Syria, U.S.A, France: a football is a game of two halves

The two last weeks look like a geopolitical spiral to anybody following the situation about Syria. On one day France and the U.S.A were ready to get rid of the Syrian regime, to punish it. On the following day, the fleets were already sailing to the Middle East. War was imminent.

Then, Russia offered to open negotiations aiming at dismantling the Syrian chemical stockpiles. Tri-lateral negotiations took place from 12th to 14th September, reaching an agreement avoiding the bombing of the Syrian governmental facilities, command posts and units.

This high-speed diplomatic flurry seems quite blurring: the Syrian regime was to be punished, everybody was waiting for the shelling of Damascus by U.S warships and French aircraft, and all of a sudden, all those threats became apparently nothing but a damp squib.

An explanation seems to be necessary.

Let us then study the different topics one after the other.

First of all, any expeditionary war, any bombing of another country needs some legitimation. It may come through the United Nations Security Council, or at least, through a coalition of the willing, or even through a strong national support.
The main issue is that the UN Security Council was blocked up to now by Russia and its follower in the Syrian case, China.
Then, a coalition of the willing ? The current supports to the U.S.A are rather scarce: on 7th September, the European Union called for "a clear and strong response"..."to make clear that such crimes are unacceptable and that there can be no impunity". However, none of the EU Member States, but France, declared themselves ready for taking part actively in the attack. Even the United Kingdom left France alone, after the House of Commons had voted against a military operation against Syria.
Among the countries supporting the U.S.A and France in their plans, the U.S White House revealed that  Albania, Kosovo, Qatar, Saudi Arabia,... and even Somalia had decided to back their initiative. Almost none of them being part of the military operation.
I would even add that I wouldn't enjoy being supported by non-democratic regimes, while promoting democracry and freedom.

Perfectly aware of the staggering international support, both leading countries, France and the U.S.A needed some more support from their public opinions. On the other side of the pond, Mr Obama tried to draw the Congress on his side. But it revealed far from being easy. A rejection of war became even plausible.

On the French side, no vote by the parliament, but obviously the public opinion, although shocked by the pictures of the attack, is much more interested in the economic crisis which is shattering the fundaments of the French society, making clear to the French President that his country would not back him in a military expedition.

Both Presidents, Mr Obama and Hollande, being primarily pragmatic, needed then an exit strategy. This was the end of the first half.

Then Russia came with an initiative, the dismantling of the Syrian chemical stockpiles under the auspices of the UN. The second half of the football game could start, however, with a Russian domination, this administration leading the international agenda, France and the U.S.A being deceptive, giving to understand that their military pressure was the key factor for success.

Of course, it is not: their initial intent was to show their resolve in front of the international community, to get rid of Mr Assad's regime, to transfer the power over Syria to the Syrian National Council.
At the end of the game, Mr Assad is still ruling the country, Russia has clearly become the key player, and even more: the Syrian regime is building a new legitimacy, as Syria access to "the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction" is even welcomed by the UN Secretary General!

Is this a defeat for the French and U.S administrations ? It depends on the perspective you're looking to.
From a diplomatic point of view, they have conducted a hasty withdrawal, leaving the ground to Russia and their allies.

On the other side, a withdrawal is always better than a defeat. Being abandoned by their public opinion, backed by dubious allies, counting exclusively on their own resources, both allies would have born the burden on behalf of the international community: the costs, the risks. They were even uncertain that they would ever gain anything, even not some moral supremacy, the Syrian opposition being largely infiltrated by the islamists.

Therefore even if somewhat humiliating, the  U.S. and French withdrawal on the Syrian issue is much better, as they remain in the game, although the negotiations in Geneva have proved, may it please or not, that the only two left players are the U.S.A and Russia, all the other countries being the public, even if France is seating in a V.I.P lounge.

Here my former post on Syria:

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