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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Gagner la guerre? Non, y mettre fin

by Jean-Pierre Piérot

Win the War? No, Put an End To It

Translated Tuesday 17 November 2015, by Isabelle Métral

Will France clarify its ambiguous foreign diplomacy? Syria’s future is being drafted in the negotiations at the Viienna conference. A political solution should be given pride of place.

France’s capital has been struck at its heart by the war that devastates the Near and Middle East and turns Syria into a theatre of confrontation with far-reaching regional and international reverberations. “An act of war,” our president declared on Friday night. And in real fact the power of these quasi-simultaneous aggressions in several places in and around Paris, the determination to kill as many people as possible, blindly, indiscriminately, and the attackers’ recourse – for the first time in France – to suicide missions - all these confer upon this terrorist coup the characteristics of a military operation in an asymmetrical conflict.

But considered separately, it does not call for a “war against terrorism”, a vague notion that fails to designate both the adversary and the causes of the conflict, and may lead to all kinds of competitive bidding. In a special edition, the weekly l’Express raised a martial question “How shall we win the war?” A similar incitement to the escalation of military intervention is also – and unsurprisingly – manifest in Nicolas Sarkozy’s declaration. The real question, to which French diplomacy has so far given no convincing answer, is not how to win the war but how to put an end to it.

To a large extent, the present situation results from Bush’s adventurism

Following September 11, 2001, and taking advantage of the deep shock caused by the attacks, George W. Bush succeeded in bringing world opinion round to the invasion of Afghanistan in the name of war on terrorism. And again in 2003 to the war on Iraq, except that this time France spoke against it at the UN security council. The region has since never found a way out of chaos. The current situation is indeed the end-result of Bush’s adventurism. The lesson seems to have been of little use to French leaders, who can think of nothing better than more air strikes. “We are at war”, Prime Minister Manuel Valls grimly repeated on the TV channel TF1, “and more terrorist attacks are to be expected.” In other words the prime minister promoted powerlessness.

Last Friday night, while French people were still in a state of shock, the meeting in Vienna of the foreign ministers of the countries involved in the Syrian conflict, or working towards a political agreement that would leave the terrorist organizations out, gave a glimmer of hope. The US, Russia, the Arab countries and Iran came to an agreement on a political process for Syria that would be a step forward towards democracy. The roadmap is clear enough: namely a meeting, before January 1st, 2016, between the Syrian régime and leaders of the opposition, with a view to setting up a transitional government within six months and a free election within a year and a half.

Not all divergences have been settled, between the Russians and the Iranians on the one hand, and the US and their Gulf allies on the other, as concerns the future role of President Bashar el Assad in the political process. Once all the constitutional guarantees have been provided for the opposition, Syria’s future will be decided by the Syrian people, Russian minister Sergueï Lavrov declared, thus confirming Vladimir Putin’s unvarying position. Another point of dissension the parties have not yet settled is which Syrian anti-governmental groups exactly are to be considered as terrorists and so excluded from Syria’s institutional space? But even on this moot point things seem to be moving ahead. The Vienna conference has entrusted a mediator and coordinator, namely Jordan, with the mission of drawing up a list of terrorist groups.

If it is the ambition of French diplomacy to resume playing an active role in the re-establishment of peace and security in the region, it will need to clarify its positions and move clear of a double ambiguity. The first ambiguity, which makes France’s position truly befuddling, is the false symmetry it has so far, like a leitmotiv, established between Daesh (ISIL), the perpetrator of the mass murders in Paris, and the régime of Bashar el Assad. This parallel entails concrete corollaries. For destroying Daesh’s capacity to commit its abominations against the Syrian people entails helping the local forces that fight the Jihadist expansion on the battlefield – namely the Syrian governmental forces and the Kurdish self-defense groups.

The massacres in Paris have made it impossible for the French diplomacy to hold to their former line. Supposing that in August 2013, the French proposal to bomb Bashar el Assad’s army - following a suspicion that chemical substances had been used – had not jointly been vetoed by the US and Great Britain, Damascus would no doubt be now under Jihadist control. It is easy to imagine what the consequences would be.

The reason for the confusing French position on this point seems to be a concession to Saudi Arabia, a country deeply involved in the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. And Saudi Arabia shows up another ambiguity on the French side: how can France ever take a convincing stand against ISIL while claiming to be the main ally, and provider of fighter planes, to the Gulf monarchies whose ideological leanings to ISIL are a matter of public knowledge? Besides, in its relations with Riyadh, Paris proves overly discreet about the human rights issue (women’s rights included).

The debit side on Nicolas Sarkozy’s record is the destruction of Libya

The chaos through which the Middle-east is laboring, and which causes the exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing ISIL’s barbarous rule is the result of fifteen years of Western interventionism. If France did not follow Bush into Iraq, the debit side in Sarkozy’s record is the destruction of Libya.

It is high time we broke away with power politics and stopped sidelining the UN. These attacks, like those that killed 129 in Paris, are for the greater part linked to a historical process that increased with the interventions in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Libya - all of which only added fuel to the fire, as Dominique de Villepin, former French foreign minister, contends. He denounces the climate of competitive bidding and thunderous calls for war. “What can a “total war” mean? An all-out fight to destroy a terrorist organization is sure to spread the contamination even further.” So Villepin warns us against falling into the trap set by those who fomented the attacks.

The main lesson to be drawn from the present tragic events is certainly not to allow ourselves to be enlisted in new adventures, but to upgrade the UN’s role in the process of restoration and reconstruction. A new coalition between the states concerned will thus be set up, and due respect paid to their peoples. This is not the time to intensify strikes, for more strikes will only fire up a dangerous escalation and more attacks; this is the time to seize the opportunity to change gear and give diplomacy pride of place.

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