Fillon, Thatcher, and Putin

 

putinThe French presidential election begins in April 2017, and if no candidate wins the first round, it will go to the second and final round in May. François Hollande looks, at this point, like the walking dead. His poll numbers are almost comically low — the opposition could triumph by running any reasonably healthy goat. His party will hold primary elections in January; they may put him out of their misery and select another candidate, or he may decide not to run.

As of now — keeping in mind that this has been a surprising year, politically — polls suggest that it will ultimately come down to a contest between the traditional conservative party, Les Républicaines (LR), and Le Pen. Polls also show that if that conservative candidate was boring Alain Juppé, the LR would win by significant margins, but I’m beginning to suspect we’ve entered an un-pollable world owing either to cell phone usage or to people’s greater savviness — or wariness — about speaking to pollsters, so who knows.

Last Sunday, LR held the first round of its first-ever open primaries. The party, as my friend Arun Kapil describes them, is “the latest iteration of the neo-Gaullist movement.” They represent the traditional French right and center-right. The decision to hold American-style primaries was made well before the party had a chance to contemplate the most recent result of our primary system, which gave us two candidates loathed by everyone. Whether they’d have been keen to switch to US-style primaries after seeing that, I don’t know. But what’s done is done, and these are now the rules in France. 

The results were surprising. In a post written on the eve of the primary, Arun ran through the seven candidates in the race, explaining their positions on the issues. He didn’t seem to give Fillon much of a chance:

Fillon looked like a loser for most of the campaign, treading water and going nowhere, with no hope of catching Sarkozy and Juppé. Already four years ago, in the wake of the bloodbath between the fillonistes and copéistes for control of the UMP, I pronounced him toast and for all time. But lo and behold, his poll numbers have been surging over the past couple of weeks and with him now in striking distance, even at parity, with Sarkozy for second place. If Fillon makes it to the 2nd round, it will be a stunning coup de théâtre foreseen by no pundit or politico. And if it happens at Sarkozy’s expense, it will be such sweet revenge for Fillon, who hates Sarkozy with a passion, Fillon having been mistreated and humiliated during his five years at Matignon under Sarko’s hyper-presidency. If this comes to pass and Fillon squares off against Juppé, he will have an excellent chance of winning, and ergo be the odds-on favorite next May. Whoda thunk it?

So, guess what happened: another stunning coup de théâtre foreseen by no pundit or politico. Fillon took 44 percent of the vote, handily ending Sarkozy’s political career and relegating Juppé to a distant second.

This is very unusual for the French right, which tends to pick the most Gaullist candidate it can — the most charismatic, largest personality. Part of it, perhaps, is that everyone is just sick of Sarkozy and his vanity, and no one looked forward to seeing his face on television for another five years. And perhaps — this is pure speculation — Juppé reminded voters too much of Clinton: entitled, lacking vision, running on his long experience at a time when no one thinks that experience reflects well on the ruling class. Perhaps voters thought, “We saw what happened to Clinton; Juppé will lose to Le Pen.” Perhaps they were right.

Because I didn’t expect him to go anywhere, I paid no mind to Fillon, and can’t tell you much about him beyond what the media’s reporting. He served as prime minister from 2007 to 2012 under Sarkozy. I wasn’t living in France then, so I have no personal memories of him. He’s a 62-year-old Catholic from a village in the northwest. He’s proposed what’s being called a “radical pro-business” reform program: labor reform, increasing the retirement age, cutting 500,000 public sector jobs in five years.

thatcherThis makes him sound like a rare economic liberal in an age of statism and populism: He calls himself a “Thatcherite,” and defended economic liberalism as common sense: “I’m tagged with an [economically] liberal label in the same way one would paint crosses on the doors of lepers in the middle ages. But I’m just a pragmatist.”

