Happy Fourth of July

Today is the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, as it is known in the United States of America. Today, we mark the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. I find it interesting that we do not celebrate the day independence was actually achieved, either with the British surrender of Yorktown or the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, but instead the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Declaration was signed quite early in the Revolutionary war, just 14 months after the first battle at Lexington and Concord. The war would continue for another seven years. Indeed, the Declaration does not mark a moment of triumph or victory but rather the beginning of a great struggle.

But that’s what patriotism is about really, at least to me. It’s not about celebrating achievements and resting contentedly on our laurels, but rather honoring the effort and sacrifices that went into those triumphs. Patriotism is about the struggle, not the reward. July 4th is not about saying “The US is the best and is stronger than everyone else,” but instead “I believe in this country and will do all I can to make it the best it can be.” Independence Day is a day to reflect on the ideals and values of this country and to renew our commitment to defend and fight for those beliefs. Patriotism is standing up for what you believe in. If you disagree with what the government is doing, it is your duty to speak up. If you agree with what the government is doing, it is your duty to speak up.

The 2016 election and resulting political environment in the United States has been one of polarization and divisiveness. I have seen people on both the right and the left, pro-Trump and anti-Trump, accuse each other of being unpatriotic as a result of their views. I’m here to tell you that both sides have their patriots. I have seen Trump supporters express their views with passion, intensity, and intelligence (more often than many would have you believe), and I have seen the same from anti-Trump activists (again, more often than many would have you believe). These are our patriots. I have also seen, as I am sure you have as well, members of both camps demonize, belittle, and dismiss their opposition, usually in an incoherent and bellicose manner. Is this patriotic? Freedom dies only when we stop listening to one another.

Ask yourself, who in Syria, in that great and terrible conflict, are the patriots? Is it the rebels, fighting for a free and democratic Syria? Or is it the loyalists, defending their government? Indeed, there is no easy answer. Both sides have their patriots and both sides their war lords and profiteers. The Syrian War began because the regime refused to engage with society and allow a discussion. The everyday man has since been forced to choose a side. He may not agree with the regime, but may see it as preferable to, and healthier for the country than, the likely chaos following its collapse. Or, he may feel that that disorder is an acceptable risk for the promise of freedom and democracy. Who is more patriotic? Both do what they feel is best for their country.

This Independence Day, be thankful for those who disagree with you. Be thankful that there are people in this country with the courage to fight for what they believe, even if it is not what you believe. Be thankful that you live in a country that allows this kind of discourse, a country that does not force you to choose between stability and freedom, between your life and your voice. Engage with one another, and remember to do so with respect and dignity. Stand up for what you believe in, and applaud others who do the same. Revel in your freedom but remember that a patriot’s work is never done. There is always another battle to be fought. Remember that patriotism is about the struggle, and cherish your opposition for it would not be a struggle without them.


French Presidential Elections: First Round

Yesterday was the first round of France’s Presidential election and the results are in: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will advance to the second round. The second round will be held in two weeks, on May 7th. The results are shocking for a number of reasons, including the surprising accuracy of pre-election polls, which I will discuss below.

Though expected, the most immediately arresting feature of the result is the failure of any mainstream candidate to reach the second round. Most news outlets are hailing the results as a “full-throated rebuke of France’s traditional mainstream parties” (NYT). The Wall Street Journal too stated (using almost the exact same language) that “The vote marks a stunning rebuke of France’s mainstream political forces” (WSJ). But most stunning is not that neither of these candidates are most France’s traditional left-right parties, but that neither of the candidates really fit on the traditional left-right spectrum. Marine Le Pen is not actually far-right, and Macron is centrist really only because his left-wing proposals balance out his right-wing proposals. On any issue his proposals could be easily classified as either right or left, he simply is not uniform with which side he picks.

A second take-away from the results is how close the whole thing was. The third and fourth place candidates, Francois Fillon and Jean-Luc Melenchon respectively, both got about 20 percent of the vote, only 4 percent less than Macron, the leader. All four of the leading candidates received right around 20 percent of the vote. This reflects a deeply divided country. Fillion has taken his party far to the right, while Melenchon is a die-hard communist. In many respects Macron and Le Pen were actually the most “centrist” of the candidates, while still not really fitting on the traditional spectrum. The first round result shows a France that strongly desires change, but unable to articulate what kind of change.

