Monday, April 21, 2008

Sex, Nazis, and Videotape

The inestimable entertainment of the Max Mosley scandal.

It's the cup of tea that lifts the Max Mosley sex scandal from the tawdry to the Roald Dahl-esque.

"F1 boss Max Mosley has sick Nazi orgy with 5 hookers--Son of fascist Hitler lover in sex shame" blared the cover of the London News of the World tabloid, complete with a seven-page spread and a 90-second video--shot by a camera concealed in one of the girls' bra--on its website, the salient parts tactfully covered with a checkered racing flag. Unlike Eliot Spitzer's pedestrian misdeeds, where the most shocking part was the girl's inflated price tag, this one has everything. Whips, chains, Nazi uniforms, role-playing, five hookers in a Chelsea basement "dungeon" (at bargain basement prices, too; the total tab was a little under $5,000), and YouTube footage of the hanky-panky. And, in unique British style, after the floggings, spankings, German-language play-acting, and various activities, Mosley, who'd acted out both victim and guard, concluded his fantasy afternoon with the girls by sharing a cup of tea before shrugging himself back into his business suit--both the whipping bench and the restorative cuppa belong to the specific repertoire of the English sexual psyche.

What gave the whole story its unique, er, twist, is Mosley's background. He is the son of Britain's most notorious Fascist couple: Sir Oswald Mosley and his second wife, Diana. Mosley founded the British Union of Fascists in 1932 after an inspirational visit chez Mussolini, and became famous as a rabble-rousing orator and troublemaker, marching into the working-class East End Jewish neighborhoods with black-shirted, goose-stepping troops equipped with knuckle-dusters and truncheons.

A serial womanizer, the married Mosley had seduced the 22-year-old society beauty Diana Guinness, who left her brewery heir husband and two young sons to live openly as Mosley's mistress. Diana belonged to the glittering brood of aristocratic Bright Young Things, the six Mitford sisters, who together would span the entire spectrum of ideologies of the 20th century, from the Communist Jessica (who ran away from home to the Spanish Civil War) to the Nazi Unity (who was befriended by Hitler while in finishing-school at Munich and shot herself when war was declared). Diana sided with Unity and attended with her several Nazi party days at Nuremberg, making friends with assorted Third Reich luminaries, including Hitler, who took her to the Bayreuth festival. Mosley's first wife died of peritonitis, and, in 1936, he married Diana in the Goebbels' drawing room, with Hitler as best man.

The Mosleys were interned during World War II--by order of Diana's distant cousin, Winston Churchill. Max, the Mosleys' second son, born 11 weeks prior to his parents' arrest, spent the first three and a half years of his life with nannies and relations. After the war, his parents sent him to school in Ireland, France, and Germany to shield him from the opprobrium his name evoked. It's no wonder that Max, who after Oxford trained to become a lawyer, found the world of car racing liberating when he discovered it in the mid-1960s. "He encountered a world where his name meant nothing. Indeed, fellow entrants in club races assumed he was the son of coach builder Alf Mosley from Leicester," explains the motor racing correspondent Kevin Garside.

Mosley was neither a terribly successful driver, not even a first-rank team owner, but he came into his own working with his friend Bernie Ecclestone, the tycoon who now owns the Formula One commercial rights, particularly after he ousted the ageing Jean-Marie Balestre from the leadership of the sport's regulatory body in 1991. (Balestre himself had a colorful past: a former automotive journalist, he made much of his supposed wartime record with the French Resistance until pictures of him in Waffen SS uniform emerged. Somehow he still managed to get himself decorated with the Legion of Honor in 1979.)

Mosley and Ecclestone--who is Jewish and a major financial contributor to Tony Blair's New Labour, as is Mosley on a smaller scale--transformed Formula One into the global, multibillion-dollar business it has become today, imposing better safety rules and capping research spending to provide a level playing field. Mosley's abrupt style and limited tolerance for fools served him well in that world of larger-than-life performers, who live (and die) fast. "If Max was in bed with two hookers, they'd say 'good for you' or something like that," Ecclestone said when he learned of the latest affair. "Assuming it's all true, what people do privately is up to them. I don't honestly believe [it] affects the sport in any way. Knowing Max it might be all a bit of a joke. You know, it's one of those things where he's sort of taking the piss, rather than anything against Jewish people."

