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In 2004, I reviewed a book called Anti-Americanism, written by the French philosopher and essayist Jean-François Revel. Revel was at the time eighty years old; he was to die two years later. A socialist in his youth, he later became a prominent European proponent of classical liberalism and free market economics. You can read the essay that he later expanded into the book here.
Although I found his book, ultimately, insubstantial, I appreciated his effort to show that the kind of anti-Americanism then fashionable in Europe was irrational and internally incoherent:
The book’s chief mode of argument is to expose the inherent contradictions in their position: Americans, he notes, are pilloried simultaneously for their puritanism and their materialism, for their isolationism and for their imperialism, for their reluctance to dispense economic aid and for dispensing that very aid—this last generally interpreted as a sinister effort to control the destinies and dignity of the beneficiaries.
Okay, ‘fess up — who else is on #Giraffewatch this weekend?
If you don’t know what that is, stop here. Do you value your time? Then don’t even start. You’ve been warned. Do not click on any of the links in this post.
But if you do: Why is this so compelling? Is it because we know so many other people are watching, too, and there’s a sense of belonging in doing something that everyone else is doing?
There’s so much fast-breaking domestic news to follow (Flynn? Immunity?) and so many complex, major crises abroad, that you may be entirely forgiven for paying no attention whatsoever to the upcoming French elections. But if this were a more placid moment in history, you’d probably be hearing a lot more about France’s weird presidential campaign, actually one of the weirdest in French history.
So I’ve compiled this NAQ — a list of never-asked questions — to answer some of the questions you would have asked if this were a normal news year in which a French election could actually get anyone’s attention for more than a second.
Q. How does France work?
I don’t know how many of you have experimented with the new Google Translate, but if you haven’t paid much attention to it, the way it works is fascinating, and the results are beyond belief. I was one of the people who confidently said of AI translation schemes, “Oh, come on, they’ll never work.” I was so wrong. Google Machine Neural Translation is an astonishing and historic achievement.
One of its consequences: I can now read Russian. So can you. Without learning so much as a letter of Cyrillic. A whole world that was once only visible to Americans who invested years of study is now transparent to us all. Russia is still a riddle inside in an enigma, but it’s no longer wrapped in a mystery.
You’ve heard by now, I’m sure, that there were massive protests yesterday all across Russia, and that opposition leader Aleksey Navalny was detained. So were between 500 and “at least 1,000” other protesters, depending on the source. An American journalist, Alec Luhn, was detained, but later released.
Historian Perry Anderson is one of the luminaries of the so-called Western Marxists, that is, Marxist theoreticians who were based in Western and Central Europe, rather than the Soviet Union. He’s now a professor of history and sociology at UCLA. He used to be the editor of the New Left Review. This pedigree, I should think, would be sufficient for most on Ricochet to consider calling in an exorcist.
But I’m going to ask you to read him anyway. Just one essay, actually. It’s a piece about the EU in Le Monde Diplomatique, titled “Why the System Will Still Win,” in which he predicts that the European center will hold and the EU will survive. This is an outcome that as a revolutionary he deplores, of course.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s party has won the most seats in the Dutch Parliament, defeating Geert Wilders by a larger margin than the pollsters expected. It was a clear victory for Rutte, though he won with fewer seats than in the last parliament. The Euro rallied on the news. Merkel told Rutte: “I look forward to continuing our good cooperation as friends, Europeans, Europeans.”
The past few days have seen so much chaos in Europe that I can barely keep up with it. Three critical elections, or sets of elections, ahead: The Dutch go to the polls tomorrow; the Turks will vote on constitutional reform on Sunday; and the two-round French presidential election takes place in April and May.
As you probably heard, last week Erdoğan called the Germans Nazis. The Dutch then barred Turkish ministers from campaigning in favor of their referendum in Rotterdam — Turkish expats can vote in Turkish elections — ostensibly on the grounds that their visit would cause unrest in the days prior to the Dutch election. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoğlu insisted upon causing unrest anyway, daring the Dutch to stop him from coming, which they did, and for emphasis the Dutch sicced the dogs on rioting pro-AKP Turks. Erdoğan then called the Dutch Nazis. Everyone in Turkey and the Netherlands went nuts, which was precisely the point of this whole charade: On the Turkish side, the goal (clearly planned in advance, and announced) was to mobilize their shock troops in the Netherlands, stage those scenes, stir up nationalist passions in Turkey, use these to pass the referendum, and succeed in giving Erdoğan all the power, forever; on the Dutch side, the goal was to persuade the voters that Prime Minister Mark Rutte can be just as tough on Turks as Party-of-One Geert Wilders — though everyone’s a bit worried now that he overshot and just persuaded the Dutch to vote for Wilders.