A third take-away is that now, whoever becomes the next President of the Republic, it is quite likely that neither of the remaining candidates will have much ability to deliver on their promises. France’s Parliamentary elections are scheduled for June 11th, but neither the National Front not Macron’s “En Marche” movement are projected to win anything close to a majority. Whoever wins, Macron or Le Pen, will have to work with the mainstream parties that they have campaigned so ardently against. While Le Pen’s party has a much better chance than Macron’s of winning a parliamentary majority (though still slim), Macron will have a much easier time working with the parties currently (and likely to remain) in power.

Currently, Macron is well-positioned for victory in the second round. Le Pen’s second place finish means, obviously, that she needs to win more of the remaining electorate that Macron does. This will be quite a difficult task with France’s “Republican Front” already in full swing. The strong showing by Melechon should give Le Pen some hope however, as the National Front has strong support among former communists and in traditional leftist strongholds. Macron however, will benefit from the injection of organizational muscle from France’s largest parties and has much less work to do to win than Le Pen. But after all this is France, the land of barricades, revolutions, and just general political volatility. Macron is the heavy favorite but two weeks is a long time and anything can happen.

Author’s Note: Personally, I hope Macron wins. I don’t believe Marine Le Pen is as scary as many people think but Macron’s economic plan is much better suited for France’s current condition. Also, I like his combination of youthful energy and technocratic pragmatism. Until next time, au revoir!

United States Strikes Syrian Regime

It is a day I have long waited for: the United States has finally acted to stop the Assad regime’s cruelty. Yesterday, President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike against a Syrian regime airbase believed to be the staging point for a brutal chemical attack days before. President Trump, in his speech on the event, was visibly moved and emotional when describing the chemical attack. It was nice to see him care about something and someone. This is the most proud I have been of Donald Trump in my entire life. There is still MUCH I dislike about him, but here in this matter at least, he has my support. Where President Obama turned away, President Trump has acted.

The Assad regime has a long history of appalling brutality and tyranny, predating the current conflict. The regime had terror as its foundation; sheer, unadulterated terror to keep the populace in line. For decades the Assad regime has employed militias, the Shabiha (Arabic for ghosts), to enforce its rule and to enter the homes of dissidents to slit the throats of their families. The regime has built elaborate torture centers rivaled only by the dungeons of North Korea and Nazi Germany. Syria is ruled more as an occupied country than a functioning society. The Syrian “government” receives its mandate not from the consent of the governed, for who would consent to such tyranny, but from might makes right. The methods of the Syrian regime reveal the depths of human cruelty when we are given the opportunity.

But as terrible as the regime was before the civil war, it has truly reached new heights of horror during the civil war. The regime has made targets out of schools, hospitals, funerals, weddings, etc. They have enforced collective punishment on conquered territories and have used starvation as an acceptable means to further their ends. It should not have been necessary for the regime to have used chemical weapons, weapons of mass destruction, before we acted but such is the world we live in. At least now we have acted. It is time for the world to stand together and say: “Enough!” For too long we have turned a blind eye to the sorrow of Syria. For too long the mournful wails of widows and orphans have fallen on deaf ears. For too long we have sat in splendor as Syrians fed themselves with dust and grass.

I sincerely hope that the Trump administration is serious when it states that there is “no role for [Assad] to govern the Syrian people” (WSJ). While I hope that this strikes signals the beginning of a larger campaign, I am also realistic. With Russian and Iranian forces on the ground, it is dangerous for the US to wage a campaign against the regime. I do expect a serious increase in US and allied material support for the opposition however. The Russians and Iranians, with weak sanction-hit economies, do not have the financial capability to wage a war of attrition with the US and the Gulf Kingdoms. The regime does not have the manpower to wage a war of attrition with the opposition. However, the opposition does not have the unity and discipline to take control of the country. Much work needs to be done to prepare for the departure of Assad, but their is no question that he must go. That, at least, we owe to the people of Syria.

Dutch Elections: A Review

The Netherlands went to the polls on Wednesday to elect a new Parliament, and the results are in. Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering: why should I care about the Dutch elections? The simple answer is that Europe is still too important politically to ignore, and given European nations’ close cultural ties political developments in one country tend to have an impact on their neighbors. The elephant in the room here is the French elections next month. But before we get to France, lets take a closer look at the Dutch result.

