FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

François Hollande’s Missteps

by FRANKLIN LAMB

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, when it adopted the wise posture of Old World Europe, counseling the impetuous 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 then-President Jacques Chirac, and French doubts about America’s evidence of weapons of mass destruction, that forced the Bush administration to seek a “coalition of the willing” outside the UN.

This was decidedly not the case with Syria, when France, led by an inexperienced president, decided to rush in and partner with its “oldest friend,” this time adopting a very different posture—essentially leading the European charge in “punishing” the Assad regime, as Francois Hollande, ignoring history, repeatedly vowed to do.

The French 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 of Mali to help put down an Islamist uprising, and Hollande had the support of the UN Security Council and the EU as well as the US and UK. The French public rewarded Hollande, perceived as weak in foreign policy, with a fleeting surge in his otherwise usually dismal approval ratings. These ratings have been low in large part due to French economic woes coupled with a public perception that he has been vacillating in domestic leadership.

When Mr Hollande cast himself in the role of western war leader for the second time in a year, his popularity shot up again, though not with the French public, but with the US Zionist lobby and the neocons in Congress. For his pains, Hollande found his country described as America’s “oldest ally” by the US secretary of state, this after Britain’s parliament had already rejected military strikes on Syria. Suddenly his ability to project French military power—this time in Syria—depended on the outcome of a vote in the American Congress, and despite his bold words, President Holland found himself uncomfortably constrained, with his advisers, and his country, divided over what to do next.

When John Kerrey told Francois Hollande that France was America’s” oldest friend” he was referring to the period of the early American Republic—a time when France did back America, in 1776, against the British colonial power. But the nation overstretched itself militarily and economically, in the process triggering 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 would do well to pay more attention to history.

Syria of course presented a vastly more complex and difficult challenge than Mali. As a member of Hollande’s own party acknowledged, “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 Hollande; 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 the president 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, there have been recent revelations of Hollande’s socialist administration granting hundreds of millions of dollars in tax exempt deals to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Gulf royals have managed to secure, at bargain-basement rates, some high-priced, historic landmark-type properties, including the historic acreage opposite the Eiffel Tower, while more than 10 percent of the French population lives in sub-standard housing. Despite the socialist leader’s claim that all this will aid France in getting good deals for gas and oil—while providing a particularly huge windfall when Assad’s government is finally replaced with a pro-Western one—pressure is building on Holland to “come home to France” and focus on pressing domestic problems.

Another embarrassment came with the Russian proposal to encourage President Assad to give up his chemical weapons. Consultations between Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, dramatically sidelined Hollande and set Paris’ military invasion position against the diplomatic momentum. In reaction, Hollande, less than 24 hours after the Russian proposal, tried to regain the lead by presenting a separate 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,” and in the end, France had zero substantive role in solving the conundrum over the dismantlement of Syria’s chemical arsenal. That accomplishment 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 now say he looks like a lackey.

France promises Israel to stay “tough” on Iran.

Some observers are suggesting that the French president has decided to seek refuge from the fallout—fallout from what many in France regard as his political ineptitude—by linking 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 while also pointing to a perceived humiliation dealt their country by way of Hollande’s failed efforts at being a ‘player’ in the Syria crisis.

On 10/11/13, after the Israeli premier warned Paris of “succumbing to the charms of Tehran,”Hollande hastened to assure Netanyahu that France will remain “tough” with Iran on its nuclear program. It was in a television interview earlier that same day, on channel France24, that Netanyahu had urged France to be tough on Iran “with or without Rouhani’s smiles.” The comments apparently were prompted by an historic French-Iranian presidential handshake on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month—a handshake which the Israeli staff traveling with their prime minister criticized on the grounds that it would embolden 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?”

In the France 24 interview, Netanyahu also ignored a question as to why Israel did not “come out with it” with respect to its own nuclear and chemical weapons arsenals.

President Hollande ignored the same question.

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

Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Lebanon, France, and USA based Meals for Syrian Refugee Children Lebanon (MSRCL) which seeks to provide hot nutritional meals to Syrian and other refugee children in Lebanon. http://mealsforsyrianrefugeechildrenlebanon.com. He is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail