Liberté, Égalité, Virilité

The French don't just tolerate their politicians' sexual dalliances -- they demand them.

The arraignment of Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges including attempted rape and sexual abuse of a hotel housekeeper has stunned France. Strauss-Kahn, a Socialist who was forced to resign as head of the International Monetary Fund, was about to announce his intention to run for president in 2012. His reputation as a womanizer did not seem to hurt his chances; he was ahead of President Nicolas Sarkozy in the polls.

That changed when Strauss-Kahn, a man who had been known as a grand séducteur, suddenly was accused of being a violent criminal. Certainly, the Strauss-Kahn scandal has nothing to do with seduction à la française. But it has focused attention on the age-old habits of French politicians -- male politicians, that is -- to use seduction as a campaign tool. I explore that issue in detail in my current book La Seduction, from which the following is adapted.

In the United States, sexual desire is considered a distraction from the hard work of governing. Politicians are supposed to be pure, or at least strive to be. Americans have proved time and again that they see a politician's cheating in marriage as tantamount to cheating on the voters and the country. Even the most innocently playful banter can have negative consequences. [As we've seen in recent days, the salacious online sexual liaisons of Representative Anthony D. Weiner of New York and his subsequent lies about them have prompted several prominent Democrats to call for his resignation.]

In France, the ability to seduce a lover and engage on the playing field of sexual pleasure, in or out of marriage, is regarded by both men and women as a basic male competency, and no male politician dares risk being seen as inadequate. An aura of virility and sexual potency is not merely a plus. It's a necessity. A political man who reveals his sexual prowess is proving his good health and vigor: he is showing his constituents that he is fully and physically capable of running the country.

When asked in 1992 by the popular magazine Actuel whether they had ever cheated on their wives, most politicians showed little hesitation to answer in the affirmative. "I will not lie to you," one senator replied. "In Marseille, everything is known. I do not drink. I do not smoke. I never gamble. But I have one passion, and I repeat one passion: I love women. I have been a very, very, very great womanizer."

"To come to power, you have to seduce, and to stay there, you have to prove yourself vigoureux," wrote Jacques Georgel in his book, Sexe et politique. Politicians are not hounded out of office for sexual indiscretions, and the public is oft en happy to let their secrets remain officially under wraps. But seduction flows as an undercurrent in public and private life, so it is natural that talking about politicians' personal lives is part of the national discourse.

French politicians are allowed to enjoy their enhanced opportunities, unlike Americans, who are forced to take up the mantle of purity just when assuming high office might give them an advantage in the sexual game, This reality flows from centuries of precedent. The kings took sexual seduction to new heights. There was a hierarchy to the women in their lives: wives, significant others (known as "favorites"), and women passing through the court who provided fleeting adventures. To make sure that no one forgets France's royal history today, the kings' escapades are routinely retold in cover stories in mainstream weekly news magazines.

The tradition of seduction carried forward into modern times. Edgar Faure, a politician who wrote crime novels under a pseudonym and was a member of the Académie Française, liked to say that he had all the time in the world to succeed in his operations of seduction.

When Faure became the president of the Council (de facto prime minister) in the 1950s, he availed himself of all the perquisites of office. "When I was a minister, some women resisted me," he told a friend, according to Sexus Politicus, a 2005 book on sex and politics in France, "Once I became president, not even one."

The concept of sexual sin and forgiveness means little in French politics, and Bible-thumpers like Mark Sanford of South Carolina don't exist in France. As a congressman in 1998, Sanford called for Clinton's impeachment ("He lied under a different oath, and that's the oath to his wife," Sanford said); eleven years later, as governor of his state, he lied about his own extramarital affair. The French political elite was astonished when the sex antics of Sanford and María Belén Chapur, his "soul mate," as he called her, made news.

What really made the French giggle about Sanford was his need to babble on about his feelings. French commentators were bemused that he got teary about crossing the "sex line" with Chapur, admitted his sinfulness, apologized, and asked for forgiveness. It is impossible to imagine Jacques Chirac or Nicolas Sarkozy or any French politician giving such a performance.

