The speed and extent with which French warplanes have been deployed over the weekend in the West African country, Mali, point to a well-honed plan for intervention by the former colonial power.
Indeed, such is the careful choreography of this salient military development that one could say that the French have finally given themselves a green light to execute a plan they had been pushing over several months. That plan is nothing less than the neocolonial re-conquest of its former colony in the strategically important West African region.
Within hours of the Malian government requesting military support to counter an advance by rebels from the northern territory, French warplanes began carrying out air strikes on Friday. The attack sorties have reportedly been conducted for at least three consecutive days. Media reports said that French Mirage and Rafale fighter jets had struck across a wide belt of the remote Sahelian country, from Gao and Kidal in the northeast, near the border with Algeria, to the western town of Lere, close to Mauritania.
The warplanes were dispatched from France and also reportedly from Chad. The French government claimed that it had been granted over-flight permission by Algeria. Both North African neighboring countries are also former French colonies.
The air strikes by the French jets on at least six widely dispersed target areas within Mali cover an operational distance of nearly 2,000 kilometers, from east to west. This level of co-ordination indicates several weeks of planning and belies the appearance that the French government was responding in an impromptu fashion to a sudden call for assistance from the Paris-aligned Malian authorities.
In addition, over the weekend some 500 French troops arrived in the southern Malian capital of Bamako and the strategic town of Mopti, which is situated near the rebel-held northern territory.
The dramatic French intervention has all the hallmarks of a meticulous plan that was on a hair-trigger for action. The taking over by rebels last Thursday of the town of Konna, 45 kilometers from Mopti, near the de facto north-south frontier, and the subsequent alarm call from the Malian government in Bamako can therefore be seen as merely a green light for the detailed French plan to swing into action.
Furthermore, the French government has received swift support from other European countries and the United States. Britain has sent RAF CI7 cargo planes from a base in East England to Paris in order to help with French supply of troops, helicopters, trucks other heavy equipment. Washington has said it will provide logistics and communications. Both American and French surveillance drones have been operational in Mali and adjacent countries for months now.
France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was quick to hail the weekend air strikes a success in halting Malian “terrorists.” Fabius said the French military involvement would be for a “matter of weeks.” However, the extensive mobilization of troops and warplanes and the geopolitical backdrop to the development suggest otherwise. Perhaps mindful of this, Fabius was keen to emphasize that the Mali intervention would not turn out to be “another Afghanistan.”
Officially, Paris, London and Washington have up to now been pushing for an African-led intervention force to take the military lead in assisting the Malian government to quash a separatist rebellion in the northern half of the country. The northern region was taken over last April by Tuareg rebels in league with Islamist militia belonging to Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. The rebels have managed to consolidate their control over the vast and largely desert region around the main city of Timbuktu. Northern Mali covers an area the size of France and is sparsely populated with less than two million people.
West African states, including Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger, are charged with assembling an intervention force at the behest of the Western powers. Last month, the United Nations Security Council gave final approval for the West African military mission to shore up the shaky government that is based in Bamako in the far south of the country, thousands of kilometers from the upper northern region.
Following the Security Council vote, diplomats at the UN and in West African capitals were talking about the combined African mission of some 3,500 troops being deployed much later this year, in September at the earliest. This was a view held by Romano Prodi, the UN’s top envoy to Mali, which was reported only days before the French military intervention.
The abrupt side-stepping of the African forces points up the real agenda of the Western powers and France in particular. What we are seeing now, with the rapid, large-scale French deployment, is the true neocolonial nature of this agenda. All the previous talk by Paris, London and Washington on the importance of intervention having “an African face” can be seen as cynical cover for direct Western action.
Only three months ago, President Francois Hollande vowed to French media that there would be “no French boots on the ground” in Mali. Evidently, official calculations have changed.
France and its Western allies have been assiduously taking up the international security threat allegedly posed by the rebels in Mali. Much is being made of alleged links between the Islamist militants and Al Qaeda in the Maghreb. President Hollande has repeatedly warned that French and European security is at risk if the rebels in Mali strengthen their control.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said at the weekend: “Both leaders [Cameron and Hollande] agreed that the situation in Mali poses a real threat to international security given the terrorist activity there.”
American politicians, military chiefs and media have also been waxing lyrical for months on how Mali represents the globe’s new “terror central” and that Western governments must act decisively to defeat the danger.
However, the precise nature of this “Islamist threat” from Mali is never spelled out or evidenced. We are expected to accept the word of Paris, London and Washington – the rogue states that have and are conducting illegal wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
What we do know, however, is that the half century post-colonial borders of Mali are an alien imposition on nomadic peoples in the northern region – cultures that date backed thousands of years. Their rebellion against a remote and up to now indifferent colonialist-appointed administration in Bamako is probably a just cause. The French and its Western allies are therefore maligning an internal dispute within Mali with another specious “war on terror” narrative and in that way these powers are giving themselves a mandate to meddle in that country.
France being the former colonial master and with decades of covert military assets in the region is the “natural” choice among the Western powers to lead a neo-imperialist adventure in this strategically important region.
Mali has abundant riches in natural resources of metals and minerals. It is a major source of gold and uranium, as well as iron, copper, tin and manganese, and also versatile minerals such as phosphates, salt and limestone.
Moreover, the West Africa region has awesome potential for agriculture and oil. The Gulf of Guinea off Ghana and Nigeria is earmarked to become a leading oil and gas supply region to world markets in the coming years.
