Commentary Magazine


Topic: Francois Hollande

Ukraine Deal: Keeping Russia In, U.S. Out

It is easy to look at the ceasefire agreement struck between Ukraine, Russian-backed forces, and their European interlocutors and wonder whether it really is an agreement at all, let a lone a successful conclusion to the all-night talks in Minsk. But it may have been successful by the key metric set by German and French leaders heading into the negotiations: foreclosing the possibility of serious American military aid to Ukraine.

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It is easy to look at the ceasefire agreement struck between Ukraine, Russian-backed forces, and their European interlocutors and wonder whether it really is an agreement at all, let a lone a successful conclusion to the all-night talks in Minsk. But it may have been successful by the key metric set by German and French leaders heading into the negotiations: foreclosing the possibility of serious American military aid to Ukraine.

The deal itself inspires mostly pessimism, despite French President Hollande’s grandiose declaration that the talks “consisted of a long night and a long morning, but we arrived at an accord on the cease-fire and the global end to the conflict,” according to the New York Times. In fact, that is a generous reading of events. The ceasefire is scheduled to go into effect this weekend, which means the next few days could see an escalation. The ceasefire was also imprecise, to say the least, about where the two (three?) sides would end up, so we can expect a scramble to create facts on the ground before the ceasefire technically begins.

Indeed, just three paragraphs before Hollande’s peace-for-our-time announcement, the Times had already explained why that’s almost surely not the case:

The cease-fire is scheduled to begin at midnight on Saturday, but the 13-point compact appeared fragile, with crucial issues like the location of the truce line and control of the border with Russia left unresolved. Over all, there seemed to be no guarantee that the problems that marred the cease-fire agreement reached here in September had been ironed out.

The very fact that it took more than 16 hours of intensive negotiations to reach an agreement, and that the leaders announced the accord in three separate news conferences, seemed to highlight the differences that remained.

So there’s a truce without a truce line and a border up for grabs while the fighting is permitted to continue until late night Saturday, after which the fighting might not stop anyway since the same kind of ceasefire was reached in September and, well, here we are.

That article is by Neil MacFarquhar. In a companion piece, the Times’s Andrew Roth published a “Q&A” on the details of the agreement. It does not add too much, but mostly serves as a useful reference point for the key areas of conflict. It contains three questions and their answers. The three questions are: “Can the cease-fire hold?” “Where will the new dividing lines be?” and “What about Ukraine’s border with Russia?”

The answer to the question about “dividing lines” really says it all:

The situation on the ground favors the separatists.

Ukrainian officials have said that the rebels gained control over more than 500 square kilometers, or almost 200 square miles, of additional territory since the September cease-fire deal. Under the new agreement, both sides are required to withdraw heavy artillery to create a 30-mile demilitarized buffer zone. But the agreement does not explicitly demarcate the line. Ukraine is required to withdraw from the “current front lines,” which may change by Saturday. Separatist forces are supposed to withdraw behind the September line.

Sure–because when you’re trying to stop an ongoing ground war in Europe by setting borders and boundaries, it’s usually enough just to let each side eyeball it and see where everybody ends up.

Although Putin has not yet abided by ceasefire directives, maybe this time he will. It’s possible. But this ceasefire agreement may in the end succeed only in preventing American military aid to Ukraine. That’s because the terms of the deal represent an acknowledgement by all sides that Ukraine has lost each round of Russia’s invasions, and that there won’t be any help from Europe on the way. That means it might just be too late for the U.S. to accomplish very much by getting involved now.

“Now,” in this context, actually means “in a few months.” As the Wall Street Journal reported, the weapons we’d give Ukraine would probably have to be ordered, and their recipients would need training. Russia, then, has some time now to take free shots and move that border some more. Right now, the area the pro-Russian “rebels” are operating in crosses the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Russian side will likely seek to carve out as secure a territory as possible before the ceasefire goes into effect.

And then what? Over at Foreign Policy, Mark Galeotti doesn’t rule out American arms for Kiev. But the real question is whether there is anything left to fight for. The agreement essentially ensures that eastern Ukraine will be either a frozen conflict or a breakaway Russian client. Ukrainian President Poroshenko will have to see to that for the full peace to take effect. That means Ukraine goes into this ceasefire conceding the areas under conflict to Moscow.

The message given to Poroshenko from his European “friends” was obviously: Get the best deal you can from Putin; no one has your back here. Even if they haven’t succeeded in bringing real peace to Europe, they may have succeeded in keeping America out.

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U.S., Germany, and France to Putin: The World Is Too Weak to Stop You

Vladimir Putin may be reckless, but he seems to be guided by one valuable strategic rule when picking fights in Europe: divide the west to conquer the east. And dividing the west doesn’t just mean dividing Western Europe among itself; it also means dividing Western Europe from the rest of the West. It broadens the (likely apocryphal) Kissinger quote about calling Europe, and updates it for modern times. If you want to talk to “the West,” whom do you call?

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Vladimir Putin may be reckless, but he seems to be guided by one valuable strategic rule when picking fights in Europe: divide the west to conquer the east. And dividing the west doesn’t just mean dividing Western Europe among itself; it also means dividing Western Europe from the rest of the West. It broadens the (likely apocryphal) Kissinger quote about calling Europe, and updates it for modern times. If you want to talk to “the West,” whom do you call?

The sudden rush of new peace conferences to solve the conflict in Ukraine prove this point. This New York Times rundown of the various meetings and pressers and conferences is thorough but also thoroughly maddening. It is headlined “U.S. Joins Europe in Efforts to End Fighting in Ukraine,” but good luck finding any semblance of a workable solution in any of the proposals and declarations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande met in Kiev with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. No progress seems to have been made in halting or turning back the Russian invasion in Ukraine’s east. But that’s not surprising when you consider what the aim of the Franco-German trip was in the first place. As the Wall Street Journal noted today:

The trip also comes as political momentum grows in the U.S. to deliver weapons to Ukrainian forces—a step that the German and French leaders oppose because they say it would only lead to more violence.

So the purpose of German and French diplomatic intervention was to stop the U.S. from helping Ukraine too much. Mission accomplished.

Not that the U.S. is ready to take that step anyway. There continue to be Obama administration figures who support arming Ukraine, but until that group includes President Obama, this is all they’re going to get, as the Times reported:

Mr. Kerry, who announced $16.4 million in humanitarian assistance for eastern Ukraine, plans to press for a new cease-fire.

In a joint appearance with Mr. Poroshenko, Mr. Kerry said that France, Germany and the United States were united in supporting a peaceful resolution to the conflict. And he called for Russia to agree to a cease-fire.

“Our choice is a peaceful solution, but Russia needs to make its choices,” Mr. Kerry said.

