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French fig-leaf: Sarkozy wants Syria

Published time: November 25, 2011 07:21
Edited time: November 25, 2011 17:15

A picture taken on November 24, 2011 shows a torn Syrian flag fluttering on top of a building in the flashpoint city of Homs. (AFP Photo/Anwar Amro)

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France is pushing for humanitarian corridors to be opened in Syria to bring medicine and other vital supplies into the country. But there is criticism it could be a pretext for intervention, in an echo of the NATO bombing campaign in Libya.

Thanks to his country’s role in the military intervention in Libya, French President Nicolas Sarkozy bagged a string of “firsts” for his country:

France was first to call for a NATO-imposed no-fly zone over Libya, first to strike, and first to officially recognize the opposition as “Libya’s only legitimate government.”

With Libya now in the rearview mirror, Syria appears to be the next stop. France has once again become the first Western nation to suggest an international intervention on the ground in Syria with its calls for a "secured zone to protect civilians", and first to endorse the exiled opposition Syrian National Council.

Jean Bricmont, author of “Humanitarian Imperialism”, says that “France is a country where humanitarian intervention is very, very popular. And there is an agreement between most of the left and most of the right about that. Sarkozy has this ideology of intervention. It seems to me he’s even more aggressive than Obama would be, even though he doesn’t have the military strength to do it alone.”

And a dramatic rise in popularity at home is what Sarkozy needs if he intends to let the French decide his fate as president in the 2012 elections.

Alex Korbel, a political analyst with contrepoint.org, says Sarkozy’s popularity goes up every time he talks about the Syrian crisis.

“Now he’s really in a bad situation when it comes to the polls. He really needs to be seen as more pro-active than his opponents and he’s using the Syrian crisis as a way to be seen as that,” he said.

However, what the French government deemed a “success” is looking rather less promising for those living in post-Gaddafi Libya.

Violent clashes between rival militia groups have continued, adding to the already high death toll from the NATO-backed conflict.A new UN report says some 7,000 people are being held in Libyan detention centers controlled by militias, with no access to courts or a functioning judiciary.

And it is a scenario some warn could be repeated in Syria.

John Laughland from the Paris-based Institute for Democracy and Co-operation says that “Once those regimes are overthrown, a Pandora’s box is opened.

“While one is always happy to see the end of brutal dictatorships, my own view is that the ends to these regimes should come from the people themselves,” he said.

Critics of France’s latest move have raised the question of whether any foreign intervention in Syria would actually end the bloodshed. While other countries have been more cautious, it seems the French leadership is keen on putting its foot down and planting its flag ahead of everyone else.

And that French assertiveness is not being wholeheartedly welcomed by the Syrians themselves.

Dr. Pierre Guerlain, a lecturer in political science at Paris West University, told RT he believes it is possible to oppose the regime, while at the same time taking a stand against foreign intervention.

“A lot of opponents in Syria actually would not welcome an intervention by foreign forces – not even Turkish forces,” he said.

For all the gains France in general and Sarkozy in particular might reap from an intervention in Syria, even its most vocal advocates might now wonder if it is really worth it.

Ultimately, Dr Marcus Papadopoulos, an analyst from Britain's 'Politics First' online magazine, told RT that Frances increasingly aggressive posturing could be a means of compensating for past defeats.

"If you look at the second half of the 20th century, it was a humiliating time for France, they were kicked out of Indochina, they were occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, and they had to be liberated by foreign armies…I think this is an attempt by France to regain some prestige on the international arena."