Military intervention by France and the other Western powers in Mali – under the guise of “defeating terrorism” – is a bridgehead for Western capital and corporations, not only into a resource-rich country, but into a large chunk of the entire African continent. In 2011, NATO’s bombardment of Libya and French subversion of elections in Cote D’Ivoire marked a new beginning of Western neo-imperialism in Africa.
The US is looking into supporting French military intervention in its former African colony of Mali, by offering to provide “surveillance drones” as it has already declared its backing of moves against Malian militants.
US commanders were further considering other options such as “providing intelligence and aerial refueling tankers” as well as “logistical backup and boosting intelligence sharing,” involving its surveillance drones, AFP reported Friday, quoting an unnamed US official that spoke on condition of anonymity.
The report also quotes its anonymous source as saying that senior American officials held talks with their French counterparts as well as authorities from other European allies in Paris on “an action plan” against militants controlling a northern portion of the Muslim country.
The US military holds a network of major air bases in Italy, Spain and other western European countries and could back the French military intervention by providing it with refueling tankers and other logistical assistance.
Paris-backed Malian government forces, the report says, began a military offensive against militants that have seized control of the north of the West African states with aerial support from French war planes.
French President Francois Hollande has confirmed his country’s military intervention against what he has described as ‘al-Qaeda-linked radicals’ in Mali.
Previously, the US had raised alarms about the militants in Mali, blaming them for involvement in an attack against the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya that led to the killing of its ambassador and three CIA operatives in the neighboring country.
The US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor is also cited in the report as vowing support for French objectives in the West African country.
“We have noted that the government of Mali has asked for support, and we share the French goal of denying terrorists a safe haven in the region,” he is quoted as saying in the report.
Hollande, meanwhile, has insisted that France’s military intervention in Mali would continue “for as long as is necessary.”
- French troops begin military intervention in Mali: Hollande (alethonews.wordpress.com)
France’s President Francois Hollande says French troops have started military intervention in Mali to help the Malian government repel the rebels that control the northern part of the West African country.
“I have agreed to Mali’s demand, which means French forces have provided support to Mali this afternoon…. This operation will last as long as is necessary,” Hollande said on Friday.
He added that French forces had arrived in the capital, Bamako, hours earlier.
Malian officials say troops from Nigeria and Senegal have already arrived on the ground to support government forces in their battle against the militants.
“Today, we have partners from Nigeria, Senegal…and more on the ground, to give us some assistance,” Oumar Dao, chief of operations at the Mali Defense Ministry, said earlier in the day.
“Our operational team will define what kind of aid they will provide,” Dao added.
The reports of the deployment of foreign troops in Mali come just a day after militants seized the central town of Konna.
In December 2012, the United Nations Security Council approved the deployment of foreign military forces in Mali to help the African government battle the militants.
The 15-member Security Council authorized an initial one-year deployment of African Union forces in the country. The resolution, drafted by France, also authorized all European Union member states to help rebuild Mali’s security forces.
Chaos broke out in the West African country after Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure was toppled in a military coup on March 22, 2012. The coup leaders said they had mounted the coup in response to the government’s inability to contain the two-month Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country.
Iran’s main automobile company, Iran Khodro, says it is coping with a decision early this year by troubled French car maker Peugeot to halt exports of vehicle kits for assembly, according to reports on Wednesday.
“Iran Khodro has managed to become self-sufficient in producing 90 percent of the parts for the (popular Peugeot model) 206, and an effort is being made to use local suppliers for parts that were previously imported,” Hossein Najari, Deputy CEO for production was quoted as saying.
Peugeot’s parent company PSA Peugeot Citroen in February suspended its sales of car assembly kits to Iran, which had been its top export market in terms of trade volume up to then.
The decision appeared to be tied to Peugeot’s alliance with U.S. group General Motors, and U.S. sanctions pressure on Iran.
PSA Peugeot Citroen on Wednesday announced it will seek to cut 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion dollars) in costs over the next three years after declaring a 819-million-euro ($989-million) loss for the first half of 2012.
Its exports to Iran, where locally assembled versions of its 405 and 206 models are prevalent on the roads, represented up to 800 million euros in revenue per year before they were suspended, according to figures given in Tehran.
The maker of two-thirds of France’s cars is in a tailspin as a deepening recession in many markets in Europe takes its toll on its business — Europe is Peugeot’s main market. The company’s share price has more than halved since March.
The first-half loss contrasts starkly with a profit of €805 million in the same period last year and came on the back of a 5.1 percent fall in revenue to €29.6 billion.
The company doesn’t expect Europe to pick up anytime soon, saying Wednesday that it expects its European market to contract by 8 percent this year.
In response, Peugeot announced earlier this month that it would close a major factory in France and cut 8,000 jobs — part of a plan to save €2.5 billion by 2015. Those savings will also come from efficiencies gained by an alliance with General Motors. About half — €1 billion — of those savings will come this year alone.
“The group is facing a difficult time,” Chairman Philippe Varin said. “The depth and persistence of the crisis impacting our business in Europe requires the launch of the reorganization of our French production and a reduction in our structural costs.”
But the company’s cost-cutting plans have run afoul of President Francois Hollande’s Socialist administration, which has said the restructuring is unacceptable and that it will force Peugeot to save some of the jobs it wants to eliminate.
On Wednesday, the government will unveil a plan to support the auto industry — part of its carrot-and-stick strategy with Peugeot. It’s expected to give incentives to French consumers to buy French cars and to support the clean-energy vehicles that the company excels at.