Via The Wall Street Journal

The above graphic, which can also be found here, gives a number of insights to the Dutch election. First, what has been hailed as a “mainstream triumph” is anything but. The leading center-right party, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy led by the Prime Minister, lost eight seats, just under a forth of the seats it held. The Labor Party, bulwark of the center-left, has essentially collapsed going from 38 seats to just nine. Indeed, the main takeaway from the election is just how fragmented the new Parliament is. A number of new parties entered a Parliament, and no party, or even grouping of similar parties, holds a clear majority. Coalition-building for the new government will prove exceedingly difficult.

Another major takeaway is the defeat suffered by the left in general. Most of the Labor Party’s lost seats were picked up by parties on the right not the left. The Dutch electorate has clearly shifted right and the results reflect that. That Geert Wilders’ far right Party for Freedom didn’t do better is more down to the wide array of alternatives rather than any discomfort with his policies. More clearly, Dutch voters seem comfortable with Wilders’ policies but not his personality. His has labelled himself as the “Dutch Trump” but the Dutch didn’t want a Trump. But they shifted to the right nonetheless.

Which now brings us to France. What do the Dutch elections tell us about the upcoming French elections? According to many prominent news outlets, the Dutch result portends the turning of the tide against the rise of populism and the far-right. But when discussing France there are a few things to remember and the most important is what I just discussed in the last paragraph: the presence of alternatives. Electorates across Europe are shifting to the right, as the Dutch vote shows. But in France’s presidential election, the only mainstream candidate on the right, Francois Fillon, has been formally charged with embezzlement and is now under criminal investigation. As I have discussed before, France’s left is in disarray as well, with the main candidates being the far-left Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon and the farther left Communist party pick Jean-Luc Melenchon. The left in France has moved farther left as the populace move right.

The only alternative to the far-right Marine Le Pen is Emmanuel Macron. Macron however, is, again, not backed by any party and has a Socialist background. Marine Le Pen thus has no rival on the right, at a time when the right is ascendant. Macron is currently described as the front-runner in the race, but I am not so sure. Le Pen has never described herself as the “French Trump” and has established her own identity. The BBC has a, rather long but quite informative, piece describing her past, personality, and political beliefs. She is not a blustering, bellicose Donald Trump, as Geert Wilders tried to be. This makes her much more acceptable to moderate voters, especially given the aforementioned lack of alternatives. But still, while France’s National Front as a whole is far less “toxic” than it was in the past it still attracts many whose ideas are quite detestable. The party is no longer dominated by bigots and Holocaust deniers, but they are still members. That fact will be on every voter’s mind on election day.

The Dutch elections were a victory for the right, with the leading far-right party becoming the second largest party in Parliament. The Dutch elections confirm the right-ward shift in European politics. The main task for the mainstream parties, if they want to stay in power, is to recognize and accept the general disillusionment voters have with the establishment. The trouble is, they are the establishment. I, for one, would be quite impressed by any politician who admitted that there was too much distance between their party and the people they claim to represent. The answer to the wave of populist anger sweeping Europe is not simply to adopt the policies of the far-right and hope for the best, as many politicians in Europe have done. People are not looking for firebrand radicals, but sympathy and genuine care for the issues they face. But in the absence of that care the lack of sympathy turns to anger, and thus enters those firebrand radicals.

French Elections: Macron vs Le Pen

The three weeks since my last post on France’s upcoming Presidential elections has seen the campaign essentially narrowed down to two candidates: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Francois Fillon’s campaign has all but collapsed, with many of his senior campaign staff leaving and many members of his party withdrawing their support. The Fillon scandal has also left the Republican party itself in pieces, tearing itself apart as new faces seek to emerge from the rubble. The Hollande presidency left the Socialist party in shambles, and now the Fillon candidacy has reduced the Republicans to the same state. None of France’s main parties are leading this race, or even that close. This is truly unprecedented. Even Donald Trump won with the backing of an establishment party.