It’s extremely unusual for a French politician to liken himself explicitly to Thatcher. It’s particularly striking that he’s done so when so many in France — and the world — see the kind of liberalism she represented as a failure, of which Donald Trump’s election is only the most recent symptom. He’s swimming against the current with this label. I was pleased to see that “Thatcher” was trending in France yesterday. Some commentators think this is what attracted voters; others think it’s the book he just published, which I haven’t read, but which apparently says sensible things about energetically combatting Islamists without targeting law-abiding Muslims.

My reaction to all of that is, “Well, that sounds good. I thought well of Margaret Thatcher. The election of someone like that would be good for France and good for Europe.” 

Except that Monsieur Fillon also seems to be a committed fan of Vladimir Putin.

Now, how he reconciles this with being a great fan of Margaret Thatcher I don’t know; as far as I’m concerned, they can’t be reconciled. But he’s called for a rapprochement with Russia without demanding any concessions, in turn. He’s campaigned feverishly against the economic sanctions placed on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine; he says they’re counterproductive and “strategically devastating for our farmers.” He looks forward to what he hopes will be a good relationship between Putin and Trump. He says he admires Putin’s “cold and effective pragmatism” in the Middle East. Cold and effective, for sure.

Le Point reports that Fillon and Putin use “tu” with each other — which is like being on a first-name basis:

Vladimir Putin can rejoice. If François Fillon enters the Élysée Palace, Putin can count on having a new friend in the circle of Western leaders. Indeed, like Donald Trump, the former French prime minister intends ardently to work with Russia. One month ago, at the very moment the world was outraged about the Russian bombardment of Aleppo, Fillon was one of the rare people to condemn François Hollande’s refusal to receive the Kremlin master who wanted to inaugurate the [new] Russian orthodox church in Paris. “Of course we should welcome him,” he snapped. “Do we want to make war on Russia?”

In other words, as Leonid Bershidsky put it for Bloomberg, without too much hyperbole, Vladimir Putin is Winning the French Election, in so far as it looks as if it will now come down to two enthusiastic Russophiles:

While it’s unclear how well Russian President Vladimir Putin will get along with Donald Trump and his team of Republican hawks, it looks as though he has already won the French presidential election. The front-runner in the primary election of the French center-right, Francois Fillon, is nearly as enthusiastic a Russophile as Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, and the center-left hardly stands a chance in next year’s presidential election. …

Among the center-right candidates, Juppe was the most anti-Russian. He has condemned the Crimea annexation and the Russian bombings of Aleppo, accusing Russia of “war crimes” in Syria. “At a certain moment, we shouldn’t hesitate to tell Putin ‘stop,'” he has said.  If he ended up running against Le Pen, Putin would have a thing or two to worry about; he might even need to find a way to provide more funding for the National Front leader. With Fillon as the center-right candidate, he can relax.

Fillon’s position is longstanding; it’s not a whim. There’s always been a part of the French right that’s been hostile to American power and eager for Russia to be a counterweight. That’s where Fillon comes from. And that idea seems to be a trend, even in America.

So, I don’t know whether this is a victory for Thatcher’s ideas of for Putin’s. All I know is it can’t really be both. We’ll see.

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  1. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Marion Evans:

    It makes sense from a game theory perspective to get into office while professing good relations with Putin.

    Game theory? By what theory is suggesting a lack of commitment to our allies — Trump has done strongly, particularly in changing the GOP party platform to dull its language about Ukraine — apt to result in anything but disaster? An alliance that was credible enough to keep the peace for 70 years will now require a war with Russia if it’s to be that credible again. “Suburb of Leningrad?” “The people of Crimea appear to want to remain under Russia’s control?” NATO is “obsolete” and “is costing us a fortune?”

    But he asked me about NATO. I said it’s obsolete…

    Because it was really put there — you had the Soviet Union and now you have Russia, …

    How does it make sense to invite a nuclear-armed adversary to test your commitment to your allies? To say, outright, “I don’t know?” You could hardly fault Putin for invading Latvia. We just elected a president on the platform called, “Why should we care about faraway people of whom we know nothing?” A platform literally called, America First.

    At its peak the Soviet Union GDP was about 2/3rd that of the US. Now Russian GDP is less than 10% US GDP. They can create damage but every new front is a big stretch for them.

