Letter From Parisnby Curtis CatenFran9ois Mitterrand:nMetternich or Gladstone?nTwo troublesome problems have, fromntime immemorial, bedeviled politicalnregimes of every sort, from the mostnautocratic despotisms to the most wildlynpermissive of democracies. The first isnthe problem of advancing age and thenkind of rigor mentis that is apt to afflictnrulers during the final years of theirn”reigns.” The second, closely linked tonthe first, is the perennial problem ofnpolitical succession — the problem thatnhereditary monarchies long sought tonsolve through the principle of primogeniture,nbut which, as the recentndownfall of Margaret Thatcher proved,ncan also plague constitutional monarchies.nThe extravagantly long reign ofnLouis XIV — no less than 72 yearsn(1643-1715) — is a classic case of thenrigor mentis that can all too easilynovertake rulers in their declining years.nAlthough it would be rash and simplisticnto claim that everything he didnduring the first forty years of his reignnwas truly enlightened, it is certain thatnfrom the year 1685 on, when undernthe influence of a bigoted mistress henrepealed the Edict of Nantes that hadngranted French Protestants freedom ofnworship in a predominantly CatholicnFrance, thus precipitating a catastrophicnexodus of honest, hardworking Huguenotsntoward Protestant Prussia, almostneverything Louis XIV undertooknwas to the long-term detriment ofnFrance.nAnother classic example of mentalnossification is that of Metternich ofnAustria, that paragon of conservativen”statesmanship” whose 39-year reignn(1809-1848) dedicated to immobilen”order” and “stability” came to grief innthe revolutionary upheavals of 1848.nOur own century has already producedna dozen examples of politicalnsenility. We can begin the list withnFrance’s two First World War leaders.nCORRESPONDENCEnGeorges Clemenceau and RaymondnPoincare — the first of whom at the agenof 75 sabotaged the young EmperornKarl of Austria’s sensible attempt tonnegotiate peace with the Allies inn1916-1917, while the second’s brutalnpolicy toward Germany in the earlyn1920’s helped to fan the patriotic resentmentnthat brought Adolf Hitler tonpower ten years later. There is thenpathetic case of Franklin Roosevelt,nwhose last two years culminated in thendiplomatic debacle of Yalta and thensudden arrival at the White House ofnan inexperienced successor, HarrynTruman, who until he assumed officenhad been casually excluded from regularncabinet meetings. Though markedlyndifferent in their philosophical andnpolitical ideals. Emperor Haile Selassienof Ethiopia, Antonio Salazar of Portugal,nand Enver Hoxha of Albania werenall dedicated to maintaining a virtuallynimmutable status quo for a number ofndecades. There is the case of LeonidnBrezhnev, whose name is now synonymousnwith political and economic stagnation,nand, on a more monstrousnlevel, there is that of Joseph VissarionovichnDzhugashvili who, had he notnsuffered a lethal stroke in his 74th yearn(1953), would have plunged his countryninto the abyss of another Stalinistnpurge. There is the equally grotesquencase of Mao Tse-tung, who was persuadednby a fanatical mistress-wife tonembark on a “Cultural Revolution”nthat cost China millions of lives.nEven leaders who have every right tonbe regarded as great political figuresncan easily fall victim to the stubbornnobtuseness and overconfidence thatndogs those who have enjoyed a relativelynlong period in power. Classic in thisnrespect was the inflexible behavior ofnthe octogenarian Konrad Adenauer innAugust 1961 when, in response to thenchallenging erection of WalternUlbricht’s wall, he refused to fly immediatelynto Berlin, preferring instead tondeliver a partisan campaign speech innwhich he referred slightingly to hisnrival, Willy Brandt, Oberiirgermeisternof Berlin, as “Herr Frahm” (a cruelnreference to the Socialist leader’s ille­nnngitimate birth) — a major tactical blundernthat cost Adenauer’s CDU partyndearly in the subsequent elections. Forngood measure and to bring the list backnto France, we can also cite the case ofnCharles de Gaulle who, not content tonget rid of his prime minister, GeorgesnPompidou — for having failed to dealnproperly with the student uprisings ofnMay-June 1968 and, even worse, fornhaving dared to suggest that he shouldnbe the General’s logical successor tonthe presidency — proceeded in 1969 toncommit political hara-kiri by trying tondo away with the French Senate on thenspurious grounds that it had ouflived itsnusefulness as a “secondary” parliamentarynchamber.nWhich brings us to Frangois Mitterrand,nwho last May celebrated thententh anniversary of his accession tonthe presidency at the respectable age ofn73. Nobody could reasonably accusenthis extraordinary political chameleonnof having lost his flair for flexiblenmaneuver, as was brilliantly demonstratednduring the Persian Gulf crisis,nwhen his performance in seeking tonplay the role of honest or at leastn”comprehending” broker betweennGeorge Bush and Saddam Husseinnwas a minor chef-d’oeuvre of diplomaticnambiguity. And yet . . . and yet . . .nthe implausible is now happening, andncertain Frenchmen who are anythingnbut crackpots have begun comparingnFrangois Mitterrand to Prince Metternich,nno less!nUnless I am mistaken, the first tonmake this striking comparison was PaulnFabra. A veteran observer of the economicnscene, Paul Fabra has long writtenncommentaries on the internationalnsituation that are relegated to the backnpages of Le Monde. But early last Julynthe editors of France’s most prestigiousndaily decided to give Fabra’s latestncontribution front-page prominencenunder the arresting headline and subtifle,n”Mitterrand-Metternich: Does thenChief of State like Europe as much asnmight be hoped?”nThe answer to this question was anresounding no. Ever since the suddenncollapse of the Beriin Wall, celebratednOCTOBER 1991/41n