Nearly three weeks ago, in my last post on the French election, I spoke of the “Republican Front” phenomenon in France. I feel the need to explain it more clearly. France has a two round electoral system, and has long featured strong parties with “extreme” views. The “Republican Front” boils down to a system of tactical voting. When faced with an establishment politician versus a “fringe” politician, voters always chose the establishment, whether right or left. A Socialist would vote for the center-right rather than a Communist, while a right-wing voter would turn Socialist rather than vote for the National Front. Since Marine Le Pen took over the helm of the party in 2011, the National Front has seen its vote share surge. It is now frequently polling at two to three times the level it had before Marine Le Pen, but has still struggled to translate that support into political power because the “Republican Front” has held. But the “Republican Front” assumes that the NF faces an establishment politician, and France’s establishment is in tatters. With both leading candidates being outsiders, can we really expect the “Republican Front” to hold? With this in mind, lets look a little closer at the two front runners.

Just a few days ago, Emmanuel Macron unveiled his policy manifesto. It shines details on his unconventional left-right political fusion. The main features are pro-business reforms, cuts in public spending, more European integration, and re-invigoration of social programs (i.e. education, community programs, etc.). While his plan has individual features that appeal to all groups it has nothing that speaks to everyone, no unifying theme. The key question is, is there enough that appeals to both right and left to convince voters to look past what they don’t like? Or, is there too much that they disagree with to get them to vote for what they do like? Again, Macron’s lack of a party hurts him here. A policy heavy campaign requires large amounts of logistical infrastructure to explain the proposals to individual voters. Otherwise, you open yourself to having your policies explained to voters by the opposition. As Macron is the main obstacle to the Socialists and Republicans earning a spot in the second round, it is expected that they will focus their attacks on his campaign. This in turn will make it difficult for Macron to hope to win establishment endorsements for the second round.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, has a strong party organization with a nationwide presence to frame the race on its own terms. Many in Europe are increasingly fed up with the heavy hand of Brussels, and France is no exception. Many feel left behind by globalization, and the National Front promises relief. Whereas Macron’s campaign rests on policy, Le Pen’s rests on an idea: make France great again. It is, admittedly, an enticing idea. The promise of a renewal of French pride and prowess finds many supporters in the birthplace of nationalism. But is it enough to convince voters to look past the party’s troubled history? How successful has Marine Le Pen’s “detoxification” really been? With the erosion of the “Republican Front,” we may soon find out.

France’s election, whatever the result, promises to be unprecedented. The establishment is in tatters, and Macron and Le Pen battle over the remains. Both have hurdles to overcome, and opportunities to exploit. The “official” campaign season has not yet begun, when candidates are promised equal media coverage, and already the race has largely been reduced to two candidates. On a final note about polling, it is common in France for people to “hide” their support for the National Front leading to the party under-performing in polls. With this in mind, Le Pen’s current lead in the polls is even more impressive. Of course, it is also a sign that her party has yet to fully shake off the taboo surrounding it.

Jeff Sessions had Contact with Russian Officials

Another day, another revelation about the Trump-Russia connection. This time, it has emerged that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice last year with the Russian Ambassador to the United States. Despite this, Mr. Sessions stated at his confirmation hearing that he “did not have communications with the Russians.” A little while ago, I reported on Donald Trump’s “Russian Dossier” and expressed my belief that it was false. With the latest allegations however, perhaps it is time to, once again, review what we know about Donald Trump and Russia.

First lets talk about about the latest allegations, against Jeff Sessions. It’s pretty simple actually. He testified to Congress that he had not met with Russian officials, while in truth he had. He lied, plain and simple. Whether or not those meetings were of any consequence is unclear, but lying about it suggests, at the very least, a serious lapse in judgement on the part of Mr. Sessions. It is not common for individual Senators to hold closed door meetings with foreign ambassadors, which Mr. Sessions did on one occasion. A growing number of Congressional members, both Democrat and Republican, are calling for Mr. Sessions to at least recuse himself from the ongoing inquiry into Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Many are calling for his resignation. It is important to note that this is very much the same sort of scandal, evening involving the same Russian official, that lead to the removal of General Michael Flynn.

The striking similarity to the Flynn case is indeed what makes this new development so damaging and shocking. It dramatically raises the suspicion that Sessions’ meetings with the Russian Ambassador went beyond his official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. But these are not the only two cases of contact between Trump’s associates and Russian officials during the campaign. In mid-February, both the New York Times and CNN reported extensive contacts between numerous members of both Trump’s team and the Russian government. As stated by CNN, it was “both the frequency of the communications during early summer and the proximity to Trump of those involved” that raised the suspicions of the US law enforcement and intelligence communities.

