US ATTACK ON SYRIA UNDERLINES FRENCH FOREIGN POLICY DIVISIONS




Robert Harneis - TDO -The US bombardment of a Syrian government airfield following a big TV debate, has forced French presidential candidates to make clear where they stand on Russia and Syria. Candidates credited with 56% of the votes are hostile to the European Union and 47% are hostile to NATO according to opinion polls. It is the parties of government, Socialists and Republicans that remain largely in favor of the foreign policy status quo and slavishly support whatever the US decides to do.

Of the eleven candidates,six are in favor of leaving the NATO military committee. Only Emmanuel Macron credited with a score of 24% of the votes in the first round and favorite to win is wholeheartedly in favor of Europe. Even he is rather insincerely proposing major reforms to the Eurozone which are likely to be unacceptable to other countries notably Germany.

As is well known National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, with 24% of the vote, is calling for UK style negotiations with the EU, in particular requiring an adjustment of Euro exchange rate between France and Germany. She calls for a return to France’s long-standing position out of the NATO military committee. The National Front argues that without such an adjustment with the EU there is no hope of solving France’s economic deficit, solving unemployment problems and avoiding unnecessary military conflict. She is broadly supported in this view by surging far left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 18%, and Nicolas Dupont Aignan 3.5%. Amongst the minor candidates, François Asselineau believes that as far as Europe is concerned negotiation are a waste of time and that France should simply give notice under Article 50 and leave.

The American attack on the alleged source of the Syrian government chemical weapons attack caused the French media to corner candidates who have expressed reservations about US activities in Syria and demand whether they still stood by President Basharal-Assad. Surprisingly, perhaps emboldened by the astonishing foreign policy gyrations of President Trump, they stuck to their guns and drew attention to the US Iraq weapons of mass destruction deception in 2003 that started the disastrous war in Iraq.

Of those in favor of better relations with Russia and cooperation with the Syrian government against Islamic State and other terrorist movements, François Fillon was the only one to waver. He put out a cryptic statement that did not clarify whether he thought that Basharal-Assad was responsible for the poison gas attack or not, observing that the US had understandably ‘decided unilaterally to strike the Syrian forces as a reprisal for the attack on Khan Cheickhoun.’ However, he did urge that the strike ‘should not lead to a direct confrontation between western and Russian and Iranian forces’. Reading between the lines he too is unconvinced that Basharal-Assad carried out the poison gas attacks but bearing in mind that he leads a pro-NATO party, does not wish to offend those, who might vote for him, that do.