Indeed, in the modern era, the presidency of France has largely served as a new, expansive stage for performances of seduction. For the first half of the twentieth century, the country's constitution was based on a parliamentary system. There was a prime minister, but his power was diluted by the strength of the national legislators. The constitution of the Fifth Republic, created in 1958, gave France its presidency, an exceptionally powerful one with some of the trappings of monarchy.

In running for the presidency of France in 1974, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was convinced that he had discovered the formula for winning elections. It was not a sophisticated polling operation or a massive grassroots organization. It was not an army of brilliant speechwriters or policy aides educated at France's top graduate schools. Giscard had a much simpler solution: he went after the votes of women. And he did it not with promises of pay equity or better child care, but with le regard, the look, the electric charge between two people when their eyes lock and a bond is created.

D'Estaing's personal opération séduction was not enough to get him reelected for a second seven- year term as president in 1981. But after his defeat, Giscard took it as his mission to convince the French that he was more than lovable - that he was downright sexy- and that they had made a mistake in voting him out of office. He sought to burnish his image by writing a sentimental, melodramatic sex novel. Le passage, published in 1994, tells a story of hunting and of love in which Charles, a solitary, passive middle-aged man, becomes obsessed with Natalie, a mysterious blond twenty-year-old hitchhiker.

In his eighties, Giscard remained determined to promote his image as a sexually potent male. In 2009, he published a second novel, which titillated readers with the suggestion that he might have had a love affair with Britain's Princess Diana. La princesse et le président relates the "violent passion" between a French head of state and a British royal named Patricia.

The book ends with the president and the princess living happily ever after in Tuscany. Giscard said that he considered ending the book with the president going off with the Corsican doctor. "I thought about it, but I didn't do it because of Diana," he said. "Because I said to myself that this would be an insult to her memory if the president went off with the doctor. And well, this book, it's completely an invention, naturally, but Diana said to me-I knew her a little, but not much, a little, like that, in conversation-and she said to me, ‘But you should write what would happen if there were a love story between two great leaders of the world.' "

One morning, not long after the publication of this latest novel, I called on Giscard in his antique-filled home in the sixteenth arrondissement of Paris. There he was, this man in his eighties, with wrinkled hands and a balding head and a lined face, enjoying his fantasy about a love affair with a young and beautiful princess. There was something poignant about Giscard holding on to a dream of gallantry and ideal love.

Later, as we were saying our good-byes, his hand seemed to rest for a second on the derriere of my young researcher. It was not aggressive. Perhaps it was accidental. Perhaps it never happened.

Then it seemed to happen a second time.


Between Mosque and Military

It's not just U.S. officials who are shining a harsh light on Pakistan's complicity with Islamist groups. Pakistan's ambassador to the United States once had some tough words of his own.

Following the daring raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani went into diplomatic overdrive. The loquacious envoy has taken his case to Twitter, Charlie Rose, and news outlets across the country to reject his government's complicity in sheltering bin Laden -- even drawing a parallel between the U.S. failure to catch Whitey Bulger and Pakistan's failure to locate the terrorist mastermind.

But only a few years ago, Haqqani's take on Pakistan's relationship with Islamist groups did not track so neatly with the government line. "Washington should no longer condone the Pakistani military's support for Islamic militants, its use of its intelligence apparatus for controlling domestic politics, and its refusal to cede power to a constitutional democratic government," he wrote in his controversial 2005 book, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, authored while a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In the book's conclusion, excerpts of which are printed below, Haqqani had sharp words for the Pakistani military's relationship with extremist groups and its effects on the country's development into a modern state. -Foreign Policy


In an effort to become an ideological state guided by a praetorian military, Pakistan has found itself accentuating its dysfunction, especially during the past two decades. The commitment or lack of commitment of the ordinary Pakistani citizen to Islam has hardly been the major issue in Pakistan's evolution. A large number of otherwise practicing Muslims have demonstrated through the ballot box time and again their desire to embrace pragmatic political and economic ideas. Most Pakistanis would probably be quite content with a state that would cater to their social needs, respect and protect their right to observe religion, and would not invoke Islam as its sole source of legitimacy; but the military's desire to dominate the political system and define Pakistan's national security priorities has been the most significant, although not the only, factor in encouraging an ideological paradigm for Pakistan.

