French President Emmanuel Macron has launched a series of initiatives in the last few weeks that may be decisive for the success of his five-year term.
The widely-expected reform of the French railways was finally been unveiled. It was something the least of the liberals would have waited for. Trains no longer run on coal and steam, so it is assumed that working conditions have changed and former privileges are outdated. But the unions are fighting tooth and nail for their last stronghold. Asked whether he would step back, Macron answered “No chance!” So, let’s wait and see for how long unions can take travellers hostages.
On the communication side, Macron initiated a new type of interview in the course of which, instead of being asked questions, he was insulted by grotesque puppets so that he could appear better than what they were. This exercise took place on TV with a populist journalist who is known to bark questions and never listen to the answers, and a crypto-Trotskyist known to cooperate intimately with underground police forces. The result was miserable, even though some consultants said Macron was happy with it. Many other Frenchmen just switched their TV channel. But the first significant presidential contributions of Macron had to come from abroad, as is always the case in France.
As Chief of the Army, Macron decided to bomb a sovereign state that is accused of using chemical weapons. Actually, he decided to join the United States that decided to strike, along the lines of a well-known French sandwich recipe (one horse, one lark — not to mention the United Kingdom’s ‘half-lark’, which followed for fear of seeing Macron and US President Donald Trump sharing the spoils). If the use of chemical weapons is established, the question will still remain: Who did it? The Syrian National Army, of course. That is if you go by the US jurisprudence, set up by former US secretary of state Colin Powell on Iraq, saying: “I have the proof ...” So, why wait for further confirmation in case of Syria?
The action is undoubtedly contrary to international law, and a preliminary vote by the United Nations Security Council was necessary. But who cares since in the end, the strikes were absolutely useless? There were no casualties. Actually, Macron and Trump had five days to make sure with the Russians that no fighting forces would be staying on the targets, and all useful military material would be removed beforehand. The strike thus very much appears as an ‘angry gesture’ — although a dangerous one when people like Trump start playing the apprentice sorcerer.
Will France return to the Syrian negotiating table? Paris has lost most of its contacts in the area due to the stupid decision by former prime minister Alain Juppe to close the French embassy. France has some limited forces on the ground, but the Syrian National Army is taking over the Kurdish areas with the help of its Russian and Iranian allies. To make a presence in Syria, France should re-establish dialogue with Russia which, as a direct consequence of the strikes, will now deliver S-300 missiles to Damascus.
Too early to say
Macron’s trip to Washington started on the back of the missile attack on Syria. Some observers naively thought the purpose of the trip was to explain things to Trump and secure his involvement on some of the issues: The need to maintain US forces in Syria; to keep common sense and not destroy the nuclear agreement with Iran; to avoid trade war; to return to the Paris Climate Agreement.
It is too early to say whether Macron prevailed. The ridiculous and unrestrained show of bromance between the two leaders made many French hark back to the times when France was represented by people like General De Gaulle. Can any French imagine former US president Dwight Eisenhower removing dandruff from the French general’s uniform?
That is how ‘Season I’ concludes. ‘The Return of Macron’. Season II will start just after this summer with one of these stories. Europeans are a bit touchy about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nobody knows precisely what Macron plans to do during a trip scheduled for September. But let us give him some ideas: Convince Trump not to move his embassy to [occupied] Jerusalem; convince Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop killing the Palestinians ‘marching for land’ (40 murdered since April 15).
And the cherry on the cake would be to find an Israeli politician who will understand that a just peace with the Palestinians is necessary for Israel’s survival. Hardly a challenge for Macron!
Luc Debieuvre is a French essayist and a lecturer at Iris (Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques) and the Faco Law University, Paris.