Saturday, November 17, 2018

Is President Macron Channeling General de Gaulle?

When the Président de la République called for a European Army on November 5 and said "We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America," my first thought was "That's something de Gaulle would have said" as he politely asked the U.S. to get the hell off French territory and then withdrew from NATO's command structure.

Actually the big man did say almost exactly what Macron said, and did so repeatedly over a period of years.
But then on the 14th President Macron said “it was not a rejection of NATO or France’s alliance with the United States, but a guarantor of France’s ‘sovereignty’ so there goes that idea, even though again, that was the same spirit that the General evinced. But no, de Gaulle was a nationalist and Macron a Rothschild banker globalist so it couldn't be.

But....President Macron said “I do not do policy or diplomacy by tweets,” and I thought "By jingo, that's exactly what de Gaulle would have said."
Had twitter been invented in 1966.

And then I woke up and went back to the Claremont Review of Books for Boston Uni's Emeritus Prof. Angelo Codevilla's take on Professor Julian Jackson's new biography of de Gaulle. TL:DR

“A masterly study of Charles de Gaulle…that leaves not a scintilla of doubt about his greatness.” ―Sunday Times 
Codevilla is even more emphatic:
A Certain Idea of France
Even as time passes and France looms smaller among nations, Charles de Gaulle’s heroic efforts to rebuild the nation he loved continue to fascinate. Julian Jackson’s massive one-volume biography keeps a tight focus on its subject, only incidentally addressing the wider corruption and collapse that de Gaulle had to confront—something Jackson, a history professor at London’s Queen Mary University, has touched on in previous books on 20th-century France. By the same token, the book delves into midcentury international affairs only insofar as they reveal more about de Gaulle. Jackson is not concerned, as de Gaulle was, with what sort of grandeur France may have been capable of, and what it might have taken to achieve it. Sometimes he treats events and thoughts of vastly different significance with roughly equal emphasis, in a kind of monotone. Nonetheless, even for one familiar with de Gaulle’s published works, this new biography is well worth reading.
* * *
Charles de Gaulle famously said of Henri Petain—the French Army’s savior in the Great War who then betrayed his country to the Nazis in the Second World War, and whose death sentence for treason de Gaulle himself commuted to life imprisonment—that he had been a great man who had died circa 1925. Had de Gaulle died in 1945, his biography would have been one of unalloyed success: his every quirk and misjudgment buried by the near-infallible prescience, intellectual brilliance, tactical skill, massive integrity, and grit by which a relatively junior army officer placed himself at the head of a defeated country that ended the war ranked among the world’s victorious powers.

But during the years between his 1946 resignation as chief of France’s provisional government and his second resignation in 1969 after a decade as president of the Fifth Republic, he compiled a far more checkered personal and professional record. De Gaulle’s ideas and objectives for his country remained what they had been. And as before, his immanent task was to assemble popular consensus and marshal officials’ and politicians’ cooperation to serve those objectives. Absent the war and Nazi occupation’s compelling focus, however, that task was inherently more difficult and the proper path ahead was less clear. There wasn’t the same pressure on those involved to compromise—much less to sacrifice. Under these circumstances de Gaulle courted support by telling, or leading people to believe, what they wanted about his intentions—the oldest and most short-legged of political tactics. He also sought to dispense with persuasion by seeking and exercising discretionary power. That sufficed substantially for dealing with the technocratic aspects of government. But since the problem that brought de Gaulle back to power in 1958—the Arabs’ war against France’s 130-year presence in Algeria—raised the most inherently divisive political passions, handling it as he did injured France severely. It also produced a de Gaulle very different from the man who had liberated Paris a quarter-century earlier.
* * *
Charles de Gaulle was a simple, unpretentious man. Charles de Gaulle was complex, haughty, and Machiavellian. Much of Jackson’s book revolves around this apparent contradiction. But it neglects how the general himself had clarified it in his memoirs, by agreeing with Franklin Roosevelt’s judgment of himself as “stuck up,” but faulting FDR for not asking whether de Gaulle was “stuck up” for himself or for France.

Jackson’s illustrations of de Gaulle’s simplicity are often moving. A colleague in the provisional government in Algiers who followed him home to retrieve a briefcase found him cuddling and singing love songs to his severely disabled daughter—something which occupied much of his free time. Those who dined with the de Gaulles in those years reported drinking out of sawn-off bottles and eating the most frugal of foods surrounded by the most basic of furniture. Even as president of France, living in the Élysée Palace, his tastes and habits outside of official functions remained spartan.

De Gaulle had tried unsuccessfully in 1940 to persuade persons more prominent than himself to head the Free French movement. When he took the job, he humbly felt “like a man on the beach proposing to swim across the ocean,” as he put it. Between 1940 and 1944, dramatically subordinating his personal interest to his professional interest and to the national interest was essential to the moral authority—he had no other—by which he asked people to hazard their lives for the common cause. Later, even as he wielded the near-monarchical powers of the Fifth Republic’s presidency, his personal behavior embodied the proposition that greatness consists only of identification with a great cause. Once that identification ceased, once he was freed from service to that cause, he retired to a humble country house, worked, and watched TV with his wife. He acted as an ordinary neighbor to his neighbors and refused to see anyone connected with government or politics. So consistently monastic was he personally that no hint of financial or sexual scandal about de Gaulle would ever have been taken seriously.
* * *
Total separation of personal and official sentiments, however, is impossible. Better than anyone, de Gaulle knew how remarkable he was, how essential he had been to France’s restoration. He acknowledged to a friend,
the incredible mixture of patience, of slow development, of obstinate creativity, of trick questions, the dizzying succession of calculation, negotiations, conflicts, trips that we had to carry out to accomplish our enterprise. Just take the example of [General Jacques] Leclerc: they seem to think it quite natural that he disembarked in Normandy, liberated Strasbourg and Paris. No one seems to ask: “where did he find the men and materiel? How is it that he was just at the right moment at the gates of Paris and then could fall on Alsace?”
Nor did de Gaulle ever have any doubt about his own talents. His memoirs (but not Jackson) relate an intimate evening during which Winston Churchill mused that he and de Gaulle were a lot alike, doing much the same thing. But, de Gaulle told him, while Churchill was acting as the recognized head of a mighty empire, he was doing similar things though bereft of means and “having come from nothing.” Also, he believed that he was the better writer: Churchill dictated his books; De Gaulle composed them....