But much of Peugeot’s problems stem from an over-supplied European car market, and it’s unclear how much the government can do for the company. France’s car industry was already given a bailout under former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
- Sanctions on Iran force French auto job losses (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Peugeot First-Half Profit Plunges on Europe Sales Decline – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
The situation in Mali, the country most closely located to the “zone of stability and security” purportedly created by NATO in Libya, is far from being stable or secure. The international news agencies and world press are reporting horror stories about the rule of terror, established by the jihadist movements in the north-east of this country, previously dominated by the local Tuaregs.
There are two interesting conclusions that the world’s politicians and experts draw from the developments in Mali. First, it is recognized that destabilization of Mali was one of the results of the military intervention of NATO in Libya (the Tuaregs, who in fact unleashed the military action, were armed by weapons from colonel Qaddafi’s ransacked arsenals). Second, the proposed solution to the crisis, heavily lobbied by France, is… another military intervention, this time in Mali. Obviously, the “zone of stability and security” has for some reason got a unique ability to spawn new conflicts.
The only “political heavyweight” on the world stage who predicted undesirable developments in Mali in the immediate aftermath of the Libyan coup was the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. In April this year, during a visit to Azerbaijan, he sketched the negative scenario which unfortunately proved to be true: “The Libyan story is far from over. We see how the statehood of Mali is being destroyed under our very eyes. What is the reason for that? Besides the unending skirmishes in Libya itself, instability is flowing into neighboring states via arms smuggling, infiltration of fighters. What we see in Mali is just the result of these processes.”
What is indeed astounding is the fact that the NATO countries continue to trumpet their operation in Libya as a great success. State secretary Hillary Clinton, for example, praised the victory of “secular liberals” at recently held elections in Libya (which would indeed be great, if “secularists” had not had a discussion on an innocent point – whether sharia should be the main law of the country or, even better, the only law). In her comments, Mrs. Clinton carefully avoids making a link between the destruction of Qaddafi’s regime and the sudden replenishment of the arsenals of AQMI (the French abbreviation for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and Ansar Dine, the two most violent groups of the jihadist movement in Northern Africa, which ultimately took control of north-eastern Mali.
“During Qaddafi’s rule, we did not know about these groups,” says from Mali’s capital Bamako Caroline Tuina-Ouanre, a journalist from neighboring Burkina Fasso, specializing on covering the developments in Sahel, a region in Africa where both Mali and Burkina Fasso belong. “Obviously, they did not get their arms from nowhere. They got them profiting from the collapse of the Libyan regime, which in itself was a result of the Western intervention. It made AQMI much stronger, this is a proven fact, long reported by the French-language press of Africa, from Morocco to Burkina.”
France, the country that actually engineered the Western intervention in Libya, is now the primary supporter of an intervention in Mali. However, the French president Francois Hollande said that “for obvious reasons” (meaning, obviously, the history of French colonialism in the region) France was unwilling to intervene on its own. “The intervention should take place in the framework of the African Union and under the auspices of the United Nations.” Hollande said.
The irony of the situation is that the African Union was resolutely opposed to the Western intervention in Libya in 2011, saying that such an intervention would undermine regional security. The South African leader Jacob Zuma, a key figure in the AU, and the Algerian president Abdelaziz Buteflica were among the most vocal opponents of the physical destruction of colonel Qaddafi. And now France wants Buteflica’s Algeria to spearhead the eventual intervention in Mali. In 2011, both U.S. and the EU ignored the African Union’s protests, trumpeting the removal of Qaddafi as a 100 percent positive development, a “victory for democracy.” So, now France is asking the African Union to make up for its misdeeds in the area – misdeeds that the AU never approved.
- US vows to back French military intervention in former colony Mali (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- French troops begin military intervention in Mali: Hollande (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Propaganda War: The Houla Massacre Committed by The West’s “Free Syrian Army” But They Accuse Syrian Gov’t
[The] 108 bodies were laid out by the Free ’Syrian’ Army  in a mosque in Houla. According to the rebels, these were the remains of civilians massacred on 25 May 2012 by pro-government militia known as ‘Shabbihas’.
The Syrian government appeared completely shocked by the news. It immediately condemned the killings, which it attributed to the armed opposition.
While the national news agency, SANA, was unable to provide details with certainty, the Syrian Catholic news agency, Vox Clamantis, immediately issued a testimony of some of the events formally accusing the opposition .
Five days later, the Russian news channel Rossiya 24 (exVesti) aired a very detailed 45-minute report, which remains to date the most comprehensive public inquiry .
The West and Gulf States who are working towards a “regime change” in Syria and have already recognized the opposition as a privileged interlocutor, have adopted the FSA’s version of events without waiting for the report from the United Nations Supervision Mission (UNSMIS).
As a sanction, most of them have resorted to a prearranged measure, namely the expulsion of Syrian ambassadors to their respective countries. This does not represent a rupture of diplomatic relations, as the rest of the accredited Syrian diplomatic personnel will remain stationed where they are.
The United Nations Security Council adopted a presidential statement condemning the massacre without indicating who was responsible. It furthermore reminded the Syrian government of its responsibilities, namely the protection of its people using proportionate measures, that’s to say without the use of heavy weapons .
Contrary to this, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay endorsed the allegations blaming the Syrian authorities, and demanded that the case be transferred to the International Criminal Court.
French President François Hollande and his Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius have announced their intention to convince Russia and China not to obstruct a future Security Council’s resolution authorizing the use of force, while the French press is accusing Russia and China of protecting a criminal regime.