Everyday more and more of the allegations made in Trump’s “Russian Dossier” are shown to be be true, at least in part. The time has come for a full Congressional inquiry into the matter. The administration, which, through the Department of Justice, currently oversees the investigation, cannot be trusted to remain impartial in this case. The American people deserve a full, clear, clean, independent investigation into the connections between Donald Trump, his election, and the Russian government.

Trump’s War on Media

An article published just yesterday by CNN extolled the American public to ‘give Trump a chance’ and, specifically, to “stop judging the President and his administration on every word that is uttered, every hour.” Tom Barrack calls on the press to focus on Trump’s policies, rather than stories of leaks and confrontations with the intelligence community and other ‘headliner’ stories. But what Barrack fails to realize is that it is Trump himself who will not let these things go. It is Trump who continues to bring up the size of the crowds at his inauguration, and to lambast the press and intelligence community. We hang on his every word because he uses words such as “Enemy of the People.”

Enemy of the People. Words more apt to be written in blood rather than ink. Is Trump aware of the historical significance of the phrase? And if he is, my God, what does that mean for the country? The phrase “enemy of the people” was first used during the French Revolution to designate those to be guillotined. Since then, almost every totalitarian government, from Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union to the Khmer Rouge, has used the phrase or a close variant thereof to label their victims. The phrase is wrought with malice and violence. These are not words to use lightly, even in jest. These are words of terrible consequence, and of great pain for all those who have and who still toil and suffer under the yoke of tyranny. To hear the President of the United States of America, the standard-bearer of freedom for the world, utter such a phrase is more than shocking. It is an affront to liberty itself and all the Americans who have died in its advancement. When the leader of your country says such things, you cannot ignore it.

Donald Trump’s war on the press has gotten out of hand and out of control. The press is not an “enemy of the people” but is, as former President George W. Bush put, “indispensable to democracy.” Over the course of history, there have been many despotic regimes of many types: right, left, “third way,” military-rule, party rule, sectarian rule, etc. But they have all had one thing in common: a desire, oft realized, to control the dissemination of information. Totalitarian regimes are sustained through a combination of force and ignorance. China’s ‘Great Firewall’ was constructed to maintain public ignorance, and thus Communist-party rule. A free press is not always accurate and not always truthful, but it is indispensable. To have the freedom to discover for yourself what to believe is one of the most precious acts of liberty we have. Donald Trump’s exclusion from White House press briefings news agencies he sees as “unfavorable” works against this most precious liberty of ours.

Just yesterday, an Iranian film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film was ‘The Salesman,’ directed by Asghar Farhadi. As stated by the New York Times, “At the heart of Mr. Farhadi’s films are the social struggles that many urban Iranians face daily” and “it is Mr. Farhadi’s eye for detail and respectful storytelling that make him such a powerful champion of millions of Iranians who feel that the state-controlled news media completely ignores the reality of their lives and problems.” Farhadi is popular because he shows the truth of ordinary life in Iran, not propaganda. This in a nation that, by historical standards, is relatively free and open. This is where the absence of a free press leads: to make the display of reality revolutionary.

On the other hand, it is very easy to get carried away with criticism of Donald Trump. Does Trump truly deserve the comparisons with totalitarian regimes that I have made? Of course not. He said something he should not have, and barred some journalists from a meeting. He has not formed paramilitary groups to storm news outlets. He has not armed followers to hunt down opponents. He has not used force to intimidate lawmakers and activists. He is not a Hitler or a Stalin, or even a Xi Jingping. But he is at the summit of a very slippery slope. The precedents he is setting, and un-setting, open the way for yet more regression, until regression becomes oppression. Where Trump leads others will follow, and more than what is I fear what is to come.

The Battle for Western Mosul

Last Sunday, Iraqi security forces began their assault on Western Mosul after a roughly one month pause following the liberation of the eastern half of the city. ISIS has a few thousand fighters defending Western Mosul, though the exact number is unknown. By any estimate however, ISIS’ forces are vastly outnumbered and outgunned by their opponents. Victory for the Iraqi military is quite certain. But still, the battle will be long and much tougher than it was in the East. And depending on the damage done to the city, the Iraqi’s may not find themselves winning many hearts and minds.