Russia, in fact, has made its choice–repeatedly. That choice has been a relatively easy one for Putin because no one is willing to defend Ukraine. What would possibly give American officials the idea that Putin would retreat without real resistance? That’s where what is possibly the most damning line in the Times story comes in:

The Obama administration’s hope is that its widely reported deliberations over whether to send defensive weapons to Ukraine and about additional economic sanctions will induce Russia to agree to a halt in the fighting and, ultimately, to a political agreement within the framework of the Minsk accord.

This is strategic ineptitude of the first order. Obama’s defenders like to scoff at the notion of “credibility”–that Obama retreating on a red line in, say, Syria would enter the calculus of someone like Putin when considering American opposition to his invasions of Ukraine. We are told that “credibility” is overrated, but it’s more accurate to say it’s simply unquantifiable.

But you have to ask yourself: why would Vladimir Putin believe Obama’s threats when he doesn’t follow through? You have to make a rational calculation, and right now the smart money will always be on Obama bluffing. It’s just who he is; he says things but doesn’t mean them. The sound of his own voice is pleasing to him, but the content is irrelevant.

Additionally, Obama keeps undercutting any such threat. One way he does this is in the implied threat itself: Obama thinks leaking that the administration is debating arming Ukraine will spook Putin, but that very leak is based on the fact that Obama is personally opposed to arming Ukraine, so it’s toothless.

More importantly, the administration keeps undercutting the idea that the aid would help anyway. On Tuesday, CBS’s Mark Knoller tweeted the administration’s justification for not giving Ukraine military aid. He wrote: “On Ukraine, WH says its (sic) not possible for US to put Ukraine on par militarily with Russia. Stands by objective of diplomatic resolution.”

So here’s Obama’s opinion: Ukraine should not get military aid from the West because even with American help, Russia would still mop the floor with them. And this, according to the Times, is what Obama thinks will intimidate Putin into signing a peace treaty. I’ll offer the president some free advice: telling Putin the world is too weak to stop him isn’t very intimidating.

Yet even if the West got Putin to sign on to a new agreement, nothing will have been accomplished. Putin has been violating the last ceasefire agreement, because there’s no one to enforce it. What Obama, Merkel, and Hollande are working for, then, is a non-solution–an agreement that would allow everyone involved to pretend it’s more than it is, and which would implicitly (if not explicitly) accept Putin’s previous land grabs in Ukraine while asking him nicely–on the honor system–to stop taking more land.

You can see what bothers the Ukrainians about this. They are at war, and high-level delegations from France, Germany, and the United States all flew in to tell them, personally, that they’re a lost cause. They either don’t realize it or don’t seem to care, but three major Western powers just went out of their way to ostentatiously humiliate their besieged ally on the world stage.

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Terror, Israel, and France’s False Unity

The narrative of “unity” in Paris yesterday was quickly punctured by reports that French President Francois Hollande tried to prevent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s participation in the rally against terror. According to Haaretz, Hollande’s national security advisor relayed the message to his Israeli counterpart. There are, clearly, several things wrong with this picture, foremost among them the gratuitous insult to a Jewish community in mourning that the head of the Jewish state is not welcome in Paris. But if the report is correct, the reasons given for the attempted exclusion compound the offense.

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The narrative of “unity” in Paris yesterday was quickly punctured by reports that French President Francois Hollande tried to prevent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s participation in the rally against terror. According to Haaretz, Hollande’s national security advisor relayed the message to his Israeli counterpart. There are, clearly, several things wrong with this picture, foremost among them the gratuitous insult to a Jewish community in mourning that the head of the Jewish state is not welcome in Paris. But if the report is correct, the reasons given for the attempted exclusion compound the offense.

First, there is the following explanation, relayed by Haaretz, for why Hollande didn’t want Netanyahu there:

Audibert explained that Hollande wanted the event to focus on demonstrating solidarity with France, and to avoid anything liable to divert attention to other controversial issues, like Jewish-Muslim relations or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Audibert said that Hollande hoped that Netanyahu would understand the difficulties his arrival might pose and would announce that he would not be attending.

Anyone who hoped the French might get serious about the terrorism and anti-Semitism plaguing their country will have their hopes dashed by that paragraph. A refresher: the march for unity was held after a two-pronged terror attack, the latter half of which centered on Islamic extremists specifically targeting Jews. In the wake of that attack, Jews were warned to hide any outward appearance of their Judaism and the famed Jewish quarter of the Marais became a ghetto regulated by fear.

To this, the French president says that he doesn’t want the response to include “other controversial issues, like Jewish-Muslim relations.” In fact, “Jewish-Muslim relations”–a mild way of describing French Islamists’ murderous anti-Semitism and pogromist instincts–is currently tearing Paris apart. What Hollande doesn’t want to talk about is what’s actually happening to his country. If the Jewish presence atop the Islamists’ target list can’t be acknowledged even in the wake of terror, then Hollande is really making no room for it at all. Hollande’s head is still in the sand.

Netanyahu was at first open to Hollande’s unreasonable request. But then he changed his mind, and informed Hollande he would attend. Here is the apparent response from the French government:

According to the source, when Cohen informed Audibert that Netanyahu would be attending the event after all, Audibert angrily told Cohen that the prime minister’s conduct would have an adverse effect on ties between the two countries as long as Hollande was president of France and Netanyahu was prime minister of Israel.

But the foot stomping wasn’t over. Hollande had to publicly convey his opposition to Israel’s head of government participating in a “unity” event. Both attended an event at the Grand Synagogue: “Hollande sat through most of the ceremony, but when Netanyahu’s turn at the podium arrived, the French president got up from his seat and made an early exit.”

There is another explanation, however, for Hollande’s decision to disrespect the Jews in the Grand Synagogue. In an unsigned piece at Tablet, a video is provided of the arrival first of Hollande and then of Netanyahu at the Grand Synagogue. Netanyahu receives a hero’s welcome.

This is not all that surprising. I recommend watching the video of Netanyahu’s entrance into the synagogue; it is more compelling than it might appear. The simple fact is that Netanyahu’s presence is a reminder to the Jews of Paris and the Jews of the world that when their home countries repay their love and loyalty with hatred and abuse, the existence of Israel provides an inspirational counterpoint–even for Jews with no intention of making aliyah. Tablet notes:

One of the great lessons of the Holocaust for the Jewish people and for all other peoples who have since been threatened with genocide by fanatics—Cambodians under Pol Pot, Bosnian Muslims, and the Tutsi of Rwanda—is that the world will always talk a good game but will do precious little to save you. If you don’t stick together, you will die alone. The fact that the State of Israel exists means that the Jewish people will never be radically alone. That’s why the people in the Grand Synagogue of Paris are cheering.

