European Union

Why Chirac Sucked

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Over at Slate, Anne Applebaum lays into outgoing French President Jacques Chirac:

Ponder closely, for example, what Chirac has had to say about Africa, where his country has enormous influence, in many places far outweighing ours. During a visit to the Ivory Coast, Chirac once called "multi-partyism" a "kind of luxury," which his host, president-for-life Félix Houphouet-Boigny, could clearly not afford. During a visit to Tunisia, he proclaimed that, since "the most important human rights are the rights to be fed, to have health, to be educated, and to be housed," Tunisia's human rights record is "very advanced"-never mind the police who beat up dissidents. "Africa is not ready for democracy," he told a group of African leaders in the early 1990s.

On the up side, Chirac also quipped:

On Britain: "The only thing they have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow disease. … You can't trust people who cook as badly as that."

More here. Coming soon by most accounts (including Applebaum's): Chirac in the dock for various corruption scandals.

Is it too late for Chirac–who served as president for a dozen years, mayor of Paris for 18 years, and prime minister for four years–to have his political hymen stitched back together?

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  1. During a visit to the Ivory Coast, Chirac once called “multi-partyism” a “kind of luxury,” which his host, president-for-life F?lix Houphouet-Boigny, could clearly not afford.

    I dont know anything about the politics of the Ivory coast, certainly long term I would like to see a stable democracy and a free market, but I will defend the idea of statement. I think there is something to the idea of democracy arising out of a stable middle class, rather than the reverse.

  2. “Africa is not ready for democracy.”

    This is supposed to be a criticism of Chirac? Haven’t recent events shown that whether a country is “not ready for democracy” is a valid concern?

  3. “This is supposed to be a criticism of Chirac? Haven’t recent events shown that whether a country is “not ready for democracy” is a valid concern?”

    I suppose in some sense yes. But when you are just being an asshole and using that as an excuse to support every two bit oppressive thug who makes you money, like Chirac is, then no it really isn’t a valid concern.

  4. This is supposed to be a criticism of Chirac?

    Telling your former colonies that they are not ready of democracy is bad manners regardless of whether or not there is truth to the statement.

    Not using your political influence you still have left to help clean up the mess you made, then telling your former colonies that they are not ready of democracy is the height of hypocrisy.

    Clear now?

  5. The notion that a country is “not ready for democracy” is elitist and somewhat racist.

    As John points out, it is really nothing more than an excuse to justify oppression.

  6. Bad manners, hypocrisy, racism, elitism, scabies and all the other ad hominem’s aside, I tend to think Chirac is correct.

    Does anybody think Iraq is ready for democracy?

  7. i’m sorry, but his comment on the british was deadly accurate. he might have also mentioned their dentistry, but a good brit might bring up france’s contribution toward global warming by the escewing of soap.

  8. “eschewing”

    god i hate this keyboard.

  9. Lamar,

    Sure, I do. Just not imposed by us. Look, I don’t think there’s some necessary cycle of oppression that everyone must go through. The success of the Western liberal model is there for everyone to see. Some countries have moved that direction without any trouble, others have not.

  10. Does anybody think Iraq is ready for democracy?

    Best to leave them ruled by dictators, then.

    But tell me, how exactly does being ruled by undemocratic regime make you ready for democracy?

    Just what does it mean to be ready (or not) for democracy?

  11. Lamar,

    Not to highjack the thread about Iraq, but it seems to me that there is a big difference between saying “Iraq is a threat, Saddam is a bad guy, lets go throw him out of power and build a democracy” and saying “dictator X is a bad guy, but the country is not ready for Democracy so lets support dictator X and help him stay in power” which is what Chirac is saying.

  12. Bad manners, hypocrisy, racism, elitism, scabies and all the other ad hominem’s aside, I tend to think Chirac is correct.

    It really doesn’t matter if Chirac is right. The argument that a society can’t support self-rule is only different in terms of scale from the argument that individuals can’t be trusted to take care of themselves.

    Chirac’s comments are, in effect, an approval for an autocratic government to impose its will on an unwilling population.

  13. Just what does it mean to be ready (or not) for democracy?

    You’ve got to want it. I mean REALLY want it.

    You also have to give 110% and leave everything out there on the field.

    You have to play smart, stay focused, but be aggressive.

    It really helps if you out-hussle the other guy, too.

  14. Interesting. The Ivory Coast provides an excellent example of a country not ready for democracy. Oh, sure, they tried democracy, but they didn’t have the infrastructure or the middle class necessary to make it work (though they did have a prosperous 1990s). They tried democracy, it got all Iraq-like, and now they have a somewhat stable, if heavily monitored from outside, government. And if I’m not mistaken, Tunisia is a democracy, though I guess that didn’t clear up the human rights problems.

    I’m not talking about pie-in-the-sky philosophy. I’m talking about looking at the democratic movements and past experiments with democracy that have failed. A democracy without a middle class is in trouble. A democracy that falls prey to military coups is in trouble. Chirac’s comments are a practical assessment that what works in the developed world doesn’t necessarily work in undeveloped places. Sure, it sounds bad, I agree with you there.

