Emmanuel Macron Faces Syrian Puzzle

Talking with everyone is Emmanuel Macron's credo, as shown by his willingness to go to Tehran or his dialogue with President Putin, which will continue during his trip to Moscow in May. Will it result in progress on the Syrian dossier? 

One year after taking over the presidency, Emmanuel Macron is struggling to formulate a coherent doctrine on the Syrian crisis. The complexity of the crisis in this country, the multiplication of foreign actors with divergent objectives and the volatile nature of the situation on the ground make it difficult to formulate a strategy for France as for the other countries involved.

A few weeks after his arrival at the Elysée, the president had indicated an inflection of French diplomacy: “With me, it will be the end of a form of neo-conservatism imported into France for ten years.” He then strongly criticized the military intervention in Libya in 2011 and announced his intention not to get even deeper into the quagmire of Mali, seeking African relays to take over from French troops.

In Syria, as in the last months of François Hollande's presidency, Macron remained focused on the fight against ISIL, participating in the bombings of the anti-terrorist coalition and sending special troops to the field as part of Operation Chammal launched on September 20, 2014. For him, this fight, despite undeniable victories, is not over and it requires the maintenance of an alliance with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This is the meaning of his statements in Washington on the need not to lower our guard, confirmed by the announcement by the American Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on April 26, of the sending of additional French special troops; even symbolic, this measure aims to counter the intentions announced by President Donald Trump to withdraw American troops from Syria – Paris considering, moreover, that such a withdrawal would leave free the way to Iran that Trump claims to fight.

France wants a stalled peace process to be relaunched. From this point of view, the intervention carried out by France, with the United States and the United Kingdom against Syrian targets during the night of 13 to 14 April remained voluntarily limited and targeted and everything was done to avoid Russian targets. From the French point of view, these bombings were not intended to escalate, but to respect the “red lines” set by the President of the Republic on the refusal of the use of chemical weapons in the conflict. This joint action by the three countries serves, on the other hand, to consolidate a Western front in the perspective of negotiations on Syria that France called for the day after the attack of April 14.

Emmanuel Macron now accepts de facto that President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime is an actor that cannot be ignored, but at the same time refuses to endorse a process that would ultimately keep him in power. The Astana process has not been able to lead to Syrian reconciliation, as the failure of the Sochi Congress on 29 and 30 January demonstrated, with many opposition groups, even those linked to Turkey, not participating. Can we ensure Syria’s future, an Arab country, with only Turkey, Iran and Russia, in other words without Arab participation?

On the other hand, Paris is convinced that Russia cannot bear the cost of Syria’s reconstruction estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars. And that the economy is an important asset in the negotiations that will take place. At the donors’ conference on Syria held in Brussels at the end of April, the French representative said: “Without a credible and sustainable political transition, there can be no question of financing reconstruction.” And Paris remains convinced that this transition requires, in the long run, the departure of Bashar El-Assad, whom it considers a war criminal. Russia has repeatedly indicated that it is not attached to any particular man at the head of Syria, but has so far failed to push the Syrian President along the path of political compromise.

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