And thus it is also something of a reproof to the host country. The presence of an Israeli prime minister in a Western capital that has proved incapable of protecting its Jews provides a contrast that does not benefit Hollande. In that sense, though Hollande’s behavior is not defensible, neither is it incomprehensible.

But the attempt to prevent Netanyahu from attending the march is also delegitimizing to the Jewish state. Jews were killed because they were Jews, and with the partial pretext of the Jewish state’s self-defense. Excluding the Israeli leader is a divisive act–literally, as it divides the Jewish people–and also treats Israel, which is a Western country on the front lines of fighting such terror, as an outsider looking in on the free world. Netanyahu was right to attend, and by the looks of it, the besieged Jews of Paris agreed.

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Obama Should Have Called Paris Market Attack What It Is: Anti-Semitism

This week’s bloody events in France have shocked the civilized world. But shock and sadness are not a sufficient response from those entrusted with the responsibility to defend us against Islamist terrorism. That’s why President Obama’s initial statement in response to today’s news was so disappointing. The conspicuous absence of any acknowledgement of the motive of the terrorists or their targets made his remarks empty platitudes rather than a meaningful call for solidarity against a common enemy. The continued refusal of the president to identify Islamist ideology as the foe is undermining efforts to combat this dangerous virus. But the fact that he also failed to label the attack at the Parisian kosher market where four hostages were slaughtered was a case of anti-Semitism sent exactly the wrong signal to a world that is looking to the U.S. for leadership in this struggle and getting precious little of it from this president.

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This week’s bloody events in France have shocked the civilized world. But shock and sadness are not a sufficient response from those entrusted with the responsibility to defend us against Islamist terrorism. That’s why President Obama’s initial statement in response to today’s news was so disappointing. The conspicuous absence of any acknowledgement of the motive of the terrorists or their targets made his remarks empty platitudes rather than a meaningful call for solidarity against a common enemy. The continued refusal of the president to identify Islamist ideology as the foe is undermining efforts to combat this dangerous virus. But the fact that he also failed to label the attack at the Parisian kosher market where four hostages were slaughtered was a case of anti-Semitism sent exactly the wrong signal to a world that is looking to the U.S. for leadership in this struggle and getting precious little of it from this president.

The president did well to express solidarity with France as our oldest ally as well as condemnation of the actions of the terrorists that he characterized as standing for “hatred and suffering.” But the sensible reluctance on the part of Western leaders from casting this conflict as one between all Muslims and the rest of the world is no excuse for his determination to ignore the fact that these crimes are rooted in a form of political Islam that is supported by tens if not hundreds of millions of people around the globe. Pretending that these armed killers are not connected to a worldwide movement, even as information about their connections to such groups continues to trickle out, does nothing to avoid antagonizing those who already hate Western values and culture. It also serves to help unilaterally disarm both Muslims and non-Muslims who understand that we must directly confront the corrupt and evil source of this violence within the spectrum of Islamic belief.

Just as wrongheaded was the president’s conspicuous omission of a mention of anti-Semitism.

As the president well knows, his own State Department has already labeled the increase in incidents of Jew hatred as being part of a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” throughout Europe. This trend can be traced in part to the crude Jew hatred that has become a routine element of the culture of the Muslim and Arab worlds and which has been brought to Europe by immigrants from the Middle East. Though some of this antagonism is a function of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians — a point on which European intellectual elites have made common cause with Islamists — the distinction between traditional anti-Semitism and the new variety that is tied to hostility to the Jewish state is essentially meaningless.

Not mentioning anti-Semitism when Islamist killers specifically seek out Jews to slaughter — as if anyone could possibly believe a terrorist assault on a kosher market in Paris could be mere happenstance — is more than insensitive. It is a sign that this administration does not take the many attacks on French and European Jews seriously. It is also a message to the Muslim world that the United States does not take the issue of anti-Semitic violence seriously. To his credit, French President Francois Hollande did specifically condemn the attack as an act of anti-Semitism, a statement President Obama should have echoed.

In essence, while the president rightly wishes to embrace France, the Jews there are essentially on their own as far as the U.S. is concerned.

This administration has conducted a vigorous campaign of drone attacks on terrorist targets, his eagerness to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan created a void that gave rise to ISIS even as its al-Qaeda rivals were far from destroyed as the president claimed in his re-election campaign. But his appetite for outreach and engagement has also undermined the ability of the U.S. to rally allies against Islamist radicals. His avoidance of anti-Semitism in his comments today sent the same message. More such mistakes can only encourage the very elements that the United States must defeat if it is to protect our freedom and those of other peoples.

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President Hollande’s Colonialist Solution

During Friday’s press conference with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, France’s President Francois Hollande voiced his support for the United Nations Security Council imposing a solution on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The very notion that warring sides can be forced into peace with one another is of course absurd. Presumably, a deal that had to be imposed from outside would, by its very nature, not have the full or equal endorsement of both sides. But which side might be on the receiving end of such an imposition? Who would need coercing? Well, the clue was standing to the right of the French president.

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During Friday’s press conference with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, France’s President Francois Hollande voiced his support for the United Nations Security Council imposing a solution on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The very notion that warring sides can be forced into peace with one another is of course absurd. Presumably, a deal that had to be imposed from outside would, by its very nature, not have the full or equal endorsement of both sides. But which side might be on the receiving end of such an imposition? Who would need coercing? Well, the clue was standing to the right of the French president.

A beaming Mahmoud Abbas was nodding along to what is after all an endorsement of his very own plan. It is Abbas who is now pushing for a “solution” to be imposed on Israel. But what on earth is a European leader doing getting behind such an idea? Didn’t France get the message that the days when European politicians drew the borders of other people’s countries are over?

Hollande justified his position by arguing that negotiations have dragged on too long. Well, quite. But it is obscene that he should make such a statement alongside Abbas and while endorsing Abbas’s plan. It is, after all, Abbas who has acted as a serial negotiations blocker. Most of the time Abbas simply holds up efforts to even get negotiations started, usually demanding that before he can undergo the horror of sitting down to talk with Israeli officials, he must first be paid a tribute of extortionate concessions by Israel. Once negotiations finally get going, Abbas generally wastes time until the window allotted to negotiating expires, then he demands some more concessions before he will permit the talks to be resumed.

So yes, President Hollande is correct, fruitless talks have gone on too long. And yet, from the fact that he was making this announcement during a press conference with Abbas it seems reasonable to assume that the blame was not being placed at the Palestinian door. It also seems reasonable to assume that since this entire initiative originates with Abbas, the “peace plan” will be somewhat weighted in favor of the Palestinians. The Israelis, much to their cost, have repeatedly shown a readiness to surrender territory whenever they thought there was a chance of peace and security being achieved. If they were being offered a deal that genuinely guaranteed them that, then there would be no need to enlist the UN Security Council resolutions.

