The French president is willing to give the Saudi crown prince a chance at reforming his country.
Reuters has slightly mistranslated French President Emmanuel Macron’s justification for supporting the policies and politics of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS): “If there is one chance that his project succeeds, then it’s the responsibility of France to accompany him.”
A more exact translation would be: “If there is a chance (possibility) that his project may succeed. France has the responsibility to give him that chance.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
A favor granted to parties with significant financial means by someone who knows there are short-term gains, even if the promises concerning the future cited to justify the operation are most likely illusory
A translation of the full quotation reveals the probability, even in Macron’s mind, that the promise will be illusory. “I don’t know everything, I have no intimate knowledge of his country, I know one thing, and that is that there is a chance that his project may succeed. France has the responsibility to give him that chance.”
In the tradition of Blaise Pascal’s wager as an argument, in his famous word Les Pensées, for believing in God, Macron takes the trouble to affirm his factual ignorance and then focuses on the one thing that he does know: That there is a benefit to be had if MBS keeps his promise and none to be had by refusing to believe him. Macron’s foreign policy relies, at least indirectly, on the great French inventor of probability theory, Pascal, to establish its bearings. It shows that Macron has mobilized some serious thoughts (pensées), unless he’s thinking of the other meaning of the word, pansies, the flower.
At another point, Macron attempts to be more explicit about the nature of the wager. “We can have the choice to stick to our traditional positions and we can decide that the first acts of modernization of his society are cosmetic. If we do that then we are leaving Prince Mohammed to face those in his area that think the opposite and decide to go backwards and keep to a political Islam or terrorism.”
Serious historians would characterize that reasoning as hubris — pride that challenges the gods — which should come as no surprise from the president who recommended a Jupiterian presidency. His thesis proposes that France will make the difference between MBS achieving or failing in his goal of modernization. Without France, the crown prince will be lost and the reactionary forces that have always had their way in Saudi Arabia will, as a result, prevail.
This episode allows us to notice a distinct cultural difference between the French and the Americans and even the British. The French will always develop complex reasoning, quasi philosophical positions, to justify their erroneous foreign policy decisions. Americans — and Donald Trump, in particular — will say exaggerated or highly optimistic things like, “We’ve become very good friends over a fairly short period of time.” Or this observation: “Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth, hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world.” The British will say eminently practical things in an impersonal way, such as Boris Johnson’s “tens of thousands of British jobs depend on our exports to Saudi Arabia” or “ intelligence from Saudi Arabia has been crucial in the struggle against terrorism.”
The Americans and the British like to analyze risk and believe by doing so that they can maintain control. The French believe they alone have the intellectual tools that justify taking control. The rest is chance!
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.