L’évacuation de Kaboul

« L’Afghanistan est un pays facile à envahir, difficile à tenir, dangereux à quitter », observe David Martinon dans son époustouflant livre Les 15 jours qui ont fait basculer Kaboul (Éditions de l’Observatoire). J’étais impatient de me procurer cet ouvrage, de le parcourir et de le recenser. J’étais littéralement glué aux bulletins de nouvelles dans les dernières semaines de cet été 2021, alors que les forces occidentales opéraient un retrait en catastrophe de l’Afghanistan qui tombait chaque jour davantage aux mains de la horde talibane.

Et j’ai été ravi.

J’avais bien lu quelques articles dans Le Figaro à propos de cet ambassadeur charismatique qui fut porte-parole de la présidence de la République sous Nicolas Sarkozy en prime. Quel ne fut pas mon plaisir de lire sa plume alerte mais souvent angoissante, au fil du récit de l’une des pages les plus tragiques de l’histoire contemporaine.

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One man can change the course of a battle

“The vast majority of men receiving the Medal of Honor in World War II belonged to the infantry but the American public was fixated on marines and the glamour boys in the air corps with their nice blue uniforms”, writes acclaimed author and historian Alex Kershaw in his recent book Against All Odds: A True Story of Ultimate Courage and Survival in World War II (Caliber).

Undoubtedly, Alex Kershaw is the master of the battle narrative. His books always remind me of Sir John Keegan’s classic The Face of Battle, in detailing the reality and sacrifices of fighting soldiers. Between the covers, he details the courageous and selfless feats of Maurice “Footsie” Britt, Michael Daly, Audie Murphy and Keith Ware. All these men were part of the “[…] 3rd Division, the legendary “Rock of the Marne” outfit that had saved Paris in July 1918 by blocking the last great German offensive of World War I.” The men of that Division were sent on the first line to absorb a strong German attack along the Marne River in April 1918. The stubbornness of their defense earned them the famous nickname. Their successors in World War II would be no different.

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Top Gun Maverick and the Taiwanese flag – Exclusive interview with Chris Fenton

Chris Fenton (source: Variety.com)

With the release of Top Gun Maverick and all the buzz surrounding the issue of the Taiwan flag on Maverick’s leather jacket, Hollywood former movie executive and author Chris Fenton kindly accepted to answer a few questions for this blog. Needless to say, I was extremely happy to be exchanging with the producer of one of my favorite movies, Iron Man 3.

Here is the content of our exchange.

Mr. Fenton, the last couple of years have been difficult for the United States on the world scene and many observers are pontificating about its supposed loss of power. Do you think Top Gun Maverick is a good shot in the arm of American patriotism?

100% yes. Hollywood content can be an extremely effective tool for soft power. Top Gun is the best example of that.

What is the recipe for the success of that iconic movie?

The star power of Tom Cruise and the brand awareness among global consumers of the original Top Gun film.

The Taiwan flag was not supposed to appear on Maverick’s jacket – from what I remember of the 2019 trailer. Could you tell us why the situation has changed?

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“Putin is clearly trying to ignite a larger conflict” – Martin Dugard

Author Martin Dugard (source: MartinDugard.com)

After the publication of my review of his excellent book Taking Paris: The Epic Battle for the City of Lights (Caliber), Martin Dugard kindly accepted to answer some questions for this blog. I feel privileged for the interview with an excellent and engaging author, who is also the coauthor of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Series.

Here is the content of our exchange.

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Mr. Dugard, where did the idea of writing Taking Paris originate from?

The book actually started as Taking Rome but as the research expanded it became obvious that the story of Rome worked more nicely as a small section in the larger context of the 1940 fall of Paris and 1944 liberation.

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Vladimir Poutine et la nouvelle armée russe

Lundi prochain, les troupes russes défileront au pas d’oie sur la Place rouge. Elles sont déjà en répétition sur la rue Tverskaya. Les forces militaires profiteront également de l’occasion pour faire parader l’attirail qui forme l’arsenal de Moscou. Le Jour de la Victoire est toujours un moment fort dans la psyché russe, en raison de la place dominante occupée par la guerre dans l’histoire du pays.

Depuis l’invasion de l’Ukraine le 24 février dernier, l’armée russe est omniprésente dans l’actualité internationale et sa performance outre-frontière soulève plusieurs questions et observations.

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Moscow has no discernible exit strategy in Ukraine

Professor Bettina Renz (source: YouTube)

In the aftermath of my review of her timely and absorbing book Russia’s Miltiary Revival (Polity), author and University of Nottingham Professor of International Security Bettina Renz granted me an interview. I am extremely grateful for her insights, one week from Victory Day parade in Moscow.

Below is the content of our exchange.

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The situation is now a war of attrition with no immediate end in sight.

Professor Renz, considering the last 9 weeks, what is your assessment of the performance of the Russian army in Ukraine? Are you surprised by the way the situation evolved?

