12072021

France Dreams While Reality Bites

Hollande trapped by military ambitions

France’s president François Hollande is a civilian through and through. This is not always to a president’s advantage, even for leaders of the Grande Nation itself. Civilians are all too easily impressed when the military’s big brass start boasting about their strategic experience. Just think of President Johnson as General Westmoreland kept telling him about the “light at the end of the tunnel.” LBJ had sent over half a million GIs to Vietnam where they suffered a painful defeat in an unwinnable war.

Similarly, the French Army slogged through a futile colonial war in Algeria until General de Gaulle eventually pulled the plug. As a military man, the President knew that France would have to retreat from North Africa to avoid an even slower and bloodier defeat.

By all accounts, President Hollande has the best of intentions. He wants to protect the francophile regime in Mali from Islamist militant groups and Tuareg separatists. After a swift campaign, the French rapid deployment force succeeded in driving the Islamist militants from the cities they held in the northeast of the country. The war however, is yet to be won.

Inspired by the perceived victory in Mali, Hollande has called for more weapons to be supplied to the Syrian rebels who are at war with the dictator Assad and his Iranian allies. Syria’s autocratic ruler has regularly ordered the bombardment of civilians and the civil war has cost some 70,000 lives to date.

What is really needed to end the killing is concerted action by the UN Security Council. At very least, the Western states on the Council need to align their approaches. The United States,Germany and others remain hesitant, primarily because it remains unclear just where the fronts, divisions, and loyalties lie in Syria. As we speak, foreign weapons are falling in the hands of Salafists and even government troops.

The proposal from Israeli president Peres that the Arab League form a joint force to end the Syrian war is unrealistic given the intrinsic divisions between Arab leaders.

Strategic intervention abroad is like marching troops into a swamp. It’s easy to get in, but tough to get out. French history has shown this again and again.

Hollande governs from the Elysée Palace, the palace once owned by Napoleon. Eventually, he suffered the bitter fate of all conquerors.

Photo Credit: Florian Ehrich

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