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French Connections

Updated on May 31, 2016

Le Monde Diplomatique

The May issue of Le Monde Diplomatique contains an article by Benoît Bréville, entitled "What US Foreign Policy?" The French, it seems, are receiving mixed signals. Examining Republicans running for office (written while Cruz was still in the race), they cannot, in their analyses, find a substantive difference between the GOP and the Obama Administration. Naturally, they clearly pick up on the hyperbole that condemns the last seven, eight years as indecisive and ineffective. But they paid rapt attention, even if Americans did not, to Trump's complaint about overspending on the Middle East while neglecting the homeland. Personally, I find myself wavering between two irreconcilable points-of-view. The Middle East has always been at war, to various degrees of intensity, and, to speak freely, the French quote Trump accurately: "the infrastructure of our country is disintegrating". Take a look, it's true, unless your hometown just got a lucky facelift. Fix the domestic situation, a kind of self-centered logic declares, then see what can be done in the Middle East. They will still be fighting. Actually, I begin to wonder if terrorism is not really a criminal or police matter more than a cassus belli. Terrorists are not nationals. However, the usual airstrikes have not been overly-impressive, nor the drone-dealt deaths of key terrorists so very sensational. To be honest, terrorists are not all the same, yet a common thread runs through all of them. They want to establish a Caliphate, or, if you will, harmonious caliphates, instead of nation-states, which is how both the old, and new world order, was, and is, arranged. How well the French have mastered American history can be judged by an obscure reference to Robert Taft in 1952 as the most recent Republican candidate to oppose "military expeditions". Touché, mes amis.

French Support in Lebanon, 1983

French warplane assists American presence.
French warplane assists American presence. | Source

The No-Policy of 2009

Bréville does not go into it, but surely he appreciates the fact that in 2008, before 2009, Americans were tired of perpetual war. Obama had a record that positively glowed with anti-war declarations. His campaign promises consisted in part of bringing the troops home from overseas. But not many specifics were fully articulated. The man deserves credit; he tried. I think of the spared lives of our servicemen and women. But then, I also think, unopposed, our enemies are gaining in strength. Is there a game plan here? Thus, Bréville points out how some of Obama's predecessors were, by way of contrast, crystal clear: Truman and containment, Eisenhower and anti-Communism, Nixon and 'detente' (Bréville's term), Reagan and confrontation, and then, skipping ahead twelve years, George W. Bush and the War on Terrorism. What he means is that strong presidents always formed concrete foreign policies, which they steadfastly maintained throughout their administrations. Perhaps it is not the task of the French to advise American presidents how to construct foreign strategies, but, while he is no Alexis de Tocqueville, Bréville does have a few pointers worth the while. On the other hand, he has totally lost sight of Obama's unpopular, if surreptitious, attempt to almost singlehandedly form an overarching accord with the multi-national, multi-sect leaders of Islam. Somehow, if it came into existence, and held, both Christian Hawks and Clerical Demagogues would come to their senses.

He made progress, too. In general, Islamic-Americans are more subjects of sympathy than wrath. Pains are taken to distinguish between the rightful heirs of Mohammad and his evil rejects. Bréville is correct at least thus far in that despite the usual lip service rendered in support of an imaginary defeat of ISIS, Trump might not meddle in Middle Eastern affairs any more than Obama did. The militant Bushes have already deserted him, though the final chapter of the 2016 election has not yet been written. In fact, it is plausible that Clinton will carry the day in November. If so, one can only wonder what happened to the likes of FDR and Truman, both of whom defeated Hitler, and went on to establish the State of Israel. Why, all of a sudden, with corpses strewn all over Paris, do Democrats wend toward prevarication and backpedaling? Radical Islamic extremism is rising and we are at a complete standstill.

A Metastasized Cancer

Notice how some nations are so close while we are much farther away.
Notice how some nations are so close while we are much farther away. | Source

Who Owns the Middle East?

Sovereign Nations or Terrorists?

