Sour French View of Bush Re-Election

Le Monde Diplomatique is the leading French opinion-journal on international affairs, but it is a monthly. The November issue was already on the newsstands at the time of the US election. So it’s only now, with the appearance of the December, 2004, issue on the streets and on-line, that we get to hear their reaction to the result.

Is there any doubt what that is? This is France we’re talking about here, after all, not to mention one of that country’s leading intellectual flagships. Anyway, no less than Editor-in-Chief Ignacio Ramonet takes up his keyboard to record the paper’s displeasure at the prospect of Bush II.

For many readers his piece will be like cod liver oil: unpleasant, but good for you, because insights about what the “other side” is thinking are always valuable. On the other hand, even though I note that M. Ramonet’s direct phone number in Paris is available from a web-backpage connected to the Le Monde Diplomatique site, I think that rather than give you the link I’ll just let those of you contemplating using it go find it yourselves.

Ramonet’s main message: A record such as that accumulated by George W. Bush during his first term in office should ordinarily get one banned from the civilized world. Instead, of course, the man gets to continue “to occupy the central place in the world’s international political apparatus.” (The newspaper’s editor-in-chief is kind enough to grant that – this time – Bush won that right fair and square.)

What “record” does Ramonet specifically mean? There is a long list of accusations:

  • Of deceiving his electorate and the Congress to gain authorization for his “preventative war” against Iraq (never authorized properly by the United Nations);
  • Of, during that war, encouraging a disproportionate use of force that has led to the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians;
  • Of ordering the execution of suspected terrorists, in violation of the 1976 “executive order” issued by then-President Gerald Ford that forbids assassinations. (But you’d think that, as the current President, Bush could easily revoke that order. Also, the article’s footnote on this point refers to a book by Seymour Hersh entitled something like Permission to Kill: The New Secret Services or something like that – title translated from the French, of course. I can’t find any such work, including on the page that the LMD footnote links to.)
  • Of violating the provisions of the Geneva Convention relating to treatment of prisoners of war;
  • Separately, of permitting the use of torture in the Abu Ghraib prison and other secret detention centers;
  • And of having revived the spirit of McCarthyism, “which consists in considering as guilty each citizen merely capable of being suspected of ties with an enemy organization.”

In addition to all that, Ramonet writes, Bush remains “known for his religious fundamentalism, his intellectual mediocrity, and his lack of culture.”

And that’s not all: The Frenchman takes a particularly dim view of the two second-term appointments the Bush administration had announced by the time this article went to press. (That is, Ramonet was a little too early to delight in the Bernard Kerik nomination misadventure.) Alberto Gonzalez as Attorney General: Well, Gonzalez was the main author behind the internal memos authorizing the use of torture, under the doctrine of “in the conduct of war, the president’s authority is total.” And as for Condolezza Rice for the State Department: This just confirms the President’s inclinations towards unilateralism when it comes to conducting foreign policy, a trend that is now assuming a menacing shape anew around policy towards Iran.

Of course, in the continued inability to pacify Iraq the United States is now running up against the limits of more-or-less unilateral action – well, I’d call it action mostly in concert with British military allies, but that’s just about it. So Ramonet ends his piece by wondering if M. Bush will end up by finally realizing that the bad effects of globalization (alleged to be injustice, greater poverty, etc.) require multilateral solutions. Will he realize that one actor in the world, no matter how powerful, cannot impose the law on its own? Wait, though: one of the criticisms frequently levelled by the French cultural phalanx at Hollywood-style American movies is that they always seem to have a happy, hopeful ending. Can we now direct the same criticism at French newspaper editorials?

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