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Ségolène Royal, the Middle East and French politics

by Jerome a Paris Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 07:59:41 AM EST

Ségolène Royal has yet again managed to upstage Nicolas Sarkozy in the French media this week, with a quite remarkable trip to the Middle East, where she was welcomed like a head of State in Israel, while meeting Mahmoud Abbas, visiting the UN forces in South Lebanon and meeting with various representatives of the Lebanese political forces.

A polemic about the Hezbollah member of the Lebanese delegation which compared Israelis to nazis has turned to her advantage in France, emphasizing the panic in the Srakozy camp more than anything else; meanwhile, her very strong declaration against Iran getting access to any nuclear technology (even for civilian uses as allowed for under the NPT) has managed to wrongfoot Sarkozy once more.


Her trip to the Middle East, initially organised as a short trip to Lebanon, was changed at the last minute into a 5-day tour of the region, including visits to most parties. Everywhere, she was welcomed with the highest protocol and got to meet the most senior people. In Israel, she met with Ehud Olmert, as well as, separately, with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense and such attentions have undoubtedly boosted her credibility on international affairs.

When meeting the Lebanese delegation in Beyruth on Friday, a Hezbollah representative was present, Ali Ammar, who started speaking in Arabic and criticized the "sionist entity" and its occupation of Lebanon, which he compared to the nazi occupation of France. Ségolène Royal did not react to these words immediately as, it transpired later, they were translated to the journalists (by one interpreter) but not to her (by another interpreter) - this was confirmed by the French ambassador to Israel and by others. On the next day, she stated that she had not heard these words, that she would have left the room if she had heard them (the Ambassador stated the same thing), but she wanted in any case to talk to all parties. That triggered violent criticism by the French right, blaming her silence, calling it "shocking", and calling her a lightweight. Douste-Blazy, the French Foreign Minister (of 'weren't English jews expelled to Germany' fame) warned against her "simplistic" declarations.

But the lack of reaction by Israelis themselves to this supposed incident, and the obvious ridicule of Douste-Blazy giving any lesson on this topic, combined with the obvious care the Israelis took to receive her well, combined to make these criticisms appear as shallow politicking and backfire. The immediate commentary was that Sarkozy was panicking to see yet another supposed weakness of Royal being contradicted by highly visible facts.

Royal then struck the coup de grâce with her declarations confirming her earlier words during the socialist primary that she was against Iranian having any nuclear capacity, including civilian. While that position is not in line with what is allowed under the NPT, it embarrasses yet again Sarkozy, who has tried to appear as modern and straight-talking by taking a pro-American and pro-Israeli stance, something supposedly not fashionable and not popular in France. By taking an even tougher line on this topic, Royal takes away that argument from Sarkozy, makes it hard to criticize her (does the right really want to snipe at her for being tough?) and takes center stage yet again.

Interestingly, her position, while friendly to the Israelis, is not necessarily rigid, as she is favorable to direct talks with Syria, and has also spoken publicly, when meeting Abbas, for European funds payments to be resumed to the Palestinian Authority.

Sarkozy is also pissed off because he thinks that Chirac did everything to help Royal organise her trip (by putting Ministry of Foreign Affairs personnel and Embassies at her disposal), and because she was greeted with enthusiasm by the French military within the FINUL forces in Lebanon (as a daughter and sister of military officers, she received VIP treatment, and was allowed to fly to South Lebanon to meet with the military brass).

Some will conclude simplistically that Royal is rightwing, something which is belied by her actions and politics in the past 25 years (not to mention her strong feminism, which is not often flagged in the media, but which is very real, and repeatedly mentioned by her in her speeches). But she has so far managed to destroy the ability of the right to paint her as a naive lefty by taking highly visible and controversial stances on issues usually associated with the right - and thus capturing values like law and order but coloring them with lefty tones like fairness and justice (her slogan is "order juste, fair order). As a strategy to reconquer the lower classes that had been effectively abandoned by the left to the benefit of Jean Marie Le Pen, it seems so far to be working.

Just like her partner François Hollande, Ségolène Royal has been repeatedly underestimated by people around her in the past, and she has taken advantage of this - and she has won some tough elections. The area where she was elected as socialist MP was a rural, conservative district (just like Hollande's) and in 2004 she beat the then current Prime Minister in his regional stronghold to become the first female president of a region.

The campaign is going to be interesting...

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Oh goodie, she's a Democrat.

Sounds like she's going to be a foreign policy nightmare then, if only to avoid looking "weak".

Oh well, better than the alternative I guess.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 08:08:21 AM EST
That's exactly what she sounds like.

Progressive on social issues but a "muscular" foreign policy.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 08:22:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Democrats are progressive on social issues?

Ok, true, some of them are on many, but not all, and not most.

by redstar on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 08:27:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Sounds like she's going to be a foreign policy nightmare then, if only to avoid looking "weak".

I don't see it that way. She has killed the "weak" meme from the start, without really fleshing any policies where it matters. The Iran stunt costs little to anybody in terms of actual diplomacy, but is very hard to criticize. And then she can support help to Palestinians and other sensible positions without being accused.

I see her as capturing the symbolism of toughness, without the actual policies, while Sarkozy has done the opposite and is now appearing as a quasi-fascist prick (which is deserved, of course).

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 08:24:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But the weak meme will always reassert itself: she's a she and a leftie, so she's going to be fighting it all the time. Either she means the Iran stunt or she's spinning for the campaign, and she'll spin for the next one when/if she's in office.

You're beginning to sound rather like the hopeful Democrats in the US: "she's just saying that to get elected, she'll be fine when she's in office". It seldom seems to wash out that way.

I hope you're right.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 09:00:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, Sarkozy is really destabilised right now, and Le Pen lurks not far below the surface.

If she is a Democrats, she's at least a gutsy, successful one, so far. And her actual policies, while in power (in the government or in her region), are genuinely to the left.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 09:03:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think she means the Iran stunt, but we could imagine that she means it like this:

"I am against Iran pursuing civil nuclear energy ..."

Ok so far this is what she's said ... now let's add the following:

"... on its own, but am in favour of French companies being called to build and manage the reactors".

by glomp on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 03:24:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You are seeing this too much in a domestic context. I think Ségo just diminished willingness to listen to French and European positions in the Middle East significantly.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 10:43:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why?

France has always had a pretty tough line on Iran anyway.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 10:53:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because of the Hizbullah incident, or her Iranian line, or both?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 12:35:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Both, but primarily the second.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 05:02:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
her very strong declaration against Iran getting access to any nuclear technology (even for civilian uses as allowed for under the NPT)

Okay, so is Segolene ready to unsign the NPT, or what?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 08:21:33 AM EST
It's hard for us policy wonks to admit it, but she is running a campaign, and she is finding interesting ways to take controversial but ultimately harmless policy positions that yield very real political gains.

I'm personally impressed, and I don't see anything in her positions that cannot be worked upon in practice once in power.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 08:29:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Someone [a journalist or another candidate in a debate] could well challenge her to assert a coherent position on the NPT.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 08:33:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It could be simple: Iran formally has that right, but as they have repeatedly behaved in suspicious ways, it is unreasonable to trust them right now and we should do all we can to prevent them from putting their hands on that technology for now.

It's coherent, it's simple, it appears tough, but it does not prevent future breakthroughs in negotiations if Iranians "show good faith", something you can decide at any time.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 08:35:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So if politics is no longer about policy, where is policy supposed to come from?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 08:34:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why do you say that it is no longer about policy?

She has tons of policies an various subjects. But by preempting the debate on her supposed weaknesses, she kills these, which will allow her to be able to promote her actual policies without then being victim of diversions on these weaknesses.

For instance, if she proposes to increase social budgets, and to reinforce prevention rather than repression by police, and to create more jobs in schools to help out, people will still remember that she wants to send the bad boys to military camp and won't see these lefty policies as "indulging the parasites"...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 08:39:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We'll loan you James Baker!

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 02:54:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Eek!

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 04:23:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The really sad thing is that for us he is an improvement.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 05:15:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe someone will ask her if France is obligated to honour the treaties it has signed, specifically the NPT which allows Iran to have nuclear power for peaceful purposes. Or hasn't France signed that treaty? If not, ask her if it should. Or is it planning to pull out? Oh my. I'll dispense with the standard reference to her U.S. counterpart who plays the same game: go the right one worse. That will eventually lead to misunderstanding and gridlock. But what is the alternative then?
by Quentin on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 08:51:44 AM EST
http://www.eurotrib.com/comments/2006/12/6/75941/9227/9

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 09:04:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Your comment seems reasonable enough. I wonder, though, if that's what she might really be thinking: Iran can have it if it plays by the rules. The way you put it she seems simply to be 'against'. It's not going to work, though, one way or the other. Something has to be given to Iran in return. And I don't mean trinkets in the globalization sense of we'll buy your junk and you can buy ours.
by Quentin on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 10:32:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/12/6/9533/89286
with small adjustments. Support still appreciated.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 09:35:02 AM EST
You're more forgiving than me. Given the very pointed exclusion of you from even being considered for front-paging, in your place I'd be very conspicuous by my absence for a while.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 10:16:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was never going to be a front pager there, the site has simply become too prominent and having a foreigner be the voice of it would be a source of endless diversion.

