by Pepe Escobar for the AsiaTimes
The three-hour face-off between Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron in Versailles offered some fascinating geopolitical shadow play.
Macron went so far as to say that, “No major problem in the world can be solved without Russia.” On Syria’s war, which topped their agenda, he said it needs “an inclusive political solution.” While on terrorism, his guest offered: “It is impossible to fight a terrorist threat by dismantling the statehood of those countries that already suffer from some internal problems and conflicts.”
That’s hardly straight from the standard establishment playbook. More like a slight variation on 300 years of Franco-Russian diplomacy.
Putin and Macron got together to inaugurate an exhibition at the Grand Trianon in Versailles, in partnership with the Hermitage in St Petersburg, celebrating the 300th anniversary of Peter the Great’s visit to France – which proved one of the founding stones of a complex cultural-political cross-fertilization.
Peter not only drew on the royal palace of Versailles as part of the inspiration for his new capital, St Petersburg, he also modernized the entire empire using many of the Enlightenment ideals that first took root in France. It was under Peter’s rule that Russians were indelibly imprinted with a European identity.
Connections with current geopolitical juncture enhance the Versailles face-off’s appeal.
The St Petersburg Economic Forum – where quite a few CEOs from large European companies will be discussing business in Russia – starts later this week.
Late last week, a Nato summit in Brussels and a G7 summit in Taormina busted open deep divisions in the Western front, essentially pitting the EU against Donald Trump.
To say that the vast EU bureaucracy has been horrified is an understatement. In places like the Egmont – the Royal Institute for International Relations in Brussels – the consensus might best be summarized as: Europeans would only matter if they put in a US$100 billion order for US defense equipment (each, of course), and stopped whining about the climate.
As this is not happening, the letter of the law is that every Nato member must spend 2% of GDP on defense, and “bad, bad” Germany should stop selling cars to the US.
No wonder then that a common European viewpoint is begging to emerge after some serious discussions inside the EU, which is that the only way out is for Europe to get its act together – politically, economically and militarily.
And it’s up to the Franco-German power couple to show the path to the region’s real strategic autonomy.
That’s the gist of the extraordinary statement by Chancellor Angela Merkel: “The times in which we can entirely depend on others are gone. This, I have experienced in the last few days. We Europeans must take our destiny in our own hands.”
This would suggest that not only are there a few icebergs blocking the Atlanticist channels, there must also be a serious reappraisal under way of Europe’s relationship with Russia. (There are no significant German or French business interests that want sanctions against Russia to persist.)
Merkel could not have gone out on this limb unless she was fully supported domestically, and prepared to position the economic might of Berlin at the vanguard of this “Reformation.”
And that’s really the big story following the show of irrelevance at the G7 in Taormina.
Which is where Emmanuel Macron comes in.
All hail the Philosopher King
The supine French media – largely controlled by a handful of banking, financial and telecom interests – has gone ga ga over Macron’s handling of what is a de facto “presidential monarchy.”
Only the terminally naïve would deny that Macron was the candidate of globalized Atlanticist elites in thrall to the diktats of the financial system. As a bonus, he also dutifully follows the standard Russophobia – as in his charges against Moscow of pursuing a “hybrid strategy, combining military intimidation and an information war.”
Macron was skillfully sold as an “outsider” – yet he is backed by the ultimate French insider A-list. Its members include the Rothschilds; the Montaigne Institute; the Saint-Simon Foundation; the Terra Nova think tank; insurance giant AXA; Jacques Attali; Alain Minc; LVMH boss Bernard Arnault (also a media tycoon); and telecom and media billionaire Patrick Drahi.
He is, according to an elite insider cited by Le Monde, a fantasy come true for members of Le Siècle – the premier elite club in Paris: “A left-winger implementing a pro-business policy.”
Nuances make “project Macron” even more attractive. Because he studied philosophy and was an assistant to the revered Paul Ricoeur, Macron has been extolled as a Philosopher King in the Platonic tradition. And that was even before his show-stopping initial performance on the global stage – yes, the Alpha Male Handshake Battle with Trump.
It gets quirkier. Ecstatic intellectual Macronites even attest he combines the burning ambition of Alcibiades – a precociously talented Athenian general with a penchant for political maneuvering – with the wisdom of Socrates. Well, at least Macron seems to prefer reading to tweeting and being fed one-line bullet points by his minions.
It’s always enlightening to remember that the Philosopher King, as Plato conceived it, was not exactly a democrat. After all, Plato considered “the people” as something like a “huge beast,” filled with irrational passions, and unworthy of comparison with the demonstrative knowledge espoused by a lover of ideas.