Yet Abbas has never found the level playing field of bilateral negotiations to his liking. For many years now he has been championing the notion of the Palestinians forcing an Israeli retreat via international diplomacy. This, of course, would allow him to push Israel back to something close to the 1949 armistice lines—which have no weight in international law as actual borders—without Israel receiving any meaningful guarantees regarding its security. And that really is why an imposed peace is so ludicrous. Even in the event that Abbas marshaled the international community for doing his bidding and imposing an Israeli withdrawal, it is doubtful that there would be any peace. In what way would Hamas, Islamic Jihad, ISIS, Hezbollah, Iran, and the rest of its proxies be beholden to this supposed solution?

If Hollande is proposing to return to the old colonial days when countries like his imposed borders on peoples and nations living overseas, then with what army does he intended to force this peace? He can have as many votes at the UN as he likes, but he would do well to remember that it is the Israeli army that is currently sheltering UN “peace keepers” in the Golan Heights. Presumably France would recommend the sanctions route that is now so beloved by Europe, bludgeoning Israel into choosing between poverty or insecurity.

Then there is also the question of why Hollande has been prepared to go along with this plan at a time when the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the last Middle Eastern issue that a world leader ought to be expending time or energy on. Would Hollande, or any European leader, have appeared alongside Netanyahu and voiced their support for imposing a solution on the Palestinians? Of course not. This isn’t about advancing peace or fairness, this is about promoting the Palestinian cause. As a man of the European left this is a cause that Hollande no doubt sympathizes with, but there is more.

During Israel’s war with Hamas this summer, Paris saw Europe’s most violent riots as France’s North African immigrant population vented its fury over what they perceived as French support for the Jewish state. In the course of these riots the mob trapped several hundred Jews in a Paris synagogue. Yet now it is not the plight of the Jews, but rather the cause of their attackers that has been taken up by the French government in what appears to be a blatant, and no doubt ill-fated, act of appeasement.

France’s colonialist past has brought a large Arab-Muslim population to its cities. Yet that last chapter of colonialism is apparently now opening the way to a new chapter of colonialism as Hollande seeks to dictate to the Israelis what their country should look like and where their borders should lie. All with a total disregard for the mounting regional turmoil that would seek to engulf Israel at the first opportunity.

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France’s Peace Process Innovation

For the second time in two weeks, France has proven itself the most serious foreign-policy player the West currently has. First, it thwarted an abysmal nuclear deal with Iran. Now, it’s come up with the most creative idea for advancing Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy that I’ve heard in years.

Speaking in Ramallah yesterday, French President Francois Hollande essentially told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas the following: You think Israeli settlement construction is destroying prospects for a two-state solution, and therefore want it halted. I agree. But the Israelis think these prospects are being destroyed by your demand to relocate millions of Palestinians to Israel (aka the “right of return”). So why not trade concessions on the right of return for a settlement freeze?

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For the second time in two weeks, France has proven itself the most serious foreign-policy player the West currently has. First, it thwarted an abysmal nuclear deal with Iran. Now, it’s come up with the most creative idea for advancing Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy that I’ve heard in years.

Speaking in Ramallah yesterday, French President Francois Hollande essentially told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas the following: You think Israeli settlement construction is destroying prospects for a two-state solution, and therefore want it halted. I agree. But the Israelis think these prospects are being destroyed by your demand to relocate millions of Palestinians to Israel (aka the “right of return”). So why not trade concessions on the right of return for a settlement freeze?

The first innovation in this proposal is that someone in Paris actually seems to have read the Oslo Accords–a rarity among Western diplomats–and discovered that they explicitly designate settlements as a final-status issue, just like refugees; Israel has no interim obligation to stop building them. Once this is understood, it’s obvious that an unrequited settlement freeze is a nonstarter: No sane negotiator would make major, upfront, unrequited concessions on a significant final-status issue. Hollande therefore proposed a substantive trade in which both sides would make concessions on a major final-status issue.

Granted, the issues aren’t equivalent. Flooding Israel with over five million Palestinians really would render a two-state solution impossible, by turning the Jewish state into a second Palestinian one. Settlements, by contrast, don’t preclude a Palestinian state; even chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat admits that they occupy only 1.1 percent of the West Bank. But since Palestinians have repeatedly declared a settlement freeze a top priority, such a trade would give both sides something they claim to want.

And that is the even greater innovation in Hollande’s proposal: For the first time in 20 years of Israeli-Palestinian talks, a Western leader is suggesting mutual concessions instead of demanding that Israel make unilateral ones.

Contrast this with some of the Obama administration’s “peacemaking” proposals:

  • Israel should agree in advance to a border based on the 1967 lines. In other words, Israel should concede all the Palestinians’ territorial demands upfront without getting anything in exchange.
  • Israel and the PA should negotiate a deal on borders and security only, without resolving issues like Jerusalem and the refugees or ending the conflict. In other words, instead of trading territory for peace, Israel should trade territory for no peace. Moreover, it should forfeit its only bargaining chip–territory–in the first stage of negotiations, thereby leaving itself with nothing to trade for Palestinian concessions on vital issues like the refugees.
  • Israel should free 104 Palestinian murderers just so the Palestinians will deign to negotiate–a move Israeli negotiating expert Moty Cristal aptly termed paying “with hard currency for nothing.” Palestinians also temporarily halted their campaign against Israel in international agencies, but that will resume in nine months. The prisoners won’t be rearrested.

To be fair, Hollande’s proposal won’t actually bring peace any more than Obama’s ideas have, because the Palestinians aren’t willing to make any concessions: Abbas told Hollande he has no authority to deviate from the Arab League’s stance on the refugees, begging the obvious question of what the point of the current talks are if he has no power to actually negotiate.

Nevertheless, the French proposal at least acknowledges the obvious fact that peace requires concessions by both sides, not just one. And that is a necessary first step. For as long as the world keeps pandering to Palestinian rejectionism by not demanding any concessions, as the Obama administration has, the Palestinians will never have an incentive to make any.

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Will French Recognition of Syrian Rebels Convince U.S. to Act?

It is easy to lose sight of it amid the breathless, National Enquirer-style reporting on David Petraeus, John Allen, and their communications with various women, but there are other important things happening in the world. Among those events is France’s decision to recognize the new Syrian opposition council, National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as the country’s rightful government. This is an important step marking the first time that another state has extended official recognition to the Syrian rebels who have just organized, under much external prodding, this new coalition led by Sheik Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the widely respected former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. France has also said it would consider providing arms to the rebel forces.

