See the end of this article for an explanation of the above picture.
On Saturday October 17th, two days after the publication of The Drone Papers describing US drone-enabled assassinations leaked to The Intercept, the french paper Le Monde put out a story about the french military specifically targeting a French ISIS fighter called Salim Benghalem. And apparently succeeding in killing him. Benghalem was said to be the general manager of french-speaking ISIS recruits and listed on the list of most wanted terrorists.
This launched a controversy about the right that France had, or not, to specifically target its own nationals enlisted by ISIS. The french governement is clearly allowing this, PM Manuel Valls having stated that “terrorists hold no passports”. The governement justifies the legality of its attack on article 51 of the UN, stating that “nothing (in the UN charter) shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations”. France considers itself under attack by ISIS, and the bombing of training camps (where Benghalem was supposedly staying) justified as they train terrorists who will then be sent to France.
A well-known french lawyer named Arié Alimi posted a reply to this on his blog (1), condemning this form of direct killing as being illegal and immoral. His position is that “The French who fight abroad for ISIS, Al-Nosra or even the PKK, are and will remain regardless of governemental spin, french nationals, subject like any other to the rule of law and french Justice, and who can never be summarily executed”.
If not, he asks, why shouldn’t the police be allowed to shoot criminal suspects or green militants on sight? Justifying the means by the end, he implies, only pushes society towards violence everywhere and justice nowhere. Which is a good definition of a dictatorship, which nobody here wants, obviously. Obviously? Well, think again.
The online journal Atlantico.fr published a poll by Ifop which supposedly indicates that two thirds of the French would adhere to, or be tempted by, an autocratic governement of “experts”, unelected persons who would carry out necessary but unpopular reforms (2). That proportion is 80% for supporters of the conservative Les Républicains party and 76% for the National Front, but 54% for supporters of the governing Socialists and, perhaps surprinsingly, 51% for supporters of the far-left coalition Front de Gauche. The rationale is that France needs serious reforms (such as the end of the 35-hour week) but nobody promoting them will ever be elected. Hence the need for a dictator, but one nice enough to relinquish power back to democracy once the job is done. Yeah, sure.
It’s easy to ridicule such a proposition as unpopular reforms would remain unpopular whether the governement is elected or not, with people taking to the streets, writing incendiary articles and going on strike anyway. So the argument is really whether the French want to go for a police state that will take away their remaining rights and shoot them if they complain, or stick with what they have now, however ineffective.
Ineffective but in fact close to autocracy in the sense that elected politicians do not burden themselves with carrying out electoral promises, and do pretty much what they want just as an autocratic governement would. The current governement had no qualms forcing the recent “spy laws” without going through the normal “democratic” process, making use of the fast-track 49.3 law that makes this possible. Assuming there was a way to elect unelected officials, the difference between now and a “real” autocracy would simply be that the ends would justify the means, whatever the means. But to what ends? There is no agreement on what the necessary ends should be, neither among politicians nor so-called “experts” unless you only listen to one political camp, and even then nobody really agrees on anything.
Experts are already roaming the corridors of power, each cabinet hiring counsellors and lobbyists to help write up legislation. They are mostly a disaster, regardless of political affiliation. So what, hire a team from Goldman Sachs, the kind of people who helped bring down Greece through corruption and misconduct? Call in the infamous troika (EU commission, FMI and European Central Bank) to impose catastrophic austerity? Surrender French sovereignty to Vladimir Putin?
At least Vlad would make better sense in terms of foreign affairs: a recent article in the Figaro paper by journalist Jean-Michel Quatrepoint on French politics in the Middle-East, entitled “The Waterloo of french diplomacy” (3), strongly criticises the french stance and it’s hypocritical, ridiculous rethoric. He starts by stating that “The ex-president (Nicolas Sarkozy) shoud start by recognising his two errors. The first is the war in Libya: he is responsible for its destabilisation. Secondly, he was in power when his foreign minister Alain Juppé (today another presidential candidate) did all he could to make Bachar el-Assad go away. After that, François Hollande, Laurent Fabius (current foreign minister) and the Quai d’Orsay (Foreign Ministry) made it all worse.”
These kind of people would love to find a way to be in power without having to go through elections. Little chance, though, that their ineptitude for the job would suddenly transform into superior intelligence. We might, however, be spared the ridicule of the staged visit of an “ordinary” President in the home of an “ordinary” woman. Event the coffee and the flowers were supplied by officials.
Previous french chronicles here.