Europe had alleged health risks,” Mandelson noted in a speech in the Chinese capital. “But Europe imports half a billion euros worth of goods from China every day—so even 1 percent is not acceptable.” The trade commissioner then told Beijing that “consumer safety is a zero-compromise issue.” Vice Premier Wu Yi, China’s so-called Iron Lady, was angry as she spoke to reporters afterwards. “I am extremely dissatisfied,” she said.

Her boss, President Hu Jintao, was also reported to be a bit peeved today. He got rough treatment from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who lectured the autocrat to his face in public. Sarkozy covered, among other things, the value of China’s currency, intellectual property, and human rights. The Chinese undoubtedly are bewildered by today’s events—they have not seen Euros act like this since Tiananmen.

Mandelson’s address and Sarkozy’s criticism come on the eve of the 10th China-European Union summit. Despite the fact that Beijing just placed large orders with Airbus and France’s Areva, observers say that the discussions this week in the Chinese capital will be tense. “For Europe, the ‘China honeymoon’ is over,” writes David Shambaugh of George Washington University.

We may think that Europeans are effete and spineless, but when was the last time someone from the Bush administration publicly told the Chinese off in their own capital? American officials like to speak about working cooperatively with China to solve “concerns,” while the Europeans are venting frustrations after years of useless dialogue. The welcomed departures of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder mark a change of mood in the heart of the EU. Perhaps President Bush should now take his cue from the new version of Old Europe.

Today, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson delivered a stinging rebuke to Beijing. “During the summer some Chinese officials pointed out that less than 1 percent of China’s exports to Europe had alleged health risks,” Mandelson noted in a speech in the Chinese capital. “But Europe imports half a billion euros worth of goods from China every day—so even 1 percent is not acceptable.” The trade commissioner then told Beijing that “consumer safety is a zero-compromise issue.” Vice Premier Wu Yi, China’s so-called Iron Lady, was angry as she spoke to reporters afterwards. “I am extremely dissatisfied,” she said.

Her boss, President Hu Jintao, was also reported to be a bit peeved today. He got rough treatment from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who lectured the autocrat to his face in public. Sarkozy covered, among other things, the value of China’s currency, intellectual property, and human rights. The Chinese undoubtedly are bewildered by today’s events—they have not seen Euros act like this since Tiananmen.

Mandelson’s address and Sarkozy’s criticism come on the eve of the 10th China-European Union summit. Despite the fact that Beijing just placed large orders with Airbus and France’s Areva, observers say that the discussions this week in the Chinese capital will be tense. “For Europe, the ‘China honeymoon’ is over,” writes David Shambaugh of George Washington University.

We may think that Europeans are effete and spineless, but when was the last time someone from the Bush administration publicly told the Chinese off in their own capital? American officials like to speak about working cooperatively with China to solve “concerns,” while the Europeans are venting frustrations after years of useless dialogue. The welcomed departures of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder mark a change of mood in the heart of the EU. Perhaps President Bush should now take his cue from the new version of Old Europe.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #12: Expletive Deleted

I had predicted that as our hero’s ideas and associations became better known, he would be compelled to move from the mainstream media to the far-out margins. Yesterday, as evidence that this shift was under way, I linked to a Scheuer rant on a website called The Jingoist (now only available here), adjacent to all sorts of other rants like “Israel: Perpetual Criminal, Perpetual Liar” and one detailing French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s hidden ties to the Israel’s Mossad.

My imputation of Scheuer’s guilt by association –– and there is such a thing as such guilt, if not in a court of law than in the realm of public opinion –– has evidently struck a nerve. On his website anti-war.com, Justin Raimondo, a self-appointed flack for our hero, has offered a post in which he emphatically argues that Scheuer has not moved to the margins. Scheuer, he says, wrote his rant not for The Jingoist but for his own website, and The Jingoist simply purloined it without permission.

Connecting the Dots is interested in constructing an accurate picture of our hero. But uncertainties abound. I do not know where Scheuer’s work first appeared, and I am not ready to take his or his flack’s word for anything, or take sides in a fight between The Jingoist and anti-war.com. Members of the 9/11 Commission have called into question our hero’s integrity. And our hero has also yet to clear up allegations (leveled by me) that he has prevaricated about when and why he was awarded a medal by the CIA.