Responding to these charges, Russia’s First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrey Denissov expressed regret over France’s “basically emotional reaction” – devoid of analysis. He reiterated that the steadfast position of his country, in this case as for others, is not to support governments, but peoples (it being understood that the Syrian people elected President al-Assad at the last constitutional referendum).
The United Nations Supervision Mission went to Damascus at the request of the Syrian government. It was received by the opposition who control this zone, and was able to establish various observations to be used in writing its status report.
At an internal press briefing, the President of the Syrian investigation Commission into the massacre read a brief statement revealing the initial elements of the current investigation. According to him, the massacre was carried out by the opposition as part of an FSA military operation in the area.
Aware that the findings of the UN Supervision Mission report may backfire on them, the Western countries requested that the Human Rights Council in Geneva (which is under their control) set up another investigation Commission. A report from this body could be produced quickly in order to impose a version of events before the Supervision Mission is able to draw its own conclusions.
How can we know what happened in Houla?
Two main factors are impeding the work of investigators. The Syrian government lost control of Houla many weeks ago. Syrian magistrates are therefore unable to go to Houla, and even if some journalists are able to do so, this is only with the permission of and under close surveillance by the FSA.
There is however one exception: a team from Rossiya 24, the 24-hour Russian news channel was able to move around the area without an escort, and produce an exceptionally detailed report.
The official Syrian Commission claims to have collected several witness statements, but has declared that these shall only be presented to the press once the final report has been established. At present, the identity of these witnesses remains protected by investigation secrecy. However, several of the accounts were broadcast on public television on 1st June.
The investigators are also in possession of videos provided exclusively by the FSA.
Lastly, since the FSA amassed the bodies in a mosque and began burying them the very next day, it was not possible for UN observers to carry out forensic assessments on many of the dead.
Voltaire Network ’s conclusions
Houla is not a town, but an administrative area made up of three villages, each with about 25,000 residents but which today lie largely abandoned. The Sunni market town of Tal Daw has been under rebel control for many weeks. The Free “Syrian” Army had imposed its rule there. The national Army was securing transport routes by maintaining several posts on roads within the area, but did not venture beyond these roads.
Certain individuals kidnapped children and attempted unsuccessfully to extort ransoms.  In the end, these children were killed a few days before the Houla massacre, but their bodies were brought by the Free “Syrian” Army to be laid out amongst the others.
In the evening of 24 May, the Free “Syrian” Army launched a very large-scale operation to reinforce its control over the region, and to make Tal Daw its new base.
In order to do this, 600-800 combatants from various districts gathered in Rastan and Saan and proceeded to launch simultaneous attacks on the military bases. At the same time, a team was fortifying Tal Daw by installing five anti-tank missile batteries, and purging the town of some of its inhabitants.
The first victims in Tel Daw were a dozen people related to Abd al-Muty Mashlab – a legislator of the recently elected Baas party who was appointed Secretary of the National Assembly; following this, the family of a senior official – Mouawyya al-Sayyed – was killed. Subsequent targets were families of Sunni origin who had converted to Shiite Islam.
Other victims included the family of two journalists for Top News and New Orient News, press agencies associated with Voltaire Network. Many people, including children, were raped before being killed.
With only one of the Army’s bases having fallen, the assailants changed strategy. They transformed a military defeat into a communication operation, attacking the al-Watani hospital and setting fire to it. They took corpses from the hospital morgue and transported them along with those of other victims to the mosque, where the bodies were filmed.
The theory of a single massacre perpetrated by pro-government militia does not stand up to the facts. There were battles which took place between loyalists and rebels, as well as several massacres of pro-government civilians at the hands of the rebels.
Then, a scenario was staged by the Free “Syrian” Army where corpses originating from these various earlier situations were mixed together.
Indeed, the existence of the “Shabbihas” is a myth. Whilst there are certainly individuals in favour of the government who are armed and capable of committing acts of revenge, there is no structure or organized group that could be termed as a pro-government militia.
Political and diplomatic implications
The expulsion of Syrian ambassadors by Western countries is a measure that was planned well in advance and therefore well-coordinated. Westerners were waiting for a massacre of this type before carrying out this action. They ignored numerous previous massacres that they knew had been perpetrated by the Free “Syrian” Army, and seized on this one believing that it had been committed by pro-government militia.
The idea of a coordinated expulsion did not emanate from Paris, rather from Washington. Paris in principle gave its agreement, without having examined the legal implications. For in practice, Lamia Chakkour is also the Syrian Ambassador to UNESCO, and cannot therefore (according to the terms of the accord de siège) be expelled from French territory. Further to this, even if she were not accredited to UNESCO, her French-Syrian dual nationality means that she cannot be expelled from French territory.
These expulsions were coordinated by Washington to create the illusion of a general movement in order to put pressure on Russia. Indeed, the US is looking to test the new international balance of power, to size up Russia’s reactions and to find out how far they will go.
The choice of the Houla affair, however, has been a tactical error. Washington seized upon the affair without checking the details, thinking that nobody would be able to verify it. This was forgetting that Russia has moved into the country – with over 100,000 Russians currently residing in Syria.
Of course, they did not deploy a high-tech anti-aircraft defense system just to discourage NATO from bombarding Syria; they also set up information bases including troops that are able to move around rebel controlled areas.
In this way, Moscow was able to shed light on the facts within a few days. Their specialists succeeded in identifying the 13 members of the FSA guilty of these killings and gave their names to the Syrian authorities. With this, not only did Moscow not waver, it has hardened its stance.
