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Colossal blunder: Sarkozy style diplomacy in Tunisia

by Bernard Sun Feb 20th, 2011 at 02:14:37 PM EST

One thing that struck me with the Wikileaks cables, is the overall good quality of the analysis -- regardless what you think of their orientation --  showing in general a high level of professionalism among the US diplomatic corps.

There was a time when the French diplomats too were reputed for the quality of their work and the networks they were setting all over the globe. However in recent years, career diplomats are increasingly being replaced with yes-men or people who have no higher qualification than being close to the French president and his ruling party.

Case in point: Remember the colossal blunder of previous French ambassador in Tunisia, Pierre Ménat?

At the height of the "jasmine revolution", on Friday January 13, Ambassador Ménat famously sent a diplomatic cable to Paris, stating that Ben Ali had "retaken the situation in hand".

A mere couple of hours later Ben Ali and his clan were fleeing to Saudi Arabia...

Sarkozy was unsurprisingly angry after Ménat who was recalled a few days later.

After such a gaffe, you'd think President Sarkozy would be careful in replacing him with an experienced diplomat who would spare no efforts to continue good relations with Tunisia and generally behave, well, diplomatic.

You'd be wrong.

Tunisians protest outside French embassy - want ambassador out - Monsters and Critics

Tunis/Paris - Several hundred Tunisians protested outside the French embassy in capital Tunis on Saturday demanding that the new ambassador be replaced.

Ambassador Boris Boillon, 41, a confidant of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, only arrived in Tunis a few days back. But the protesters demanded that he be recalled for his allegedly insulting behaviour towards a journalist.

At a meeting with media representatives, Boillon was initially very courteous and also spoke at times in Arabic. But he was reportedly abrupt with a journalist who asked him about France's attitude in the face of the Tunisian revolution. A video of this encounter rapidly spread on the internet.

Here's an extract of Ambassador Boilon's encounter with the Tunisian press (in French):

If you are familiar with the way Nicolas Sarkozy interacts with French journalists, you won't be surprised by Mr Boillon -- "a confidant of French President Nicolas Sarkozy" -- emulating his mentor's both aggressive and dismissive style with the members of the press.

This agressive style however, didn't go down too well in Tunisia: hundreds of protesters were gathered in front of the French embassy, shouting "dégage!" (scat!) and demanding the Sarko-boy's immediate "return to sender". A placard was even showing Sarkozy's famous "Casse toi pauvre con" (piss off, you jerk) from 2008 -- yes the Tunisians watch French TV.

Pretty good for a first day on the job, huh?

Boillon, who was previously posted in Iraq and speaks Arabic fluently, promptly apologized on national Tunisian TV (French translation here):

In any case, the new ambassador has his work cut out for him and a few fences to mend.

After last summer's cabinet reshuffle, Sarkozy's message was that he was now surrounded with "professionals" and focusing on his duties, with the next presidential elections a year away. Instead, we have seen an accumulation of gaffes -- this episode was just the latest in a long series.

The whole thing will be presented as an unfortunate (and isolated) incident; but it is the logical consequence of exporting Sarko-style of communication to the South of the Mediterranean.

What Sarko and his boys failed to notice however, was that "the South" has changed.

Update [2011-2-21 17:19:34 by Bernard]: Feb. 21, 2011:

And the hits keep on coming...

Another embarrassing video for the newly appointed French ambassador in Tunis. Last November on French TV, our Sarko-boy was indulging in a passionate plea for ... Muammar Gaddafi (who calls him "My son") (!), a man who "has made some mistakes".

And also a small sampling of what the Tunisian people think of Mr Boillon (with pictures!). How long before he's sent back to Paris?

The French diplomacy has become a slow motion train wreck...

Initially started as a comment, then expanded into a diary.
by Bernard on Sun Feb 20th, 2011 at 02:16:31 PM EST
He was amazingly stupid and incapable of self-control. But comment by the journalist doing a portrait of him on this evening's (public TV France 2) news was: "This is the new generation of diplomats".