But putting aside all such questions, and putting aside the fact that The Jingoist bills itself as a “partner site” of anti-war.com, and assuming for the sake of discussion that Justin Raimondo is right and that anti-war.com was the original home of Scheuer’s ranting, would this daisy chain of assumptions lead us to conclude that Scheuer has not strayed to the fringes and remained in the mainstream?

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I had predicted that as our hero’s ideas and associations became better known, he would be compelled to move from the mainstream media to the far-out margins. Yesterday, as evidence that this shift was under way, I linked to a Scheuer rant on a website called The Jingoist (now only available here), adjacent to all sorts of other rants like “Israel: Perpetual Criminal, Perpetual Liar” and one detailing French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s hidden ties to the Israel’s Mossad.

My imputation of Scheuer’s guilt by association –– and there is such a thing as such guilt, if not in a court of law than in the realm of public opinion –– has evidently struck a nerve. On his website anti-war.com, Justin Raimondo, a self-appointed flack for our hero, has offered a post in which he emphatically argues that Scheuer has not moved to the margins. Scheuer, he says, wrote his rant not for The Jingoist but for his own website, and The Jingoist simply purloined it without permission.

Connecting the Dots is interested in constructing an accurate picture of our hero. But uncertainties abound. I do not know where Scheuer’s work first appeared, and I am not ready to take his or his flack’s word for anything, or take sides in a fight between The Jingoist and anti-war.com. Members of the 9/11 Commission have called into question our hero’s integrity. And our hero has also yet to clear up allegations (leveled by me) that he has prevaricated about when and why he was awarded a medal by the CIA.

But putting aside all such questions, and putting aside the fact that The Jingoist bills itself as a “partner site” of anti-war.com, and assuming for the sake of discussion that Justin Raimondo is right and that anti-war.com was the original home of Scheuer’s ranting, would this daisy chain of assumptions lead us to conclude that Scheuer has not strayed to the fringes and remained in the mainstream?

Readers can judge for themselves. For if The Jingoist is in Holocaust-denial territory, anti-war.com is not far behind. A good place to begin is the long series that anti-war.com has devoted to the many Israeli “art students” who in the run-up to September 11 came to our country ostensibly to sketch, draw, and paint, but were actually working deep under cover, spying on Americans.

Here is one entry by Justin Raimondo himself, entitled 9/11: What Did Israel Know –– And When Did They Tell Us?:

A secret government report (originating with the Drug Enforcement Agency) detailing the highly suspicious activities of these aspiring Israeli “artists” was . . . uncovered, and a series of stories appeared in the international media . . .

Those of us who identified the Israeli “art students” as part of a spy operation in the U.S. were absolutely correct, that the Israelis were not only conducting covert operations against U.S. government facilities but were also watching the hijackers very closely, and that some people will go to any lengths to avoid considering some very unpleasant and politically explosive possibilities . . .

Suffice to say here that the Israeli role in the events leading up to 9/11 is, at best, highly suspicious. Certainly the news that their agents were close neighbors of Mohammed Atta and an accomplice leads to some disturbing juxtapositions. Did the “art students” stand behind the terrorists in line at the local supermarket? Did they bump into each other in the street –– and what, pray tell, did these dedicated Al Qaeda cadre think of a group of Israelis living in such close proximity?

What happened to these art students? And how did they make their escape? Why did all the Jewish employees stay at home on the day that the Twin Towers were destroyed? Is anti-war.com fringe or mainstream? Connecting the Dots is eager to know.

Connecting the Dots also must briefly call attention to the language in which these would-be members of the mainstream media talk.

Yesterday, we saw Michael Scheuer write:

I forthrightly damn, and pray that God damns, any American –– Jew, Catholic, Evangelical, Irish, German, Hindu, hermaphrodite, thespian, or otherwise – who flogs the insane idea that American and Israeli interests are one and the same.

In Raimondo’s post today, he asks:  “How dumb is Gabriel Schoenfeld?” and answers “Pretty damned dumb.” As his argument unfolds, he speaks of my “dumb-ass peroration” and labels me “a vicious nut-bar.” All this appears in a post entitled Gabriel Schoenfeld is an Ass-hat.

A reader of Connecting the Dots, who happens to have a Ph.D. in child psychology, has already sent me a query and a comment: “What is an ‘ass hat’? My son’s favorite insult these days is ‘poop nose,’ which is far more evocative. The rhetorical level here seems to hover somewhere between second and third grade.”