At its birth, Pakistan started life with many disadvantages as the seceding state. Some of its security concerns, such as the need for a credible deterrent against India, are real, but the Pakistani military's desire for institutional supremacy within the country has created psychological and political layers to the Pakistani nation's sense of insecurity. The alliance between mosque and military in Pakistan maintains, and sometimes exaggerates, these psycho-political fears and helps both the Islamists and the generals in their exercise of political power. Support for the Pakistani military by the United States makes it difficult for Pakistan's weak, secular, civil society to assert itself and wean Pakistan from the rhetoric of Islamist ideology toward issues of real concern of Pakistan's citizens.

From the point of view of the United States, Pakistan offers few political choices. Although listed among the U.S. allies in the war on terrorism, Pakistan cannot be easily characterized as either friend or foe. Pakistan has become a major center of radical Islamist ideas and groups, largely because of its policies of support for Islamist militants fighting Indian rule in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir as well as the Taliban in its pursuit of a client regime in Afghanistan. Since September 11, 2001, however, the selective cooperation of Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf - sharing intelligence with the United States and apprehending Al Qaeda members - has led to the assumption that Pakistan might be ready to give up its long-standing ties with radical Islam. At the same time, the United States cannot ignore the fact that Pakistan's status as an Islamic ideological state is rooted deeply in history and is linked closely with both the praetorian ambitions of Pakistan's military and the worldview of Pakistan's elite.

In the foreseeable future, Islam will remain a significant factor in Pakistan's politics. Musharraf and his likely successors from the ranks of the military, promising reform, will continue to seek U.S. economic and military assistance; yet the power of such promises is tempered by the strong links between Pakistan's military-intelligence and apparatus and extremist Islamists.

Pakistan's future direction is crucial to the U.S.-led war against terror, not least because of Pakistan's declared nuclear-weapons capability. The historic alliance between Islamists and Pakistan's military could undermine antiterrorist operations in the short term while contributing to the global radicalization of Islam and fueling India-Pakistan confrontation. Unless Pakistan's all-powerful military can be persuaded to turn over power gradually to secular civilians and allow the secular politics of competing economic and regional interests to prevail over religious sentiment, the country's vulnerability to radical Islamic politics will not wane. With the backing of the U.S. government, Pakistan's military would probably be able to maintain a façade of stability for the next several years; but the military, bolstered by U.S. support, would want to maintain preeminence and is likely to make concessions to Islamists to legitimize its control of the country's polity. The United States is supporting Pakistan's military so that Pakistan backs away from Islamist radicalism, albeit gradually. In the process, however, the military's political ambitions are being encouraged, compromising change and preserving the influence of radical Islamists. Democratic reform that allows secular politicians to compete freely for power is more likely to reduce the influence of radical Islamists.


Radical Islamic groups, which portray themselves as the guardians of Pakistan's ideology, have been granted special status by the military-civil bureaucracy that normally governs Pakistan. The Islamists claim that they are the protectors of Pakistan's nuclear deterrent capability as well as champions of the national cause of security Kashmir for Pakistan. Secular politicians who seek greater autonomy for Pakistan's different regions -- or demand that religion be kept out of the business of the state -- have come under attack from the Islamists for deviating from Pakistan's ideology.

