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François Hollande: the John Wayne of the Champs Élysées

Veritable transformation … François Hollande. Photograph: Reuters

If the Islamic State suicide bombers who attacked the Stade de France on Friday 13 November had succeeded in getting into the stadium, as seems to have been their intention, France may possibly now be facing an added crisis of political, constitutional and existential significance: namely, the assassination of the president of the republic.

It was no secret that François Hollande, the Socialist leader who was elected to the Élysées in 2012, was attending that evening’s football match against Germany. It could reasonably be assumed he was the terrorists’ prime target. Pictures of Hollande’s ashen-faced safety detail as they hurried him away to safety indicate how close a shave this was.

Hollande’s survival has been much more than merely physical. In the torrid days following the attacks, this unprepossessing politician, who styled himself “Monsieur Normal” as he fought to unseat Nicolas Sarkozy, has morphed into an extraordinary figure – a gritty leader, well-known commander and “chef de guerre” – who seems, for now, practically bigger than life.

In a whirlwind of activity that included an historic address to parliament in Versailles, Hollande declared France to be at war with Islamist jihadism, named for a international military coalition with France at its helm, demanded EU-wide support, imposed a national state of emergency and border checks, place troops on the streets, and vowed to vastly extend invasive state safety powers.

For a man when widely dismissed as a loser and a lightweight, it was a veritable transformation. Abroad, he had maybe been ideal recognized for his furtive motorcycle tryst with his actor lover, Julie Gayet, and his messy, public breakup with his First Lady, Valérie Trierweiler. At property, he had endured the further indignity of becoming rated France’s most useless president ever, with a dismal 16% approval rating recorded exactly a single year ago.

Coming from a lifelong Socialist, Hollande’s dramatic talk of unbridled war, his embrace of a very conservative safety agenda, and his stated determination to mercilessly crush France’s foes seemed incongruous, to say the least. A man of notoriously diminutive stature, Hollande was all of a sudden walking tall, the John Wayne of the Champs Élysées. Soon after January’s Charlie Hebdo shootings, Hollande went searching for causes – social exclusion, economic deprivation, alienation of young Muslims. Final week, he went seeking for culprits.

François Hollande: France will in no way give in to worry – video

The key to understanding this apparent paradox might lie in the nature of modern political leadership in times of crisis, for Hollande’s journey, as a man and statesman, is by no signifies exclusive.

Modern leaders have obtainable a number of familiar crisis-management tools, as nicely as some new ones. They variety from patriotic rhetoric, appeals to national sentiment and identity, claims of moral superiority, worry of the other, and the delegitimisation and dehumanisation of the “enemy” to actual-time, mass-media communications, mass surveillance, and the overweening energy, attain and legal force of a modern-day government.

Unhesitating, Hollande reached for them all. Faced with a basic and outrageous challenge to the established state, the president, as the embodiment, symbol and premier office holder of that identical state, shifted instantaneously to what may possibly be termed crisis default position one: that is to say, he stood up, took a stand, banished all sense of doubt and self-blame, and boldly rallied the nation in defence of the republic.

As events in other nations have shown, at such moments of extreme national stress, variations in political ideology and policy turn out to be properly moot, at least for a although. Political point-scoring, for instance, over glaring contradictions amongst the state’s newest, required actions and conventional issues about individual freedom, privacy and civil liberties is temporarily set aside.

Ordinary citizens, for the most portion willingly, turn out to be celebration to this understanding. It is as although they are saying, albeit with out actually being asked, that dissent is unwelcome and only serves to give comfort to the “enemy”. These who disagree, as Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn did in a diverse context about shoot-to-kill policy, are booed down. The unspoken, over-riding priority is for national unity, above all else, in the face of a typical threat – and this fundamental notion, at such occasions, is fiercely held and virtually tribal in origin.

Connected: Hollande completes transformation from ‘marshmallow’ to ‘chief of war’

This phenomenon is by no indicates confined to France, nor is it specifically new. This collective circling of wagons at moments of peril is at least as old as the post-Enlightenment contemporary nation state. In terms of political rhetoric and strongman leadership, the ancient Greeks would have no problems recognising current behaviour.

A similar, unscripted physical exercise in voluntary, collective obeisance, or self-censorship, was evident in the US following 9/11, when overt opposition and media criticism of White Property counter-terrorism policies was seen as almost treasonable for a time. It was a development that thwarted accountability, discouraged transparency, and was eventually deeply injurious to American democracy and the peoples of the Middle East.

So Hollande, so far, has survived. He has ridden the tiger with aplomb. But there is a weighty down side to such “take no prisoners” crisis management, as other leaders have identified. Hollande may possibly however come to rue some or significantly of what he has lately set in train as normality returns the price tag of such from-the-gut leadership can be higher.

The choices a leader tends to make among a principled and populist path, amongst inspirational, emotional reactivity and cautious, thought-via policy adjustment grow to be clearer as the dust settles. And the consequences, as constantly, are unpredictable and usually unwelcome. As objective political evaluations and daily judgments resume, so too does a a lot more rigorous, much less credulous, less trustful scrutiny, replacing mindless grief, anger and worry. This procedure is already gathering force in Paris.

Politics of instinct … Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who won his recent general election on a campaign of fear.