Macron’s unbridled – Platonic? – ambition should not be underestimated. Putin, a master of cunning, did detect it in Versailles. Trump tried to charm him, calling Macron “my guy” in the presidential race. Macron, described by his circle as supremely confident, is sure he may be able to charm/bend Merkel – arguably a decaying quantity – into a “Leader of the West” Philosopher King role.
No wonder Macron is an EU superstar. He is seen as a savior because he embodies their ultimate wishful thinking that one day, inside the EU, inside the UN, in the G7, and even in Nato, globalized Europeans will be undivided on defense, trade, foreign policy – and their own interests.
Excellent commentary from within the elusive reality of current affairs …
Excellent! (that is French, BTW)
Thank you for this excellent article, mr. Escobar.
Time will tell whether Macron is the wonderboy in the arena. That he had a good discussion with Putin is already a step in the right direction.
However, the problems in France are immense, and the EU is a farce.
Please just take a look at Juncker, the president of the EU: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IoGSlnIWYA
Also, let me say thank you for publishing another interesting and thought-provoking column by Mr. Escobar. I’ve been a fan of reading his stuff for many years now, and he only rarely dissapoints.
So, I’m happy when their is a confluence of interests and I can read Mr. Escobar on one of my favorite sites. :)
Don’t forget that the ‘liberal’ fundamentalists, including those in the EU, are lining up to destroy Trump’s America-first anti globalism. The EU politicians are not in any way shunning American death/debt Imperialism, just siding with the globalists in making it known, with theatrical statements like Merkle’s, and fake turning towards Russia, and silly handshake scuffles, that Trump is hurting the US standing and authority, so as to put pressure on him. The EU have in no way changed their allegiance. Death and debt made them all rich, unaccountable and powerful for goodness sakes! Turn towards the East and they may actually have to do some work.
The whole shower are very out of touch with reality, though. Trump still remains an eloquent symbol of US decline and there is no one following in his steps to make the US dangerous again.
Vile and drunk
Glory to the You’re_a_peon Union.
Putin was visibly extremely fed up with this pretentious and pedantic demagogue. With constant dribble about how France was and is ‘misto’ telling how Russia was and still is ‘selo’ and how it nowadays just as well as during the reign of Peter the Great needs guidance from the shining light France, which in reality is like the infamous Lucas, Prince of darkness, famous for its three position switch: dimm, flicker, off.
Here some body language, like it then google for more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcrjcvBTzJg?t=2:00s
Well I certainly can give Macron credit for trying to hang noodles on Putin’s ear.
I hadn’t seen it yet, but I think you are right.
Here’s a short fragment, no comment needed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Khc3duevI7c
There is a clearly visible disdain visible. At the same time that puzzles me, because normally Putin is very careful and diplomatic.
So, again: oh dear.
i don’t know if the Russians have a word for wanker,but poor old Putin just had to stand and listen to one….and yes i agree with everything you have writen
Macron may well be a banking aristocrat’s ‘fantasy come true’, but the unavoidable truth is that the machinery of world order, trade and governance to which such a man was once a useful tool is now changing so fast, from imperial to metric, that he does not fit most of the nuts and bolts. He would have been perfect for the 80’s and 90’s, even noughties US built machinery. Now the machinists will find he slips on most of the nuts they apply him to.
This is the basis of Macron’s admission that “No major problem in the world can be solved without Russia.” After a longish chat about realities on the ground, the aristocrat’s monkey recognises that they have to use a Russian / Chinese shaped spanner now.
Maybe there is some kind of a job for Gerard Depardieu in all this . . .
Perhaps as Manny Macaroni’s mother-wife?
“Only the terminally naïve would deny that Macron was the candidate of globalized Atlanticist elites in thrall to the diktats of the financial system. As a bonus, he also dutifully follows the standard Russophobia – as in his charges against Moscow of pursuing a ‘hybrid strategy, combining military intimidation and an information war’.”
If that makes him something special, why didn’t the previous imbeciles pass for equally brilliant, shining lights? I feel disposed to believe it boils down to the ‘Tsipras syndrome’ : Young dude with some vague ‘Leftist credentials’ (whatever that means) gives pro-Business politics a ‘fresh start’.
France is a failed state. Même ses “philosophes-par-excellence”, Macron et BHL, le savent très bien.
Young dude with some vague ‘Leftist credentials’ (whatever that means) gives pro-Business politics a ‘fresh start’.