For Vladimir Putin, the fact that the West wanted to make the Houla massacre into their symbol shows that they are out of touch with the reality on the ground. Having withdrawn the officers in charge of the Free “Syrian” Army, the only information available to the West comes from their drones and satellites observing what is happening. They have become vulnerable to the lies and vaunting of the mercenaries they have deployed on the terrain.
For Moscow, this massacre is just another tragedy like many others that Syrians have been enduring for the last year. But hasty instrumentation on the part of the West shows that they have failed to develop a new collective strategy since the fall of the Islamic district of Baba Amr. In essence, they are but acting on guesswork, which is allowing others to gain the upper-hand.
Translated from French by Katy Stone.
 Voltaire Network has chosen to write FSA with ’Syrian’ in inverted commas to indicate that this militia is largely composed of foreigners, and that it’s commander is not Syrian.
 “Irreversible divisons in Syria,” VoxClamantis, 26 May 2012.
 Global Research translated to English the transcript of extracts from this programme, see “Opposition Terrorists “Killed Families Loyal to the Government”“, Voltaire Network 1 June 2012.
 “Syria: What the Security Council Said”, by Thierry Meyssan,Voltaire Network, 6 June 2012.
 This is currently a security problem in the country. Many of the thugs that had been recruited to swell the ranks of the Free “Syrian” Army were demobilized due to lack of funding. Remaining in the possession of arms provided by the West, they are turning to crime – mainly kidnappings for ransom.
When the frontrunners in France’s presidential race took their seats on Thursday evening for a final televised debate, they did so with battle lines firmly entrenched.
Incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande had spent the previous month on a vitriolic campaign trail exposing deep rifts among the French electorate over the economy, immigration, and nuclear energy.
But the most significant player in Sunday’s election, which most opinion polls predict will go down to the wire, was not even in the studio.
Both Hollande and Sarkozy are mindful that the 6.4 million who voted for Marine Le Pen of the far right National front will have a large bearing on the outcome of Sunday’s run-off. That’s why they have sought to echo Le Pen’s strident anti-immigration rhetoric which reached out to disenchanted voters and hardliners alike.
Hollande vowed to cut economic migration at a time when France is feeling the pinch from the eurozone’s financial turmoil. Sarkozy went one step further, referencing Le Pen by name and claiming only he had the experience and gumption to put a meaningful cap on immigration’s pall over France by cutting the number of people entering the country in half.
Judy Dempsey, a senior associate at Carnegie Europe, said although immigration was being touted as a domestic stand from both candidates, using the issue as a sweetener to attract far-right voters could have an adverse effect on France internationally.
“Immigration is foreign policy and when they speak about immigration now in France it’s fortress Europe,” she said. “[Hollande and Sarkozy] don’t see immigration in a positive sense and it sends completely the wrong signal to the younger generation and the emerging business community in the Middle East.”
It was not until the final minutes of Thursday’s debate that the issue of foreign policy was raised. Here, both candidates demurred.
Sarkozy was quick to point out how he took the lead as France led the way in a number of international decisions while in office.
France’s president has often sought to paint himself as a highly experienced operator in the realm of global diplomacy. As well as inheriting French involvement in NATO’s Afghanistan mission, Sarkozy oversaw the stationing of French troops in the Middle East and Africa, largely in a peacekeeping capacity.
He played a prominent role in meditation between Tbilisi and Moscow in 2008 when the fight over Abkhazia and South Ossetia threatened to boil over into all out war.
And last year, Sarkozy’s France spearheaded NATO’s campaign for military intervention in Libya.
Sarkozy avoided mentioning Libya in Thursday’s debate after embarrassing allegations that his 2007 presidential campaign had received an offer of funding from Tripoli. Sarkozy is seeking legal action over the claim, but thought better of opening that particular can of worms in the closing moments of a potentially election-changing televised appearance.
Hollande’s public statements indicate striking Middle Eastern policy similarities to the current government. Like Sarkozy, Hollande has declared that an Iranian nuclear missile would be unacceptable for Europe. Like Sarkozy, Hollande has called for a two-state solution in Palestine while trumpeting Israeli security as a key French concern.
The Socialist leader has been necessarily vague over French foreign policy. He currently lacks a dedicated adviser for overseas affairs. Instead of laying out detailed plans for France’s global relations, the Socialist challenger has made a point of criticizing Sarkozy in this regard.
Looking ahead to the next term in office, Hollande has struck a remarkably similar tone to the current government.
Sarkozy and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe have been among the most hawkish European officials to address the Syrian crisis, closing the French Embassy in Damascus and calling multiple times for President Bashar Assad to leave office. Sarkozy has issued incessant calls for a full ceasefire in Syria, and has somewhat ominously compared the restive city of Homs to Benghazi, Libya’s erstwhile rebel stronghold.
Hollande, for his part, declared last month that he would support military intervention in Syria, “if done within a [United Nations] framework.” Juppe has offered words to the same effect in recent weeks.
According to Thomas Klau, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, both Sarkozy and Hollande will wait and see what happens in Syria before veering from the French course of public criticism of the Damascus government.
“The current government and Juppe have been very active on the Syria dossier and doing all they could to get Russia to move its stance,” Klau told Al-Akhbar. “I wouldn’t expect the French policy to be different under Hollande. Much of his policy will be determined by events on the ground and the success – or the lack of it – from the [U.N./Arab League Envoy Kofi] Annan’s mediation effort.”
Dempsey added that Hollande had raised the prospect of military intervention in Syria “because he can say it without the responsibility” of having to go through with it. As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, France still has some global clout, but not nearly enough to convince Russia or China to bless any advance on Syria. Both candidates know and accept this, and continuity in the French approach to Damascus is more likely than meaningful change.