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here

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Hands Off My DNA

The Saintly Brigades of France have found their cause célèbre: DNA tests for immigrants who want to be reunited with their families. The Opposition—ranging from the Centrist François Bayrou to the Socialist Ségolène Royal to the hard leftist Olivier Besançenot—fumbled every opportunity to grasp a Big Issue during last year’s presidential campaign and the first six months of Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential term. Now they have it! A moral issue of gigantic proportions: the UMP-dominated legislature is about to pass an immigration law that would allow immigrants lacking reliable documents to prove filiation by way of DNA tests and expedite reunification with their minor children.

Brushing aside practical considerations—eleven European countries are already using the tests as recommended in a 2003 EU directive—the Brigades are playing on the symbolic value of DNA to raise immigrants to the pinnacle of victimhood. The Brigades’ reasoning goes something like this: since the Nazis classified Jews by genetic quotients from 10 to 100 percent, touching an immigrant’s DNA is equivalent to sending him/her to Auschwitz.

Charlie Hebdo, the pornographic satirical weekly that earned hero’s stripes for publishing the Muhammad cartoons, is at the forefront of the anti-DNA campaign. Editorial director Philippe Val, who defended the freedom to insult the prophet of Islam, is now defending immigrants against the ill-concealed genocidal intentions of the Sarkozy government. (Sarkozy is, himself, a first generation immigrant on his father’s side, and second generation on his mother’s side.) A petition launched by Charlie Hebdo has garnered 200,000-plus signatories, including high profile figures from the Right alongside Sarkozy’s bitterly disappointed rival, Dominique de Villepin.

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The Saintly Brigades of France have found their cause célèbre: DNA tests for immigrants who want to be reunited with their families. The Opposition—ranging from the Centrist François Bayrou to the Socialist Ségolène Royal to the hard leftist Olivier Besançenot—fumbled every opportunity to grasp a Big Issue during last year’s presidential campaign and the first six months of Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential term. Now they have it! A moral issue of gigantic proportions: the UMP-dominated legislature is about to pass an immigration law that would allow immigrants lacking reliable documents to prove filiation by way of DNA tests and expedite reunification with their minor children.

Brushing aside practical considerations—eleven European countries are already using the tests as recommended in a 2003 EU directive—the Brigades are playing on the symbolic value of DNA to raise immigrants to the pinnacle of victimhood. The Brigades’ reasoning goes something like this: since the Nazis classified Jews by genetic quotients from 10 to 100 percent, touching an immigrant’s DNA is equivalent to sending him/her to Auschwitz.

Charlie Hebdo, the pornographic satirical weekly that earned hero’s stripes for publishing the Muhammad cartoons, is at the forefront of the anti-DNA campaign. Editorial director Philippe Val, who defended the freedom to insult the prophet of Islam, is now defending immigrants against the ill-concealed genocidal intentions of the Sarkozy government. (Sarkozy is, himself, a first generation immigrant on his father’s side, and second generation on his mother’s side.) A petition launched by Charlie Hebdo has garnered 200,000-plus signatories, including high profile figures from the Right alongside Sarkozy’s bitterly disappointed rival, Dominique de Villepin.

Since Sarkozy began to deliver on his promise to make French immigration policy more selective, pro-immigration forces have exploited the vocabulary of Vichy collaboration. Meanwhile, commando associations intervene to prevent deportation of illegals; instigate in your face operations like parachuting tents, filled with aggressive mal logés [ill-housed], into a side street at the stock exchange; and accuse the government of pushing illegals to acts of desperation. Drawing on the vocabulary of the 1930’s and 1940’s, pro-immigration forces accuse the government of organizing “rafles [sweeps],” the word used to describe mass roundups of French Jews. Citizens and policemen are urged to resist, and reminded in no uncertain terms that this time they will not be able to say they didn’t know.

French media, thrilled with this juicy bone of contention, have extended a friendly microphone to virulent critics of the bill, which is misleadingly identified as “DNA testing for immigrants.” The height of frenzy was reached when PM François Fillon publicly criticized the undue attention focused on one detail of a broad immigration bill. “Detail”? How dare he use the word “detail”?!? He knows perfectly well that Jean-Marie Le Pen (leader of the near-defunct Front National) said the concentration camps were a “detail” of World War II.

