Robert Harneis -TDO- (FRANCE)- Hugs and kisses filled the media space but Macron’s state visit to the United States to give substance to the ‘very special relationship’ was a tense affair. First of all, there more than just a suspicion that Trump was gently mocking the French President who would like to be his equal.
The dandruff incident was indicative. Trump, whatever his failings, is a highly experienced public performer, so when he picked some imaginary dandruff off Macron’s collar and then gushed “They’re all saying what a great relationship we have, and they’re actually correct, it’s not fake news. Finally, it’s not fake news. It’s a great honor, a great honor that you’re here, in fact I’ll get that little piece of dandruff, that little piece …”. He then made a very public show of brushing invisible dandruff off Macron’s shoulder. “We have to make him perfect. He is perfect.” Macron grinned uneasily through this stand-up comedy act.
This was probably a payback for Macron’s handshake ploy when they first met. He wouldn’t let go and the handshake went on forever. Afterwards Macron boasted, perhaps unwisely, “My handshake with him – it wasn’t innocent … we must show that we will not make small concessions, even symbolic.” He has also given the impression that he was counselling the US President on what to do about Syria.
Whatever Macron may wish certain facts remain unavoidable. Trump will use Macron to boost his image in the US with his electorate but when it comes to geopolitics he will do what is good for him in the ballot box in October and in two years’ time. Congress may have cheered Macron’s high-flown speech but the only real allies of the United States are Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel and the Jewish community is important to Trump electorally. Saudi Arabia is an auxiliary in the Gulf and is pouring money into the American arms industry and no doubt directly or indirectly into Trumps electoral coffers. Conversely these two key American allies with their privileged access to the political scene are capable of switching funds to Trump’s already well funded enemies If they are displeased. Trump wants to keep them pleased. Compared with all that Macron is very small potatoes.
The United States despite all the political corruption and crony capitalism that damages its defense effort still has a huge advantage militarily as compared with the European powers like France and Britain. To take one example, in the air where it matters most, France has a total of around 1200 military aircraft and the US has around 12000. If France’s military policy was only concerned with guarding against any likely military threat, that would not matter. But France still hankers after world influence especially through the United Nations and this means projecting military power. Because of its military weakness, which in turn stems from economic weakness, France is condemned to acting alongside the US. It is too weak to act alone and has no other military ally to turn to. A joint EU military effort is a distant pipedream.
The consequences are that French political priorities take a back seat compared with those of the US. France finds itself constantly in the role of supplicant. Russia, Syria and the Iran nuclear deal are just current examples where in order to exist France has to tag along with whatever idea pops into the heads of the US government.
The Skripal affair is a case in point. Initially French government spokes persons were openly scornful of the wild claims against Russia about the poisoning of an ex-spy coming from London and encouraged by Washington. Macron is to visit Moscow in June. But when summoned to show solidarity and expel Russian diplomats they meekly did so and lined up with all the other EU and NATO countries.
With the equally doubtful allegations against the Syrian government accusing them without a trace of proof of using poison gas, France dutifully lined up with the United States and fired off a few rockets at Syria. Not much point in claiming to represent multilateralism and then joining in crude display of western unilateral aggression.
The latest instance of French pliability is the shift in policy regarding the JCPOA Iran nuclear deal of 2015. Up until his visit Macron was firm that the agreement had to stand as it was. But he was careful to say that he thought that Iran should stop testing conventional ballistic missiles and cease troubling the neighborhood in Syria and Yemen. He even threatened them with more sanctions. Now he is talking of “renegotiating” the agreement in order to meet the requirements of President Trump despite the fact that Iran has stuck firmly to its side of the bargain. Iran is not likely to be very accommodating particularly since the US/UK/French attack on Syria. These concessions to the United States may well turn out to be extremely damaging to France’s considerable trading interests in Iran that are only just recovering since the 2015 agreement.
The realities of coexisting with the United States in international relations has meant that despite the handshake boast that France “will not make small concessions, even symbolic” the reality is that Macron will do just that. Ever since Sarkozy took the fatal decision to take France back into the NATO military committee in 2007, France has joined the ranks of the US satellites in Europe whether President Macron likes it or not.
For France to exist as an independent force in international affairs as Macron wishes, he will have to learn to say “No!”. That is very difficult within the NATO straight jacket and given France’s military and economic weakness. But it is not impossible given courage and determination because the East is rising and offers an alternative to US hegemony. It is doubtful if the French President, with his internationalist dreams, has the necessary qualities to undertake such a diplomatic revolution. It may also be that the people who helped him to the presidency would never allow him to succeed even if he had the guts to try.