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From: Irish Foreign Affairs: Articles
Date: April, 2010
By: John Martin

Review: Le Monde selon K. by Pierre Pan

Review: Le Monde selon K. by Pierre Pan


(The World according to K.)

It can be quite depressing to observe how some journalists in Ireland delight in denigrating aspects of our history and culture. Defence of the Independence struggle is seen as being backward. We are urged to celebrate British imperialist traditions such as the poppy. And the willingness of some Irish people to accept baubles from the British Queen is considered a sign of our maturity.

It is tempting to conclude that this characteristic of self-loathing is a psychological condition. Perhaps it is. But it is noticeable that the neurosis fits in with a coherent Anglo American view of the World. And unfortunately, as this book shows, this tendency is not confined to Ireland.

The K in the title of the book refers to Bernard Kouchner, who was and may still be one of the most popular politicians in France and is currently the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the government of Nicolas Sarkozy. The authors opening scene is set in a restaurant in 2007. The diners are watching a television screen showing the rugby players of France and England arrive on the pitch of the Stade de France for the semi final of the World Cup. As the opening strains of God Save the Queen are heard, Kouchner jumps up from his seat and stands to attention with his right hand on his heart. To the astonishment of his fellow diners he resumes his seat when the Marseillaise begins.

From there the author traces Kouchners political engagement from the late 1960s to the present with particular emphasis on his record in recent years. As a young man in 1967 he volunteered for the Red Cross to relieve the suffering of the people of Biafra in their struggle for independence from Nigeria. This reviewer vaguely remembers pictures on collection boxes of the distended stomachs of starving Black babies from Biafra, and talk that Irish priests had become too involved. The sense I had as a child was that Irish priests had taken political sides and this was frowned on by Rome. It was therefore interesting to read Pans description of this conflict with the perspective of 40 years.

Biafra wanted independence from the rest of Nigeria, but this was not just a local conflict. The secessionists occupied territory that was rich in oil reserves, which did not go unnoticed among powerful interests outside the country. Britain supported the Nigerian government against the secessionists because BP and various Anglo-Dutch multinationals, such as Shell and Unilever, were closely involved with the Nigerian government. The US and, curiously, the Soviet Union, which had a lucrative arms trade with Nigeria, also supported the central government.

Biafra was supported by Salazars Portugal, Francos Spain and de Gaulles France. These countries were fearful that a strong Nigerian State would undermine their ex-colonies. France also saw Biafran independence as a means of gaining a foothold on the regions oil resources for her own Oil Company Elf at the expense of Shell and BP.

Another important element in the conflict was the fact that the central government was largely Muslim whereas the Biafrans were Catholic. This might explain why a young Irish boy in that more innocent time was under the impression that the Biafrans were on the side of the angels!
Along with other doctors in Biafra, Kouchner was tending to the wounded around the clock. The lack of medical resources meant that such doctors had to make heart-breaking decisions as to who would be treated and who would not. Kouchner and his colleagues were frustrated by what they perceived as the bureaucracy of the Red Cross. All donations were routed through its head quarters in Geneva and from there it was decided which part of the world would benefit. De Gaulle attempted to short circuit this process by giving French State aid directly to the Red Cross in Biafra. In effect, he wanted to make the Red Cross an instrument of the French State.

Also many of the medical volunteers brought the situation in Biafra to the attention of the media. However, it was not just presented as a humanitarian catastrophe, but a conflict in which one side was good and the other side was evil. This was a completely different approach to that of the Red Cross, whose policy is to remain independent of political conflict. Arising from this philosophical difference Mdecins sans Frontires was founded. This organisation has become associated with Kouchner, but he was just one among many people who founded the organisation. However, he acquired the habit of speaking on its behalf without consulting with the organisation. For this reason he was expelled and founded a new organisation called Mdecins du Monde in 1980.
Kouchners experience in Biafra had a formative influence. His conclusion was that the distinction between humanitarian relief and political activism should be dissolved. But whereas in Biafra his actions had served the interests of the French State, all subsequent engagements have been in favour of US foreign policy.

Normally such a person could be dismissed as a right winger or neo-con, but Kouchner was a Communist in his youth. He has a long association with the French Socialist Party and was considered as a possible Presidential candidate for that party. His pro-American positions have been supported by French intellectuals such as Bernard-Henri Lvy and Andr Glucksman. The author thinks that Kouchner - and not Sarkozy - is the real man of rupture in French politics. [Rupture = radical break, here break with traditional French position]

Kouchner supported the first Gulf war in the early 1990s and the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the 1990s he supported the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. The author exposes many of the lies that were told during that conflict. He quotes from Alia Izetbegovic, the leader of the Bosnian Muslim, who admitted that there were no extermination camps run by the Serbs. But Izetbegovic knew that such allegations would facilitate NATO bombardment. The author also refers to a US public relations firm and its role in the conflict. The spokesman for the firm was particularly proud that it had won the support of the American Jewish lobby against the Serbs. This required a degree of skill since the Bosnian Muslims had a strong fundamentalist element and the Croats were proud of their support for the Nazis during the Second World War.

