Syria Crisis

Indecision In Syria: The West's Public Opinion Problem

A strange thing has happened on the way to the war in Syria: U.S. public opinion, like in Turkey, has lined up this time alongside Europe's perennial reflex against intervention.

London protest against war in Syria on Sept. 9, 2013
London protest against war in Syria on Sept. 9, 2013

PARIS — Upon his return from Vietnam, after serving there as a lieutenant, John Kerry delivered impassioned anti-war speeches to U.S. senators and excited crowds at peace rallies. That was 32 years ago. Today, John Kerry is President Obama's Secretary of State, and the most vocal advocate of a military intervention in Syria to punish the regime's use of chemical weapons.

But despite all of the eloquence and conviction that Kerry is capable of displaying, one central fact about the Syrian crisis cannot be concealed: American public opinion — in line this time with European sentiment — is largely hostile to the prospect of their country taking military action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. This turnaround of opinions, in comparison with previous allied interventions, is a key part of the Syrian equation and complicates matters for the few heads of states who are in favor of using military force.

The numbers are stunning. The research institute on transatlantic relations German Marshall Fund found that, in 11 surveyed countries (the U.S. and 10 European countries) there has been an across-the-board increase in the opposition to military intervention in Syria compared to 2012. The percentage of those opposed rose from 63% to 75% in Germany, 59% to 70% in Britain, 50% to 65% in France, 55% to 62% in the U.S. In Turkey, where the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan even called for an overthrow of the Syrian regime — which the American and EU authorities have carefully avoided doing — 72% of public opinion is against an intervention.

In France, as a survey published on Sept. 7 by Le Figaro showed, the opposition to a potential intervention has accelerated very rapidly these last few days: In August, 55% of the French population was in favor of international military intervention; now, only 36%.

What happened

This evolution of opinion is the exact opposite of what happened at the time of the interventions in Kosovo, Serbia, and at the beginning of the war in Afghanistan — when the coalitions’ action was clearly understood and publicly supported. The intervention in Bosnia took place in a context of “opinion diplomacy.” More recently, the French military engagements in Libya and Mali were backed by more than two-thirds of those surveyed in France.

What happened? There is, of course, a feeling of weariness in Western countries since 2001, as forces engaged in conflicts have fought with no clear vision of objectives, and without clarity of success. There is the nature of the Syrian rebels, their divisions, the presence of Jihadists among them, their methods and the video footage of their blunders. There is the dismay facing the evolution of what started in 2011 as an “Arab Spring.”

There is also, and most of all, the Iraqi fiasco, of which the political consequences, 10 years later, are exploding in the face of the American administration. David Cameron paid a high price in the House of Commons on Aug. 29 — François Hollande, too, even though France stayed out of the Iraqi adventure.

If they want to succeed, the political leaders in favor of military strikes will have to work twice as hard to convince not only other government representatives, but also their fellow citizens.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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