William Pfaff is the author of The Irony of Manifest Destiny, published in June 2010 by Walker and Company (New York) -- his tenth and culminating work on international politics and the American destiny. He describes the neglected sources and unforeseen consequences of the tragedy towards which the nation's current effort to remake the world to fit America's measure is leading. His previous books and his articles in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and his syndicated newspaper column, featured for a quarter century in the globally read International Herald Tribune, have made him one of America's most respected and internationally influential interpreters of world affairs.   [Read more...]
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Columns : Is Germany driving France to the brink?
on 2014/8/27 14:20:00 (177 reads)


Paris, August 27, 2014 -- Shades of France's notorious Third Republic ! The latest French government has been summarily dismissed after only six painful months. It was certainly time for a change. President François Hollande's poll ratings have plumbed new depths at 17 percent, while Prime Minister Manuel Valls had lost 9 percentage points in one month, down to 36 percent. With his usual indecision, the President told Mr. Valls to go back and form a new government to carry on the same policies – the third in the space of one year -- but excluding the trouble-makers who provoked this crisis.

The principal culprit is ex-Economics Minister Arnaud Montebourg, who during the weekend proclaimed unresolvable differences with the president's economic policies and explicitly blamed Germany for France's “descent into hell.”

Mr. Montebourg wants changes that seem gathering support in many places, including even Washington and the American university (thanks to the Nobel Prize economists Joseph Stiglitz and the indefatigable Paul Krugman). The appeal is powerful to the beleaguered countries of southern Europe, and recently at the IMF in Washington, and even for European Central Bank chairman, Mario Draghi last weekend at Jackson Hole. The message is: Stop the austerity in Europe, or at least apply some flexibility, before it is too late.

The latest French statistics have been awful. Income tax came in at 10 billion euros less than last year, despite painful and unpopular tax increases. Growth was 0 percent in the last trimester, and France's promise to the EU to bring the annual deficit down to 4 percent were officially broken. Even German growth was a surprising minus 0.2 percent for the last trimester. Yet one of President Hollande's most recent policy decisions was to promise 50 billion euros in budget cuts next year.

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Columns : End the Israeli-American Alliance
on 2014/8/20 12:40:00 (1376 reads)

Paris, August 20, 2014 – Nearly every intelligent witness to the nearly seven decades of Israel’s alliance with the United States and Western Europe now understands that the affair needs to end.

In 1948 and the years that immediately followed, the alliance was the salvation of Israel and an obligation upon Western Europe. This was because of what had been done to Europe’s Jews during the war, and not only by the Nazis.

The Arab nations’ attempt to destroy the UN creation of a Jewish national home at the expense of the Palestinians was also widely understood, and granted a certain international sympathy, but in 1948 the Arab states carried little political weight against the array of West European states and the United States, at a moment when the cold war was beginning.

To American politicians, and European ones also, the electoral support of mobilized Jewish national communities was a force of consequence as well. The race between American and Soviet governments to be the first to recognize the new state was won by proclamation by Harry Truman, but Moscow was the first to grant formal diplomatic recognition to the new state of Israel, which it perceived as a possible ally in the Middle East.

Popular sympathy for Israel was widest among liberals in the United States and the European Left – which today is no longer the case. Anti-Semitism was still a force of consequence: America before and during the Second World War had done little for Europe’s persecuted Jews.

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Columns : Barack Obama's Policy Confusions
on 2014/8/13 16:10:00 (913 reads)

Paris, August 13, 2014 – President Barack Obama, in the interview given last weekend to The New York Times’s Thomas Friedman (published in the International Edition on Monday), provided illumination on his foreign policy thinking, at this moment of fraught drama in both Iraq and Ukraine, but the counsels concerning the two didn’t match.

