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Moral Majority

Regarding the nomination of Bernard Kouchner to head France's Ministry of Foreign Affiars, I think first of France, of the image she has of herself, then what she shows the world. The arrival of Kouchner--this great Frenchman, respected everywhere, the man who invented Médecins sans frontières (Doctors without Borders) and Médecins du monde (Doctors of the World), the famous "French Doctors"--at the Quai d'Orsay is obviously good news. Only the naysayers are sulking, only the losers are muttering about treason, wailing, like [Molière's] Miser, Harpagon, "My money box! My 'Kouchner'!"--it is not, in other words, the "great coup" that they are always bending our ear about when we confuse politics and soccer. It's a "brilliant gesture," a way of redrawing the map, changing it up--which, for the moment, brings honor to all parties.

Then I think of Darfur, of what is left of Chechnya, of all the martyred populations for whom for 30 years, some of us (with Bernard always being first in line) have repeatedly begged for action--again, this is the best thing that could have happened, and without a doubt it is also great news for the lawyers, in France and elsewhere, who represent these grand, terrible causes. Who can honestly think, for example, that to stop the unjust exactions of the Janjaweed in Darfur, it would have been better to nominate a [Proustian] M. de Norpois, experienced in diplomatic stonewalling yet broken in advance by the process? Who can deny that the arrival of this man, the fighter of 40 years of antitotalitarian battles--the man of Biafra, the friend of the Kurds, of Israel--will be perceived (if he stays true to himself) as a true breath of hope for all the survivors of recent massacres, for those surviving on borrowed time before the genocides to come. Even if he only succeeds at one thing, even if all he can do is make the Islamists of Khartoum listen to him, to make their Chinese allies give in--using the threat, which he has already said he supports, of a massive boycott of the 2008 Olympics--he would already have won.

But I think of Kouchner, the man, of the fact that he, too, sees things in this way: of the balance of power he will have set in place (or not)--with more than the machine of state, more than the cold monster he must first tame and then dominate--with the man, Nicolas Sarkozy, who convinced him to take this step and who considers foreign policy to be (whether we like it or not, and in line with the spirit of institutional belief) his area, his "domain." Here is where we will feel it, where we know that -- however good both men's intentions may be, and in spite of the sincerity and the guile of both protagonists of this incredible story--there are going to be problems.

For two reasons. First: Kouchner may actually succeed--injecting more morality, more homage to human rights and more respect for victims' rights--into the world of international politics. He may even engrave the principle of "interference" in the cold marble of policy. And, for the first time in the history of the Republic, he will link these principles to the principles of the Old World, of state diplomacy. What a victory that would be, what a revolution! And for those the so-called experts who have tried to silence in the name of realpolitik and its alleged imperatives (since Bosnia and before) what revenge!

Otherwise: Maybe he doesn't succeed, beaten down by the machine, the bureaucracies, the nitpicking calculations of the guy sitting next to him at the Council of Ministers, the weight, the inertia of the process, the ruse of a president whose will to "open" his government may not extend beyond the present state of grace in which his will is only slightly disguised, using his vaunted "spoils of war" [Kouchner] to finally force his Socialist and Centrist adversaries to their knees, only a few weeks before the French legislative elections. In that case, what sadness, how disappointing it would be! And this disappointment would be comparable in scale to the optimistic breeze today's nomination has stirred up, for Bernard Kouchner, a little bit like (all proportions being equal) the American neoconservatives--who came from the left, even the radical left--to join George W. Bush in the entirely laudable attempt to promote certain democratic ideals on a worldwide scale, the failure of which, in Iraq, also signals the collapse of the very ideals they embodied, which are currently in frank withdrawal in the United States. It is the blowback of the isolationist flame after the Wilsonian lull--the human rights baby thrown out with the bathwater of the Iraq debacle, a defeat for them and a disaster for all of us.

For the moment, we have chosen the first hypothesis. Because the worst is not always sure. Because the "French doctor" is a man of conviction--hard-nosed on the essentials and doubly dangerous because he is (I can personally attest to this) also an excellent chess player.

Finally, it is because I am a republican, and even if I did not vote for him, I do want to wish the new president good luck, to him and his team, to the individuals who accepted the challenge of traveling this piece of the road with him.

This article originally appeared in Le Point and was translated from French by Sara Sugihara.