PARIS – The war on Iraq has been officially erased … in France. It has simply disappeared from the mainstream press and from the nightly news. The feat cannot be entirely attributed to the summer silly season – especially in a country where most people are entitled to at least 36 days of paid holidays a year (Americans mostly get a meager week or so). Once again, it’s up to the adrenalin-junkie, vertically challenged nouveau President Nicolas Sarkozy, the best-loved Frenchman in the US since Lafayette.
Way beyond the ghastly weather provoking an additional torrent of editorials on global warming, jogger-in-chief Sarkozy was able to bury France’s fierce opposition to the war on Iraq by visiting lame-duck-in-chief George W Bush in W’s father’s cozy retreat in Maine. Long gone are the February 2003 days of former prime minister Dominique de Villepin humiliating secretary of state Colin Powell (and receiving a five-minute ovation) at the United Nations Security Council, when grumpy “old Europe” was pitted against those gung-ho libertarians bent on bringing “freedom” to “the Iraqi people”.
The Bush-Sarko grill – animated by informal burgers and French (not “freedom”) fries – may have sealed the end of “old Europe”, but in notoriously wary France, the real talk of the town (and the street markets) was why the preppy-dressed Sarko was not joined by his wife Cecilia, a former Elsa Schiaparelli model. Instead of joining the Bushes to talk interior decoration with Laura the librarian, Cecilia opted for hanging out with close pal Mathilde Agostinelli, the head of communication for Prada, and the reason Sarko was voted by Vanity Fair one of the 10 best-dressed men in the world (who wouldn’t be, with all those Prada freebies?). The first madame was working on her tan and hanging around the New Hampshire resort town of Wolfeboro in shorts the day before and the day after, but conveniently fell ill right on the day of the Bush burger fest.
After much Lacanian deconstruction, the sycophantic French media still could not come up with a reason. It’s simple: the hyper-fashion-conscious Cecilia – fresh from charming Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on a face-to-face in Tripoli into liberating a bunch of Bulgarian nurses – wouldn’t be caught dead appearing in the same photo with the beaming Bush clan.
George W may be in dire need of some ritzy European friends, but Cecilia certainly knows her priorities – apart from being totally in sync with the genius of (French) capitalism. The legendary Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the former “evil empire” the USSR, has recently reappeared, as sad as Marie Antoinette facing the scaffold, in the back of a limousine side-by-side with a Louis Vuitton bag, the real star of the slick TV ad. The limo cruises past what’s left of the Berlin Wall. Gorby only did it for the money, of course: he donated his take to Al Gore’s environmental fund. As for Cecilia, she would rather converse with a mute Prada bag than with Barbara Bush – and on top of it for zero euros.
And then there’s the yellow peril …
The Chinese approach to globalization can be fully grasped right in front of the Eiffel Tower. One just needs to join the informal economy and bargain his way with a slender black chap recently arrived from Senegal, Mali or Burkina Faso in exchange of a battery-charged multi-colored plastic miniature of the tower. The mini-tower, of course, is made in China. It sells, officially, for 5 euros (but because of explosive offers, one can bargain it down to 3 euros, almost US\$5). Its manufacturing cost in China is less than 10 US cents apiece. No wonder the bureaucrat hordes at the European Commission in Brussels are cutting short their deepsea-diving holidays in Madagascar to study ways of preventing (and regulating) the phenomenon.
China is not only taking over the mini-tower business, it is threatening to take over everything around the genuine article as well. Residents are frantically petitioning local powers so the Chinese are prevented one way or another from owning every single business in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, where the tower lies; a losing game, as there are already four different Chinatowns (and counting) in Paris alone. If you can’t beat them, join them: that’s what the mighty Barcelona soccer squad did, parading its fabulous attacking trio (Brazilian Ronaldinho, Cameroonian Samuel Eto and Frenchman Thierry Henry) on a lightning Chinese tour. The Eiffel Tower might as well sponsor brand expansion in Guangdong and Sichuan.