In a similar way, with Paris’ pro-Israel lobby as influential among the Socialists as they are in Sarkozy’s UMP party, Hollande, should he win, is unlikely to depart from France’s current line on Palestine.
In spite of a few diplomatic gaffes, including branding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a liar,” Sarkozy has spent much of the last five years offering support to Israeli officials. Hollande, with influential pro-Israeli figures such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn having the ear of many Parisian socialists, will have a hard time departing from such engagement.
“Nicolas Sarkozy was personally convinced that the national interest of Israel was very close to French national interest,” Klau said. “With Francois Hollande, his attitude isn’t very significant. Neither of them place themselves in the Arabist tradition of French foreign policy, which has lost relevance anyway.”
So if foreign policy has provided so few soundbites in the French presidential election, it is because both candidates are largely in assent.
That is not to say Sarkozy and Hollande agree on every foreign policy area.
Hollande used Thursday’s debate to repeat a campaign promise that, if elected, he would withdraw all French troops serving with NATO from Afghanistan by the end of 2012 – a full year ahead of a planned pullout, and much to the chagrin of Sarkozy. The French president has said he’d prefer not to renege on the current withdrawal timetable agreed with NATO.
In recent months, Sarkozy has faced the wrath of Turkey, one of France’s major trading partners, by pursuing legislation that would make it illegal to deny the Armenian Genocide. Amid opprobrium from Ankara, the president has pushed ahead with the controversial bill, which critics have denounced as a cynical attempt to get France’s estimated 400,000 ethnic Armenians on his side ahead of elections.
Sarkozy has made no secret of his objection to Turkey applying for EU membership, and fallout over the genocide bill is just the latest of a series of spats with Ankara during his time in office. Hollande also indicated he would oppose Turkish EU accession if elected, but, significantly for officials in Ankara, he has not ruled out future negotiations.
“Sarkozy is openly hostile to the notion that Turkey should join the EU, whereas the Socialist position is that that door should remain open,” said Klau.
France’s poor diplomatic ties with Ankara can be counted as a black mark against Sarkozy’s foreign policy initiatives, something Hollande should seek to take advantage of, according to Dempsey.
“Sarkozy had something near contempt for Turkey and there is no love lost between Ankara and Paris,” she said. “This would change slowly under Hollande. It’s time France considered [engagement with Turkey] as its long-term strategic interest but that is one thing that Hollande might be able to change if he wins.”
With France mired in discontent over domestic issues, it is no surprise that neither Hollande nor Sarkozy has been overly willing to share their opinions on global affairs.
But whoever inherits control of one of NATO’s largest troop contributing countries will need to keep plans in place.
- ‘On a razor’s edge’: Sarkozy lags on eve of elections (rt.com)
- Marine Le Pen Won’t Back Sarkozy or Hollande for French President (theepochtimes.com)
French Elections: Cracks in the Neoliberal Consensus
Democratic elections in the NATO member states serve one clear purpose. They contribute to the self-satisfaction concerning “our values” needed to justify military intervention in the imperfect internal affairs of other countries. But do the citizens really decide policy through their votes, or is electoral democracy fatally corrupted by the power of money?
At least in its form, the French presidential election is a model of resistance to the power of money that so blatantly dominates presidential elections in the United States.
While the United States is locked in a two-party system where both parties depend on millions of dollars from rich donors, the French two-round system allows as many candidates as can gather the required number (500) of mayors’ signatures to run in the first round. Then voters can decide between the two front-runners in the second round.
For the final phase of the first round campaign, which ended with the election this Sunday, April 22, all candidates receive equal television time to get across their message, without having to pay for it.
This time around, there were ten candidates, five of whom had at least a chance at the start to make it into the second round, even though polls showed the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and the Socialist Party candidate François Hollande leading the pack. But an upset was at least theoretically possible, as happened in 2002, when the National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen knocked out the Socialist Party candidate Lionel Jospin in the first round, handing Jacques Chirac a landslide victory in the run-off.
The most suspenseful aspect of the first round turned out to be the duel for third place between Jean-Marie’s daughter and political successor Marine Le Pen and the Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Marine set out to beat her father’s score ten years ago, while Mélenchon set himself the goal of beating her. The two adversaries were the most charismatic of the ten candidates. As candidate of the Left Front, Mélenchon lost his bid to come in third, but thanks to his extraordinary verbal skills has succeeded in reviving a political force to the left of the Socialist Party.
Percentage results of candidates in April 22 first round of French Persidential election
François Hollande, Socialist Party 29 %
Nicolas Sarkozy, outgoing President 26 %
Marine Le Pen, National Front 18 %
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Left Front 11 %
François Bayrou, centrist 9 %
Eva Joly, Greens 2 %
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Social Gaullist 1.8%
Philippe Poutou, New Anti-Capitalist Party (Trotskyist) 1.2%
Nathalie Arthaud, communist (Lutte Ouvrière, Trotskyist) 0.7%
Jacques Cheminade, progressist (Lyndon Larouche influence) 0.2%
Participation was high, at around 80%. The first round is altogether more entertaining and interesting than the second round. It provides more information about the real preferences of voters than the second round, which, like U.S. presidential elections, is often decided on the “lesser evil” principle, with increasing numbers of voters aware that whoever wins, the policies will be much the same.
