France: Sucking Up the L’argent

Imagine, in a parallel universe, that you are the socialist president of France.   As you look out on a troubled world from the Elysee Palace,  you recognize that you have an opportunity to help defuse a conflict that has been dragging on for more than a decade, and which has constantly threatened to plunge the Middle East into yet another war, of potentially catastrophic proportions.

Still keeping your mind fixed on the word ‘socialist’ (for the sake of argument) you understand immediately that the simmering conflict between Iran and the United States, and more broadly between Iran and the West, is a major threat to world peace.

A social democrat to the core, you sympathize with ordinary Iranians who have been suffering the impact of sanctions, to the point when passenger planes are regularly crashing because they can’t get spare parts.

Mindful of the antimilitarist tradition of Jean Jaurès that your party belongs to, you welcome the possibility of avoiding war through arbitration and diplomacy, especially since those who are have been trying hardest to egg the West on to attack Iran in order to eliminate the nuclear weapons that it doesn’t have are:

a) Israel – under the fanatically uber-Zionist Netanyahu, which believes that trashing Iran is the key to final victory over the Palestinians.

And b) the Gulf plutocracies, particularly Saudi Arabia, which see Iranian/Shiite influence as a threat to their own wealth and regional hegemony and would do anything to reverse it, even if that means kicking off a regional sectarian conflict or getting the world’s only superpower to blast the hell out of Iran or at least cripple Iranian society with sanctions

Given this context, your progressive French administration relishes the opportunity to kick the prospect of war into touch and open a new era that could make so many positive things possible, from a negotiated end to the Syrian civil war to Iranian/Western cooperation to prevent a violent implosion in Afghanistan and stabilize Iraq, or the prospect of putting serious pressure on Israel to make real concessions to the Palestinians.

These would indeed be achievements for a socialist government to be proud of, and you might leave office thinking that you had made a real contribution to ending the militarist drift of early twenty-first century politics.

Unfortunately for France, and for the world, the actual incumbent of the Elysee Palace is Francois Hollande, a man who has yet to see a war he didn’t like, and who bears the same relationship to socialism that Tony Blair does to pacifism.

And so what has happened, in the universe that we actually inhabit, is that France has come close to wrecking the unprecedented rapprochement between the United States and Iran.

All this was done, according to the Guardian, as a result of the personal intervention from that notable statesman Binyamin Netanyahu:

It has emerged that after a call from Barack Obama on Friday evening asking him not to oppose the planned Geneva deal, Netanyahu did the opposite. He called British prime minister, David Cameron, Russian president Vladimir Putin, German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president François Hollande, asking them to block it. Hollande, whose government shared some of Israel’s concerns, agreed.

There are many responses that France could have made to this request, the diplomatic equivalent of ‘fuck off’ being one of them.

After all, even Sarkozy once recognized that Netanyahu was a ‘liar’, but the hapless little warmonger who has taken his place either doesn’t agree, or simply has other priorities, like the prospect of new ‘influence’ in the Middle East, and arms sales to the House of Saud Ltd.

France insists that its opposition to a compromise over the Iranian nuclear issue as a point of principle over nuclear proliferation – though we have yet to hear  Hollande or any other French leader advocate imposing similarly ‘principled’ sanctions on Israel over its nuclear arsenal.

But the real explanation for the French ‘non’ almost certainly lies elsewhere, and has more to do with euros – or rather riyals – than morality.  As Reuters points out:

In October, France sealed a contract to modernize six naval ships and tankers from Saudi Arabia, having won in July one billion euros worth of contracts with the United Arab Emirates for anti-aircraft radars and military observation satellites.

French officials say they are also optimistic on securing a large deal to deliver anti-aircraft defense missiles to Riyadh and the sale of Rafale fighter jets to neighboring Qatar.

Nice work, right?  And there will almost certainly be more to follow, if France continues its circle dance with Israel and the Saudis.

None of this is entirely new.  For all its republican traditions, French foreign policy has often been stunningly chauvinist, reactionary and ruthlessly colonialist.

This is the country that once interned Spanish republican refugees after the Spanish Civil War, that bombed Damascus twice in 1925-26 and 1945, that napalmed Algerian villages and routinized torture during the Algerian War of Independence, and which eagerly joined in the British/Israeli raid on Suez in 1956.  France still seems to believe that it ‘owns’ its former colonies in Africa, and its political elites share with their counterparts in Britain a persistent yearning for wider  post-imperial geopolitical ‘influence’ wherever they can find it.

These aspirations cross the political divide.   Sarkozy was one of the most gung-ho bombers during the NATO war with Libya.   One of the leaked Stratfor emails discussed a meeting between a Stratfor representative with a British, American and French colonel in 2011,  after which he concluded:

The French had a multi-billion dollar contract signed with Ghadafi for 40 Rafale jets, that was going to be the saving grace for the French defense industry. Then the French…hear about AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Maghreb] threats backed by Ghadafi on French targets, and they got pissed. Sarkozy painted himself in a corner. More than that, though, (and this is what the british and the french guy agreed on,) was that this was France really, really wanting to show that it can DO this. To prove its relevance.

Hollande the former schoolteacher,  has also been desperate to prove his ‘relevance’ and show that France can ‘do’ stuff when it comes to war, whether sending the Legion into Mali or leading the international chorus for an attack on Syria.

Then he appeared to be following in Obama’s slipstream.   And now, France may be taking advantage of US hesitancy and division regarding the potential realignment in the Middle East to carve its own route, and place itself at the centre of a new power bloc, even if Obama doesn’t want it.

Jacques Chirac also stood up against an American administration over Iraq, when he asked for more time for weapons inspections.   Posterity has demonstrated that Chirac was right.

Hollande however, is most definitely wrong.  And if a war with Iran does take place at some future date, he may well go down in history as the man who had the chance to prevent it, and didn’t do so, because in the end war was just simply too profitable to refuse.

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