Syria – Why the West Got it Wrong

Book: Syrie. Pourquoi l’Occident s’est trompé (Syria. Why the West Got it Wrong) Frédéric Pichon, Éditions du Rocher

The publication of this book, which pulls no punches, caused much controversy and created a precedent. Founding member of the magazine Conflits and author of a PhD thesis on the Syrian Christians in Ma’loula, the geopolitical analyst, Frédéric Pichon, has written a savage critique which goes against the current emotional style of many books written today on the situation in Syria.

The author condemns the disastrous management of the Syrian conflict by western governments, French diplomats being the first to blame. While the French government distinguished itself at the very outbreak of the crisis in March 2011 by taking a clearly offensive line, its tendency to take action on all fronts, combining moral outrage with verbal aggression, its military weakness and its faint-hearted attitude led to the consequences that we know today.

Intoxicated by the media euphoria of the so-called “Arab Springs”, France took over a year to reluctantly admit that its negotiating partners, the foreign-based National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, was found wanting in face of the unstoppable rise of the Islamic extremists.

Worse still, France, which wasn’t unaware of the power struggles within this motley opposition group, continually discouraged peace initiatives coming from other Syrian groups opposed to the regime. Working in collaboration with its Saudi and Qatari allies, France apparently did all it could in January 2012 to thwart the Arab League’s mission, mistakenly counting on a rapid overthrow of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The tragedy of Syria, whose landscape has been transformed into a battlefield for the world’s Islamic extremists, is also one of media excess and biased coverage of the conflict. Frédéric Pichon shows us that the story is more than one of appalling ignorance. Three years after the declaration of this war waged for others, a war which has claimed a 150,000 lives, he gives us an account of an historical blunder by a France humbled by mistakes and contradictions.

Translated from French

The original author was Tigrane Yégavian, journalist for Conflits magazine.

Source: Conflits



Is the French Foreign Office more Atlanticist than the White House?

Bashar al-Assad’s return to American calculations puts France once again in an absurd position. Although Jennifer Psaki denies it, both John Brennan, head of the CIA, and John Kerry, the Secretary of State, have called for Assad and his regime to be included in any resolution to the Syrian crisis. This is merely a statement of the obvious as, five years into the civil war, Assad’s troops control more than half the population while a large proportion of the rest of the population is under the control of ISIS.

Romain Nadal, spokesman for the French Foreign Office, immediately reacted by saying that “It is clear to us that Bachar al-Assad cannot fit within such a framework”. Since 2011, the French position has been fixed on the Alawite leader’s departure. As with the Iranian issue, the rigidity of the French Foreign Office continues.

After the Chirac-Villepin years and the Atlanticist shift of the Sarkozy government that followed, we could have expected a return to fundementals on the part of the Socialist government. For five years, the Socialists had criticised this sudden shift in foreign policy made by the Sarkozy-Kouchner duo.

In 2007, Henri Emmanuelli, had entitled one of his articles “Alignment: the new focus of French foreign policy”. Pierre Moscovici had criticised “a neo-liberal and a neo-Bonapartist foreign policy”. In 2008, François Hollande had called for a vote of no-confidence against France’s return to the NATO military committee. Martine Aubry in 2009 believed that “nothing justifies that we back the US, which would deny our freedom and align us with their policies”. Laurent Fabius himself had warned that “We are a bridge between East and West, South and North. That bridge will be destroyed”.

Despite the change in French government in 2012, there was no change in the position on the Middle East. It was just the opposite, in fact.

If today France seems to be returning to a form of non-alignment “an ally, not aligned”, according to the phrase, it is against the very thing that made French foreign policy original ever since General de Gaulle. France today is more belligerent than ever before. Even more so than America. Just as George Bush had dreamed of creating a new Middle East from the ashes of the Saddam regime, France wants to eliminate all trace of Syrian history. So much so that France seems more Atlanticist than even the Obama government.

