Notes From the Margins…

Francois Hollande: Sucking Up the L’argent

  • November 11, 2013
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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.

You understand instinctively 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.  As a social democrat, 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 Jaures, 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 are:

a) Israel – under the fanatically uber-Zionist Netanyahu, who 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 Iran or at least cripple Iranian society with sanctions

Given this context, your progressive socialist administration relishes the opportunity to make so many positive things possible, whether it’s a negotiated end to the Syrian civil war; Iranian/western cooperation to prevent a violent implosion in Afghanistan and stabilize Iraq, or even 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.

Unfortunately for France, and for the world, the actual incumbent of the Elysee Palace is Francois Hollande, the former schoolteacher 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 rapprochement between the United States and Iran.  All this was done, according to the Guardian, as a result of a personal intervention from 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 Francois 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.  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 French ‘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 is 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.   And there will almost certainly be more to follow.   Like Britain,  France still seems to believe that it ‘owns’ its former colonies, and its political elites similarly combine a nostalgic yearning for empire with a willingness to sell weapons to promote French interests.

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 the Stratfor rep. 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 , whether sending the Legion into Mali or leading the international chorus for an attack on Syria.  At times he has appeared to be following in Obama’s slipstream.    Now France seems to be following its own trajectory in the Middle East, even as the US has begun to show more caution in the Middle East.

Jacques Chirac once stood up against an American administration over Iraq, and posterity has proved him right.

Hollande however, is most definitely wrong.

And if a war with Iran does take place, 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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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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