The minor fact of two top Chinese government spokesmen softly insinuating last week that should Washington insist on sanctions “the Chinese central bank will be forced to sell dollars, which might lead to a mass depreciation of the dollar” was completely overlooked at the height of the European silly season. It may have been overlooked at the crowded beaches and restaurants charging 10 euros for an espresso, but it registered as a thunderstorm in financial circles in London, Paris, Frankfurt and Brussels. That was Beijing saying, with a heavy Mandarin accent: “Wise up, fella, or your credit is bust.” Legions of desperate Americans are already frantically advising countrymen to get a passport and stash some cash.
Foreign governments, institutions and individuals – most of them Asian, European and Arab – hold collectively more than \$2 trillion of US paper. That’s roughly 25% of the US national debt. China’s central bank is more than ready to exchange a great deal of its gargantuan \$1 trillion-plus in reserves for gold and oil.
The Bush-friendly “new Europe” of the current Sarkozy-Merkel vintage of course knows that voracious US Treasuries buyer China de facto controls US interest rates, so China literally pays for Bush’s war on Iraq. “New Europe” also knows it’s absolutely unlikely China would ever finance a Bush war on Iran – which would be a direct attack on Asia. More power thus to a negotiated European-brokered solution to the Iranian nuclear dossier.
A final solution?
It all goes back to the Middle East. The original plan in essence boiled down to borrowing from China to invade and occupy Iraq. Controlling a vital source of oil, Washington would then control the Beijing bull by the horns. The problem is the Bush administration has (mis)managed to control virtually nothing in Iraq, while China can always get the oil it needs from somewhere else (Iran, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, anywhere in Africa). So the winner of the war on Iraq is … Halliburton.
Iran meanwhile insists on doing nothing to improve its public relations. This may not necessarily emanate from the clerical establishment: it is clearly linked to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his Republican Guard gang ensconced in key ministries. A new, violent wave of internal repression is on, including arbitrary arrests of students and unionized workers, bleak warnings on state TV, and even a stoning related to an adultery case.
The current hardcore crackdown on pernicious Western influence has included forbidding women to ride bicycles. More seriously, Emadeddin Baghi – one of the great contemporary Iranian intellectuals – has been condemned to three years in jail, accused of “actions against national security” and “propaganda in favor of regime opponents”. The Elysee Palace – home of King Sarko the First, as he is known by diehard French monarchists – has expressed its “serious preoccupation” with the affair. No “serious preoccupation” has been expressed toward waves of paperless immigrants now equaled under new Sarko police rules to delinquents and even criminals – including many Chinese as well as those African chaps selling mini-towers in front of the Eiffel Tower.
I had the honor of interviewing Baghi for Asia Times Online in September 2005 in Tehran (The humanist reformer). His “actions against national security” and his “propaganda in favor of regime opponents” consist in running an apolitical non-governmental organization to defend prisoners’ rights. In his last e-mail to friends in Europe and the United States (should we all be pursued by an Islamic court and go to jail as well?), Baghi said he is “ready to pay the price even in prison”.
The whole of Baghdad, meanwhile, already languishes in prison – a gulag at 53 degrees Celsius with no water and electricity. An ATol reader from California, born in the Middle East, has come up with as good a definitive solution as any to the oil and water wars in the region. Instead of moving millions of Shi’ites and Sunnis to a “Shi’iteistan” and a “Sunnistan”, he suggests moving all Iraqis to Israel, and all Israelis – including Likud Party members – to Iraq, and rename the new country “Likudstan”, with an adjacent body of water (the Likud Gulf) with its own Brookings Institution.
“The big bonus for all of us,” he writes, is that “Likudstan (formerly Israel) will be Iran’s next-door neighbor; it will be much easier to ask the Likudies to drop nukes on Iran. We don’t even have to send brother [Donald] Rumsfeld to supply them with weapons of mass destruction, since the Likudies are self-sufficient.” Maybe Iraq-war-eraser Sarko could discuss this one with Bush the next time they meet under a Chinese-owned Eiffel Tower.