When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Geopolitics

Syria: Obama's Delay Could Spell Trouble For Tough-Talking France

French President Hollande has been in step with U.S. calls to strike Syria. Now with Obama's request for a Congressional vote, France is left flapping in the wind.

A French Rafale fighter jet
A French Rafale fighter jet
Yves-Michel Riols and Thomas Wieder

PARIS – U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to seek the green light of Congress before any intervention against Bashar al-Assad's regime could spell trouble for the French government.

Last week's ramping up of accusations — both by Paris and Washington — against the Syrian government's alleged use of chemical weapons seemed to indicate that strikes against military installations inside Syria were imminent.

And yet despite intense consultations between the two countries, Obama's announcement on Saturday caught Paris off-guard. It also risks leaving President François Hollande isolated in his willingness to quickly "punish" the Syrian regime, as he indicated in a Le Monde interview on Friday. This isolation is even more striking considering that France had become the White House's most important ally on Syria after the British House of Commons' surprise rejection of any UK involvement in a military action.

At the Élysée Palace, presidential aides are trying to minimize their embarrassment by underlining the fact that Obama informed Hollande of his decision to ask the Congress' approval during their phone conversation on Saturday. The 40-minute call took place just before Obama's speech.

One official close to the French president insisted that in this conversation — the second in two days between Obama and Hollande — "they both reaffirmed their growing determination to act, given the convincing elements of information they have about the existing production of chemical weapons in Syria." French officials also point out that Hollande told Obama that he had called Parliament for an extraordinary session on Wednesday to address the situation.

"Not backpedalling"

However, Foreign Ministry officials did not hide the fact that they were disconcerted by Obama's announcement. A source close to Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, "It's not necessarily what one could have expected, considering the vigor of John Kerry's speech," referring to the Secretary of State's scathing words on Friday to denounce the "crime against humanity" committed by the Syrian forces on Aug. 21.

The source added, "We understood then that the American decision to intervene had been taken."

Still, both the Presidency and the Foreign Ministry consider that the situation has not fundamentally changed. A diplomat pointed out: "Obama didn't say no, but rather explained that he needs the political legitimacy of the Congress to intervene. That's understandable given the state of public opinion in the U.S. and the scars left by 10 years of American commitment in the Middle East. If we must wait, we will. This is not backpedalling. The decision in principle to act together to punish the use of chemical weapons is not in question."

On the other hand, if the American Congress follows the path of Britain's House of Commons and rejects participating in a military intervention, France will have to completely re-examine its strategy. The Foreign Ministry source admitted that "going there alone would make no sense."

In other words, the climate has indeed changed over just a few days. After a notably tough speech made to French ambassadors on Aug. 27, the pro-intervention stance of Hollande and his aides now has given way to a certain skittishness about the fate of the international coalition that had been lining up against Bashar al-Assad's regime.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Along The "New Border" Of Ukraine, Annexation Has Just Doubled The Danger

Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of Ukrainian territories in a ceremony in the Kremlin. In a village just a few kilometers away from what is now the Ukraine-Russia "border" in Putin's eyes, life continues amid constant shelling and the fear of what comes next.

Ukrainian soldiers are stationed in the village of Inhulka, near Kherson.

Stefan Schocher

INHULKA — The trail leads over a gravel road, a rickety pontoon bridge past a checkpoint. Here in the remote village of Inhulka near Kherson in southern Ukraine, soldiers sit in front of the village shop. Inside, two women run back and forth behind the counter, making coffee, selling sausages, weighing tomatoes. "Natalochka, where are the cookies," calls a dark-haired lady across the room.

But Natalochka, her colleague, is about to lose her nerve. "What kind of life is that?" she says, finally reaching up to grab the cookies from the top of a shelf. What kind of life can it be, she asks, when something is constantly exploding next to you and you don't know if you'll wake up in the morning.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

Inhulka is the center of a rural community. 1,587 inhabitants, as the village chief says, one school, one kindergarten, one doctor, two stores. Since March, nothing here is as it used to be. That was when the Russian army came to the village.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