A few observations:
Every candidate except Sarkozy, the self-styled centrist Bayrou and the Green candidate Eva Joly singled out the world of finance as the main adversary. Hollande did so quite explicitly in his main campaign speech, although shortly afterwards he watered his wine considerably during a visit to London, the City oblige. This hostility toward banks has horrified Anglo-American commentators, from The Economist to John Vinocur of the International Herald Tribune, for whom realism consists in docile obedience to the demands of “the markets”. Acting uppity toward finance capital is close to insanity. If “the right” is defined first of all by subservience to finance capital, then aside from Sarkozy, Bayrou and perhaps Joly, all the other candidates were basically on the left. And all of them except Sarkozy would be considered far to the left of any leading politician in the United States.
This applies notably to Marine Le Pen, whose social program was designed to win working class and youth votes. Her “far right” label is due primarily to her criticism of Muslim practices in France and demands to reduce immigration quotas, but her position on these issues would be considered moderate in the Netherlands or in much of the United States. Even she stressed that the immigration problem, as she saw it, was not the fault of the immigrants themselves but of the politicians and the elite who brought them here. The main tone of her political message was resolutely populist, attacking the “Paris elite”. Demagogic, yes, often vague and playing fast and loose with statistics, but a model of reason compared to the utterances of the “Tea Party”. Her political challenge was to hold onto her father’s ultra-conservative constituency while wooing discontented low income voters. She apparently won more working class votes than Mélenchon.
Mélenchon left the Socialist party to found the Left Party in 2008. As candidate for the broader Left Front, he has raised the spirits of the demoralized French Communist Party, which fell below 2% in the 2007 election and gave up running a candidate of its own. Its militants have responded enthusiastically to Mélenchon’s revival of red flags and fiery rhetoric. He would put lower and upper limits on wages and salaries. His program, including calls for constitutional revision that would guarantee such progressive measures as gay marriage, assisted suicide and the right to abortion, surely goes far beyond the demands of his constituency, more concerned with jobs and wages, and reflects his personal adherence to the progressive philosophy of French Free Masonry. It is certainly his quick witted debating skill that appeals to voters more than the details of his ambitious program.
Disillusion with the euro and Europe
The two leading candidates remain faithful to the dogma of “European construction”. But elsewhere splits are beginning to show. Marine Le Pen condemns the euro as a failure which had wrecked European economies and is doomed to disappear.
Certainly, François Asselineau, who has founded his own party, the Union Populaire Républicaine, with the sole object of leaving the European Union, has been totally deprived of any media coverage, and was unable to gather the necessary signatures for candidacy. But the social Gaullist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who is only beginning to be known to the French public, is adamant that France should return to the franc, retaining the euro only as a reserve currency around which EU member state currencies should be allowed to fluctuate. Dupont-Aignan calls the euro a “racket” and a “poison” for EU economies, which are too diverse for a single currency. To the objection that leaving the euro would cause huge inflation, he accuses present EU leaders of creating inflation by allowing private banks to borrow at 1% and then ruin member States by lending to them at higher and higher rates. After France recovers its sovereignty by leaving the euro, Dupont-Aignan would have the Bank of France finance the state at zero interest, which would allow the government to reduce its debt and hire more teachers, policemen and researchers, instead of reducing their number. He would also take measures to protect French industry from cheap imports.
In contrast, Mélenchon advocates strongly interventionist economic policies without accounting for the fact that they would go against European Union directives as well as the monetarist policy governing the euro. Mélenchon speaks of using the economic weight of France to persuade Germany to change its deflationist policies. This raises the problem of the clear contradiction between social policies to which the French are attached and the European Union’s control of economic policy that is fatal to those social policies.
Foreign policy confusion
Foreign policy has been almost entirely absent from this campaign. This could be because voters are not thought to be interested, or because there is no strong opposition between the candidates. François Hollande conforms to the mainstream consensus, saying he would support military intervention in Syria if based on a UN resolution. Much of the French left has swallowed the “Responsibility to Protect” ideology.
Already last year, Mélenchon dismayed a certain number of his admirers by supporting the war in Libya, on the grounds that it was based on a UN Resolution. He now calls for withdrawal from NATO and construction of an independent United Nations intervention force.
Not surprisingly, the Gaullist Dupont-Aignan opposes arming the Syrian opposition, pointing to the fact that arms provided to Libyan rebels ended up in the hands of militias who are destabilizing the whole region. He maintains that France should have acted differently in Libya and with Russia, instead of following the anti-Russian policy of the United States.
Among the leading candidates, the only clear anti-war policy is that of Marine Le Pen, who favors immediate withdrawal from both Afghanistan and the NATO command, describes the current French government policy of supporting the Syrian opposition as “totally irresponsible”, calls for recognition of a Palestinian State and opposes threats to bomb Iranian nuclear sites, which have not been proven to be military. And she adds: “As far as I know, no nation which has atomic weapons has ever asked for permission from anyone, neither the United States, nor France, nor Israel, nor Pakistan… Must we then plunge the world into a war whose extent we will not control because certain foreign counties ask us to?”
Marine Le Pen is regularly stigmatized as “racist” for her desire to reduce immigration. But which is worse: refusing entry to Muslim immigrants, or bombing them in their home countries?
The worst is yet to come
Even before the vote, John Vinocur raged against the “miserable precedent” represented by the fact that what he dubbed the “Rejection Front” made up of Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon was almost sure to beat the first round score of either mainstream candidate. Thus, he said, France would have “legitimatized two political currents that spurn serious solutions for France’s economic grief, reject civility and common sense and variously propose regression through loony yet authoritarian economics, class warfare, class or racial prejudices, anti-Western instincts, and the politics of endless rage.”
