The streets are festooned with banners of red, white, and blue. You might think it is for a distinguished American visitor but let’s not get “Kerry-d” away. At this point there is no policy-making politician from the United States whose popularity would generate such positive feeling. The good feelings are because Hollande is in Jerusalem. No, I do not mean the Dutch, I mean Francois Hollande, the President of France. France shares the same red, white, and blue as Old Glory, but of late that is where the similarities end. The role reversal has been stunning.
America has not enforced its stated political red lines. By permitting Assad and his Syrian government to use chemical weapons and permitting Iran to achieve imminent nuclear capability, the United States has shown its only red lines to be on the stars and stripes, and these are fading.
France in the past year has shown a military musculature that has been unprecedented in its recent history. Earlier this year, France ended a five-month military counter-insurgency offensive that crushed al-Qaida fighters in Mali, a former colony, thereby stabilizing the immediate region. Following the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against its own civilians last August 21, France was prepared to join a coalition of neighbors in punishing the Syria of Bashar Assad, but its partners fell away due to a lack of will dressed up as democratic process. Prime Minister Cameron of England spoke forcefully about making Syria pay for its using chemical weapons, but the roar of the British lion became a meow as a clear majority in Parliament voted that England should not join the fray at that time. Both United States President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry rattled the sabers of the American eagle, which then morphed into a chicken or dove depending on your perspective. France stood alone, deserted by its allies of the last century.
Most recently during the P5+1 countries Geneva negotiations on Iranian nuclear status, as the P5+1 countries were prepared to permit Iran to approach its goal of attaining nuclear power, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius became the French Resistance and famously declared, “One wants a deal … but not a sucker’s deal,” turning the P5+1 into the “P5-1,” with France as the odd man out.
Foreign Minister Fabius’s reasons for breaking ranks and opposing the deal were, according to Middle East experts, France’s desire to halt nuclear proliferation, a genuine concern for the security of regional states, specifically Israel, and to protect its financial interests in Saudi Arabia with whom it has, according to the leading French daily newspaper Le Figaro, billions of dollars in military contracts.
France is securing its position in the region at a time when many there perceive the United States to be an unreliable ally. France is reasserting its role as a true world power. Ascending to the level of a real world power comes with responsibilities and realizations such as a self-perception of exceptionalism, a recognition of a unique purpose and mission on the world stage. Until this administration, the United States understood its role as the world’s sole superpower and a Pax Americana existed. America today shrinks from this mantle and it is up for grabs. Russia is all too happy to grab it, but this would not be in the best interests of the West.
Hard to imagine, and even harder to digest, France, because of its unique position as a bridge between the West and the Arab world, may be the West’s best hope to prevent Russia from reasserting itself as an unchallenged superpower. If so, it would be a stunning and meteoric return to the world stage for France, a former colonial giant, of late reduced to the periphery of power.
France-Israel-Saudi Arabia form a curious yet compelling triangle. Each has recently been abandoned by and had its national interests trampled by the United States: France was left standing on the battlements waiting to attack Syria; Israel was turned aside for the Palestinians and was verbally abused by Secretary of State Kerry on his recent visit; Saudi Arabia has witnessed America standing by passively as the Arab Spring destabilized the region, specifically its Sunni ally, Egypt. The three nations shared anxiety that Iran’s achieving nuclear capability would be formalized with an agreement in Geneva. This has put them all at odds with the United States which seems obsessed with achieving an agreement with Iran.
By France strengthening its ties with both Israel and Saudi Arabia, all three countries will demonstrate definitively to the United States, the formerly reliable patron and defender of Israel, and to the Saudis, that support can and will come from other sources. The United States will receive well-deserved comeuppance for its duplicity from its greatest regional allies: Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Rumors are swirling that Israel and Saudi Arabia are secretly working together on plans for a possible attack against Iran in case the Geneva talks fail to stop Iran’s nuclear program. According to a diplomatic source quoted by Britain’s daily, The Times, the Saudis are furious with the United States and stand committed against Iran achieving nuclear capability. Saudi Arabia is willing to give Israel all the help it needs and has agreed to let Israel use its air space, and assist an Israeli attack by cooperating on the use of drones, rescue helicopters and tanker planes. There may be great substance to these rumors despite Saudi Arabia’s denying these claims. Saudi Arabia has no choice but to deny them publicly. France may be the one nation trusted enough by both countries to coordinate such an operation. Vive La France!
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children.