  15. Chirac’s just an old political dog, french style for the right price he’ll sell his mother to a gypsy caravan.

    At least he’s predictably corrupt. Before the Iraq war he was panting for his share of the loot, Bush Co told him to F off, and he became against the Iraq war. Had he been paidoff early on we would have had French support on the Iraq war. Only dealing with supposed “good guys” in foreign policy is disasterously dangerous, because in politics, “Good” is as subjective as the appropriate amount for bribing a politician. Ce la vie!

  16. I suppose in some sense yes. But when you are just being an asshole and using that as an excuse to support every two bit oppressive thug who makes you money, like Chirac is, then no it really isn’t a valid concern.

    There is some validity to your point, except that Felix Houphouet-Boigny wasn’t a two-bit oppressive thug. He may have used his power to enrich himself and his family, but he made his country the most prosperous in West Africa. Compared to nearly every other African ruler, he comes off as pretty damn benign.

  17. Actually the issue is that French democracy doesn’t seem to take root well 😉

    For the most part, the former British colonies have turned out ok.

  18. Does anybody think Iraq is ready for democracy?

    Best to leave them ruled by dictators, then.

    In fact, rule by Saddam would be better for Iraq and better for the U.S. than the clusterfuck we’ve gotten ourselves into there, where we seem to have to choice of (1) staying there and keep getting our soldiers killed in some vague hope of keeping the lid on top of the simmering civil war, or (2) pulling out and letting the current government follow its inclination to line up with Ahmad-don’t-know-howta-say-his-name in Iran, while Saudi Arabia intervenes to protect the Sunnis from genocide, the Kurds secede, and the Turks invade to put down the Turks.

  19. I hear people rag on British agriculture, but isn’t it true that the Industrial Revolution occurred in England (in part) because English agriculture was efficient enough that fewer workers were needed in the fields, and could be employed in factories? Jethro Tull, 18th century agricultural revolution, George III publishing articles anonymously in agricultural journals, all that stuff?

  20. Under Saddam, the U.S was conducting a hot war against him for over a decade through the enforcment of no fly zones and sanctions. Things are not good now in Iraq, but at least they are not static and there is some hope for improvment. In fact, large sections of Iraq are peaceful. Yeah, Baghdad sucks but the entire southern half of the country is under Iraqi control and peaceful. Same for the Kurdish north. I don’t see how you can say the people living in those areas are not a hell of a lot better off today than they were under Saddam.

  21. John, the kurds do seem to be “ready for democracy.”

  22. @Lamar: Does anybody think Iraq is ready for democracy?

    Sure they are. Good old-fashioned ancient Greek Ass-f*cking democracy, the way Plato used to do it. You live in my city, part of my tribe or you’re a barbarian to be slaughtered democracy.

  23. scandalrag: Do you mean sex with equus asinus or anal sex?

  24. Bush bad! Saddam good!

    Doesn’t that about sum it up?

  25. Just what does it mean to be ready (or not) for democracy?

    You must have the Constitution and Printing Press tecnologies.

  26. it seems to me that there is a big difference between saying “Iraq is a threat, Saddam is a bad guy, lets go throw him out of power and build a democracy” and saying “dictator X is a bad guy, but the country is not ready for Democracy so lets support dictator X and help him stay in power”

    Yes, the difference is 3,000 American lives and growing.

  27. John, the kurds do seem to be “ready for democracy.”

    Do you mean the guys who did this:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/worldnews.html?in_article_id=452288&in_page_id=1811

    or were you referring to the Moslem Kurds who, in retaliation for the stoning, pulled 23 Yezidis off a bus and murdered them?

  28. Just what does it mean to be ready (or not) for democracy?

    In our case (U.S.) we made an alliance with France and conducted a guerilla war against an English-speaking occupying force from a country fighting several wars until we convinced it to leave our territory.

  29. Yeah, Baghdad sucks but the entire southern half of the country is under Iraqi control and peaceful.

    You mean the area described in this article? (Note particularly the paragraph saying: “Lynch, who commands U.S. troops south of Baghdad and in mostly Shiite areas in southern Iraq, said 13 of his soldiers had been killed and 39 injured since April 1, most in roadside bombings. In a pocket of his uniform, he carries a pile of laminated index cards, each with a deceased soldier’s picture and personal details. He calls them ””fallen hero’ cards.”)

  30. They say that African colonies were carved up just as haphazardly as Iraq was; that original tribes or loyalties or what-have-you were just as equally ignored. So in that sense, “Africa is not ready for democracy” because, like Iraq, many of the countries are populated by warring factions, or factions who would be warring if not for the crackpots in charge. Of course, Chirac could have had the good sense to take the blame for it.

    PS. French food SUCKS. I’ll take a hearty serving of fish and chips any day over the weird crap they eat in France.

  31. Lamar,

    “This is supposed to be a criticism of Chirac? Haven’t recent events shown that whether a country is “not ready for democracy” is a valid concern?”

    Let’s say it for the sake of argument that this is true: Africa is not a country. South Africa isn’t ready for democracy? Kenya? Liberia?

