By all accounts, the Israeli-Syrian indirect negotiations through Turkish mediation are going well, and the fact that a fourth round of talks is scheduled for the end of July suggests that both sides expect to make further progress. The reports from Damascus and Ankara, however, indicating that Syria will not enter into direct negotiations with Israel before the advent of new American administration show an obstructive apprehension on the part of the Syrian government. Indeed, Damascus should not only agree to direct negotiations with Israel—as Turkish officials strongly recommend—but time has come for it to make a bold move toward the Israelis. A high level meeting, for example, between Israel and Syria can change overnight the dynamic of their negotiations and dramatically increase the Bush administration’s stakes in its successful outcome.
FRIBOURG, SWITZERLAND—This weekend, Cyrill and Maureen got married. It was a three-day affair, with medieval theme, each of the more than 400 guests wearing medieval garb, eating and drinking and carousing much as Swiss knights and their ladies (with a few monks and William Tells thrown in) might have done seven or eight centuries ago.
But the ceremony and all that surrounded it was much more than that—a tribute to how far Switzerland and China, indeed Europe and Asia, have come in the days since Marco Polo first returned from the Orient in the year 1295 and brought back word of a mighty and mysterious kingdom on the other side of the world. Cyrill Eltschinger, it seems, is Swiss to the tips of his gauntlets, while Maureen Yeo is Chinese—tracing her lineage back five centuries or more.
Cyrill and I first met last year after our books, Cyrill’s Source Code China: The New Global Hub of IT (Information Technology) Outsourcing and my own, A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today were both published, two weeks apart, by Wiley, and we were invited to speak at the Outource World convention at New York’s Javits Center. I was then at Forbes, and Cyrill was and remains CEO of IT United, one of the leading information technology companies in China, and is based in Beijing where he first met Maureen three years ago.
Some months after Cyrill and I had met at the Javits Center, having moved to World Policy Journal as editor, I received an e-mailed invitation to come to Fribourg and Neuchatel in June for their wedding. The only catch? We had to come garbed. Chain mail and a Swiss cavalier’s cap for me, two elegant gowns for my lady (aka wife Pamela).
Fribourg itself, beyond being the hometown of Cyrill, was a totally appropriate spot for this unusual ceremony. It is a bilingual city divided down the middle by an invisible, but quite real line—the northern half lies in the German-speaking portion of Switzerland, the southern half in the French portion. France and Germany united again in the heart of Europe.
It’s rare that the French provide us with the watercooler stories we cherish here in the States—à la the Spitzer downfall and the Lewinsky travails of a decade earlier. Rather, the land of amour tends to stay unruffled when it comes to matters of the heart, or the bedroom. How refreshing it is then to recount the Israeli visit earlier this week by supermodel emeritus-turned-French First Lady Carla Bruni. What a splash she made as she disembarked to the stares of Shimon Peres and his giggling ministers, some of whom no doubt were struggling not to recall her scandalous nude pictures.
This light-hearted arrival was bookended by a less jocular finale when an Israeli border policeman committed suicide at the Sarkozys’ farewell ceremony. Regarde la Presidente as she pushed Sarko aside and bolted for safety—designer pumps and all—back up into their waiting Airbus!
But Sarko and Bruni’s antics reveal larger trends about the French psyche, and how we all perceive what a First Lady should be. Though the French were initially turned off by their new president’s infantile need to be perceived as alpha male, Sarkozy’s popularity rates are steadily increasing. But is this because—or in spite—of Bruni?
Despite her foibles and quasi-sordid background, at day’s end, Carla Bruni is to the French no more than casual fodder for occasional jokes. The French—and I’d posit the Europeans in general—have been able to regard their leading ladies with an air of frivolity and with properly managed expectations.
By tracing the tenures of Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, and examining the recent rhetoric surrounding Michelle Obama, the polarity between the Europeans’ and Americans’ perception of the first lady appears radically different. In most circles, gender equality is a battle that’s been fought and won; race relations, civil liberties, and immigration debates spark far more fireworks today. Then why is America’s first lady stuck in the 1950s?
For those of you not passionately following the Euro 2008 soccer tournament (which every four years pits Europe’s top 16 national teams against one another), let me be the first to tell you that the semifinals have arrived. There are two big games over the next couple of days, but something feels slightly off.
The streets of London won’t fall eerily silent as Brits pack the pubs, the Champs Elysees won’t be thronged with reveling Parisians, and there’ll be no splashing about in Rome’s Trevi fountain: Europe’s traditional powers have all been knocked out. England didn’t even place high enough in qualifying to make the tournament.
Instead, the final four teams remaining in Euro 2008 are Turkey, Russia, Spain, and Germany. Pardon the crude turn of phrase, but Europe’s outliers, once knocking at the door, have let themselves in, looked through the fridge, and sat down at the table.
In some ways, soccer—particularly in Europe—has been an acute barometer of politics and demographics, if not an agent of change itself.