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Le Cinéma and Filthy Lucre

Why the intertia? A possible answer is money. Forget Obama. He is already past tense. History books to follow. . . . It is big bucks. Wars are costly and profiteering disrespectful. Public service does not pay in the high figures. What's in it for politicians? Trump is not averse to a dollar, but already has enough to look downward on a lowly Clinton. Interestingly, Sanders keeps trying against the odds to divert the US Treasury for the benefit of the less privileged. If you ask me, Obama had viable ideas, whose main fault was to have been unrealistic. He is not the only one, far from it. Accused of leading from behind, he may well have been ahead of the times. Anyway, things come in threes, right? What we are looking for is French Connection III, owing to the fact that the first two were stolen from real life by the movies, like Prometheus, who took fire from the gods. Nevermind the English. The French and Americans have lots in common, mostly due to their respective revolutions, and the grandiose ideals embedded within them. The Jihadists are throwbacks to an earlier time, when bearded priests and turbaned kings, together with tax collectors, lorded over all, and greedily split the spoils. They are thinking of Saladin tossing Crusaders out of Jerusalem, and later, Muslim Turks oppressing neighboring Christians in the Balkans.

Let's peer down memory lane. Robin Moore's The French Connection was published in 1969, but begins in 1961. Edward Egan, aka Popeye -- Doyle in the movie -- wants to check out the Copacabana. His partner, not really the type, tags along. They are working the streets in Harlem. Assigned to narcotics, they are racking up collars. By chance at the nightclub, they catch a glimmering of something bigger than has ever before happened. Movie buffs know the story. A shipment is coming from Marseilles. In the book it is 112 kilos of uncut heroin, then worth $32 million. After several memorable chase scenes, the well-mannered man in charge of the operation slips away. Thus, in the more creative sequel, Doyle follows him back to Marseilles. He has made it personal. Nobody likes Doyle, by the way. The French cops buy him a one-way plane ticket. But somehow he wins. Well, a comparison between the heroin trade and terror is, at best, half-baked, even though opium production in Afghanistan is phenomenal. Still, the point comes across, I think, that either way action is required. The Americans have been hit, so have the French, and utter complacency cannot be the mutual response. Further, much more than money, from whatever source, is at stake.

Massacre of the Innocents 1611-12

From the Bible, by Peter Paul Rubens: a depiction of Herod's command to kill newborns.
From the Bible, by Peter Paul Rubens: a depiction of Herod's command to kill newborns. | Source

On Islam and Christianity

A Russian-American alliance would be too much to hope for. But a French-American led incursion could set a precedent. Both countries have enough manpower and materièl to make up for what would be lacking from a larger coalition. Just today I read a review of Noam Chomsky's latest book in which he calls the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 a legitimate military target. I wonder how he would have fought an enemy whose main enterprise was killing Americans? Chomsky is hyper critical and Democrats act as if nothing is amiss. At the same time, we are being targeted. Jihadists are fighting a war of extermination. No Israeli nor American need apply. They plan to be the last men standing. In the long run, if we take no action, terrorists will eventually get us. Obama is an unusual president in that he is acknowledged by parts of the Middle East, rightly or wrongly, as a kind of "hyphenate". They have his print-out. Who knows? . . . as it goes in the commercial. I can only reiterate, however meekly, that we might as well take note of what we are up against. We are relatively new at this game -- and a game it is not.

So much for Islam. What about Christianity? "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." Matthew 10:34. I wish I had been better schooled in scripture. Still, using raw, common sense, a good, clean Christian conscience cannot be all about giving someone cold a sweater or the hungry a loaf of bread. Serious theological arguments admit no compromises. No trade-offs or bribes when it comes to the Kingdom of Heaven. But then, here also the French and Americans share common ground. Both have been hurt in Vietnam, as well as Lebanon. Both deal with a risk-laden, volatile Syria. Fallujah, Iraq has rebounded into the headlines. These and other countries, perhaps once looked upon as second-rate, no longer have colonial status. Some are known as client-states. They are backed by unseen power. Things have changed over the past seventy-five years. Condescension is a luxury no nation, not even a lonely superpower, can afford. Unless we want to make self-defeating deals with terrorists in the hope they will not harm us, as did the Romans before us with barbarians, we had better watch out. They play for keeps. They want America, Europe, and Russia, too.


Alternatives to War

No matter what is said, thought, or felt, peace is still the only viable objective. War for the sake of war is not a re-wording of art for art's sake. Distraction, however, is not commensurate with peace. At this very moment, transgender issues are being heatedly discussed on television. Bathroom antics are by no means the way. It is a topic to be put aside until later. Nevertheless, I prefer to wait and see. News programs tend to work the viewer into a frenzy. There is always the outside chance that elected officials know what they are doing. The slow approach is frustrating and nerve-wracking, but possibly the best alternative to war available at the moment.


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