“But in any event, France is an independant country and our foreign policy as regards the apalling events in Syria has not changed”, claims Laurent Fabius. The head of French diplomacy probably believes that his voice is a singular one. But in fact he is aligned with the Republican hawks and the Democratic Party. Regarding Syria and Iran, François Hollande is in tune with John McCain. At the same time, he visits Saudi Arabia where he secures lucrative contracts. But he is very careful not to ask for more details on the ambiguous links between Ryad and ISIS.

Moreover, Paris obstinately refuses to bomb ISIS in Syria. The government berated a group of MPs from both the right and the left who went to visit Damas in order to witness the situation. Laurent Fabius had the audacity to say to his an American counterpart “Any other solution which would put Bashar al-Assad back in office would be a totally outrageuos and fantastic gift to the ISIS terrorists”. But who can believe that ISIS and Bashar are partners when they fight each other ruthlessly in the suburbs of Deir Ez-Or? Who’s been bombing the Kurds with chlorine bombs these few weeks?

François Hollande and Laurent Fabius, with their proxy-war in Syria, have put France in an ultra-Atlanticist position along side Britain. So much so they embarrass Wahsington…

22 July 2015

Translated from French

The orignal author was Hadrien Desuin, a journalist who writes for the French magazines Causeur and Conflits. He graduated from the elite French Military College, Saint-Cyr, and the Officers Training College for the national gendarmarie, and holds a masters degree in strategy and international relations.


Dominique de Villepin: “Leading us to believe that we are at war is a trap”

According to Chirac’s former Prime Minister, the hard line made popular by Manuel Valls (the current Prime Minister), the Socialist Party and the opposition is a mistake.

It’s an opinion that goes against the grain. But it is salutary. Dominique de Villepin, invited as guest on French radio on Sunday, challenged the idea of “being at war”, a phrase widely used by Manuel Walls, the Socialist Party and the main opposition party in the aftermath of Friday evening’s terrorist attacks.

A war is when two countries and two armies confront each other”, explains Dominique de Villepin, “which is not the case of the terrorists who struck Paris and the city’s football stadium

“The fact that the terrorists had used Kalachinovs, grenades, a certain amount of weapons, does not constitute an army recognised within the framework of a nation state. In this particular case, we have a group of extremists, a totalitarian party”

The nature of the enemy is not the only argument used by Dominique de Villepin to refute the idea of being at war. “I do not want to play the enemy’s game”, he adds, warning against the consequences of this idea. A “trap” according to him:

“What are the consequences of this idea? The first is to exonerate the terrorists who tell themselves ‘We attack, we are soldiers’. The second is that we legitimise the fact that they are at war, that they have military objectives and that they want to seize our territory, our positions”

The fact that “a bunch of fanatical murderers declare war on you is no reason to fall into their trap of military escalation”. Especially when these murderers “want to divide us and push our country into a civil war”.

The former Foreign Minister, who in 2003 opposed the war in Iraq, asks that we learn the lesson of Western military intervention in the Middle East.

“These attacks are largely linked to an historical process that has intensified with military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere all of which have further enflamed the crisis. Let’s learn from this experience: things have only got worse over the last 10 years – things are worse in Libya, in Afghanistan and in Iraq”

What sense is there is in a total war?” Dominique de Villepin asks again, warning:

“We are going to go all the way to destroy a terrorist group. As a result, that group could well spread the conflict even wider, because we will turn a proportion of Middle Eastern public opinion against us”

According to the former Foreign Minister “It’s not a case of fighting a war over there. This policy of waging a ‘war’ against terrorism is not the right one”

In September of 2014, Dominique de Villepin had made similar statements in response to François Hollande’s speech made at the UN General Assembly. On a French television show, he stated: “Let’s be aware that to a large extent we ourselves created ISIS. We have trapped ourselves in a vicious circle”.

He then went on to add: “There is not a single example that proves the contrary, everything we know about this type of war, waged for decades, has led to failure, especially since Afghanistan”.

Article translated from French

This original author was Michel Soudais