Oh, of course, a personal friend of Sarko's.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Feb 20th, 2011 at 02:44:36 PM EST
Yep, the bar has been dramatically lowered in recent years. In the past century, the Foreign Affairs were the home of very talented people.

Now being a FoN (Friend of Nicolas) is the prime requirement. But it's when you imitate the boss's style that the trouble begins.

by Bernard on Sun Feb 20th, 2011 at 04:18:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Daniel Schneidermann this morning comments on Boillon's behaviour with the Tunisian journalists, and links it to the amazing saga of MAM, (Michèle Alliot-Marie, still French Minister for Foreign Affairs) - who took a Tunisian break at Christmas when protests had already begun (but she said they hadn't, and anyway, "when I'm on holiday I'm not the Minister of Foreign Affairs", sic), and just happened to meet a businessman who had nothing to do with Ben Ali and the Trabelsi clan (except that he made his fortune with them), and innocently accepted his offer of a ride in his private jet to the hotel where she would be staying (happening to belong to the businessman), and accepted another joyride in his jet (but she had already told the media there was also an "excursion"), and just happened to speak for an undisclosed number of minutes with Ben Ali on the phone while she was there (presumably a friendly chat, since she wasn't Foreign Affairs Minister, being on holiday at that point), and who offered Ben Ali French police support (but it was to train Tunisian police officers not to fire on the crowds), and now that it is established that she was travelling with her partner (Minister for Parliamentary Relations in the same government) and her aged parents (her father, former député and mayor of Biarritz, with whom her own political career was long associated) in fact in order to meet the businessman and sign a contract with him by which the MAM parents took control of a Tunisian property holding company in a move that could well be construed as tax avoidance on the succession, says she will not allow her poor aged parents' private lives to be publicly dragged through the mud in this abominable fashion.

So Daniel Schneidermann guesses that Boillon's outburst against Tunisian journalists was caused by questions about this noble lady...

Arrêt sur images - Boillon, ses hôtes, et l'HistoireBoillon, his hosts, and History
Il est très vraisemblable que c'est une question sur les vacances de fin d'année de MAM, qui l'a fait trébucher. Sans doute les confrères tunisiens ont-ils été polis. Peut-être même, très poliment, n'ont-ils pas prononcé le mot "mensonges" à propos de MAM. Il est peu probable qu'ils aient listé ses mensonges à répétition, même si évidemment ils en connaissent sur le bout des doigts la liste complète, maintenant que Le Canard est en vente libre à Tunis. Peu importe. Boillon ne répond rien, car il n'y a rien à répondre. Les vacances de MAM sont injustifiables. Ses mensonges sont injustifiables. L'arrogance apparente de Boillon est l'image exacte de l'impasse dans laquelle se trouve la diplomatie française, sur les révolutions arabes, après des décennies de complaisance, et des semaines d'aveuglement. Dans cette impasse, nous sommes, dans la meilleure des hypothèses, pour de longues années. Et cette impasse ne comporte, avec ce président, avec ce Premier ministre, avec cette ministre des Affaires Etrangères, strictement aucune issue. Chaque gesticulation française resserre le filet sur notre diplomatie, rajoutant une erreur à une faute, une grossièreté à une stupidité.It's very likely that it was a question about MAM's Christmas holiday that tripped him up. No doubt the Tunisian journalists were polite. Perhaps, even, very politely, they didn't pronounce the word "lies" wrt MAM. It's unlikely they listed her repeated lies, even though they obviously know them all by heart, now the Canard Enchaîné is freely on sale in Tunis. Never mind. Boillon doesn't reply, because there is nothing to reply. MAM's holiday is unjustifiable. Her lies are unjustifiable. The apparent arrogance of Boillon is the exact image of the impass French diplomacy is in, re the Arab revolutions, after decades of complicity, and weeks of blindness. We are in this impass, taking the best scenario, for years to come. And there will be no way out od this impass with this president, with this PM, with this Foreign Secretary. Each French gesticulation tightens the net around our diplomacy, adding mistake to misdeed, vulgarity to stupidity.
La jouant amical et décomplexé avec ses hôtes, Boillon croit pouvoir instaurer avec eux le jeu habituel des connivences et des rapports de force. Se fût-il comporté aussi grossièrement avec des journalistes français, l'affaire n'aurait certainement pas pris ces proportions. (...) Mais Boillon n'a pas pris conscience qu'il parle aux journalistes d'un pays révolutionnaire. Ces réponses sur MAM et le reste, ils les exigent, et ils les re-poseront tant qu'ils ne les auront pas. Que les Tunisiens décident simplement de maintenir, chaque jour, leurs manifestations devant l'ambassade et il ne faudra pas quinze jours à Sarkozy pour, la queue basse, rappeler Boillon à Paris. Et les Tunisiens le savent. Entre Boillon et ses hôtes, l'Histoire a creusé un fossé infranchissable.By acting friendly and straightforward with his hosts, Boillon thought he could set up with them the usual game of complicity and power relations. If he'd behaved as rudely with French journalists, the affair wouldn't have taken on this importance. (...) But Boillon didn't realize he was talking to the journalists of a revolutionary country. These answers about MAM and so on, they really want them, and they'll go on asking questions until they get them. The Tunisians only have to decide to keep their demonstrations going every day in front of the embassy and it won't take a fortnight for Sarkozy, tail between his legs, to call Boillon back to Paris. And the Tunisians know it. Between Boillon and his hosts, History has dug an uncrossable ditch.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Feb 21st, 2011 at 04:39:42 AM EST
Couldn't happen to a nicer person. Just a pity that this cock-up will reflect poorly not only on Sarko but on his (hopefully less incompetent and corrupt) successor, and on Europeans in general.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Feb 21st, 2011 at 04:59:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes. Europe, for Tunisians, is first and foremost France.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Feb 21st, 2011 at 05:33:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm still embarrassed by Europe's actions in relation to Algeria in the 1990s.

Keynesianism is intellectually hard, as evidenced by the inability of many trained economists to get it - Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 21st, 2011 at 05:45:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
of press conference.

Snotty journalist asks embarassing question. Chirac snaps back : "Ah, that's just the sort of question I'd expect from a young journalist who still shits in his nappies and wanks off in the corner all the better to whitewash the walls!"

This being an unprintable response, it's nothing more than a rather theatrical, and intimidating, way of saying "No comment".

Boillon tried to pull that stunt. It didn't work because

  1. Tunisian journalists are no longer taking any shit from anybody, and
  2. Boillon is nobody, anyway.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Mon Feb 21st, 2011 at 07:59:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why is that an unprintable response? If the man said it, at a press conference no less, then he can't object to people quoting it.

Really, if newsies want politicians to stop shitting all over their faces, they have to stop saying "thank you" and coming back for more.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Feb 21st, 2011 at 11:28:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
New episode in MAM's family outing: the weekly Tunis Hebdo states that, on 27/12/10, MAM met with Tunisian Interior Minister Rafik Hadj Kacem and the chief of the Presidential Guard Ali Seriati:

MAM en Tunisie (suite) : a-t-elle vu les chefs de la répression ? | Rue89MAM in Tunisia (cont'd): Did she meet the heads of repression? : Rue89
« Une réunion a donc eu lieu le 27 décembre à 11 heures dans le salon d'honneur de l'hôtel Tabarka Beach entre les trois personnages. Cette réunion secrète dure deux heures durant lesquelles Hadj Kacem et Seriati tentent de convaincre, par tous les moyens, l'ancienne ministre de l'Intérieur qu'elle fut, de les aider afin de mater la "rébellion". [...]Tunis Hebdo: "So a meeting took place on the 27 December at 11 am in the prestige lounge of the Tabarka Beach Hotel between the three persons. This secret meeting lasted for two hours during which Hadj Kacem and Seriati tried, by all means, to convince the Interior Minister that she had been, to help them put down the "rebellion" [...]
C'est au cours de cet entretien secret que MAM, sous la "pression" d'Ali Seriati, a fini par s'entretenir téléphoniquement avec Ben Ali. De quoi ont-ils parlé ? Nul ne le sait, à part le président déchu, Nicolas Sarkozy et elle. »In the course of these secret talks MAM, pressured by Ali Seriati, ended up speaking on the phone with Ben Ali. What did they talk about? No one knows, apart from the fallen president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and her."
Cette conversation téléphonique avec Ben Ali, la ministre avait fini par la reconnaître. Mais le ministère des Affaires étrangères n'est pas en mesure de nous en communiquer la date exacte.In the end, the minister admitted having held this phone conversation with Ben Ali. But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is unable to inform us of the exact date.

Two weeks later, MAM offered "security aid" to the Tunisian government.

The Quai d'Orsay denies that the meeting took place.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Feb 21st, 2011 at 11:50:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So in the near future she will be indicted for taking bribes from a foreign government. Right?

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Feb 21st, 2011 at 01:18:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
towards a Berlusconian non-accountability. There is apparently nothing a minister can do that will get them fired. Except pissing off the boss.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 at 07:52:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The word I'm hearing today is that MAM will get the chop after the upcoming local elections (cantonales) in March.

As a Foreign Sec she's walking dead.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Feb 23rd, 2011 at 04:10:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I saw Christine Lagarde, minister of the Economy, paying a visit to Tunisia... accompanied by Boillon, and by the minister of European affairs!

MAM was conspicuous by her absence!

It couldn't happen to a nicer person.

[actually, it could... Most of the remaining ministers, for example?]

I absolutely love the idea of waiting for the departmental elections... the results will be bad for the right, and I guess it'll be her fault!

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Feb 23rd, 2011 at 06:48:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep, MAM was sidelined and the delegation headed by Lagarde.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Feb 23rd, 2011 at 08:37:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When is MAM being replaced? You cannot have a forein minister that's a liability.

Keynesianism is intellectually hard, as evidenced by the inability of many trained economists to get it - Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Feb 23rd, 2011 at 08:45:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why not? Never heard of Avigdor Lieberman?....
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Feb 23rd, 2011 at 08:46:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was going to say "unless you're Israel"...

Keynesianism is intellectually hard, as evidenced by the inability of many trained economists to get it - Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Feb 23rd, 2011 at 08:47:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Winston Peters

He was New Zealand's foreign minister, 2005-2008 (from memory).

By virtue of being junior coalition partner of the last Labour government (a grotesque accident of history) His party (histrionic centrist) missed the 5% cut in 2008 and is no longer in Parliament.

Now he's blackmailing the current (rightwing) government, he wants a major ambassadorship or he'll run for parliament again.

Double-edged threat.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Feb 23rd, 2011 at 10:23:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
See above. Best I can do. (Haven't see today's Canard).
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Feb 23rd, 2011 at 08:50:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Libération today says she'll be out next week, probably replaced by Alain Juppé.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Feb 25th, 2011 at 05:00:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
AFP: French foreign minister to resign on Sunday: minister

PARIS -- Beleaguered French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie will on Sunday tender her resignation after returning from an official visit to Kuwait, a minister told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Alliot-Marie has become embroiled in a series of scandals over her controversial links to Tunisia, where she took a holiday during its popular uprising.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Feb 27th, 2011 at 05:13:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This isn't a comment on the French-Tunisian diplomatic affair but about the American state department diplomats. Several of my friends are lifers in the state dept., all stationed in other countries, and it's always funny hearing the inside attitudes from them. The State dept. is notoriously incorrigible when it comes to executing administration policy precisely because they have more knowledge of situations that politicians. You cannot get them to say a good thing about politicians.