Ecclestone owes to Mosley what may be the most rewarding contract in the history of professional sports: a 100-year Formula One commercial rights exclusive, slated to run from 2010 to 2110, sanctioned by an unprecedented European Commission ruling after Mosley managed to persuade competition commissioner Mario Monti that it wasn't a monopoly. There was no tender, and Ecclestone was the lone bidder for the rights, for which he paid about $300 million. His companies are now valued 20 times that amount. Mosley feels there is no area of the sport he shouldn't concern himself with. Thus, last summer, was the Ferrari/McLaren industrial espionage criminal case, in which 800 pages of Ferrari's designs were stolen and used by McLaren-Mercedes's engineers. A criminal investigation being under way, he had no cause to intervene. Mosley nevertheless decided that the FIA--the International Automobile Association, which Mosley heads--should fine McLaren a record $100 million for "bringing the sport into disrepute." When a similar case arose with Renault (who had hired a design engineer from the McLaren stable who provided numerous engine and chassis diagrams), Mosley declined to fine them at all, contrasting Renault's "immediate contrition" with McLaren's "lies." To no one's great surprise, Mercedes was among the first to call for his resignation when the sex story broke in the News of the World, followed by BMW, then by Toyota and Honda.

Mosley, who only denies the Nazi angle of the whole episode (the rest, he says, is his private life), was swift to hit back. "Given the history of BMW and Mercedes Benz, particularly before and during the Second World War, I fully understand why they would wish to strongly distance themselves from what they rightly describe as the disgraceful content of these publications." He was certainly touching on a sensitive point--the Mosley scandal, while virtually ignored by the French press, has been playing in large spreads in German newspapers--but he was also indulging in German-baiting of the "Don't Mention the War" variety. Press coverage in England has been enormous--often driven by humorous headlines and wordplay. "How about a whip-round for Max's retirement?" asked a Daily Telegraph columnist.

So far, the Canadian, German, U.S., Dutch, and New Zealand motorists associations have called on him to go. (To date, only the United Arab Emirates motoring association have announced they support him.) Mosley has decided to stick it out to the end of his mandate in 2009 ("Triumph of the Wheel?" suggested the Times), but called an extraordinary FIA general assembly on June 3, at which the full membership--222 national motoring organizations from 130 countries--will take a secret-ballot vote of confidence. But is his position tenable until then?

His mother, who lived to the age of 93 in Paris, told interviewers to the end that she had been "terribly, terribly fond" of Hitler, and saw no point in dissembling. She might not have admired her son's tastes, according to her biographer Anne de Courcy, but she would certainly have admired his stubbornness.

© Copyright The Weekly Standard & Anne-Elisabeth Moutet 2008

Monday, April 14, 2008

How Sarko Got His Groove Back

A triumphant 36 hours in Britain.

With Nicolas Sarkozy's precipitous slide in the polls finally reversed thanks to a carefully calibrated spin campaign and an unexpectedly successful state visit to Britain, there are long faces to be seen on the left--but even longer ones inside the president's own party.

Call the French inconsistent. They objected to their new president's perceived flaunting of his private life. But give him a picture-perfect trip to England, complete with horse-drawn carriage ride into Windsor next to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, gala evenings, a speech before the Houses of Parliament, and a new commitment to a French-British alliance equal to the French-German "axis" that for the past half-century has kept France in the leadership of Europe--and what do the French pick up on but the accolades bestowed by the British press on Sarkozy's new wife. "London falls for Carla--Carlamania seizes Britain!" goes the headline in Le Monde. "Carla steals the show," trumpets Libération. And that's only the supposedly "serious" (and usually anti-Sarkozy) left-wing press. It took a 36-hour visit, one night at Windsor Castle, and nine dress changes (all in demure but très chic Dior) for Sarko's poll numbers, which had dropped 30 points in three months, to finally inch back up, from 35 percent to 40 percent favorable, leaving him a bit of elbow-room to announce a series of cuts in welfare spending last Friday.

The week before last, everyone in France was dismissing Sarkozy as last year's wonder, a four-year lame-duck president who'd managed to squander a clear victory in record time. Worse, he'd managed to lose half a dozen large cities to the left in local elections on March 9 and 19--almost without help from the opposition Socialists. As France moves more and more into a two-party system (Sarkozy has destroyed Jean-Marie Le Pen's far-right National Front in a neat mirror-image of François Mitterrand's shrinking trick with the Communist party a quarter century ago), the Socialists still don't have a leader or a platform. Deciding on these--at their next national conference in November--promises a lively free-for-all, as former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal slugs it out with her archenemy, Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë.