Politics of instinct … Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who won his recent basic election on a campaign of worry. Photograph: Murad Sezer/Reuters

Preceding expertise ought to inform Hollande what to anticipate. Praised for his statesmanlike reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the so-named “Charlie effect” on his poll ratings swiftly dissipated. Two months later, the Socialists had been trounced in the 1st round of local elections by the Sarkozy-led, centre-proper opposition and by the Front National (FN) of Marine Le Pen.

History may soon repeat itself, as the FN gears up for large advances in subsequent month’s nationwide municipal polls. Le Pen has been careful with what she has said, tacitly acknowledging the immediate national urge to rally round the flag and the president. She is evidently anxious about becoming accused of exploiting the scenario for political achieve. But both she and Sarkozy are merely biding their time.

When the dust has settled, Hollande will most likely face redoubled efforts, all the much more furious for possessing been delayed, to blame him and his administration for fatal intelligence lapses and immigration policy failures, for a misguided, Mitterrand-style tolerance for “la difference” in French society, specifically exactly where Muslims are concerned, and for an interventionist foreign policy, in the Middle East and Francophone Africa, that has produced France both the target and the victim of its enemies.

Comparisons can be instructive, although they are not encouraging. The Syrian civil war and the parallel rise of international jihadi terrorism have presented other national leaders with dilemmas and pitfalls akin to these faced by Hollande.

In Turkey earlier this month, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development party (AKP) scored a famous basic election victory. But Erdoğan’s campaign was based on worry: of physical and financial insecurity, of the Kurdish minority, of Isis and other extremists, of Syrian refugees and European governments bent on exploiting Turkey for their personal ends.

Possibly Erdoğan genuinely believed his personal rhetoric, that he had no choice but to cast the vote in terms of pals versus enemies. But his politics of instinct may yet prove disastrously contrary to his country’s long-term interest.

Careless rhetoric … George W Bush at Ground Zero after 9/11.

Careless rhetoric … George W Bush at Ground Zero after 9/11. Photograph: Getty Pictures

The election has left Turkey utterly divided, with 49% backing Erdoğan’s way of undertaking items and 49% against, according to a Pew survey. Turkey is half in and half out of the battle to replace Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, half in and half out of a resumed war with Kurdish separatists, half in and half out of Europe and of an agreement to help stem the flow of refugees. If matters deteriorate, Erdoğan will be blamed.

Angela Merkel, Germany’s long-serving and apparently unassailable chancellor, was hailed virtually as a contemporary-day Mother Teresa when she opened her borders in the summer to thousands of migrants advancing on Germany by way of Greece and the Balkans. It was a heartfelt gesture, no doubt, and one that was celebrated by numerous in Germany resentful of the country’s post-Greece image as Europe’s heartless, penny-pinching boss.

But winter is coming, in Berlin as elsewhere, and there have been a lot of second thoughts. Merkel is facing a growing storm of opposition, not least from within the ranks of her personal conservative Christian Democrats. She could but be forced to alter course.

Merkel would say that she made a quick choice when no one else in Europe would. She would say she acted from humanitarian motives, and that she acted for the best. But as Hollande may soon find out, choices reached at the height of a crisis are no substitute for long-term policy generating, nevertheless popular they appear at the time.

Several other senior politicians have faced related moments of acute national emergency or crisis when the stress for swift action, challenging words and robust – or vainglorious – expressions of leadership is both irresistible and, ultimately, calamitous. George W Bush fell prey to rash choices and careless rhetoric with his talk of a crusade against al-Qaida and his vow to hunt down Osama bin Laden “dead or alive”. He prematurely declared victory in a war that nevertheless had eight years to run. Tony Blair, too keen to do what he personally deemed the right factor, so more than-egged his Iraq invasion pudding that his reputation in no way recovered.

Margaret Thatcher greeted Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands with visceral, violent, patriotic defiance. But her subsequent, improvised actions, specifically the sinking of the Argentine cruiser Belgrano, stay deeply controversial – and the Falklands concern remains dangerously unresolved.

Associated: François Hollande will call on Obama to speed up fight against Isis

Political responses to intense crisis want not usually be disastrous. Mikhail Gorbachev, contemplating the imminent implosion of the Soviet Union, located himself trapped in an historical cul-de-sac. It could all have grow to be really nasty as the nuclear-armed state fell apart. In the end, the last general-secretary of the USSR did as effectively as anybody may well have anticipated. But he is still reviled on the Russian nationalist appropriate as the man who lost the empire.

In 1989, Helmut Kohl, then chancellor of West Germany, was likewise unexpectedly confronted with the fall of the Berlin Wall and a increasing crucial for German reunification. Like Hollande, he was, and possibly deserved to be, a considerably underestimated man. But Kohl pulled off an remarkable transformation, with out bloodshed and with out much fuss.

Like Hollande, these contemporary-day leaders all resorted amid crisis to the language, trappings and power of national will, unity, patriotism, determination, defiance and unswerving dedication to victory. All knew that, like him, their survival as leaders was on the line. And almost all paid a high personal, political or historical price for the instinctive and typically ill-thought-out manner in which they responded.

In the previous week, Hollande has carried out the French proud. In the coming period, the French, committed by their president to an open-ended war in the Middle East, slowly absorbing the numerous damaging, divisive longer-term consequences of his current actions at house, and eventually forgetful of last week’s magnificent sense of unity, will most most likely do for Hollande.