Once again, as in Libya last year, this places France—this time under President Francois Hollande, rather than Nicolas Sarkozy—at the forefront of important events in the Middle East. President Obama and the U.S. continue to lag behind in trying to influence events in another important country, in spite of the major role played by American diplomats in helping to organize the Syrian National Coalition. That is a major problem, because there is only so much France—or other states such as Qatar and Turkey, which are eager to topple Bashar Assad—can do.

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It is easy to lose sight of it amid the breathless, National Enquirer-style reporting on David Petraeus, John Allen, and their communications with various women, but there are other important things happening in the world. Among those events is France’s decision to recognize the new Syrian opposition council, National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as the country’s rightful government. This is an important step marking the first time that another state has extended official recognition to the Syrian rebels who have just organized, under much external prodding, this new coalition led by Sheik Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the widely respected former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. France has also said it would consider providing arms to the rebel forces.

Once again, as in Libya last year, this places France—this time under President Francois Hollande, rather than Nicolas Sarkozy—at the forefront of important events in the Middle East. President Obama and the U.S. continue to lag behind in trying to influence events in another important country, in spite of the major role played by American diplomats in helping to organize the Syrian National Coalition. That is a major problem, because there is only so much France—or other states such as Qatar and Turkey, which are eager to topple Bashar Assad—can do.

Only the U.S. can organize a coalition to impose a no-fly zone and thus hasten the end of the barbarous Assad regime. If we fail to act, the humanitarian and strategic costs of the war will continue to grow—as witness recent incidents of Syrian forces directing fire near to, and sometimes over, the borders with Israel and Turkey.

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Hollande’s No Homework Pledge No Joke

My 11-year-old daughter has finally found a politician in which she can fully believe. His name isn’t Obama, Biden, Romney or Ryan. It’s Francois Hollande, president of the Republic of France. Why the affection for Hollande? This allegiance doesn’t stem from support for Hollande’s Socialist Party, as America has no greater supporter of the free enterprise system and the market economy than her. Nor is it based on this junior fashionista’s soft spot for anyone who calls Paris home. It is because he alone of all world leaders has embraced the cause that is nearest and dearest to her heart: a movement to ban homework. Last week, Hollande formally proposed that homework should be illegal. My daughter’s been telling me that every day when she gets home from school for years.

Of course, Hollande’s rationale is not the same as hers. He doesn’t care that homework eats into the time she could devote to recreational pursuits or plays havoc with her schedule on days when she has extracurricular activities or religious studies. He thinks having students doing extra work at home promotes inequality since not all kids have the same resources to aid their efforts. Instead, he wishes to have them spend more time in class where theoretically the playing field is equal. While he may claim that the intention is to help more children, this wacky proposal demonstrates everything that is wrong about the socialist mentality. Rather than seeking to further encourage individual initiative and a sense of responsibility, Hollande wants to give the government more control over education. Taking the terrible Hillary Clinton line about “it takes a village to educate a child” too much to heart, the French president wants to remove parents and caretakers from the equation and extend the state-run system’s hold on every aspect of student life. The impact of this idea, if it were adopted, would be a disaster for a French education system that ranks below most European countries as well as the United States in achievement scores.

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My 11-year-old daughter has finally found a politician in which she can fully believe. His name isn’t Obama, Biden, Romney or Ryan. It’s Francois Hollande, president of the Republic of France. Why the affection for Hollande? This allegiance doesn’t stem from support for Hollande’s Socialist Party, as America has no greater supporter of the free enterprise system and the market economy than her. Nor is it based on this junior fashionista’s soft spot for anyone who calls Paris home. It is because he alone of all world leaders has embraced the cause that is nearest and dearest to her heart: a movement to ban homework. Last week, Hollande formally proposed that homework should be illegal. My daughter’s been telling me that every day when she gets home from school for years.

Of course, Hollande’s rationale is not the same as hers. He doesn’t care that homework eats into the time she could devote to recreational pursuits or plays havoc with her schedule on days when she has extracurricular activities or religious studies. He thinks having students doing extra work at home promotes inequality since not all kids have the same resources to aid their efforts. Instead, he wishes to have them spend more time in class where theoretically the playing field is equal. While he may claim that the intention is to help more children, this wacky proposal demonstrates everything that is wrong about the socialist mentality. Rather than seeking to further encourage individual initiative and a sense of responsibility, Hollande wants to give the government more control over education. Taking the terrible Hillary Clinton line about “it takes a village to educate a child” too much to heart, the French president wants to remove parents and caretakers from the equation and extend the state-run system’s hold on every aspect of student life. The impact of this idea, if it were adopted, would be a disaster for a French education system that ranks below most European countries as well as the United States in achievement scores.

Hollande wants to expand the school week in France from four to four and a half days in order to make the idea work. That will win him no friends even with those children that despise homework.

Most kids and their parents — who are invariably drafted to help them with it — do think of homework as a burden. Some schools may overdo the load of homework but it is a vital method for reinforcing what is learned in the classroom. It also teaches students to work on their own rather than only in groups while under the thumb of their teachers.

It is true that this puts kids without parents or a proper learning environment at home at a disadvantage. But the answer to this problem is not to create a false equality by trying to dumb down students who can manage to complete their homework but by measures intended to aid those who can’t.

As the Wall Street Journal noted in an incisive editorial on the subject, Hollande’s ideas about schools molding the “citizens of the future,” tells us a lot about what kind of citizens he wants France to have.

Fortunately, most French educators and parents are opposed to this scheme, as they understand not only the benefits of homework but also the dangers of relying too heavily on state institutions to monopolize the lives of the young. While many fashions that start in Paris find their way to our shores, this is one that should be nipped in the bud in France.

Though Hollande’s proposal has set off a wave of jokes about him gaining support among those too young to vote, like my daughter, his agenda is a dangerous one. Modern social democratic parties such as his may have, at least for the moment, stepped back from an agenda of toppling capitalism but the anti-individualism aspect of his plan needs to be seen as a peril not only to education but to freedom.

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On Syria, Everyone’s Waiting for Obama

The Obama administration’s “lead from behind” foreign policy is having the same impact in Syria this year as in Libya last year: It is providing an opening for France to usurp the traditional American role as the leading outside power in the Middle East. While the bodies pile up in Syria, President Obama limits his support to the Syrian opposition to the rhetorical realm–backed up by the dispatch of a couple dozen computers.

Meanwhile French President Francois Hollande calls for the Syrian opposition to form a government as soon as possible and vows to recognize it as soon as it is created. He also speaks of creating buffer zones in Syrian territory and enforcing at least a partial no-fly zone–something that the Free Syrian Army has now called for. All of this is desperately needed to stop Bashar Assad’s ruthless killing machine, which is being aided by a substantial contingent of Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

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The Obama administration’s “lead from behind” foreign policy is having the same impact in Syria this year as in Libya last year: It is providing an opening for France to usurp the traditional American role as the leading outside power in the Middle East. While the bodies pile up in Syria, President Obama limits his support to the Syrian opposition to the rhetorical realm–backed up by the dispatch of a couple dozen computers.