Knowing what we know now, the poor performance of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine is no surprise. On the one hand, the Russian military is numerically and technologically superior to their Ukrainian counterpart. On the other hand, the history of warfare has demonstrated repeatedly that superiority in numbers and kit cannot make up for poor strategy.

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A striking parallel between Zelensky and de Gaulle

I initially wanted to review Taking Paris: The Epic Battle for the City of Lights by Martin Dugard last February, but then Vladimir Putin launched his troops against Ukraine and I had to shuffle my publications calendar. As you will see, there are fascinating parallels between the fate of France in World War II and the current situation in Ukraine, if only at the leadership level.

After the invasion of France by the Germans in May 1940, the country is in disarray and its statesmen have given up. In the ashes of defeat, a temporary brigadier general will rise to the occasion. Fleeing his homeland on board an airplane provided by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle left with a “[…] hastily packed suitcase contain[ing] four shirts, one pair of pants, and a single photograph of Yvonne and the children, whose current whereabouts he does not know.” I couldn’t help but think of the same predicament in which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky found himself on February 24th. As did de Gaulle, he chose to fight, but from home.

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« La guerre d’Ukraine a contribué à une détérioration des relations sino-américaines » – Jean-Pierre Cabestan

Les présidents chinois, Xi Jinping, et des États-Unis, Joe Biden (source Al Jazeera)

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Je publie aujourd’hui la deuxième partie de l’excellente entrevue que j’ai récemment réalisée avec le sinologue et auteur réputé Jean-Pierre Cabestan.

Professeur, à la page 132 de votre livre Demain la Chine : guerre ou paix?, vous écrivez : « La mauvaise nouvelle est que même si les États-Unis remportent la bataille du blocus [contre Taiwan], ils ne sont pas certains de gagner la guerre : Taiwan est plus proche de la République populaire que du continent américain et Pékin est probablement plus résolu que Washington à arriver à ses fins. » Observez-vous une baisse de détermination chez les élites américaines par rapport à Taiwan?

Non pas pour l’instant, et pas du tout dans un avenir prévisible. Cette considération porte sur le long terme et surtout dans le contexte postérieur à une tentative chinoise de prise de contrôle de Taiwan par des moyens militaires. Le rapport des forces actuels dans le Pacifique occidental contraint déjà les États-Unis de recourir à des moyens asymétriques pour espérer contrer toute opération de l’APL (Armée populaire de libération).

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« L’invasion de l’Ukraine par la Russie complique les choses pour Xi Jinping » – Jean-Pierre Cabestan

Source: Financial Times

Dans la foulée de ma recension de son dernier livre, le sinologue réputé Jean-Pierre Cabestan, qui est professeur de sciences politiques à la Hong Kong Baptist University, a généreusement accepté de m’accorder une entrevue. Étant donné sa longueur, j’ai décidé de la publier en deux parties.

Puisqu’il y est question de la Chine et de l’impact de la guerre en Ukraine sur les relations entre Pékin et Washington, ses observations mettent en lumière une dynamique incontournable dans les relations internationales.

Voici le contenu de notre échange.

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Professeur Cabestan, dans votre excellent livre Demain la Chine : guerre ou paix?, vous évoquez souvent la notion de « passion et de poudre ». Nous en observons actuellement une manifestation ailleurs sur le globe, en Ukraine. Quelle est votre lecture de l’attitude de la Chine dans la guerre initiée par Moscou en Ukraine? Pensez-vous que l’attitude du Kremlin vient brouiller les cartes pour Xi Jinping?

L’invasion de l’Ukraine par la Russie complique les choses pour Xi Jinping, et pas seulement à propos de Taiwan. Elle montre que le passage du seuil de la guerre a de multiples conséquences, souvent incalculables, et peut déclencher une escalade, voire une nucléarisation du conflit, également difficilement prévisible et contrôlable.

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Drone Wars: The Poor Man’s Air Force

A few years ago, I was intrigued to read that President Barack Obama ordered 10 times more drone strikes than his predecessor, President George W. Bush. Since their appearance, drones have become omnipresent on the battlefield and not a week goes by without a news article about their feats.

Incidentally, drones have played a role in the war of aggression launched against Ukraine by Russia in the last few weeks. They are also used in several theaters around the world. In a nutshell, “the drones developed by Israel and then revolutionized by America have now proliferated everywhere”, writes Seth J. Frantzman in Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence, and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier Books).

The author writes that everyone wants drones, notably because they are cheaper than airplanes and reduce the potential for human casualties. They have become the “poor man’s air force”. Hence, their use by Houthi rebels in Yemen in the cross-fight between Iran and Saudi Arabia.About this conflict, the Jerusalem Post correspondent and analyst reminds us of a chilling episode when Houthi drones attacked an Aramco facility in Saudi Arabia – “some 1,000 kilometers from Houthi frontlines in Yemen” – in August 2019. The kingdom which ranked in 6th place in terms of military expenditures in the world in 2020 was defenseless in front of this incursion. A real military representation of the biblical tale of David versus Goliath and a manifestation that superpowers are not immune from an attack performed by a “poor man’s air force”.

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