    Negative observation about some Africans + Broad brush application to all Africans = Asshole

  32. John, declaring Iraqi politics to be “static” is just as racist as declaring that they are “not ready for democracy.”

    You think there were no Iraqi democracy activists? You think there was no dissatisfaction with the regime?

    Poor benighted Iraqis, they need us to take them by the hand because they don’t know any better – is that it?

    There was no effort to involve the Iraqis in their own liberation, in their own democratization, because King George’s crew don’t need to listen to little people, just tell them how to be good. That’s why the liberation of Iraq has been a failure – because it wasn’t an Iraqi liberation.

  33. In our case (U.S.) we made an alliance with France and conducted a guerilla war against an English-speaking occupying force from a country fighting several wars until we convinced it to leave our territory.

    No, that’s what got us out from under the rule of the (democratic) English. After we booted out the Brits, why didn’t we wind up with a monarchy?

    Also, for the record, I don’t think the Brits were fighting several wars during our Revolution. Conflict with the Dutch, Spanish, and French should be considered additional theaters for the Revolutionary War.

    I’m still asking what makes any culture “ready for democracy.”

  34. There was no effort to involve the Iraqis in their own liberation,

    Last time we tried that, we pulled back at the last second due to cold feet by the UN, and slaughter ensued. The Iraqis were understandably wary of trusting us again.

    in their own democratization,

    I swear, I keep seeing footage of Iraqis drafting a constitution, voting on it, electing legislators, and all that. Is that being staged on a Hollywood lot?

  35. “I’m still asking what makes any culture ‘ready for democracy.'”

    A knowledgeable middle class helps, as do universities and national institutions. A national identity also helps. I guess the most important thing necessary for democracy is a populace that is willing to work within its framework even if it means ceding a little power.

  36. “After we booted out the Brits, why didn’t we wind up with a monarchy?”

    Because the leaders who found themselves in a position to potentially seize power were 1) devoted to the ideology of a democratic republic, 2) comrades in arms for years in a common struggle, and thus committed to achieving a consensual peace that was acceptable to all parties and 3) able to claim the allegiance of public, allowing them to secure the public’s assent to items 1 and 2.

    As opposed to what happened in Iraq.

  37. RC Dean writes, “Is that being staged on a Hollywood lot?”

    Might as well be, for the meaning it has. I told you they weren’t going to make a difference on Purple Finger Day – I’ll link to the threads in a minute – but you were too busy dancing around in your flight suit.

    You can’t insist that people be the passive recipients of liberation, and then expect them to pluck a unified, democratic commitment out of nowhere. When people liberate themselves from dictatorship, the process doesn’t just remove the dictator; it creates the common cause that becomes a democratic culture. This didn’t happen in Iraq, and now look at it.

    To go back to Lamar’s question, no nation is “ready for democracy” until they rise up and liberate themselves from tyranny. It’s doing this that makes a nation ready for democracy. Until they have that experience, the country isn’t ready to form and sustain a democratic government.

    But the elitist, state-obsessed (as opposed to people-powered), Straussian neoconservatives didn’t realize this. And that, at the bottom, is why the Iraq Adventure was doomed from the beginning. Democracy was never anything but a catch phrase to the people claiming to Democratize Iraq. A fuzzy conceit. They didn’t, and still don’t, have a genuine understanding of what democracy actually is.

  38. So, RC and John, if Iraq is ready for democracy, how come we still have troops there when the vast majority of the population wants us out?

    And of course the embarrassing thing is that we would have been far, far better off if we had listened to Chirac and Schroeder and Putin about Iraq — whatever their ulterior motives — before we decided to invade.

  39. I think the question of our invasion is less “are the Iraqi’s better off”, and more “Is the United States better off”.

    John Quincy Adams made a good point that the US should always support democracy around the world, but not fight other people’s battles for democracy.

    Chirac certainly seemed as high handed and mightier than thou as Bush. I mean the Frenchmen I know think he’s an ass.

  40. I think the question of our invasion is less “are the Iraqi’s better off”, and more “Is the United States better off”.

    Since the answer is the same to both questions, it doesn’t really matter.

  41. I agree, but the answer to one question matters and the other really doesn’t.

  42. Sigh.

    Liberalism: Look! My people are running away from Neoconservatism! Hooray, my people, welcome back! I’ve got so much – hey, hold on, stop a minute. No, no, don’t go…Aw, dammit!

    Paleoconservative Realpolitik: Heh heh heh. I told you you’d be back. Don’t crowd me, now. You, get my “not the world’s policeman” sceptre. You down there, get me my foreign aid scissors. You, go hire me someone who speaks Arabic; we’re having the Saudis over for drinks.

  43. “To go back to Lamar’s question, no nation is “ready for democracy” until they rise up and liberate themselves from tyranny. It’s doing this that makes a nation ready for democracy.”

    Back when Reagan was meddling in other nations’ affairs, he at least had the decency to turn to the local revolutionary (or reactionary, as it may be) force to do its own fighting. We may have trained them and/or supplied them, but they were the ones who had to do the legwork. It was usually bad foreign policy back then (the meddling), but at least a bunch of Americans didn’t have to die.

  44. Thought of the Beirut counterexample the second I hit submit.

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