Meanwhile French President Francois Hollande calls for the Syrian opposition to form a government as soon as possible and vows to recognize it as soon as it is created. He also speaks of creating buffer zones in Syrian territory and enforcing at least a partial no-fly zone–something that the Free Syrian Army has now called for. All of this is desperately needed to stop Bashar Assad’s ruthless killing machine, which is being aided by a substantial contingent of Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Yet, just as in Libya, the Europeans are unable to act effectively without Washington’s help. They lack aerial refuelers, smart munitions, drones, and other advanced intelligence and surveillance assets that are needed to take down Syria’s air defenses and to enforce a no-fly zone at scant risk to the aircraft involved. Thus as long as the U.S. refuses to act, they will be hard-pressed to do so.

Clearly the Europeans want to act to end the terrible Syrian civil war. Turkey also appears to be willing to do more–it is said to be on the verge of asking the UN Security Council to set up a safe zone for refugees inside Syria. But they are all waiting for President Obama to make a decision–something that is unlikely to happen before our presidential election. As the Washington Post points out in an editorial today, Obama has said that that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.” Yet Obama is willing to do nothing substantive to protect this supposed core interest.

The continuing massacres are the price that Syrians (and Lebanese, who are increasingly being drawn into the fray) pay for an abdication of American leadership–the same price paid by Bosnians in the early 1990s before Bill Clinton finally decided to get involved.

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Obama’s Policies in Sync with Incoming Socialist, so Proclaims the Times

In a sentence that probably reveals more than the New York Times intended, reporter Annie Lowry writes, “With the victory of the Socialist candidate, François Hollande, in the French presidential election, the White House has lost one of its closest allies on the Continent, but perhaps gained one with economic policy beliefs more closely aligned with its own.”

If a writer for COMMENTARY, National Review, or The Weekly Standard made this claim, Obama’s supporters would be enraged. This would be evidence of taking the “low road,” a calumny, a slur rarely seen in the history of presidential politics. We can all envision the head of Chris Matthews about to explode. But of course it’s not entirely clear why that should be the case. Because as the Times story makes clear, President Obama’s views are fairly closely aligned with the newly elected Socialist president of France.

Barack Obama knows it. So does the New York Times. And so should the American electorate.

 

In a sentence that probably reveals more than the New York Times intended, reporter Annie Lowry writes, “With the victory of the Socialist candidate, François Hollande, in the French presidential election, the White House has lost one of its closest allies on the Continent, but perhaps gained one with economic policy beliefs more closely aligned with its own.”

If a writer for COMMENTARY, National Review, or The Weekly Standard made this claim, Obama’s supporters would be enraged. This would be evidence of taking the “low road,” a calumny, a slur rarely seen in the history of presidential politics. We can all envision the head of Chris Matthews about to explode. But of course it’s not entirely clear why that should be the case. Because as the Times story makes clear, President Obama’s views are fairly closely aligned with the newly elected Socialist president of France.

Barack Obama knows it. So does the New York Times. And so should the American electorate.

 

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Bonne Chance, M. le President

The French have a genius for many things: food, art, couture, wine, décor among them. There is no city on earth—except my native New York—that I enjoy being in more than Paris. But not even the greatest admirers of la belle France would say the French have a genius for politics. Ever since a revolution based on liberté, égalité , fraternité produced only—in Margaret Thatcher’s memorable phrase—“a pile of corpses and a tyrant,” French politics has been, more often than not, a mess. Three kingdoms, two empires, and five republics have yet to produce long-term democratic stability of the sort the English-speaking peoples have taken for granted for generations.

Yesterday, the French electorate gave Nicolas Sarkozy the boot from the Élysée Palace and voted in François Hollande, a socialist who admits that he “doesn’t like rich people.” Sarkozy’s loss is not altogether surprising, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out this morning, because he failed to keep nearly all his election promises from five years ago.

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The French have a genius for many things: food, art, couture, wine, décor among them. There is no city on earth—except my native New York—that I enjoy being in more than Paris. But not even the greatest admirers of la belle France would say the French have a genius for politics. Ever since a revolution based on liberté, égalité , fraternité produced only—in Margaret Thatcher’s memorable phrase—“a pile of corpses and a tyrant,” French politics has been, more often than not, a mess. Three kingdoms, two empires, and five republics have yet to produce long-term democratic stability of the sort the English-speaking peoples have taken for granted for generations.

Yesterday, the French electorate gave Nicolas Sarkozy the boot from the Élysée Palace and voted in François Hollande, a socialist who admits that he “doesn’t like rich people.” Sarkozy’s loss is not altogether surprising, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out this morning, because he failed to keep nearly all his election promises from five years ago.

But Hollande wants to raise taxes on those earning more than 1,000,000 euros to 75 percent, and repeal one of Sarkozy’s few accomplishments, increasing the retirement age for young people from 60 to 62. With the French government already controlling 56 percent of the country’s GDP, Hollande wants to increase the size of France’s notorious civil service to stimulate the economy. (It’s not a coincidence that English borrowed the word bureaucrat from the French.)

Even Barack Obama, the most profligate, statist, and stimulus-mad president in American history, has urged Hollande not to abandon austerity, although White House motives might not be wholly selfless here.

It will be interesting to see if Hollande has any real choice. When François Mitterrand tried to implement a traditional socialist agenda after winning the French presidency in 1981, the currency markets tanked the French franc and forced him to back off. Thirty years on, Hollande faces many more problems than Mitterrand did: still stronger markets; the fact that France is now part of the euro system, limiting its ability to play currency games; Angela Merkel (how would you like to bring a bad report card home to her?); and the fact that France does not tax its citizens living abroad. The French expatriate community in Britain is large and will, undoubtedly, get still larger and quickly, if Hollande passes confiscatory taxes on the rich.

With the European crisis by no means at an end, the new président de la République has his work cut out for him, to put it mildly.

 

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Obama Will Miss Sarkozy’s Stand on Iran

Much of the analysis of the victory of Francois Hollande and the Socialists in the French presidential election will focus on the impact of the change in power on the European economy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will probably miss Nicolas Sarkozy more than many of his compatriots as she attempts to hold the line for a fiscal policy that will try to save Europe and the euro from being dragged down by spendthrift nations like Greece. But President Obama may wind up missing him just as much if not more.

