“Cette espèce de grève générale volontaire me paraît suicidaire,” quoth the aged veteran and retired politician to a young editor from the magazine Causeur. “This odd voluntary general strike strikes me as suicidal,” is how you — or, full disclosure, certain of my colleagues here at The American Spectator — might translate the words of Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder and ex-leader of France’s National Front, a political party usually described as favoring stricter immigration controls and accused of exploiting xenophobia.
He had time for a leisurely conversation because he is 93. Some years ago his daughter Marine fired him, renamed the party, and lost to Emmanuel Macron in the country’s last presidential election, in 2017. Like her old man, she accused the previous government’s young Finance Minister of being excessively devoted to “globalist” institutions. She took the traditional frontiste position that the state should defend the French, their industries, their health, in preference to other aims.
Around the same time as the little-noticed Causeur interview, the Hon. Lu Shaye, ambassador to France of the People’s Republic of China, thereby a representative of the regime that helped bring down the French Empire at Dien Bien Phu, accused no less than 60 parliamentarians of the host country of referring to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the WHO, as the French version of the N-word.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian summoned the plenipotentiary to the Quai d’Orsay (their Foggy Bottom) to dress him down, though it is not clear it happened physically, due to social isolation, known over there as confinement. Maybe it was done by Zoom or YouTube or one of those gadgets. On the latter, the French minister could have sent the PRC ambassador a clip of Edith Piaf singing Je ne regrette rien, to remind him of the men — and a legendary nurse, Geneviève de Galard — who made their last stand for France’s civilizing mission in Southeast Asia in that fortified base in a remote jungle near Laos.
Instead of avoiding entangling alliances, some critics have said we have allowed misplaced trust in international institutions tangle us up.
The symbolism of the gesture, admittedly a little convoluted, would have been lost on the Chinese apparatnik. What happened, according to press reports supplemented by Pierre Rigoulot, a student of Asian communism who is often asked for commentaries in French media that usually go against the bien-pensant grain, is that an anonymous chronicle in the newsletter of the People’s Republic embassy in Paris stated that France, in concert with the Republic of China and others, is saying mean things about the PRC-supported head of the WHO.
The PRCs, very active on the African continent, could be playing the race card to cover their propaganda offensive on the alleged Wuhan biowarfare experiment that either went awry or went exactly as they planned. The WHO here serves as their front, like the Comités pour la paix au Vietnam (or whatever they called them), the French commies launched in days of yore.
The PRC newsletter alleged that 60 French parliamentarians, along with some Free China confrères, used the dreaded word in a public statement supporting the RoC’s protest at being excluded from the WHO, which has left Taiwan out of epidemic studies. The exclusion itself is a consequence of a series of blunders in U.S. foreign policy going back to the Nixon–Kissinger “détente” and culminating in the Carter–Vance surrender in the face of the absurdity of hewing to an inordinate fear of communism.
Instead of avoiding entangling alliances, some critics have said we have allowed misplaced trust in international institutions tangle us up. President Donald Trump recently suspended American contributions to the WHO, as President Ronald Reagan suspended same to UNESCO. The French president has expressed skepticism of the roles and infection tallies of the PRC and the WHO during the viral emergency, though he has not argued for scuttling global and European institutions.
Adding a dose of look-who’s-talking, the PRC embassy’s newsletter, which has promoted the notion that criticism of Beijing smacks of racism, also mentioned that the staff of a French nursing home had abandoned their charges in the hour of crisis, leaving them to starve or die poisoned by the Wuhan virus, though it did not describe the infection quite that way.
As Mr. Rigoulot points out, nothing in the history of Chinese communism suggests such information, real or not, could be published in an official bulletin without being in strict compliance with the party line.
The nursing home case was real, and it caused some media consternation in the press, but it occurred in Spain, not France. The PRC ambassador may, according to Le Monde, have seen the news in a French paper and (this is merely a guess on my part) read it wrong, despite having served previously in Canada, a francophone land. He was vociferous in his denunciations of alleged hanky-panky in the Huawei industrial espionage affair.
But not necessarily. These people, Pierre Rigoulot notes, are experts in using news, or rumors of news, in distorted ways. Keep in mind that these are the heirs to the same party that accused Gen. Matthew Ridgway of using germ warfare in Korea — a slander that some people still believe even in France. At the time — 1950 or so — it was a masterful example of the Big Lie, making it that much more difficult for the United Nations troops to strike a “decisive blow” against the red hordes, a restraint that, when you think about it, may be part of the reason we find ourselves — but let me not go there. Facts, not speculations, are our lodestars at The American Spectator.
It needs noting that the Chinese have a substantial customer in Ethiopia, the largest portion of whose imports (16 percent) comes from China, as do many if not most of our — and France’s — surgical masks. Promoting and sticking with a non-doctor like Tedros as head of the WHO is a way for the Hon. Lu Shaye’s comrades to stay on advantageous terms with the ruling elites of a country that fits prominently into their African commercial policy.