The President made it clear that he does not intend to take the United States more deeply into the Middle East (again!) unless the authorities there “agree to an inclusive policy of no victor/no vanquished.” He is not willing to provide an air force for one or another of the factions contending for power in Iraq, Mr. Friedman reported, although the air intervention now taking place has -- so far -- been to protect the Kurd, Christian, and Yazidi minorities that have been under assault by the self-proclaimed Muslim Caliphate, new name for the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”

Yet in Ukraine the United States is allied with and presumably counseling Ukrainian government forces that seem definitely set on vanquishing what remains of the pro-Russian separatists that currently hold Donetsk near the Russian border. Moreover, silence still surrounds the American and European Union roles in instigating last February’s government coup in Kiev, responsible for Russia’s retaliatory annexation of Crimea, and the uprising among the Russian-speaking community in eastern Ukraine that continues today.

At the same time NATO insists that Russia has again moved a considerable number of troops to near the Ukraine border where the Russians say they are prepared to conduct a delivery of “humanitarian” goods, supervised by representatives of the International Red Cross. NATO claims this really may be a disguised invasion to reinforce the separatists now under government siege in and around the city of Donetsk, and has implied that any border crossing could mean war.

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Columns : America Started This Ukraine Crisis
on 2014/8/6 16:10:00 (8577 reads)

Paris, August 7, 2014 -- I find it very disquieting that so few among the West European and American commentators on the Ukraine crisis, private or public, seem concerned that the United States has started this affair, and that it is not inconceivable that it may end in a war.

Worse yet, Washington’s demonization of Vladimir Putin has been so successful in the American press and public, and its secrecy about the American role in Kiev, has left the public in the United States and in NATO Europe convinced that this has all been the result of a Russian strategy of aggressive expansion into Ukraine, and not a bungled and essentially American attempt to annex Ukraine to NATO and the European Union, and to undermine the domestic political position of President Putin — which all has gone badly and dangerously wrong.

The Ukrainian coup d’état in February was prepared by Washington. Why else were the State Department official in charge of Europe and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, together with officials of the European Union and a number of intelligence people present, in company with the “moderate” Ukrainians programmed to take over the government after the planned overthrow of the corrupt (but elected) President Viktor Yanukovych? Even President Obama, in Mexico for a “summit”, was waiting to supply a video feed speeding the overthrown Mr. Yanukovych on his way, and congratulating the “democratic” victors.

But then, as the night wore on, things got out of hand. The riot police and the opposition forces went out of control. In a video made at the time, the American candidate for prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said desperately, “Ukraine is in a big mess.”

Even though the immediate mess was eventually sorted out, and Mr. Yatsenyuk (“Yats” to Secretary Nuland) was soon (briefly) the prime minister -- and immediately was welcomed to Washington to dine at the White House with the American president -- one must ask what was accomplished by all this that did not discredit the United States and the EU, and draw towards Ukraine and the American troops today deployed in Poland and the Baltics, and towards NATO itself, the storm-clouds of a useless war?

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Columns : A Pariah State?
on 2014/7/30 15:30:00 (1526 reads)

Paris, July 30, 2014 -- Israeli attacks on hospitals and UNRWA refugee shelters brought the total of Palestinian dead to 1,224 according to the UN this morning, with more no doubt to come. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just promised his people “a prolonged campaign” in Gaza. If it is, Israel may find itself considered, even by Americans, a pariah state.

Children on playgrounds and in shelters will undoubtedly again be among the victims. Those killed on Monday, the Israeli Defense Forces say, were not killed by them, but by Hamas missiles aimed at Israel. The 19 killed yesterday were the victims of artillery fire.

Diligent readers will recall that last week’s attack on the URWA school at Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, killing 16 women and children and wounding more than 100, was described by Israel as a matter of “Hamas rockets or mortar shells falling short,” as the IDF explained to London’s Financial Times.

Later, the explanation was changed to one of Israeli forces responding to “intense fire from the school area,” and was meant to eliminate the threat. U.N. Refugee Works officials said they had informed the Israelis twelve times of the school’s coordinates, pleading for permission from the IDF to evacuate the civilians, which never was given. Yesterday's school attack disregarded 17 UN warnings.

The Israeli military is neither incompetent nor accident-prone, particularly when UNRWA schools and other U.N. or independent international aid agencies are concerned. But in its ranks there is also a theory (no doubt picked up from others) that terrorization works. By those inevitably imperfect but plausible accounts journalists and humanitarian agencies try to compile in such matters, Brit Hanoun was the fourth U.N. school hit in this campaign.

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