Christopher Lee

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Can the French President really be such un plonquer? And an apprentice plonquer at that?

4 November 2012

French President Francois Hollande dropped into Beirut Sunday and said France would protect Lebanon from destabilization spilling over from neighboring Syria. How France would do that when no one else has, M. Hollande did not begin to explain. But he’s a nice man and maybe he’ll think of something.

A couple of hours later, he skipped to Jeddah and told Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah that France would help fix the problem of the Syrian civil war, the Iranian nuclear power/weapons program, Palestinian-Israeli relations and about anything else that the king wanted to hear if it helped France get a signature on a Saudi defense contract for France to maintain the king’s warships – French built of course.

M. Hollande then looked at his watch (or his officials did that for him) made his excuses and said he had to go because he was actually on his way to a very important meeting in Laos to discuss the relationship between the euro-zone economic cock-ups and lower growth forecasts in Asia – including China.

The wise Italian cardinals always told Popes during times of crises (maybe yet another priest having foul ways with choir boys) to raise their arms on the St Peters balcony and “looka busy”. There are no priests, choir boys nor balconies involved in M. Hollande’s purposes at the moment, but there is something of a similar popularity crisis namely, the French think he’s un plonquer – politely, not the man they thought they’d voted for six months ago.

Le Figaro magazine reports that only 36 per cent of French have any confidence in him. That makes him the most unpopular French president ever at the end of the 26 week honeymoon.  No wonder he needed to hit the road.  But why is he so unpopular? Basically, the French don’t know what he’s doing and suspect that he doesn’t know either.  

His Socialist administration looks amateurish. His ally, the Left Wing paper Liberation calls him and his hapless Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, The Apprentices.  They’re new on the job so that could be so, after all he’s the first Socialist party president of France in 17 years. A lot to learn, except that the electorate thought that his policy of fairness sounded very simple; losing their jobs, pensions, retirement packages was not supposed to be the style of an old fashioned socialist fixer. He’s not.  They don’t exist any more especially when the nomanklatura is forced to spend time rewriting policies that are European demands to cut the French budget deficit and to do so in a European manner  (but not German European manner) and wrapping and packaging the toughest budget seen in France inside 30 years.

 “To exercise power nowadays is very hard. There is no longer any leniency, any respect. But I knew that.”

 

But he must be good at something and at least his private life is interesting. Well according to Hollande critics here, he’s doing what the cardinals told the popes. He’s trying to “looka busy” and picking up the foreign statesman role. So when he heads for Saudi Arabia he’s got a whole pack of hacks on board. Pens poised they wait for the tit-bits they are trained to respect. When they come, it’s difficult not to sigh.

 

“France plays an active role in the Middle East. We are the most active country on issues concerning Syria, Lebanon, and the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.” Doing what exactly M le President? His officials cuff the questioner with a private office glare.  Apparently France works behind the scenes and so Hollande does not reply.

 

Of course, it is safer to say nothing when there’s nothing to say, which is why Hollande had to get out of town to get the heat off his administration.  

His office does gaffs in a big way.  Okay, but let’s take an easy one: what will France do about Iran?  He says, more sanctions. The Saudis like that. Good answer M. Hollande.  Now, how about Syria? Send in troops? France will not do that in public.  Maybe a couple of special forces to locate chemical hoardes – if they have them. But support for Saudi Arabia at the UN. That’s nice.  What about a transitional rebel government for Syria.  That could work.  There you are, how easy was that?  After all it was exactly the idea your predecessor had for Libya.  As Kissinger says, you have to know who to ring in a crisis.

 

Now maybe M Hollande is getting a clue from this first trip to the Middle East where everyting but everything is whispered and behind blinking eyes and false smiles.

Answers are easy in foreign affairs. No one expects you to back them up with tanks nor warships.  Oh yes, warships.  A few more smiles and blinks and bows and easy-peasy answers and the Saudis may just sign the frigate mainenance contract.  Then what happens? Hollande returns home waving a piece of paper saying, not peace in our time, but this solemn document means jobs. And jobs mean? Maybe, maybe a couple of percentage points in that Figaro opinion poll – until the next time.  

Meanwhile Sarkozy smiles and gets Blair-style $multi thousand after-dinner speach contracts. As M. Hollande said, he knew it was not going to be easy.

 

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