The Joy of Hopelessness
Nothing feels so good as getting down and feeling bad.


A long time ago, when I was living in California and pretending to write movies that never got made, I would get together with a bunch of Hollywood guys in Sammy Davis Jr.’s old house–the one with all the gold faucets–to “play poker.” That’s a euphemism for buying a new Toyota every 12 months or so for some people who wouldn’t be caught dead driving one. It was my way of learning the zen of defeat. Twice over the course of a couple of years, I held four queens–and lost both times to a royal flush (the game was Chicago, I think, with a wild card). My winning nights were so rare that I began to despise the intermission from guilt they brought the other regulars, since my only pleasure came from my victimization. If that didn’t make me a Democrat, I realized nothing would.

After a while, I began to look for the hand that would turn the night against me, and when I spotted it, I would feel a slight frisson of pleasure, the kind of comfort that comes to you on four little words: “I told you so.” Eventually, I quit playing. After all, you can only take joy in wallowing in defeat for so long–unless you’re Bob Shrum.

But tell that to the French, our allies of the future, according to John Kerry. There, the most popular article at the moment in Le Monde, according to its website, is a little Kerry-like screed by Eric Fottorino, one of Le Monde’s legion of interchangeable Yank-bashers, who takes great pleasure in describing the “énorme statistique de mortalité violente” that he says is Iraq today. Fottorino buttresses his argument with the 1,000 dead GIs and the announcement by Kofi Annan that the war in Iraq, fought ostensibly to give credibility to the resolutions of the Security Council, is “illegal.”

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier was telling France 2, that French troops would go into Iraq “ni aujourd’hui, ni demain.” In words the French-talking Kerry can easily understand, that means “not today, not tomorrow.” The French can’t make it any clearer: Even with Kerry in the White House, they would not send their armed forces to Iraq. For that, the Iraqis owe France a debt that can never be repaid, especially if a recent item in Le Nouvel Observateur is an indication.

In the heart of your basic African darkness, in the Ituri Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a force of some 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers is on hand to stop tribal violence in the area. Originally launched as Operation Artemis in the summer of 2003, and led with great self-congratulation by the French in their little military hot pants (I’m serious), it was the first military adventure for the EU outside Europe. Of course it failed miserably; violence in the region was epidemic and the EU was unable to do more than patrol the streets of Bunia, the provincial capital, and then only by day. Earlier this year, the EU operation was folded into a larger U.N. mission, MONUC, one of the most expensive peacekeeping missions in U.N. history. Like the UN’s failure to stop the genocide in Darfur, which was discussed here earlier, MUNOC has all the ingredients Kerry promises to bring to save Iraq–namely, French troops and U.N. wisdom. So far in Bunia, that recipe has yielded not just an “énorme statistique de mortalité violente“–with some 50,000 dead and ten times that number displaced–but also an enormous military and moral failure, as well.

A few days ago, yet another local village was burned and 14 people were killed by local militiamen. The village was not far from where the peacekeepers are holed up in a camp in Bunia, next to a refugee center containing 15,000 terrified people living in tents and depending on the U.N. for their safety. According to a visiting journalist from the South African Independent Online, the peacekeepers are routinely paying for sex with adolescent children–under MUNOC supervision, no less–while trying to avoid conflicts with the “insurgents,” as I guess we can call them, who are terrorizing the refugees and who control most of the countryside.

It’s a situation that has been covered lightly before. Last June, the BBC reported that U.N. peacekeepers stationed only yards from the refugee camp sat by as militiamen invaded the camp nightly to rape and to massacre. On weekends, the U.N. troops would go through the camp picking up girls as young as 13 for sex. The entire mission has bogged down in disarray. Even the mission’s own website has nothing but failure to report between announcements of social events commemorating “peace:” A new effort at disarming the militias has so far yielded seven AK-47s, about what it takes to arm a fully-loaded poker table. The U.N. has promised to investigate the sex scandals, but so far, no report.

Looking at these loopy French- and U.N.-led missions around the world–in Bunia, Ivory Coast, Darfur, or wherever–is helpful in evaluating Kerry’s so-called plan to bring allies into the war in Iraq. Looking at these fiascos–and at the U.N. itself and the kind of corrupt gamesmanship you might call Brussels Hold-’em–you eventually find a certain guilty joy in the hopelessness of it all. Maybe not as much happiness as Le Monde’s guy gets out of Iraq, because we are superior human beings and do not relish the misfortunes of others, usually. Still, you read about these misadventures one after the other, and you do get a full dose of smug. At some point, you’ve got to be glad you’re just sitting out the deal.


Under the French parapluie. John Kerry’s ally has also rejected Colin Powell’s call to isolate Yasser Arafat because of his support of terrorism. According to Libération, the French will continue to resist American and Israeli efforts to force Arafat to give up control of his Palestinian paramilitary apparatus. Other allied news: The Daily Telegraph picked up the story of French efforts to sabotage the U.S. and Britain at the U.N. by paying for some down and dirty tricks.

Annan’s folly. The announcement by Kofi Annan that he finds the war in Iraq to be illegal is nicely dismembered by Dr. Joseph Ghougassian, a CPA adviser and a former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, in MilNet.

Euro-dreaming. Niall Ferguson, writing in The Spectator, has now been a visitor to the US for some time and drawing on this expertise finds that Britons really have more in common with Europe than with Americans. He suspects the British will soon discard the Atlantic alliance in favor of something more Continental. The proof: “Travel to the United States and then to the other European Union states, and you will see: the typical British family looks much more like the typical German family than the typical American family.” No, Niall. They all look like Americans. Ferguson also points out that Britons eat Italian food and drive German cars. But he also notes that Americans are more religious than the British. Meanwhile, the EU’s economy is still flailing, the EU constitution is being passed around among European leaders like the Black Spot, and as the EU Observer points out, Europe’s employment rate is “stagnate.” And now, according to Libération, Turkey, with all its jolly Muslims, is moving one step closer to EU membership. That mess or the U.S. with its Texan president? Even the British might become believers when faced with the reality of hell in Belgium. However, Ferguson is perhaps the most perceptive of all current TV historians. Maybe he can get a job in a fine French university someday.

Loitering on the blog front. Zappo, the missing Marx brother who, as Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, is also the temporary prime minister of Spain, is the subject of a pleasant skewering by Collin May in Eursoc: “While George Bush talked [at the U.N.] about serious matters, Zapatero, in typical European leftist fashion, was calling for ‘an alliance of civilizations,’ under the direction of the UN, with a mandate to combat terrorism through political and cultural dialogue.” We could drop the Smithsonian on them!

Meanwhile, at Medienkritik, CBS’s “fake but accurate” logic is applied with happy zeal to Saddam’s WMDs. The result: “Rather said CBS’ critics have never attacked the thrust of the network’s story: that Saddam had tried to acquire WMD in the past and had used chemical weapons against Iraqi people and in the war against Iran.” There’s more in this wistful vein.


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