Establishing Islam as the state ideology was a device aimed at defining a Pakistani identity during the country's formative years. Indeed, Pakistan's leaders started using religious sentiment to strengthen the country's national identity shortly after Pakistan's inception. Emerging from the partition of British India in 1947 after a relatively short independence movement, Pakistan faced several challenges to its survival, beginning with India's perceived reluctance to accept Pakistan's creation. Pakistan's secular elite used Islam as a national rallying cry against perceived and real threats from predominantly Hindu India. They assumed that the country's clerics and Islamists were too weak and too dependent on the state to confront the power structure. Unsure of their fledgling nation's future, the politicians, civil servants, and military officers who led Pakistan in its formative years decided to exacerbate the antagonism between Hindus and Muslims that had led to partition as a means of defining a distinctive identity for Pakistan with "Islamic Pakistan" resisting "Hindu India." Notwithstanding the fitful peace process, hostility between India and Pakistan continues; in Pakistan it serves as an important element for national identification.


Islam has therefore become the central issue in Pakistan's politics because of a conscious and consistent state policy -- not just the inadvertent outcome of decisions made after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, as has been widely assumed -- aimed at excluding from power secular politicians while maintaining a centralized state controlled by the military and the civil bureaucracy. Pakistan's self-characterization as an Islamic, ideological state is thus unlikely to change in the near term. The country's population remains fractured by ethnic and linguistic differences, with Islam used as the common bond in an attempt to unite it.

Several times Pakistan has been seen as a state on the brink of failure, temporarily restored with U.S. military and economic assistance only to return to the brink again. Pakistan, suffering from chronically weak state institutions, continues to face a deep identity crisis and a rising threat from independent, radical Islamists. The government's fears about its viability and security have led Islamabad to seek an alliance with the United States while it simultaneously pursues a nuclear deterrent and subconventional military capability -- that is, Islamist terrorism -- against India. The U.S. response to September 11 left Pakistan with little choice but to make a harder turn toward the United States. Confronted with an ultimatum to choose between being with the United States or against it, Pakistan's generals chose to revive their alliance with the United States. At every stage since, Pakistan has proved to be a U.S. ally of convenience, not of conviction, as it has sought specific rewards for specific actions.

Pakistan's military historically has been willing to adjust its priorities to fit within the parameters of immediate U.S. global concerns. It has done this to ensure the flow of military and economic aid from the United States, which Pakistan considers necessary for its struggle for survival and its competition with India. Pakistan's relations with the United States have been part of the Pakistani military's policy tripod that emphasizes Islam as a national unifier, rivalry with India as the principal objective of the state's foreign policy, and an alliance with the United States as a means to defray the costs of Pakistan's massive military expenditures. These policy precepts have served to encourage extremist Islamism, which in the past few years has been the source of threats to both U.S. interests and global security. The United States can perhaps deal best with Pakistan in the long term by using its influence to reshape the Pakistani military's view of the national interest.

The United States recognized the troubling potential of Islamist politics in the very first years of the U.S. engagement with Pakistan. In a policy statement issued on July 1, 1951, the U.S. Department of State declared: "Apart from Communism, the other main threat to U.S. interests in Pakistan was from ‘reactionary groups of landholders and uneducated religious leaders' who were opposed to the ‘present Western-minded government' and ‘favor a return to primitive Islamic principles.'"

During the past four decades, however -- until September 11, 2001 -- the U.S. government did little to discourage Islamabad's embrace of obscurantist Islam as its state ideology, thereby empowering Pakistan's religious leaders beyond their support among the populace and tying the Islamists to Pakistan's military-civil bureaucracy and intelligence apparatus.

America's alliance with Pakistan, or rather with the Pakistani military, has had three significant consequences for Pakistan. First, because the U.S. military sees Pakistan in the context of its Middle East strategy, Pakistan has become more oriented toward the Middle East even though it is geographically and historically a part of South Asia. Second, the intermittent flow of U.S. military and economic assistance has encouraged Pakistan's military leaders to overestimate their power potential. This, in turn, has contributed to their reluctance to accept normal relations with India even after learning through repeated misadventures that Pakistan can, at best, hold India to a draw in military conflict and cannot defeat it. Third, the ability to secure military and economic aid by fitting into the current paradigm of American policy has made Pakistan a rentier state, albeit one that lives off rents for its strategic location.