    • #31
  2. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    I can’t believe that we’re still talking about Chamberlain and Munich.

    President Obama rightly criticized Romney about the 1980s wanting its foreign policy back.  Now its the 1930s that wants its foreign policy back.

    I don’t understand all of the concern about Putin’s Russia.  Russia is not hostile to us.  Russia just wants to reclaim some historically Russian lands in places like Georgia, Ukraine, and maybe the Baltic States.  These areas were part of the old Russian Empire for a century or more.  Russia lost them in WWI, regained them in WWII, and then lost them again with the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Putin just wants to go into his own back yard.

    Russia has serious problems with Islamic terrorism, and is a natural ally of ours in this struggle.

    Russia has made a successful transition to democracy.  Putin has won election three times.  Russia has a bicameral legislature somewhat similar to the US (a lower house that is popularly elected nationwide, and an upper house with 2 Senators from each of a variety of regions).

    I don’t understand why conservatives insist on alienating Putin’s peaceful and potentially very helpful Russia.

    [How do you rate my Pat Buchanan impression?]

    • #32
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Arizona Patriot:I can’t believe that we’re still talking about Chamberlain and Munich.

    President Obama rightly criticized Romney about the 1980s wanting its foreign policy back. Now its the 1930s that wants its foreign policy back.

    I don’t understand all of the concern about Putin’s Russia. Russia is not hostile to us. Russia just wants to reclaim some historically Russian lands in places like Georgia, Ukraine, and maybe the Baltic States. These areas were part of the old Russian Empire for a century or more. Russia lost them in WWI, regained them in WWII, and then lost them again with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin just wants to go into his own back yard.

    Russia has serious problems with Islamic terrorism, and is a natural ally of ours in this struggle.

    Russia has made a successful transition to democracy. Putin has won election three times. Russia has a bicameral legislature somewhat similar to the US (a lower house that is popularly elected nationwide, and an upper house with 2 Senators from each of a variety of regions).

    I don’t understand why conservatives insist on alienating Putin’s peaceful and potentially very helpful Russia.

    [How do you rate my Pat Buchanan impression?]

    Dude, if you keep doing that to your brain, it’s gonna get stuck like that.

    • #33
  4. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Sabrdance:

    Front Seat Cat:

    Sabrdance:

    Bush and Putin went fishing together as I recall….in Kennebunkport. They respected each other – that went a long way – Putin backtracked during GW’s presidency when he tried to move into Eastern Europe – strength respects strength – we haven’t had that in awhile.

    This is why I need to write the longer treatment. I don’t think our moves into Eastern Europe were originally a bluff – …the hope was to connect old Soviet Block into the West -very much including Russia. The idea that Russia would one day be welcomed into NATO had serious cultural cache as late as 2000 -and 9/11 made possible the prospect that the shared American and Russian concern over Islamic Terrorism would accelerate that merger. As late as 2006 (my senior year in college, when I took International Relations) it was being argued that Russia and the West had so many interests in common that a world order bestride by Russia and the US was a serious possibility.

    In that context, NATO’s moving east was just a gradual incorporation that would eventually have included Russia.

    Somewhere between 2006 and 2008 that belief became nonviable. Maybe it was the missile interceptors in Poland, maybe it was the 2006 Midterm Route -I don’t know. But the change is recent.

    Classic politics. Focus the citizens on external enemies. Avoid insolvable domestic problems.

    • #34
  5. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    Steve C.: Chamberlain, I see what you did there.

    Chamberlain gets a bad rap. Back in 1914, nobody was interested in any form of compromise and Europe got the carnage of WW1. So in 1938 there was good reason to try to avoid a repeat. Of course, that didn’t work either. Point is that both appeasement and lack of appeasement can lead to a big war.

    • #35
  6. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    @claire , where do I look for good contemporary commentary on how awful the FN is? My knowledge comes from a fair way back when it was extremely, extremely awful, but I have the received impression that Marine’s purges have driven it back to being just extremely awful.