Wow, take that you frogs. Look to the calm, intelligent debate of U.S. Republican primaries for guidance, and remember that whatever foolish things you want, like jobs, medical care or a roof over your head, it’s the markets that have the last word.
Exit polls pointed to a solid victory for Hollande in the second round. The standard description of Marine Le Pen as “the far right” could suggest that her voters would turn to the right wing candidate, Sarkozy, in the runoff. But this is far from the case. The social and foreign policy positions of Marine Le Pen have won over a number of voters disenchanted with the left. Her voters may split fifty-fifty in the second round. She herself clearly looks forward to the defeat of Sarkozy in order to become the undisputed leader of a recomposed right-wing opposition, which could make life difficult for the future President Hollande. Perhaps the only thing that could save Sarkozy would be massive abstention, but that does not look likely.
Actually, the timing of this election is favorable to a fairly limp, ill-defined candidate like Hollande, because the future is as unclear as he is. The Greek disaster, the financial woes of Portugal, Spain and Italy are ominous for France, and the French are worried. But most French people are still too well off to be seriously alarmed. The critics like Vinocur or The Economist seem to think that a French candidate for president should run on a campaign of telling people that they should happily prepare to give up all the comforts they enjoy, because that is what the financial markets demand. If things are as bad as these champions of financial globalization are predicting, then this first round may provide better hints to the French future than the final round of the Hollande-Sarkozy election in two weeks time.
DIANA JOHNSTONE is the author of Fools Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Marine Le Pen scores stunning result in French presidential election (guardian.co.uk)
Superbly ignored by the media until recently, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the new flavour of the day in the French presidential campaign. In truth, while trying to account for his dramatic rise in the polls – latest reports put him at 17% of the vote – most commentators could not help pour scorn on the Left Front candidate.
A survey of the main articles recently published in the British media provides a compelling case study of political prejudice and misunderstanding. Mélenchon is described as an “Anglo-Saxon basher with a whiny voice” (the Independent), a “populist” who’s “on the hard-left” (all newspapers) and a “bully and a narcissist, out to provoke” (BBC). More sympathetic commentaries compare him to George Galloway or depict him as a “far-left firebrand”, a “maverick” and the “pitbull of anti-capitalism”.
It is striking that the more favourable assessment of Mélenchon’s politics remains off the mark. Mélenchon is seen as a “lovable but old-fashioned leftwinger”. This fails to capture the essence of his political ambitions. Mélenchon’s rise has nothing to do with “1970s-style politics and nostalgia”, but is linked instead to his resolute take on the current capitalist crisis. He tells audiences that the austerity policies implemented across Europe are not only unfair but also counterproductive (even the Financial Times agrees). Mélenchon’s debating skills serve his cause, but he is also a lettered pedagogue: a dignified politician who has never participated in vulgar reality shows. What is more, Mélenchon is a French republican and a socialist, not a “far-left” or a fringe politician. He spent 30 years in the Socialist party unsuccessfully arguing that it should be a force at the service of ordinary workers, and he was a cabinet minister in Lionel Jospin’s government.
Oratory is politically useless if one does not have an important message to deliver. Mélenchon has one: neoliberalism has failed, so it would be suicidal to persist with its inadequate policies. The French MEP also had a credible programme. In didactically crafted speeches or in media interviews, he radically departs from mainstream politicians by explaining that the economic crisis is systemic, that is to say that it is due to our flawed political choices and priorities. Our societies have never been as productive and wealthy as today, but the majority of the population are getting poorer despite working harder and harder. The problem is not a question of wealth production (as neoliberals and Blairite social democrats would have us believe), but of redistribution of wealth.
In France raging pundits and opponents call the Left Front programme an “economic nightmare” or a “delirious fantasy”. Shouldn’t they instead use this terminology to describe the banking debacle or austerity policies across Europe? Mélenchon’s growing number of supporters view it as common sense and salutary: a 100% tax on earnings over £300,000; full pensions for all from the age of 60; reduction of work hours; a 20% increase in the minimum wage; and the European Central Bank should lend to European governments at 1%, as it does for the banks. Here are a few realistic measures to support impoverished populations. Is this a revolution? No, it is radical reformism; an attempt to stop the most unbearable forms of economic domination and deprivation in our societies. Fat cat bosses may leave France; they will be replaced by younger and more competent ones who will work for a fraction of their wages.
“Humans First!” is more than a manifesto title, it is a democratic imperative: a sixth republic in place of the current republican monarchy; the nationalisation of energy companies (as energy sources are public goods) and, less often noticed, the ecological planning of the economy, the core of Mélenchon’s political project.
Mélenchon has done French democracy a further favour. In a memorable TV debate, he emphatically defeated the extreme right for the first time in 30 years. Concentrating on policy details, Mélenchon demonstrated that Marine Le Pen’s programme was regressive for women. Furthermore, he smashed to pieces the myth of the Front National as a party that has the working class’s best interests at heart. Le Pen appeared lost for words and ill at ease.
Mélenchon’s campaign politicises the young. He appeals to the working class, which, contrary to some claims, has largely shunned Le Pen and which has been abstaining from the vote. For the first time in decades, Mélenchon is helping the left to reconnect with the popular classes. For Mélenchon, free market politics does not work and inflicts unnecessary suffering on the people. No other European politician is better placed than he is to convincingly argue that point.
Philippe Marlière is a Professor of French and European politics at University College London (UK). He can be reached at: email@example.com
- Thousands Rally in France Behind Call for ‘Civic Insurrection’ (commondreams.org)