30-09-2016 11:13 PM Jerusalem Timing

François Hollande Missteps Put France on Levant Sidelines

François Hollande Missteps Put France on Levant Sidelines

“If Obama does not strike Iran, how can we believe he would help Israel in case of Iranian aggression?”

Beirut

In modern times, France has done far better diplomatically when it has advocated against impetuous military involvement in the internal affairs of other countries. French standing in international politics has been highest when its government was cautious about its military involvement in favor of assuming the posture of the wise voice of Old World Europe counseling the impetuousness upstarts of the New World. When Charles de Gaulle told Kennedy, then Johnson, to stay out of Vietnam, his international standing skyrocketed. When Chirac told Bush not to go into Iraq, the same thing happened as history repeated.   It was the threat of a UN Security Council veto by Jacques Chirac, then president, and France’s doubts about American evidence of weapons of mass destruction that forced the Americans to seek a “coalition of the willing” outside the UN, or face a French veto.

HollandeThis was decidedly not the case with Syria when France’s inexperienced President decided to rush in and partner with its “oldest friend” and for France to lead  Europe in “punishing” the Assad regime as Francois Hollande repeatedly vowed to do while ignoring history.

France’s president did deservedly receive some credit for the January 2013 French military invasion of Mali but it that case France had been asked by the Government Mali to put down an Islamist uprising and Hollande the support of the UN Security Council, the EU as well as the US and UK. The French public rewarded Hollande, perceived as weak in foreign policy, with a surge, though fleeting, in his usually dismal approval ratings which have been due mainly to French economic woes and his widely viewed as vacillating domestic leadership. 

When Mr Hollande cast himself in the role of the western war leader for the second time in a year, pleasing the US Zionist lobby and the neocons in Congress, he found his country described as America’s “oldest ally” by the American secretary of state, after Britain’s parliament rejected military strikes against Syria. But his ability to project French military power in the case of Syria depended on the outcome of a vote in the American Congress and despite his bold words, President Holland found himself uncomfortably constrained, and his advisers and country politically divided over what to do next.

When John KerrKerryy told Francois Hollande France was America’s” oldest friend” he was referring to the period of the early American Republic when. France did back America in 1776, against the British colonial power.  But France overstretched itself militarily and economically, and triggered the French Revolution of 1789 that ended its own Monarchy. As Gustave Flaubert, reputed to be France’s leading novelist of the second half of the nineteenth century, wrote, ‘irony takes nothing away from pathos’.  In today’s terms,President Hollande should pay more attention to history.

Syria presented a vastly more complex and difficult challenge from Mali. “And people became very aware that Syria is not Mali. Suddenly there were some very difficult questions being discussed. Can we do it? Is it legitimate to do it? Will it achieve anything?”

French public opinion is running strongly against the French President; a poll published recently in the conservative daily newspaper Le Figaro showed about two-thirds of the French opposed to military action against Syria as well as Iran. Growing demands that he grant Parliament a vote on the matter, were made last month amidst considerable speculation that he would lose if he did. In the end he did not.

To complicate matters even more for the French President, recent revelations of his socialist administration granting hundreds of millions of dollars in tax exempt deals to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries land and real estate developers for Royal family high price historic property investments, (Gulf royals now own, at bargain rates, the historic acreage opposite the Eiffel Tower) and business speculators while more than 10% of the French population live in sub-standard housing. The skewing- despite the socialist party’s leader’s claim that it will aid France in getting good deals for gas and oil-plus a huge windfall when the Assad government is replace with a pro-western team, is building pressure on Hollande to “come home to France” and focus on pressing domestic problems.

Another embarrassment for France with the militaristic stance toward Syria came with the Russian proposal to encourage President Assad to give up his chemical weapons. Consultations between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dramatically sidelined their French counterpart and put Paris’ tough regime change and military invasion position against the tide of the diplomatic game. As an immediate reaction, the Hollande then tried — less than 24 hours after the Russian proposal — to regain the lead by presenting a resolution to the UN Security Council. The French draft was immediately dismissed by Moscow, as it appeared that the document suggested the authorization of the use of force — under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter — if Assad failed to comply with the chemical weapons transfer. Lavrov ridiculed that condition "unacceptable."  In the end, France had zero substantive role in solving the conundrum over the dismantlement of Syria’s chemical arsenal. That was achieved solely through US-Russian talks with discrete input from Tehran.

Hollande has put himself into the position of being criticized for failing a basic test of French politics — protecting the country’s pride. Having impetuously agreed to join in a military action, France is now forced to wait on the sidelines of the Levant as Russia, America and Iran take the diplomatic lead, repudiating France’s stance.  Some of Mr. Hollande’s critics say he looks like a lackey.

France promises Israel to stay "tough" on Iran.

Some Hollande observers are suggesting that France’s President has decided to seek refuge from domestic and international political fallout from what many in France consider his political ineptitude with respect to Syria by link himself with Israel’s PM Netanyahu. More than a few of the 200 members of the Chamber of Deputies, even from Hollande’s socialist party,  are commenting on this as they also point to  a perceived humiliation dealt their country by the actions of the US and Russia in disrespecting and ignoring efforts by the Holland government to be a ‘player’ on the Syria crisis.

NetanyahuPresident Francois Hollande reassured Benjamin Netanyahu on 10/11/13 after the Israeli premier warned Paris of “succumbing to the charms of Tehran” France will remain "tough" with Iran on its controversial nuclear program, In an interview with the television channel France24 on 10/10/13, Netanyahu urged France to be tough on Iran "with or without Rouhani's smiles". His comments came after an historic French-Iranian presidential handshake on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month which the Israeli staff traveling with their Prime Minister criticized because they claim the handshake emboldens the Islamic Republic.  "If Iran really wanted to dismantle their nuclear weapons program, they'd come out with it," Netanyahu told France24.

According to French daily Le Monde, Hollande told Netanyahu that he was flabbergasted by Obama’s hesitation to bomb Syria, and complained: “If Obama does not strike Iran, how can we believe he would help Israel in case of Iranian aggression?”

Netanyahu ignored a question from France 24 this past week about why Israel did not “come out with it” with respect to their nuclear and chemical weapons arsenals.

 President Hollande ignored the same question.

Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com) and is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com