France’s strategy for the Middle East lacks direction and clarity

Middle East

Over the last three years, French President Emmanuel Macron has been an active participant in the Middle East. Under his leadership, France regularly leads European Union discussions on regional policies. This is not new for France; the French have often taken an interest in their former dominions. The current French strategy lacks direction and clarity, repeatedly pushing for objectives that baffle experts. Macron’s track record in the region reflects poorly on France and undermines its international standing. Following the Beirut Port explosion, Macron immediately arrived in Lebanon to see the damage for himself and meet with the government. Macron was met with mobs of people begging for him to liberate Lebanon from Hezbollah. Hezbollah, an internationally recognized terrorist organization – funded by Iran – is defended by France on the world stage, which is why Macron largely ignored these pleas for freedom. The lengths to which France is willing to go for Hezbollah do not add up. Macron’s administration notes that Hezbollah’s military is a separate group from the political party, a claim Hezbollah itself does not make. Macron goes to bat for Hezbollah consistently. Macron told US President Donald Trump that sanctions against Hezbollah are counterproductive, believing economic action only pushes them closer to Iran. France has led the fight against the EU taking action against Hezbollah, even though Hezbollah was caught stockpiling ammonium nitrate in Europe. Ammonium nitrate is the same chemical that reportedly created the explosion at the Beirut port. Many have claimed the port is under Hezbollah’s control; Hezbollah denies owning any property at the port. France, over the last few months, has attempted to bail Lebanon out of its financial crisis. Several French representatives have met with the Lebanese government, but the talks have gone nowhere as Lebanon refuses to take on anti-corruption reforms. Resistance to reforms has led to multiple cabinet ministers resigning out of frustration. Lebanon, which is estimated to hold more than $90 billion in debt, defaulted on their foreign debts earlier this year, and has seen a collapse of their currency with hyperinflation reaching 600%. With no answer to the financial crisis or the explosion that has left over three hundred thousand homeless, prime minister Hassan Diab has vacated his office and dissolved his cabinet. This will leave a massive power vacuum in Lebanon’s government. Hezbollah is positioned to take a more significant role in the governance of the country. The international community must resist the legitimization of Hezbollah as a “political party” and refuse to recognize them if they seize control. While most nations will not send money to Lebanon without the removal of Hezbollah, that has not stopped Macron from asking the US to invest in Lebanon directly. France rejects the notion that we must find a way to save the people but not the government. It is impossible to believe that Hezbollah does not control Lebanon, as the Hezbollah MPs chose the now-ousted prime minister. Macron’s actions only embolden the terrorist group, treating them as legitimate partners in the global community rather than the thugs they genuinely are. To make matters worse, France has pushed to place sanctions on Israel. Israel is a leader in the global fight against terrorism and the only democracy in the Middle East. Macron would sanction Israel instead of Hezbollah, who threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. If France wants a regional partner, they picked the wrong horse. If France wants a puppet state, they greatly underestimate Hezbollah’s grip on power. Hezbollah is not going to become a moderate ally because France provided financial assistance. Macron is playing with fire and will get burned. Macron’s ambitions span beyond Lebanon; he has taken a side in Libya’s civil war. During the 2011 Libyan revolution, France aided in the overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Nine years later, France supports Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army against the UN-recognized government. Haftar seeks to unify Libya under the same mold Gaddafi once occupied. France claims they are in Libya to suppress the terrorist cells that call southern Libya home. This position is too simplistic to justify their support of the LNA; either side would offer to fight terrorists for French backing. For reasons unknown, Macron made a bet on Haftar to win the civil war. France and Russia are the only two permanent UN Security Council members directly opposing the UN-recognized Libyan government. France has a long and complicated history in the Middle East. Unfortunately, Macron’s administration has only muddied the waters more on where France stands. France is taking high-stakes gambles with low-ceiling returns, moves that run counter to French allies. If Macron is not careful, he threatens an already fragile region with even more unneeded international interference. The writer is the western regional vice chair for the College Republican National Committee.

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