Monday, May 21, 2007

If the world is his oyster

This article of mine appears in today's Guardian.

It's not a bad reward for being proved wrong. Bernard Kouchner, alone among prominent members of the French Socialist party in welcoming US-led military intervention against Iraq, has ended up not in the political doghouse but in the Quai D'Orsay, as the foreign minister of France.

The appointment of Kouchner by France's new rightwing president, Nicolas Sarkozy, may have surprised commentators, but it is only the latest illustration of a cross-party alliance of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists that is already entrenched in both the US and Britain.

In America, the pro-war Democratic senator Joe Lieberman is kissed by George Bush, while in Britain, Michael Gove, the Tory MP for Surrey Heath, expresses his "love" for Tony Blair. The Henry Jackson Society has brought together parliamentarians from both the Conservative and Labour parties in support of an "interventionist foreign policy": spot the difference between the aims of that group and those of the supposedly left-leaning Euston Manifesto.

Now this right-left alliance is under way in France. Sarkozy and Kouchner share a belief that France's foreign policy needs to shift from its traditional "conservative realist" approach to a more interventionist pro-US line. With Kouchner, the man described as the "father of humanitarian interventionism", as foreign minister, we can expect France to involve itself far more in the affairs of other nations.

For Kouchner, international law is an anachronism to be overridden with impunity. "To change the law, you sometimes have to break the law" is one of his favourite sayings. Despite having served as UN special representative in Kosovo, Kouchner seems to have scant regard for its charter and the way it enshrines the sovereign equality of all its members. He clearly believes some states are more equal than others. In a 2004 lecture he argued: "The sovereignty of states can be respected only if it emanates from the people inside the state. If a state is a dictatorship, then it is absolutely not worthy of the international community's respect." This was the logic that led Kouchner to believe his country "should have gone along" with the US in the campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein, despite its clear illegality and the lack of UN backing.

Instead of a world of equal states respecting each other's sovereignty, Kouchner prefers the "right of interference" by western powers, if necessary by military force. But, after a decade of western vigilantism of the type Kouchner favours, the results have not been encouraging from a human rights perspective. In Kosovo an estimated 200,000 Serbs, Roma and other minorities have been ethnically cleansed since Nato moved in. In Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians. In Iraq, the humanitarian catastrophe worsens by the day.

Acknowledging the disasters caused by the western interventions of the decade doesn't of course mean accepting states should be free to massacre their own citizens with impunity. But where evidence of such crimes exists and is verified by an impartial body, it is essential that any intervention should be not only in full accordance with international law, but by a universally accepted international body rather than a partisan force such as Nato. Don't expect Kouchner, a staunch Atlanticist, to make such suggestions. "A political moment for celebration" is how the hawkish Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein described Kouchner's appointment. He's right: there's no doubt that in the offices of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, Kouchner's elevation will be celebrated. But for those who believe the best hope for peace and human rights is respect for international law, the news from Paris is bleak indeed.

A commenter by the name of 'Jeremy James' who bemoans the fact that the Sarkozy/Kouchner team was not in charge of French policy in the lead up to war in Iraq, and who claims that Jacques Chirac's use of the veto to try to stop a war which to date has cost the lives of at least 600,000 people, was "unprincipled gesture politics of the very worst sort" states:

"Neil Clark's article is an affront to journalism.
I hope we shall not be burdened with any other piece from him about any other subject in the future."

Oh you shall, Mr James, you shall. So long as pro-war fanatics like you still have the audacity to put your head above the parapet and use public forums to express your obscene and wholly discredited views, I'll be there. That I can promise you.


Anonymous said...

Keep it going Neil. You're really getting up the bastards' noses.!

Anonymous said...

I'm not expecting an honest answer, but how much did you actually know about Kouchner, his views and his track record, before penning that attack-piece?

The omission of his role in the founding of Medecins Sans Frontieres is particularly intriguing - either you didn't know about it, or you deliberately omitted this rather crucial fact because you knew it would heavily undermine your thesis.

My money's on the first explanation, but neither shows you in an especially positive light.

Charlie Marks said...

Comrade, I have to take issue with your call for "the restoration of capital punishment". Not just because I am a leftist, but there's a residual catholicism in me... I honestly can't see how the death pentalty is ethical or effective. Violent crime has always been with us and i think the way to reduce it is to remove the pressures that break families and communities up. And some of that rap music is bloody good: check out dead prez, the coup, public enemy, arrested development, outkast, and nas.

Neil Clark said...

slinky: you may not be expecting an honest answer, but you'll get one nonetheless. I actually know quite a lot about Kouchner, (which is why I wrote the piece) -and of course I knew about his founding of MSF. But that was many years ago- what's of more interest in debating what sort of Foreign Minister he'll be is his stance on the Iraq intervention, and his views on France's relationship with the US. If I'd have had to write a 1000 words on Koucnher then I would have gone into his earlier work, but I only had 700 to play with. If you want to send in an alternative view on Kouchner, then I'd be happy to post it here. I wonder incidentally, if you have any take on the picture I've published showing Kouchner with the leader of the decidedly unhumanitarian KLA?

Anonymous said...

I actually know quite a lot about Kouchner,

In which case I imagine you're writing a rebuttal to Oliver Kamm right now!

Ken said...

Kouchner did not actually support the war against Iraq, but he did not oppose it all that much either. He certainly supported the war against Yugoslavia in 1999, which is enough to condemn him in my eyes, because had the neo-imperialism been stopped in 1999 we would not have had the Iraq aggression.

Neil's point is that he is a part of the pro-Atlanticist element in French politics that is trying to force globalised capitalism on the rest of us.

I hope that he enjoys the defeat.