Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Surprises from Iraq

Jeff Weintraub notes the astonishingly optimistic tone of the BBC's reports of the Iraqi elections.

As he says,  the situation in Iraq now has to be seen in the light of the black days of just over 2 years ago  (in fact,  the black months from spring 2006 to the early part of 2007).

The BBC has been slow in recognizing the improvement in the situation in Iraq  (some signs of which were visible from the summer of 2007,  although this was not helped by some on the right claiming earlier that we were "on the verge of a major victory").

But Jim Muir is one of the fairest-minded of the BBC correspondants who have reported from Iraq.  It is a good job they had him there for the elections:  some of the others would have found it hard to swallow their words - not because they reported things as being bad  (they were bad),  but because they implied there was absolutely no hope of them ever getting better.

Unlike these outsiders,  many Iraqis never lost hope,  even in the blackest times.  Some of them,  like journalist Khalid W. Hassan,   are now dead.  But as Samir Sumaida'ie (*) said,  "This is our country:  we can't walk away from it."

The turnaround in the last 2 years has been remarkable,  though it is right to continue to use qualifiers - about the situation being fragile and not being perfect.  Much of this can be attributed to the "surge",  which was treated with such scepticism at the time.  And it should not be forgotten that,  however wonderful President Obama's election victory may be in other respects,  he and Hillary Clinton and other Democrats long argued for a policy that would have meant leaving Iraq,  not in a reasonably hopeful situation,  but in defeat (**).
So,  what is left?  Even last year people like Peter Oborne were talking about the risk of Iraq "descending into civil war" - two years ago,  of course,  they were saying it was in a civil war.  But even those voices are getting quieter now.  Then there are some French commentators who say that the 2003 intervention only strengthened Iran by bringing to power a Shi'a led government:  to which, given that Iraq has a Shi'a majority, one might reply "quelle surprise!" or even "quel horreur!"  In any case, reports on the election indicate that the more religious parties have lost ground to "nationalist" ones,  i.e. ones that are relatively - everything is relative - less pro-Iranian.

In fact,  one of the signs of how things have changed in Iraq is that Tuesday last week (10 Feb) Sarkozy and Kouchner were in Baghdad  (as French reports point out,  six years to the day after Dominique de Villepin made his passionate speech to the UN).  This was reported as a "surprise visit":  even a visit by the US president is a surprise,  of course,  in that it is not reported in advance when it is going to happen;  but the surprise of the visit by the French president and Foreign Minister was that it happened at all.

* Iraq's Ambassador to the U.S.,  interview on C-Span,  18 Feb 2007.

**  Incidentally,  there are unconfirmed reports that Samantha Power may be coming in to the Obama administration  (Financial Times,  31 Jan).

Monday, February 09, 2009

The French Doctor

Bernard Kouchner is having a few little difficulties:  a book by Pierre Péan accuses him of improprieties,  of conflict between his private and public activities.

Defending himself in the National Assembly on Wednesday, 'the French Doctor',  as  the media in France refer to him,  did not convince everyone.  But on Thursday,  the president gave his support.  As Jean-Marie Colombani,  now commenting for France Inter on Fridays,  said,  in the light of the targeted attacks by some sections of opinion,  "le soutien de Nicolas Sarkozy à Bernard Kouchner est bienvenu."

There are a couple of issues in the background here.

Péan has been criticised for describing Kouchner as a cosmopolite,  in the 'thirties a code word for "Jew".

Then,  on the issue of the 1994 massacre in Rwanda,  Péan is known to be pro-Hutu,  even to the point of denying the genocide (*).

In December last year, France Inter had another look at Rwanda,  with Patrick de Saint-Exupéry.  One of the points that  Saint-Exupéry insisted on was the refusal,  going to the highest levels of the political establishment like Dominique de Villepin,  to fully acknowledge the genocide:  either they talk about a "double genocide"  -  that is the Tutsis were also involved in the killings;  or they simply admit a "genocide in Rwanda",  that is a genocide of nothing at all;  they will not refer to it as a "genocide des Tutsis par les Hutus".  Incidentally,  the formula the BBC generally uses is "genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus".

* In 2006 there was talk of an action against Péan under France's holocaust denial laws.