Kouchner was High Commissioner of the UN and for a brief period had quasi-dictatorial powers in Kosovo. During his time there he denounced and exaggerated Serbian killing of Albanians, but took an extremely understanding view of Albanian atrocities against the Serbs. The author quotes him saying that Albanian vengeance was an antidote to the ravages of war. Kouchner also was not too concerned about the trafficking of the organs of dead Serbs by the head of the Kosovar Government Hashim Thaci.

As the French Minister for Foreign Affairs Kouchner has taken a close interest in Darfur. The situation there resembles that of Biafra in the late 1960s. The government of Sudan is Muslim and the secessionists are Christian. The country is also rich in oil reserves. But there the resemblance ends. In the case of Darfur, the US along with the Christian right in that country and Israel support the secessionists. Jacques Chirac was sceptical of American intervention in Africa, but Sarkozy and Kouchner are much less critical. Kouchner has accused the Sudanese government of genocide in Darfur. However, this has been contested by an International Commission, under the Italian Judge Antonio Cassese, which concluded that the Sudanese government was not conducting such a policy.

In June 2007 after the election of Sarkozy and the appointment of Kouchner as Minister for Foreign Affairs, the French organised an international conference on Darfur. Although Condoleezza Rice was invited, representatives of the Sudanese government and the African Union were not. China, which is a close ally of the Sudanese, was invited. Sudan supplies 7% of Chinas oil needs. This reviewer thinks that Chinas involvement in Africa provides a good antidote (to use a Kouchner word) to the activities of the Americans.

In 2008 the Americans had secret negotiations with the Sudanese government in Khartoum. By a strange coincidence after the talks had collapsed the International Court of Justice found the Sudanese regime of Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir guilty of genocide.

Kouchner has been the most bellicose of world politicians on Iran. He has made inflammatory comments such as prepare for the worst. He has also warned the Obama administration not to prolong negotiations with this country as Iran is only indulging in delaying tactics. The author suggests that the Americans must be bemused at the volte-face in French foreign policy. Under Chirac, France urged the Americans to remain negotiating with Iraq to avoid war, but under Sarkozy and Kouchner she has become more neo-con than the neo-cons of the Bush administration.
The author is particularly critical of Kouchner in relation to Rwanda. The French State under Mitterrand took a constructive role in this tragic country. It encouraged movement towards a power sharing democratic government. But such a development was destroyed following the shooting down by the minority Tutsi militia of an aeroplane carrying the Hutu Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi as well as French citizens. This sparked one of the most vicious civil wars in history, which culminated in the coming to power of the Tutsi leader Paul Kagame with the backing of the United States. Since coming to power the Rwandans started a war in Zaire leading to the deaths of between 4 and 5 million.

A few years ago a French judge found the Tutsi militia responsible for the shooting down of the plane. In response to this the Rwandan Government has accused the French State of complicity in genocide: an allegation which has no factual basis.

Incredibly, Kouchner has begun the process of restoring full diplomatic relations with Rwanda and since this book was published has co-operated with the Rwandan authorities in the arrest of the assassinated Hutu Presidents wife, who is resident in France. The author considers that this shows complete contempt for French State policy and the integrity of its judicial process. It is also yet more evidence of Kouchners propensity to abase the French State to American foreign policy.
Rwanda has accused the following French Statesmen of complicity in genocide: Francois Mitterrand, Dominique de Villepin, Edouard Balladur, Alain Jupp, Paul Dijoud and Hubert Vdrine. These names do not have a political party in common, but all of them unlike Kouchner - believed in an independent foreign policy.

The author refers to Kouchners own book on international affairs in which the latter recalls a conversation he had with Hubert Vdrine (a foreign Minister in Lionel Jospins Government). Kouchner says:

The right of interference in countries sovereignty is growing. International consciousness of the rights of man has developed a globalisation of energy.


Vdrine replied:

I distrust this. Nations remain key, not the emotions of television viewers.


Elsewhere in the book Kouchner is quoted as saying:

Today our ambition for the future is to strengthen our transatlantic partnership, not against the rest of the world but with it.


Imperialism always has sweet sounding words to justify its actions!

This book suggests a profound philosophical difference between the world view of Kouchner and Sarkozy on the one hand and the more traditional independent line of de Gaulle and Mitterrand on the other. This division cuts across party lines and may be more significant than any other political division. If France continues to subordinate herself to the interests of the US, its influence in the world will inevitably diminish.

Irish readers will have no difficulty in identifying a similar division in the politics of this country. This book is highly recommended because it gives an invaluable French perspective, enabling the reader to place our own native variety of anti-nationalists in an international context.