This trivial brouhaha is monopolizing public debate, while a French court raises serious doubts about the veracity of the al-Dura “news report,” produced and broadcast by state-owned French television in September 2000. The al-Dura blood libel doesn’t interest the Saintly Brigades and their cheerleading media, who have transferred the symbols of the Shoah to immigrants. Ironically, it is often immigrants to France who perpetuate the culture of violence against Jews. There is no DNA testing to screen for that!

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Addio, Pavarotti

When an international superstar like Italy’s champion tenor Luciano Pavarotti dies, a horse race ensues for posthumous tributes. As Milan’s Corriere della Sera marveled, the first governmental condolences about Pavarotti, who died of pancreatic cancer in Modena, Italy this week at 71, came from the peripatetic, hyper-energetic Nicolas Sarkozy of France, even before Italy’s movers and shakers could be stirred from their early-autumn lethargy. A calculating and astute Northern Italian from Modena, Pavarotti was anything but the cartoon of a carefree, sunny Southern Italian that he projected on CD’s and in public appearances.

Despite allegations of casual musicianship, Pavarotti had many enduring achievements, including a 1967 Deutsche Grammophon DVD of Verdi’s Requiem conducted by Herbert von Karajan, and a Decca CD, also with Karajan, of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Gianandrea Gavazzeni, a true connoisseur of the Italian repertory, conducted CD’s of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana on Decca and L’ amico Fritz on EMI, which are also among Pavarotti’s best.

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When an international superstar like Italy’s champion tenor Luciano Pavarotti dies, a horse race ensues for posthumous tributes. As Milan’s Corriere della Sera marveled, the first governmental condolences about Pavarotti, who died of pancreatic cancer in Modena, Italy this week at 71, came from the peripatetic, hyper-energetic Nicolas Sarkozy of France, even before Italy’s movers and shakers could be stirred from their early-autumn lethargy. A calculating and astute Northern Italian from Modena, Pavarotti was anything but the cartoon of a carefree, sunny Southern Italian that he projected on CD’s and in public appearances.

Despite allegations of casual musicianship, Pavarotti had many enduring achievements, including a 1967 Deutsche Grammophon DVD of Verdi’s Requiem conducted by Herbert von Karajan, and a Decca CD, also with Karajan, of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Gianandrea Gavazzeni, a true connoisseur of the Italian repertory, conducted CD’s of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana on Decca and L’ amico Fritz on EMI, which are also among Pavarotti’s best.

A characteristically ignorant critic like the always boorish and clueless Manuela Hoelterhoff, an employee of Michael Bloomberg, claims to “shudder with delight” at hearing Pavarotti bellow “Maria” from Bernstein’s West Side Story. Pav’s attempts at pop, like the best-selling Three Tenors Concert, are in fact best appreciated according to the criterion of a champion cyclist I once met, who said he played the Pavarotti CD on his earphones constantly during workouts because the lengthy explosions of applause kept his adrenaline going. The entire concept of “three tenors” is a surreal distortion of what opera is all about; arias written for a solo voice are shamelessly traduced when sung simultaneously by three voices. It should also be recalled that when the elegant Spanish tenor Alfredo Kraus pointed out in 1992 that there were in fact more than three tenors in the world, he was banished—by none other than José Carreras, one of the mighty three—from participation in the musical events around the Barcelona Olympics.

Of Pavarotti’s efforts to share the stage with pop stars—many of which (it must be admitted, to lessen his personal culpability) were done for charity—probably the worst was Pavarotti with the Spice Girls in something called Viva Forever, with a close runner-up being the rock star Sting bleating out Franck’s Panis Angelicus. In other celebrity duets, Pavarotti simply stands or sits onstage with stars, singing in Italian against—rather than with—Barry White and James Brown. That said, Pavarotti’s duet with Meat Loaf on Come Back to Sorrento is not as bad as might be feared. Even when singing New York, New York with Liza Minnelli, Luciano sways anxiously like a grizzy bear on its hind legs, poised for attack.

Pop and schlock apart, Pavarotti’s burnished tone will long echo in our memory, regardless of the crass hype. It is our loss that Pavarotti was unable to imitate the longevity of his mother and father, who lived hale and hearty to the ages of 86 and 89 respectively. Lively and charming, Pavarotti conquered all.

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