Geopolitics

Strauss-Kahn Conspiracy Theories And The State Of French Democracy

Editorial: Just as with the Sep. 11 attacks, a surprisingly large chunk of French society is prone to turn to conspiracy theories to explain Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sex scandal. It’s a bad sign for the health of public debate in France, says Le Monde.

Strauss-Kahn Conspiracy Theories And The State Of French Democracy

There is no end to the wild talk unleashed by Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest by the New York police, on May 14, over charges of sexual assault, unlawful imprisonment and attempted rape. As if the extraordinary nature of this affair and the mind-blowing – and dramatic – situation in which the former head of the International Monetary Fund now finds himself could justify the most extravagant of explanations.

Ever since the news first broke on Sunday, the notion that it was all a set-up meant to bring down Strauss-Kahn has spread like wildfire, especially on the Internet. The world of imagination being boundless, each theory brought forward seems more surprising than the other: they point to the CIA or rivals inside the IMF, to big American banks or financial interests threatened by Strauss-Kahn's push for more regulation, to murky schemes by some "black cabinet" working for Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysée palace, or even to Socialist party rivals only too eager to get rid of a dangerous candidate ahead of the 2012 presidential elections.

Conspiracy theories have been fanned by the fact that certain political figures – supporters of Strauss-Kahn, but not only – have seemed unwilling to exclude the possibility of a "trap" or of "manipulation." During an interview with the French newspaper Libération that took place on April 28, Dominique Strauss-Kahn himself had alluded to the possibility that such a set up could be organized by his enemies.

To crown it all, a poll performed on Monday by the CSA institute found that 57% of the French public believes that the former head of the IMF "is the victim of a plot," with the number reaching 70% in the case of left-leaning voters.

Regardless of whether the poll in question is legal or not – the Guigou law adopted in 2000 requires that no such polls be taken about someone protected by the presumption of innocence – the inquiry does reveal significant details about the state of mind in the country of ("I think, therefore I am" philosopher) René Descartes…and beyond.

It is only normal that most people find this matter utterly shocking – and captivating – given that the alleged sex scandal involves one of the world's most powerful men, as well as a potential candidate for the presidency of the French Republic. But does this mean that we should suddenly stop analyzing the facts with caution and common sense? Obviously not. Unless we are ready to admit that challenging all authority, and especially the authority of justice (be it American, in this case), has now reached a disturbing point of no return. Unless we are ready to say that the media's investigative efforts no longer carry any weight compared to the crazy elucubrations that the Internet instantaneously spreads around the entire globe.

We should not again find ourselves so ready to surrender to the kind of frenzy of conspiracy theories that has spawned since the 9/11 attacks. Let us not forget that this phenomenon is one of the very sources of totalitarianism, a sign of a democracy in regression.

Read the original article in French

photo - Greek PM office

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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