The announcement could have been done in a nicer way, and after the actual vote of the community, but otherwise the decisions is not wrong.

Plus Devilstower was chosen; together with Meteor Blades, that 2 of the 3 of the original crew of Energize America that are on the 'staff', and Devilstower told me that, contrary to perception, there's a lot of work behind the scenes on the site to get the "policy communities" cranking.

So I still hope to have some influence via this. Plus now I'm free to be controversial!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 10:58:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, true enough but, as you admit, it could have been done more diplomatically.

He was very blunt to the point of being dismissive about you (and letting everybody know he was talking about you personally) and I think that was what rankled. I understand the logic of needing the lead voices to be American but, at best, he was extremely careless about allowing it to appear as a personal slight.

And yea, they could really do with some policy stuff to work on and get worked up about. Bush bashing has got old now the new houses are in, so they're either gonna drown in presidential '08 hypothesizing or spend the next two years bitching about the dems/hilary/obama etc

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 12:10:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Quite frankly, I think Jerome is a bit too authentically left for American tastes.

Oh, he is beloved when he writes to liberal America's prejudices with respect to the envirnoment and energy policy, but nearly every time he writes about socio-economic policy or poverty matters, it's quite another thing over there.

Let's face it, it's a center-right site for partisans of a center-right political party, and now that those Democratic partisans have apparently been delivered from the evil of Dubya, the site is quickly devolving into the partisan hackery it already was somewhat prone to.

It's too bad, but it is what it is.

by redstar on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 12:40:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, he is beloved when he writes to liberal America's prejudices with respect to the envirnoment and energy policy, but nearly every time he writes about socio-economic policy or poverty matters, it's quite another thing over there.
On the famous hunger in NYC thread, I had the following exchange:
Good, why not go back to writing about positives

then?

Write about energy.

Inspire people to do something about it.

...

Write about energy?

Poor Jerome, you guys have pigeonholed him into a narrow role and every time he steps out of his little box or says something off-message he gets wacked over the head.

by Migeru

He googled problems, why not google solutions?

That's what's so off-key about his diary today.

...



Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 01:15:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, I saw that and got a chuckle.
by redstar on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 03:10:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are quite a few of us who very much appreciate Jerome.  With tens of thousands of users there are many who are centerists and center-rightists, but dkos is really where the fight needs to be had.  There are many who try to move the whole damn thing in a progressive direction.

We haven't been released from the W thralldom yet, and we are at best at the end of the beginning of a move back toward respectability.

I'm interested to see how many European governments fall due to their cooperation with the ghost flights.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson

by NearlyNormal on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 03:06:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"I'm interested to see how many European governments fall due to their cooperation with the ghost flights."

None!

We ain't in the 60's and 70's.

by Euroliberal on Thu Dec 7th, 2006 at 07:17:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sadly, you're right

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Dec 7th, 2006 at 07:18:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My most polemic diaries have also been those that were recommended by the most people - a sign, in my view, of latent frustration by a number of people, and something that can be used to bring forward some "subversive" ideas.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 03:12:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Has someone detailed why they find the Hezbollah minister's comment outrageous?

I mean, the only part where the occupation of France was worse than that of Lebanon was the extermination of the Jews, in which the Vichy authorities and French gendarmes participated. I wonder how that was spun especially on the Right.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 10:47:07 AM EST
You're not allowed compare Israel to the Nazis. It's against the rules for some reason or the other.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 10:48:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Laurent GUERBY on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 02:16:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Merci pour ce lien particulièrement édifiant.

A must read if you can read French.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 03:11:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unfortunately too long to translate.

Essentially, he says the Hizbullah incident was, if not fabricated, greatly exaggerated after the fact in order to teach Royal and her people a lesson: if you think you can go around the Near East meeting people you shouldn't (however democratically elected, think Hizbullah, Hamas), you are just bound to step on an "anti-semitism" landmine. Even if you don't, there are those (the blogger suspects the Hariri-Chirac camp and also strongly alludes to Walid Jumblatt) who will make sure the mine you didn't step on blows up in your face anyway.

So, though Royal met Hizbullah, she didn't go on to meet Hamas. Mission accomplished.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 03:50:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And at least she did better than Jospin who got stoned (with stones, not joints) the last time he was in Lebanon.
by glomp on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 03:51:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As Jerome analyzed, the blow comes to the right because no one in Israel moved a finger (and french people noticed), she got positivelly front-paged in major Israel newspaper, met lots of political leaders in Israel (mutually avantageous since there's a big political fight in Israel right now so local politicians jumped on this occasion).
by Laurent GUERBY on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 04:03:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow. I agree with your characterisation. Thanks for the link.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 04:57:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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