I was on vacation in Mexico in December (the Yucatan, during the global warming conference, or I should say right after it) when I ran into diplomats on a beach well south of Cancun. We got to know them over a week, two separate families all with toddlers (like us). When you speak to Eastern Europeans and they tell you they flew in from DC where they have been living for a short time and they expect to return to their countries soon, you begin to suspect they are diplomats. And they were. What an eye opener. It was pretty stunning for an American to realize that Eastern Europeans (not talking about the Balkans here) preferred Bush, despise Obama, are gung ho about missile shields, and are totally against current American economic policies which have the Fed putting more money into circulation. Lesson learned.

by Upstate NY on Mon Feb 21st, 2011 at 09:59:53 AM EST
What did you expect from diplomats sent by Bush's best poodles to Bush's capital?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 at 12:58:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Account holders at banks put money into circulation. That is, after all, why the "quantitative easing" is so close to useless as a stimulus, since it only causes very small reductions in interests rates in circumstances where people who banks are willing create money for as a side-effect of lending to them mostly do not want to put that money into circulation, but rather prefer to direct it into speculation.

But as this is a low status economic argument based on mere observation of the implications of the real world rules of the game, and therefore far over the heads of the high status economists. Since diplomats would be expected to judge economic arguments by status of the arguer rather than merits of the argument, it would be surprising if their grasp on what is going on was any less primitive than "the Fed putting money into circulation".

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Feb 23rd, 2011 at 12:56:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Nicolas Sarkozy's foreign policies denounced by rebel diplomats

Nicolas Sarkozy is facing an unprecedented revolt by French diplomats who warn that his foreign policy gaffes have left France pathetically diminished on the world stage.

After weeks of embarrassing French slip-ups - including Paris blindly standing by the Tunisian and Egyptian dictatorships until the last minute - a group of diplomats have published a scathing attack on the president in Le Monde.

The anonymous letter from serving and former diplomats warns: "France's voice in the world has disappeared." They accuse Sarkozy of amateurism, acting on impulse, ignoring ambassadors and caring more about how he looks on TV than the fundamentals of foreign affairs.

They claim France risks losing its footing on the world stage and becoming insignificant. "Africa escapes us, the Mediterranean snubs us, China has crushed us and Washington ignores us!" the letter says.

The timing of the diplomatic rebellion is particularly damaging: Sarkozy is the current president of the G8 and G20 economic forums and is preparing for a re-election bid next year.

Full text of the letter in French here

The opposition is hitting hard against Sarkozy, adding up the Tunisian scandals around MAM, the noisy flap with Mexico around Florence Cassel (a Frenchwoman jailed over there under murky circumstances, which Sarkozy is louding trying to free), and the recent relations with Gaddafi, in particular his infamous several-day visit in Paris in 2007 and the grandiose announcements of his purchases of Rafale planes and nuclear reactors...

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Feb 23rd, 2011 at 04:48:30 PM EST
Jerome a Paris:
announcements of his purchases of Rafale planes and nuclear reactors

Yep, which he never actually bought, the contracts never having been signed... Sarko the CEO, not.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Feb 23rd, 2011 at 04:54:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What's the French word for incompetence? (Don't ask me to google it, i'm watching Donnie Darko again.)

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Wed Feb 23rd, 2011 at 05:55:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
French word for incompetence? Gee, I have no clue.
Heck, we French don't even have a word for entrepreneur.

(According to Snopes, W never actually said that. They claim it was a rumor initially started by... the Brits)

by Bernard on Thu Feb 24th, 2011 at 02:55:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good summary in French from Libé

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Feb 23rd, 2011 at 05:03:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As I wrote: A slow motion train wreck.
The president is fiddling while Tripoli is burning.
by Bernard on Thu Feb 24th, 2011 at 03:01:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sarko has scrapped the website of l'Elysée of all the pictures of Sarko with Mubarak... They can be found here...

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Feb 25th, 2011 at 10:11:10 AM EST

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