High price, low benefit: Middle East and Africa as French image-making tools

Future Foreign Policy


Rebels in Central African Republic – hdtpcar via Wikimedia Commons


CAR, Mali, Syria, two years earlier — Libya; France became initiator of the military operation in Libya, actively providing ”Arab Spring” rebels with weapons and specialists, recognizing members of revolutionary committees as official representatives of Libya and Syria, sent troops to Mali to establish peace and security during a new period of civil war, and now — a new ”adventure” in CAR. France has definitely seems to like Middle East and Africa recent years, taking enormous efforts to be involved in everything that is goes on there…

Why is this happening? On the one hand, the answer to this question is quite obvious and simple. Middle East and Africa historically were France’s spheres of interest — former colonies and constant rivalry with the USA make it always ”keep an eye” on these regions. But since 2011 France not only ”keeps an eye” — it actively and agressively interferes. Moreover – France started fighting against regimes, which previously were considered by it to be if not ‘friendly’ at least ‘tolerable’ and for sure, beneficial. For example, it used to have perfect relations with Kaddafi (Nicolas Sarkozi, former president, was even suspected to get money from him for his election campaign) and not smooth, but quite fair — with Syria (as a former colony, Syria has very tight cultural ties with France), We could say it has been fed up with human rights violations and the rule of dictators, and thus decided to encourage noble fighters for freedom. But why are they then fighting against rebels in Mali and CAR, who actually do not very much differ from those in Syria and Libya? No, it is fairly safe to say that this is not the reason.

It is quite visible that extreme activeness in Middle East and Africa coincide with critical events in France’s presidents’ political life. Nicolas Sarkozy initiated the Lybian gamble on the eve of presidential elections, when he had not only dangerous and popular rivals — Marine Le Pen and Francois Hollande, but also quite a low credit of his name — several scandals — from the exportation of gypsies and tough anti-immigration policy and to famous case with the head of L’oreal Lilliane Bettencourt, from whom he was suspected to illegally get money for 2007 election campaign — brought Sarkozy to the status of the less popular French president.

Success in such a ”big affair”, such a problematic region as Middle East could have given him enormous political benefits. He could look as a noble defender of human rights in the world, and strong and decisive leader within his country, which of course would have contributed to his win.

Although while running for elections Francois Holland presented himself as a total alternative to Sarkozy, now he seems to not only experience the same image problems but follows the same foreign policy line. A number of objective and subjective factors — world financial crisis and quite dramatic economic recession in France, extremely unpopular and controversial reforms (such as 70% tax for reach people, legalized gay-marriages) and violated promises (unsolved immigration problem) made Hollande ”the most unpopular president № 2”. In such conditions a ”small victorious war” in order to save innocent people’s lives from dictator Assad or blood-thirsty” islamists in Mali or horrible social unrest in CAR could give a new life for the president’s ruined reputation.

What did this race for additional ”president’s image points” give to France? It gave a catastrophic migrational crisis. In 2011 the number of migrants coming to France tripled. This situation was about to cause troubles the entire European Union – as far as most countries remained ignorant to equally France’s request to share migrational burden, it had to temporarily close it’s borders, and some of memeber states followed it’s example. It actually meant collapse of two fundamental EU’s principles – solidarity and freedom of movement and took time to be overcome. Another ”benefit” from such policy — increase of a terrorist threat — of course, islamists will not forgive such a move against them and will try to revenge. And quite often we are reading about new cases of kidnapping or murdering French citizens. Moreover, it should bared in mind that 7 million of French citizens/inhabitants are muslims. Will it’s Middle East policy cause atmosphere of inter-racial hatred within the country? Probably, it will. And finally — economic costs caused by expenses on military operations, which are becoming quite noticeable for the budget in the situation of protracted crises.

France’s policy has always been quite personalized. Each president built the country’s domestic and foreign strategy very much according to his own character, preferences, ideas, prejudices. Sometimes it gave extremely good results — who will dare to argue Charles de Gaulle’s achievements, even though he was not the most easy-going person in life and international relations? And even though he could afford extravagant political moves (as famous ”empty chair crisis”), but they were always dictated by a personal president’s image and perception of France. But two last leaders’ — Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Holland seem rather to be guided not the vision of their motherland’s image, but their own. Trying to use Middle Eastern and African unstable situation they are trying to ”treat’ damaged reputation. But the remedy they chose is turning out too bitter. And it’s a high risk for it to become a poison.


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