    • #36
  7. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    And did you do this test: Thatcher or Fillon: who said it?

    • #37
  8. fidelio102 Inactive
    fidelio102
    @fidelio102

    Three comments on this excellent article :

    1.  ‘Les Republicaines’ (sic).  Wishful thinking or poor editing ?
    2.  The great Thatcher admirer was of course President Mitterrand.  You may wish to refer to Claude Imbert’s 2012 article in Le Point (http://www.lepoint.fr/monde/margaret-thatcher-et-francois-mitterrand-ce-drole-de-couple-15-02-2012-1431579_24.php)
    3. Franco-Russian relations are a complicated story dating back a long way.  For at least a century (1750-1850) French was the everyday language in which the St Petersburg aristocracy conversed.  As a result, the French have always bent over backwards to accommodate the erratic course of Russian foreign policy.

    .

    • #38
  9. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    fidelio102: ‘Les Republicaines’ (sic). Wishful thinking or poor editing ?

    Closet NKM supporter?

    • #39
  10. fidelio102 Inactive
    fidelio102
    @fidelio102

    @genferei  From Edith Cresson onwards, French politics numbers countless women who have broken the glass ceiling, enjoyed stellar success at a local level then been unable to convince of their political capabilites at a national level (Rachida Dati, Segolene Royal,  Martine Aubry…the list is much longer).

    • #40
  11. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Marion Evans:

    Steve C.: Chamberlain, I see what you did there.

    Chamberlain gets a bad rap. Back in 1914, nobody was interested in any form of compromise and Europe got the carnage of WW1. So in 1938 there was good reason to try to avoid a repeat. Of course, that didn’t work either. Point is that both appeasement and lack of appeasement can lead to a big war.

    Somewhat. Upon Chamberlain’s death Churchill was forgiving and attributed Chamberlain’s appeasement tendencies to a need to buy time to re-arm. And that’s true to an extent. Baldwin was the key appeaser, denying at every turn the truth of German re-armament leaked to Churchill. But Chamberlain was more concerned about trade and industry, one reason British plans to increase defense spending were always given second place. Products made by private industry could be sold. Weapons, paid for by the state, were a dead weight loss to the economy.

    The main point Churchill et al wanted made was: Yes, WWI was horrible and we don’t want a repeat. But the best way to avoid a repeat was a strong military force backed up by the will to use it.

    The task of leaders is to educate and lead the public. Not to pander.

    • #41
  12. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Our policy with Russia is a disaster because of actions to take the Baltic States into Nato and overshadow Putin’s Petersburg and to bring Ukraine into the EU and kick the Russians out of Crimea. Your lot never learned anything from George Kennan and still hasn’t. Learning how to construct neutral states would have been far more constructive, but no we had to have this revanchist mindset taking us out on a totally untenable limb.

    • #42
  13. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Hang On:Our policy with Russia is a disaster because of actions to take the Baltic States into Nato and overshadow Putin’s Petersburg and to bring Ukraine into the EU and kick the Russians out of Crimea. Your lot never learned anything from George Kennan and still hasn’t. Learning how to construct neutral states would have been far more constructive, but no we had to have this revanchist mindset taking us out on a totally untenable limb.

    Neutral states as buffers. Does the name “Belgium” ring any bells?

    • #43
  14. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    genferei:@claire , where do I look for good contemporary commentary on how awful the FN is? My knowledge comes from a fair way back when it was extremely, extremely awful, but I have the received impression that Marine’s purges have driven it back to being just extremely awful.

    You read French, right? Le Monde covers the droit extrême here. Here’s the NF press site, which suggests the preoccupations of its supporters.

    • #44
  15. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Le Monde covers the droit extrême here. Here’s the NF press site, which suggests the preoccupations of its supporters.

    Thanks. The NF press site seems horribly out of date. Except for upcoming press events and various general news snippets the news and articles end in January of this year.

    I’m going to spend far too much time on the Le Monde bit, but probably on the links between neo-Petainists and Hezbollah and other matches made in hell…

    • #45
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