Unlike their German Social Democratic or British Labour counterparts, the French Socialists still haven't formally abandoned Marxism. If they do, they fear losing the votes of France's three (count 'em!) small Trotskyite parties preaching class struggle and antiglobalization. As a result, the Socialists' message is often distorted by the tension between ideology and realism. Meanwhile, they look less modern, less diverse, and older than Sarkozy's troops, which helps explain his victory last year. (It took Sarko to appoint blacks and Muslims to major cabinet positions and to insist on strict equality between the sexes in appointments ranging from cabinet jobs to the Legion of Honor.)

As Sarkozy seemed intent on an own-goal ignominious free fall, his real enemies started coming out of his own party's woodwork. They are the self-proclaimed Gaullists, to whom the new president's pro-Americanism is anathema, and the keenest of them all is a lanky figure well-known in Washington, Dominique de Villepin, the former foreign minister and prime minister of anti-Iraq war fame.

Villepin and Sarkozy hate each other's guts. It's political--they have different views of the world, and Sarkozy despises in Villepin the career bureaucrat who never ran for elective office--but also personal. Villepin, who for a good while toyed with the idea of running for president himself in 2007, has been indicted in the Clearstream scandal, a smear campaign in which Sarkozy's name (and others') were faked on a computer list purporting to show holders of illegal Luxembourg bank accounts. Around 2004-05, Villepin and, in all likelihood, President Jacques Chirac, allegedly hired through intermediaries a computer expert to produce the list, in a dirty-tricks bid to prevent Sarkozy from running for president. The chief intermediary was an officer in the French intelligence service, General Philippe Rondot, who found the task distasteful enough that he kept detailed notes in his office safe, to be produced if any of this leaked. It did.

It should probably be noted here that even if Villepin is found guilty and sentenced (in all likelihood to a fine and a suspended prison sentence), this will be no hindrance to his pursuing a political career. The bright line in France is personal pecuniary gain. Another former prime minister, Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé, was three years ago sentenced to a 14-month suspended prison term for financing the Gaullist party through City of Paris coffers. Since he did not help himself to a centime, he was reelected in Bordeaux in March with an even higher majority.

While Villepin is incensed that Sarko didn't lift a finger to slow down the judicial process against him (French judges are civil servants; it is not uncommon to convince them to slow a proceeding to a crawl), his official reason for opposing Sarkozy is that the president is betraying the "Gaullist legacy." One sure sign that Villepin intends to pursue an active political career, probably even run for president in 2012, is that he's recently registered with the Paris bar. He doesn't need the work--he is already getting both his prime minister's pension and an ambassador-at-large's salary from his civil service career--but as a lawyer, he can receive large fees from clients without having to disclose them. It is a known dodge in French political finance. Sarkozy himself was a barrister. So are Socialist chief François Hollande and his former partner Ségolène Royal, even though they're both (like Villepin, Chirac, and many more--but not Sarko) graduates of the illustrious Ecole Nationale d'Administration and therefore civil servants for life.

Until last week, Villepin and his bevy of anti-American, anti-EU, largely pro-Arab "historic Gaullists" were licking their chops at Sarko's fall from grace, punctuating the president's descent in the polls with snide attacks. "Europe has never had borders.  .  .  . Europe made concrete commitments vis-à-vis Turkey some decades ago and [those commitments] need to be honored," Villepin told students (and the local great and good) at Galatasaray University in Istanbul, in open criticism of Sarkozy's well-known refusal to let Turkey into the EU. "France has no call to reintegrate NATO," he thundered in an interview with the radio station Europe 1, just as Sarkozy prepared to announce exactly that at the Bucharest NATO summit. "I might very well run for election in France," he confided to La Tribune de Genève. "The government's message isn't clear enough," he sniped on public radio France-Info. Even when selling his collection of Napoleon memorabilia and papers (tellingly, through the auction house owned by a longtime Mitterrand acolyte, Pierre Bergé), Villepin seized the occasion to express his grave doubts about France sending more troops to Afghanistan "in the absence of clearly defined goals by the United States and NATO."

Sarkozy's reaction was typical: Just as, after winning the election last year, he brought half a dozen leftwingers into his cabinet, throwing the defeated Socialists into further disarray, last week he had two Villepin associates appointed to leadership posts within the UMP, the Gaullist party, one of them as vice secretary in charge of defense. Sarko believes that while Villepin stays out in the cold, he can whittle some of his troops away from him. It's a daring strategy, undertaken even before the poll numbers started to improve, but Sarkozy, who at 53 is two years younger than Villepin, has been in politics for twenty years longer. Villepin has written several admiring books about his hero, Napoleon, but it's Sarkozy who's got the true Bonaparte style.

© Copyright The Weekly Standard & Anne-Elisabeth Moutet 2008