Mr. Tedros, the first non-M.D. to serve as head of the WHO, won the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Humanitarian Award in 2011 when he was Ethiopia’s minister of Health. Ethiopia, prior to the current government headed by prime minister Abiy Ahmed, was a communist-led tyranny.
Simultaneously and without as deep a contradiction as may seem, the ambassador may well have meant to project onto the French the feelings he has, and which many people in Africa believe he — or others who look like him — feels toward them. He may have heard that some Africans feel the French take advantage of them. His inner cynic might chortle, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Like the Africans, the French at a minimum may consider that Chinese can be rude, pushy. Yet, the vehemence of the French foreign ministry’s response to the ambassador’s brazen accusation that French political leaders would use low-end words to describe someone of another race took some diplomatic spine, given that the French government is expecting delivery of — yes, you guessed it, made in — yes, you guessed right again.
In any event, the French-Taiwanese appeal to the WHO, published in a French magazine, did not mention Mr. Tedros, nor did it use the faulted word. The PRC embassy’s newsletter appears to have been an out-and-out slander, though it may have just been a case of lost in translation.
Mr. Le Pen’s remark was, like the creative remark about Mr. Tedros, controversial in a time when extreme confinement is putting many on edge — but at least he really said it. It was in character: whatever else he is, Mr. Le Pen is not a statist-authoritarian, and he has always defended a certain frondeur (rebel) attitude of the heartland (les provinces) against the Jacobin center (Paris).
France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, suggested on Easter Monday when he addressed the nation — from his office at the Élysée Palace — that deconfinement is on the horizon — May 11 to be exact, though no one knows why he chose that day. Borders will remain closed. Is he moving toward Le Pen’s idea of borders? To some, his oddest idea is that nurseries and elementary schools would open first; is this inspired by the doctrine of women and children first in the lifeboats?
The Germans are getting into the same mode, and we too are gearing up. The key questions are how? Under what conditions and with which precautions? Will we protect our children? Will we leave anyone to rot and starve and suffocate and die? Those are questions we must ask.
Just because children have been, statistically — and the statistics, mind, have been disputed — less vulnerable to the virus, should the state push them to the front the way the mullahs sent children into the No Man’s Land to clear it of Iraqi land mines during the Persia–Mesopotamia War of the 1980s?
The key thing Mr. Le Pen said in that interview is that the notion of an international community, of which the WHO would be a representative institution, is for the birds.
One understands that President Macron, no less than every other head of government in the free world, must consider the necessity of not tanking his country’s economy, but wicked thoughts occur, such as the rumors of Mr. Macron’s preferences in certain areas of human desire. John Maynard Keynes is oft quoted, perhaps apocryphally, as saying that in the long run nothing matters, including the unpleasant consequences of his inflationary policies, since in the long run we are all dead. Keynes belonged to the notorious Bloomsbury circle and shared its inclinations.
These purely hypothetical and surely off-the-wall speculations — about the English economist no less than about the French president — are far too subtle for Chinese communist apparatchiks like the Hon. Lu Shaye. They feel far more comfortable playing the race card, though they are known to think Africans are inferior to them.
Mr. Macron got jumped upon by those among his compatriots who dislike him, his management style, his policies, and his arrogance. They might have considered the Chinese attitude toward Africa, arguably more germane than the mea culpas about the colonial era, which are de rigueur among the bien-pensants. They remind one of none more than our own Never Trumps, who at times appear to be less concerned by the hypothesis — no one claims it is more than that — of a psycho-biowarfare attack by a hostile power than they are energized by the fantasy that they can bring down a democratically elected president with fits of temper.
Mr. Macron’s tone was humble, so at least on that score they could not say much. He admitted mistakes had been made, by other governments too — maybe an oblique reference to the Chinese communist leadership of the People’s Republic. Separately, he has called for a suspension or even cancellation of African nations’ heavy debt obligations.
Apart from referring to suicide, the key thing Mr. Le Pen said in that interview is that the notion of an international community, of which the WHO would be a representative institution, is for the birds. That is for him an old tune, but others may find it pertinent today. Where is the Byron who will die for Greece against the Turko-Syrian invasion?
Said Le Pen, “Je ne crois pas du tout à la solidarité internationale et européenne dans cette circonstance, ni d’ailleurs dans la plupart des autres.” (“I have no confidence whatsoever in international or European solidarity in this circumstance, nor for that matter in most others.”) John Bolton, we hardly heard ye.
Though the old Legionnaire made his remarks prior to the president’s address, he may have been suggesting in advance that better even than diplomatic spine would be control of one’s own mask industry. If President Macron and Mr. Le Pen are as one on this, the virus will have done what decades of agitation could not do for the old battler’s ideas: bring his “extremist” ideas into the “mainstream.” Though of course you can view this from the other direction.