Google Earth Satellite Image, via CNN News

First lets get into the battle itself. Above is a satellite image of most of the city of Mosul, with the river Tigris in the center. The top half is Eastern Mosul, and the bottom the West. Just from this image alone should be apparent that Western Mosul will be a much tougher fight. It is clear to see how much denser the West is, with far fewer broad highways and many more winding alleys. In addition, ISIS’ defensive preparations, which proved quite devastating in the East, have been much more focused on fortifying the Western half of Mosul. There are many more tunnels, roadblocks, IED minefields, and fortified positions in Western Mosul. Many of the streets are too narrow for any vehicle to enter, and the higher population density will often rule out airstrikes. This means that in many cases Iraqi soldiers will be fighting without support, essentially man-to-man against a determined and skilled enemy. The Iraqi’s suffered very high causalities, in terms of both men and material, liberating the East and there is no reason to expect that to change in the West except for the worse.

With that said, it must be stressed again that the Iraqi security forces have little real chance of losing this fight. Western Mosul is surrounded. There is no real avenue for ISIS fighters to flee or retreat through, or conversely to bring reinforcements and supplies through. If the fighting gets too tough the Iraqis can simply pause their advance to regroup, something that they did a number of times in Eastern Mosul. Bolstered by recent victories and steeled with a resolve and determination to liberate their country, morale in the Iraqi army is high. News reports suggest that Iraqi soldiers have a much greater sense of purpose and discipline than they did almost three years ago. Indeed, the liberation of Eastern Mosul has showed this. The intensity of the fighting in the East would have proved to much for the poorly led and unmotivated recruits of Iraq’s army circa 2014. It was the intensity of the fighting, and the fear it inspired, that broke the Iraqi army originally. This time, however, “the Iraqi forces have risen to the challenge,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend (New York Times).

In the long run, however, depending on how the fighting goes, Western Mosul may prove to further alienate locals from the federal government in Baghdad. Other cities recently liberated from ISIS, such as Falluja and Ramadi, were nearly leveled in the fighting and are still broadly uninhabitable leaving many residents bitter (NYT). So far in Mosul, however, the Iraqi military has gone far further to reduce civilian causalities and damage to infrastructure. They are treating Mosul much more as a liberated city, than a conquered one. But, the more severe the battle in Western Mosul becomes the more angry, frustrated, and desensitized the average Iraqi soldier will become. In such a situation, in combat, the risk for abuses by security forces is high. The temptation to inflict “collective punishment” on the local populace will grow as losses mount. All we can do is remain hopeful that Iraqi security forces will show restraint, as they have done thus far in the battle.

Western Mosul promises to be a long and challenging battle for Iraq. The foot soldiers of ISIS are remarkably skilled and capable fighters, and have shown a stunning ability to adapt and innovate. The layout of Western Mosul affords ISIS as favorable of terrain to show off those skills as they could ask for. And whats more, they have been preparing for years for this very showdown. The Iraqi military is entering a battle far tougher than the battle in Eastern Mosul, already its toughest fight thus far. Iraq is a fragile country that can ill-afford great damage, either in raw economic terms or in social terms. How the Iraqi soldiers conduct themselves in the coming battle, and how the Iraqi government conducts itself in the reconstruction efforts, will be key to Iraq’s long term stability. Here at Standard Daily News, hope is high.

To my readers

So far in February, I have definitely missed the mark on my New Years Resolution, though I did actually make it last month. But my dear readers, I have not been idle. The site finally has a logo (yay!) and I have also placed a few ads on the site. The ads serve to earn me some income, which will steadily allow me to devote more time to writing and working full time for the site. So when you see the ads, don’t think of them as obnoxious space fillers, but rather as tools that will allow me to provide you with more of the content that you come here for in the first place. I’ve also re-written my About page, and much of the rest of this month will go to continued improvements in the presentation of the site, particularly on social media. But fret not! There will still be more substantive posts coming this month. Thanks for reading, and remember: you can contact me readily!