This reminds me of a young version of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. (Does Macron also wear business suits made by Brioni?) The only two positive things that can be said about Schröder is that he kept German soldiers out of the Iraq mess and that he initiated the building of the North-Stream pipeline. Otherwise the guy and all the other politicians around him had been ultimate failures. In internal politics they started to dismantle the generational contract, social welfare state and gave huge tax cuts to large international companies. Afterwards they even bragged about creating a large German low wage sector (they spewed such nonsense as competitiveness and other things).
Well, in contrast to Germans the French are not quite as passive when it comes to being screwed over by politicians and big business. Interesting times ahead.
We do well to remember that Saker had an insightful opinion piece way back in the day when the EU was avidly piling on sanctions upon Russia along with its Atlantic allies – the Saker opining that Europe was shooting itself in the foot or even further up its anatomy, if I may paraphrase what was an important and insightful posting back then.
Also, it is worth remembering now that Putin several times corrected the Macron indirect assertions that France back in Peter’s time had civilized backward Russia by reminding him that the royal line of France had previously been infused with Russian dna maternally speaking (powerful stuff, that matriarchal lineage.)
Third and last, I love Pepe but he’s not really in tune with the Platonic dialogues as a whole, and that huge beast he’s talking about is rather more importantly one side of the individual human being, for which Alcibiades is indeed an example but not the best one. The ‘philosopher king’ may well be more balanced, but he’s more an individual ‘best’ example grappling with his own bestiality and encouraging his citizenry to do the same to the best of their ability than he is one in charge of a brute population.
That said, I think to link Macron with Alcibiades is Pepe at his best. I’m saving Plato for Putin and Lavrov.
“He is seen as a savior because he embodies their ultimate wishful thinking that one day, inside the EU, inside the UN, in the G7, and even in Nato, globalized Europeans will be undivided on defense, trade, foreign policy – and their own interests.”
Ah, but WHO’S interestsd? The interests of the bankers and the interests of the generals will always be different from the people on the bottom who have to pay the bills to the bankers and die in the general’s wars.
There’s only two ways they “unite”. First is if the generals and the bankers start adjusting their interests to match the people who have to fulfill those interests …. yeah right? The other is when the people are so brain-washed that they actually believe that the interests of the bankers and the generals are their own interests. And that prospect is if anything receeding.
Didn’t I see a poll in France, maybe just before the election, that said that over 50% of the people would support an uprising/rebellion?
He is really just Manny Macaroni. And not merely a cosmopolitan globalist and metrosexual but not even French.
Remains to be seen if EU can stand on its own feet. Until then, I wouldn’t be trusting Merkel or Macron to ‘think’ for themselves. This business of allowing them to dictate whether they are ‘in, out, or shaking it all about’ is loaded with risk. To pretend US will simply allow it’s vassal states to become independent just for the asking is silly, bullies know their strength lie in the gang they control. Even if EU wants to decide for itself, the drag of NATO expansionism by US will hamstring it’s progress. Half a century of subservience will not disappear just for the asking, beaurocracies are riddled with US sympathizers however ignorant its policies. Other truth is, Trump believed President is the ‘man’, only to discover US Pres is the ‘boy’ to deep state, and unable to eliminate, is constructing his own Deep State in replacement.
Macron as a Philosopher King?
Macron looks an aging Boy Band reject with some “mommy” issues.
Fraulein Merkel will “discipline” the misbehaving Macron over her knee!
Macron is the French Ted Cruz, the phony outsider. Glad we Americans didn’t fall for that scam!
well, I don’t think Greece or Portugal were even at those meetings – so an undivided EU would have to leave them out of it –
Philosophy was for Plato something completely different from what is now called ‘philosophy’. And of course the Plato’s Philosopher was something different from the professors of ‘philosophy’. There were different requirements to become a Philosopher King than the endless palavers of the ‘phenomenologists’ a la Ricoeur or Merleau-Ponty.
This is “content free”, didn’t expect that from Escobar.
Really insightful summary! I would just add re Trump that his campaign promises were all nationalist in nature. Such as to: 1.make NATO pay its way, 2. to open relations with Russia, 3. to get out of the ME to name a few.. Now, he has made significant strides on all three;
1. The EU will pay for NATO and if they didn’t? So what, for as he said more than once, NATO was unnecessary anyway. 2. If the EU turns towards Russia then who could criticize him if the US did as well. 3. Lastly, the tempest in a teacup he just unleashed in the ME with SA chasing after Qatar, also works in his favor. SA will have less time to meddle in the ME if it is in a confrontation with the other ME monarchs. He may appear erratic and be bombastic, but he is not stupid:)