Contrary to the U.S. assumption that aid translates into leverage, Pakistan's military has always managed to take the aid without ever fully giving the United States what it desires. During the 1950s and 1960s, Ayub Khan oversold Pakistan's willingness to help the United States in containing communist expansion. Pakistan provided significant intelligence gathering facilities for a while but never provided the "centrally positioned landing site" the United States sought. Zia al-Haq's cooperation in bleeding the Soviets in Afghanistan came with Pakistan's plan to install a client regime in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. The United States never controlled Pakistan's ISI, or for that matter the mujahideen, even though it paid for the operation. Pakistan's role in the jihad against the Soviet Union also inspired Pakistani jihadis to expand jihad into Kashmir. Musharraf's help in the hunt for Al Qaeda also remains selective. Pakistan's unwillingness to fulfill American expectations, rather than American fickleness, has led to the on-off aid relationship between the two countries. The Pakistani military has been unhappy each time the aid pipeline was shut down and turned its people against the United States. While aid flows, however, it is the Pakistani military and not the United States that gains leverage.

United States policy makers need to recognize the limits of aid as leverage with Pakistan. Instead of heaping praise on Pakistan's soldier-politicians, the United States could try deflating their egos. A more modest aid package delivered steadily, aimed at key sectors of the Pakistani economy, would not raise Pakistani expectations and could, over time, create a reliable pocket of influence for the United States among the country's elite. The pattern of large doses of aid, given as strategic rent or quid pro quo for Pakistan's cooperation in a specific sphere, has historically provided the United States with limited leverage. With the dissipation of aid, the United States loses that limited leverage and Pakistan's elite gets embittered.


The United States can help contain the Islamists' influence by demanding reform of those aspects of Pakistan's governance that involve the military and security services. Until now, the United States has harshly berated corrupt or ineffective Pakistani politicians but has only mildly criticized the military's meddling. Between 1988 and 1999, when civilians ostensibly governed Pakistan, U.S. officials routinely criticized the civilians' conduct but refrained from commenting on the negative role of the military and the intelligence services despite overwhelming evidence of that role. ISI manipulation of the 1988, 1990, and 1997 elections went unnoticed publicly by the United States while the Pakistani military's recitation of politicians' failings was generally accepted without acknowledging the impact of limits set for the politicians by the military. The United States appears to accept the Pakistani military's falsified narrative of Pakistan's recent history, at least in public. It is often assumed that the military's intervention in politics is motivated by its own concern over national security and the incompetence of politicians. That the military might be a contributor to political incompetence and its desire to control national security policies might be a function of its pursuit of domestic political power are hardly ever taken into account.

Washington should no longer condone the Pakistani military's support for Islamic militants, its use of its intelligence apparatus for controlling domestic politics, and its refusal to cede power to a constitutional democratic government. As an aid donor, Washington has become one of Pakistan's most important benefactors, but a large part of U.S. economic assistance since September 11, 2001, has been used to pay down Pakistan's foreign debt. Because Washington has attached few conditions to U.S. aid, the spending patterns of Pakistan's government have not changed significantly. The country's military spending continues to increase, and spending for social services is well below the level required to improve living conditions for ordinary Pakistanis. The United States must use its aid as a lever to influence Pakistan's domestic policies. Even though Musharraf's selective cooperation in hunting down Al Qaeda terrorists is a positive development, Washington must not ignore Pakistan's state sponsorship of Islamist militants, its pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles at the expense of education and health care, and its refusal to democratize; each of these issues is directly linked to the future of Islamic radicalism.

The United States clearly has few good short-term policy options in relation to Pakistan. American policy makers should endeavor to recognize the failings of their past policies and avoid repeating their mistakes. The United States has sought short-term gains from its relationship with Pakistan, inadvertently accentuating that country's problems in the process. Pakistan's civil and military elite, on the other hand, must understand how their three-part paradigm for state and nation building has led Pakistan from one disaster to the next. Pakistan was created in a hurry and without giving detailed thought to various aspects of nation and state building. Perhaps it's time to rectify that mistake by taking a long-term view. Both Pakistan's elite and their U.S. benefactors would have to participate in transforming Pakistan into a functional, rather than ideological, state.