If this explanation went by too fast for you, Aaron Stein, senior resident fellow of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, offered a running commentary as this unfolded: It should help with the details:
What, exactly, does the upholding of the parliamentary vote to impeach South Korea’s Park Geun-hye mean for the region? We’re all wondering. Fortunately, Robert E. Kelly, associate professor of international relations in the Political Science and Diplomacy Department of Pusan National University, is on hand to explain:
Some of you told me they other day you’d prefer me to write more about Europe and less about Trump. Since I’ve got thousands of words of notes on my computer about Europe, I’ll try to oblige, although of course it’s impossible to write about the former without noting the latter’s effect upon it.
Our podcast guest the other day was Jamie Kirchick, the author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age. As it happens, I’d just published a review of his book in National Review. The subject of his book is very similar to the one I’m writing, so unsurprisingly, I found it thought-provoking; in fact, I found it essay-provoking; I ended up writing a chapter-length response to it. Of course, National Review couldn’t run a 5,000-word review. They ran what they thought were the best 1,800 words. (Mike Potemra, the book section editor, did a great job of choosing them.)
But as a result, some of the points I made in the review had to stand as assertions, rather than full arguments. Since one of our members asked about it, I decided to publish the original review. You can read the whole thing here:
Greetings, Gentlemen and Gentle Ladies of Ricochet. I’ve been away for a while, I know.
Some of you wrote to the editors to ask what happened to me and whether they should be worried. I was touched by that. You’ve heard, then, that I’ve been working on my book, which is coming along well. But in truth, that’s not the only reason I’ve been away.
I’m less well-informed about our southern neighbor than I should be, and because I don’t closely follow the news from Mexico, I can’t instinctively assess the credibility of this article by José Cárdenas in National Review. According to his byline, Cárdenas served in senior foreign-policy positions at the State Department, the National Security Council, and the Agency for International Development during the George W. Bush administration, focusing on Latin America, so he sounds as if he’d be well-informed, though some of what he says doesn’t quite make sense to me.
Cárdenas warns, “As it now stands, the Trump administration risks provoking a Mexican populist backlash that could result in an anti-American government led by a Hugo Chávez wannabe taking power in 2018, an outcome that could adversely affect U.S. prosperity and security for years to come.”
To anyone who has ever experienced even a passing flicker of national pride, it will come as no surprise that “the manner in which candidate Trump has discussed Mexico has had its costs.”
It is still, of course, too soon to say what the Trump presidency heralds in geopolitics, but I thought you might find it interesting to listen to Eastern Europeans discussing what it might mean.
Hromadske.TV is an Internet television station in Ukraine. In this clip, Nataliya Gumenyuk interviews the Latvian journalist Paul Raudseps, who is simultaneously concerned and discouraged by Trump’s rhetoric, but heartened by the sight of American troops in the region:
At his confirmation hearing on Thursday, General James Mattis, warning that the nations of the north Atlantic were “under the biggest attack since World War II” and described Russia as the “principal threat” facing the United States. He called NATO “the most successful military alliance probably in modern history, maybe ever.”
I was about to go down the badger hole and lose another day of my one, short, precious life to the news cycle and the scandal du jour, but something stopped me. (Divine interference?) My finger was just about to click on that headline, when a voice in my head said, “In twenty years’ time, if you’re lucky enough to be around then, will this matter?”
It made me wonder what will, though. What’s the big picture? Do these headlines suggest any larger, more important trends? Or are they entirely ephemeral?
Well, that’s a heck of a story to wake up to:
During a special briefing last Friday, leaders of the intelligence community gave President-elect Donald Trump a synopsis of unsubstantiated and salacious allegations that Russian operatives had obtained potentially compromising personal and financial information about the president-elect, a U.S. official confirmed Tuesday.