While some American liberals may assume that President Obama’s affection for the spirit of European social democracy will put him in natural sympathy with Hollande, there is no telling whether the chemistry between them will turn out to be positive. More important than that is the fact that Sarkozy’s leadership on the issue of the Iranian nuclear threat allowed Obama, as he said of his stance on Libya, to “lead from behind.” Without Sarkozy pushing the European Union toward tough sanctions on Tehran, the West would not have gone as far as it already has toward pressuring the Iranians. With Sarkozy gone that will put more pressure on Obama to assume a leadership role as the P5+1 talks proceed this summer that he would probably prefer not to take.

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Much of the analysis of the victory of Francois Hollande and the Socialists in the French presidential election will focus on the impact of the change in power on the European economy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will probably miss Nicolas Sarkozy more than many of his compatriots as she attempts to hold the line for a fiscal policy that will try to save Europe and the euro from being dragged down by spendthrift nations like Greece. But President Obama may wind up missing him just as much if not more.

While some American liberals may assume that President Obama’s affection for the spirit of European social democracy will put him in natural sympathy with Hollande, there is no telling whether the chemistry between them will turn out to be positive. More important than that is the fact that Sarkozy’s leadership on the issue of the Iranian nuclear threat allowed Obama, as he said of his stance on Libya, to “lead from behind.” Without Sarkozy pushing the European Union toward tough sanctions on Tehran, the West would not have gone as far as it already has toward pressuring the Iranians. With Sarkozy gone that will put more pressure on Obama to assume a leadership role as the P5+1 talks proceed this summer that he would probably prefer not to take.

The assumption up until now is that President Obama was going to spend the next six months hiding behind the ongoing negotiations with Iran and allow the EU to take the lead as it has throughout this process. To the surprise of many, the Europeans have been consistently ahead of Washington when it came to doing more than talking about stopping Iran. For this, Sarkozy deserved much of the credit. But his exit will create a void on the issue that Hollande is not likely to fill even if, at least on the surface, his position is not much different from that of his predecessor.

That will leave EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is already in charge of the P5+1 talks, with a much freer hand to craft a deal that will please the ayatollahs more than President Obama. Though few believe the Iranians would actually make good on any promises made in the talks, there is a strong possibility they would be willing to agree, at least in principle, to an accord that would satisfy Europeans who are eager to back down from their threat of an oil embargo later this year. No other European leader, including a beleaguered British Prime Minister David Cameron, is likely to fill Sarkozy’s shoes on this point and stop Ashton from playing the Iranians’ game.

A deal with Iran that leaves their nuclear program intact with only promises about the export of refined uranium might be something a re-elected Obama would approve but not while he is fighting for re-election. The president has been defending the “window of diplomacy” that he thinks has opened up with Iran, but it is doubtful he would want to defend a flawed or weak deal with Tehran on the campaign trail. It would serve his purposes far better for Ashton to keep talking than to be faced with her acceptance of something that he would be hard pressed to justify to the American public. If that happens, it will be Obama who is left holding the bag on a diplomatic disaster and ruing the day the French electorate sent Sarkozy packing.

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Hollande Win Will Boost Anti-Israel Left

The head of the CRIF, the head of the umbrella group representing French Jewry, is coming under criticism for saying a victory for Socialist Party presidential candidate Francois Hollande is a potential disaster for Israel. Richard Prasquier stated in an opinion column published last week in Haaretz that anti-Israel elements within the Socialist Party will be able to exert disproportionate influence in a Hollande administration.

While Prasquier said Hollande had expressed friendship for Israel, he left little doubt that the strong ties between the Jewish community and incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy left some Jews worried about the consequences if the polls are right and the Socialist wins on Sunday. Of special concern was the fact that while Sarkozy has been the most ardent European opponent of a nuclear Iran, Hollande is untested on the issue and will govern with the support of leftist foes of Israel who will play a large role in his government.

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The head of the CRIF, the head of the umbrella group representing French Jewry, is coming under criticism for saying a victory for Socialist Party presidential candidate Francois Hollande is a potential disaster for Israel. Richard Prasquier stated in an opinion column published last week in Haaretz that anti-Israel elements within the Socialist Party will be able to exert disproportionate influence in a Hollande administration.

While Prasquier said Hollande had expressed friendship for Israel, he left little doubt that the strong ties between the Jewish community and incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy left some Jews worried about the consequences if the polls are right and the Socialist wins on Sunday. Of special concern was the fact that while Sarkozy has been the most ardent European opponent of a nuclear Iran, Hollande is untested on the issue and will govern with the support of leftist foes of Israel who will play a large role in his government.

While Prasquier has landed in hot water for his candor, there’s little doubt he was telling the truth. Though there is probably little difference between the views of Sarkozy — who is well-known for his dislike of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — about the moribund Middle East peace process, Sarkozy’s leadership on Iran will be missed if he loses. Without Sarkozy pushing the West to make good on its threat of an oil embargo of Iran, it is entirely possible that European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will have the leeway to make an unsatisfactory deal with the Iranians that will not resolve the problem but will spike plans for stepped up sanctions.

Just as telling is Prasquier’s description of France’s political alignment:

The main question that arises for the Jewish community, if François Hollande becomes the president of France, is the influence that might be exerted by those Socialist leaders who have negative views towards Israel’s policies. Beyond the Socialists, but still in Hollande’s camp, are the leftist parties and the Greens who express a deep hostility towards Israel and are at the forefront of every anti-Israel demonstration, declaration and petition. The fact that Jean Luc Melenchon, the charismatic leader of the renewed Communist party, only managed a disappointing 11 percent result, might well reduce its impact on French foreign policy, but I expect a surge in leftist and Communist manifestations of anti-Zionism.

Tellingly, Prasquier plays down the influence of Marine Le Pen’s far right party that did so well in the first round of the French elections. Though support for a grouping that has been a font of anti-Semitism isn’t good news, he rightly points out that it is not the National Front that is French Jewry’s biggest problem these days. As the recent terrorist attack in Toulouse illustrated, the Jews have more to fear from radical Islamists and Israel-haters than the traditional anti-Semitism of the old French right which has little influence on the government. But if the anti-Zionists of the left regain influence, prospects for good relations between France and Israel as well as for French support for stopping Iran will decrease. Given Hollande’s lead in the polls, it appears Prasquier’s fears will soon be put to the test.

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Sarkozy’s Defeat Might be a Victory for Iran

For Americans, picking favorites in French elections is a difficult task. The political combat between the inheritors of Charles De Gaulle’s centrist faction, the socialists and their more marginal foes on both the right and the left generally leaves Americans cold in a way that the equally remote battles of Conservatives and Laborites in Britain does not. Though Americans may have viewed Nicolas Sarkozy with more affection than his predecessor Jacques Chirac — whose opposition to American foreign policy inspired intense hostility on these shores — it isn’t likely that his departure from the Elysee Palace would generate much grief here. But the French election will have a not insignificant influence on a number of issues that are important to Americans. As Seth noted, Sarkozy’s defeat would be a blow to the joint effort he undertook with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to promote an austerity-first fiscal approach that would save the Eurozone. But the triumph of Francois Hollande and the Socialists might have an even bigger impact on the ability of the West to present a united front to Iran.