Gregory Palmer

French Presidential Election Updates

Since my last post on France’s presidential election, much has happened in the campaign. The Socialist party picked a candidate, Benoit Hamon, though his odds remain slim. There has also been the stunning rise of Emmanuel Macron, and equally dramatic fall of Francois Fillon. Marine Le Pen has, ironically, been one of the only constants in this campaign. Le Pen is also the only candidate pretty much guaranteed a spot in the second round. First, lets discuss the Socialist Party.

The Socialist Party, as I discussed last November, is deeply unpopular as a result of President Hollande’s legacy. The Left also features more independent candidates crowding the field then does the Right, which may make is difficult for them to reach the second round. Further, the Socialist Party candidate, Benoit Hamon, is from the hard left of the party. This at a time when electorates around the world, and particularly in France, are moving to the right. Hamon promises more government spending and more social welfare, all at a time when most in France recognize the need for cuts (though they may not like it). Hamon best shot at winning the election is to mobilize enough of his party’s member to eke out a first round win, and hope that in the second round the traditional “Republican Front” holds against Le Pen. (The “Republican Front” is the custom of French voters, right and left, to rally together to block the National Front from winning elections in the second round.) This is quite the gamble however, given the general unpredictability of global politics at the moment.

Francois Fillon, the candidate of the center-right Republican party, has seen himself go from the clear favorite to having his candidacy itself in question. It has emerged, allegedly, that Fillon paid his wife a state salary for a job she did not perform. Whatever the truth of the matter, the damage is already done. The scandal paints Fillon as just another corrupt bureaucrat, one of the out-of-touch elites. Fillon poll numbers have collapsed and his party is seriously discussing replacing him in the election. Replacing Fillon, however, would only divide the Republican party and leave the new candidate little time to make their case to the French electorate. Fillon may be able to pull himself together by the first round, again hoping for the “Republican Front” to hold in the second round, but with each passing day his odds look increasingly slim.

Into the vacuum left by Fillon and Hamon has stepped Emmanuel Macron. Macron is now polling essentially even with Marine Le Pen, an impressive accomplishment to be sure. Like the National Front itself Macron has fused traditional right and left policies, opting instead for a “third way.” Unlike the National Front however, Macron left-right blend is flipped compared to historic “third way” parties. Traditionally, such parties adopt left-wing economics and right-wing social policies. Macron has adopted right-wing economics and left-wing social policies. He is a free-market socialist. The trouble for Macron is that the French are loath to weaken the welfare system, no matter the necessity, and are increasingly becoming more conservative on social issues. But Macron’s biggest challenge comes from his lack of a party base. He may poll well, as the polls are conducted by newspapers with their own logistical reach, but when it comes to mobilizing voters he has little ability to do anything. But if he can make it to the second round, perhaps the “Republican Front” will hold for him as well. But what then? Without a party, how does he expect to pass any legislation? French voters are bound to be asking themselves this same question.

Again, looming over all this, is Marine Le Pen and the National Front. The National Front’s primary goal in this election is to break the “Republican Front.” Their strategy to do so appears to be quite simple: be ourselves. The National Front argument is thus: you’ve blocked us out for years, and look where you are, give us a chance! By focusing on a clearly defined, consistent core message the National Front is able to present themselves as the only party with a plan. The Socialists’ promises are just more of the same, while the Republicans promise little new except not being Hollande. Macron is the only other candidate whose policies represent real change, but so far he has been quite vague on specifics, and again, has not party to support him. Marine Le Pen has a well defined, and increasingly popular, platform: French nationalism, anti-globalization, anti-Europe. She also has a strong, well organized party to mobilize voters and disseminate that message. And while the National Front still has almost no parliamentary seats, parliamentary elections are just a few weeks after the presidential elections. Should Le Pen win the presidency, her party would be well poised to sweep into the National Assembly. It becomes increasingly likely that Marine Le Pen will win France’s election.

France’s election boils down to one question: who offers the best chance for real change? The two main parties, the Socialists and the Republicans, are deeply divided and easily presented as corrupt elites concerned only with maintaining power. Macron promises change but his ability to deliver is in doubt. Marine Le Pen too promises change, but with a far greater ability to make good on those promises. France is at a crossroads. How far are they willing to go to for change? How strong is discontent with the establishment and status quo? Enough to break the “Republican Front”? The National Front seems poised to finally sweep into power, for good or for ill.