Sarkozy may share President Obama’s antipathy for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is also true that France’s stance on Middle East peace under his administration has been no more helpful than it might be under the Socialists. However, Sarkozy has been a stalwart opponent of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, often getting far ahead of the United States on the issue and helping to buttress the shaky determination of the European Union to take a firm stand. As Tony Karon points out in Time Magazine, it is almost a certainty that Hollande would not be interested in staking out such a tough position or using his influence to keep the EU in line on the matter.

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For Americans, picking favorites in French elections is a difficult task. The political combat between the inheritors of Charles De Gaulle’s centrist faction, the socialists and their more marginal foes on both the right and the left generally leaves Americans cold in a way that the equally remote battles of Conservatives and Laborites in Britain does not. Though Americans may have viewed Nicolas Sarkozy with more affection than his predecessor Jacques Chirac — whose opposition to American foreign policy inspired intense hostility on these shores — it isn’t likely that his departure from the Elysee Palace would generate much grief here. But the French election will have a not insignificant influence on a number of issues that are important to Americans. As Seth noted, Sarkozy’s defeat would be a blow to the joint effort he undertook with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to promote an austerity-first fiscal approach that would save the Eurozone. But the triumph of Francois Hollande and the Socialists might have an even bigger impact on the ability of the West to present a united front to Iran.

Sarkozy may share President Obama’s antipathy for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is also true that France’s stance on Middle East peace under his administration has been no more helpful than it might be under the Socialists. However, Sarkozy has been a stalwart opponent of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, often getting far ahead of the United States on the issue and helping to buttress the shaky determination of the European Union to take a firm stand. As Tony Karon points out in Time Magazine, it is almost a certainty that Hollande would not be interested in staking out such a tough position or using his influence to keep the EU in line on the matter.

Though the EU push for negotiations with Iran may be a doubtful strategy, it must be conceded that, although Tehran may intend to use the P5+1 talks to run out the clock, Sarkozy’s approach to the issue has been largely exemplary in his devotion to ensuring the nuclear threat is ended by any agreement. As Karon points out, without Sarkozy, the dynamic within the EU will change for the worse:

Sarkozy has been the leading voice of skepticism over negotiations among Western leaders, and he has taken the lead in pressing both the Obama administration and European governments to adopt the sanctions targeting Iran’s energy exports and banking sector that have had a painful impact on the Iranian economy. Britain supports France’s zero-enrichment demand, but hasn’t been quite as activist in promoting it. London is also more likely, analysts say, to go along with the consensus if Western powers can fashion an interim deal that offers concrete progress in reinforcing barriers to Iran using its nuclear program to create weapons, even if that leaves the issue of Iran’s ongoing enrichment to 3.5 percent unresolved for now. A nuclear compromise involving steps to diminish the danger of weaponization in the near term, but which leaves Iran with the capacity to enrich uranium and at the same time eases international pressure on Tehran, is precisely what the Israelis fear right now. And Sarkozy, while rejecting Israel’s threat to take military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, could be more willing to push back against a compromise on the enrichment issue than Hollande would be.

Sarkozy’s departure would come at a crucial time in the talks. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s obvious interest in making the dispute disappear without an Iranian surrender needs to be balanced by strong opposition from France.

All this means the May 6 French runoff may be just as important for Israel, the United States and Iran as it is for France.

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French-German Rift Puts Voters and Markets On Edge

The dominoes continue to fall. The deepening of the Eurozone economic crisis claimed the sitting governments of Greece and then of Italy, and the biggest domino yet–French President Nicolas Sarkozy–trailed French socialist Francois Hollande after the first round of voting during the weekend. As the French political class began preparing this morning for the upcoming runoff between Hollande and Sarkozy, they were greeted with the expected news of the collapse of the Dutch government.

This latest is the most significant for France, if only because the Netherlands was generally supportive of the austerity-first budget strategy promoted by Germany and backed by Sarkozy. But the political currents began pulling the French president as well, who was sufficiently spooked by the events of the past week, as the Wall Street Journal reports:

Following the weekend political developments in France and the Netherlands, the German-inspired fiscal pact, agreed by Eurozone leaders in Brussels in December, could also be delayed or thrown into question.

In a U-turn from his earlier stance, Mr. Sarkozy has used recent campaign rallies to call for changing the course of Eurozone policies to ensure they are also designed to stimulate growth.

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The dominoes continue to fall. The deepening of the Eurozone economic crisis claimed the sitting governments of Greece and then of Italy, and the biggest domino yet–French President Nicolas Sarkozy–trailed French socialist Francois Hollande after the first round of voting during the weekend. As the French political class began preparing this morning for the upcoming runoff between Hollande and Sarkozy, they were greeted with the expected news of the collapse of the Dutch government.

This latest is the most significant for France, if only because the Netherlands was generally supportive of the austerity-first budget strategy promoted by Germany and backed by Sarkozy. But the political currents began pulling the French president as well, who was sufficiently spooked by the events of the past week, as the Wall Street Journal reports:

Following the weekend political developments in France and the Netherlands, the German-inspired fiscal pact, agreed by Eurozone leaders in Brussels in December, could also be delayed or thrown into question.

In a U-turn from his earlier stance, Mr. Sarkozy has used recent campaign rallies to call for changing the course of Eurozone policies to ensure they are also designed to stimulate growth.

The blame game has commenced, with predictable parameters. The Journal’s editorial notes that because Sarkozy’s chances for success in the runoff election hinge on his ability to woo right-wing voters who supported neither Hollande nor Sarkozy in the first round, his “appeal will probably include a combination of anti-immigration riffs and more attacks on the European Central Bank (which has become the modern French substitute for running against the Germans).” The feeling is mutual, writes Mathieu von Rohr for Der Spiegel:

This election is a referendum on Sarkozy’s presidency…. His first-round result is poor, as was expected — Sarkozy is the first incumbent in the Fifth Republic who didn’t win the first round. It is an expression of the almost physical revulsion that many people feel for him.

If there’s any immediate relevance for President Obama’s reelection campaign, it’s that he probably cannot afford a Eurozone collapse or another serious financial crisis in Europe. A big question will be how the markets react and how nervous they get. In February, global markets rose on just the expectations that a Greek deal was imminent. In the near-term, this week’s events won’t calm anyone’s nerves, and the markets today predictably signaled their discontent. Long-term, a French-German split would likely be a headache for everyone on both sides of the Atlantic.

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