French President Emanuel Macron made very clear in Davos that he intends for France to reclaim its positions at the Grande’s table and reaffirm itself a multipolar strategic partner. “France is back” were his exact words.
Unlike his predecessors – or so he enounces in his book: Revolution, President Macron has a vision; one he believes will allow France to act once more a defender of those values the Republic embodies at its core: Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. If the old republican adage made a few experts smile smiles of conceited cynicism over the years – mainly due to France’s secular-infused intolerance vis á vis religious minorities as well as an exacerbated sense of ethnocentric superiority in reaction to immigration, Macron believes France can be returned to its true self under the right political climate.
It is that very belief, this need to project influence within the boundaries of republican libertarianism which makes France an appealing partner indeed. Beyond its evident, and one must say pertinent position as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, France under the presidency of Emanuel Macron, offers the safety of rationalism, and measured pragmatism.
This vision of France, President Macron is promoting can be summarised in those lines he wrote in defence of the Republic back in 2015, when he had not yet reached the Elysées
“It is this mission that France has carried with it for so many centuries. That gives it its place, its rank. That same mission has fostered France’s historical and continued influence in the world. From the Renaissance through the Age of Enlightenment, by way of the American Revolution and up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and anti-totalitarianism, France has contributed to bringing light to the world so as to liberate it from the yoke of ignorance – from religions that would enslave it, and from the violence that negates the individual. There is in the spirit of the French people an aspiration for the universal that is both a constant protest against injustice and submission, and a deep desire to tell others of their conception of the world, here and now, and for the benefit of all.
The spirit of the Encyclopaedists, led by Diderot, is probably the quintessential expression of that delirious ambition, an ambition that represents us. Nothing could be further from what we are than for us to withdraw into ourselves.”
Beyond the patriotic idealism lies a deep understanding that if France is indeed to power a comeback, it will need to carefully position its industries in the Middle East by leveraging diplomacy and political advancement.
This is the paradox of the “complicated East” mentioned by General de Gaulle in his War Memoirs. For all its dangerous pitfalls and complexity, the region continues to hold strategic interests for France – to the extent one may argue that France’s future ability to project power is proportional to the new ‘markets’ Paris will open up. To better appreciate, and maybe anticipate France’s policies in the Middle East – especially in the Gulf region, one must reconcile with one brutal reality: France will always act according to what it perceives as its best interest.
Admitting to such a reality is in no mean intended as criticism – quite the contrary in fact as it would be foolish, and to some extent treacherous, for any one nation to pursue policies contradictory to its own self-interest. Now, it is where such self-interest lies that is key.
For decades France’s political elite – whether under Nicolas Sarkozy or Francois Hollande, has promoted, powered and architected its ambitions around not the development of the nation-state per se, but rather the advancement of a particular demographic: the infamous Society as the French call it, the elite.
This gave way to difficult alliances for the sake of what many in France have referred to as unfettered economic cynicism. Under the presidency of Francois Hollande for example, which was marked by a courting of Saudi Arabia, Paris politically and diplomatically aligned itself to those powers, which, if anything at least on paper, contradict its inner core values and traditions, without so much as a whisper of contention.
Emmanuel Macron seems to want to break with the era of these privileged or even exclusive partnerships. “The Macron doctrine consists of dialogue with all parties, to establish itself as a credible mediator in the Middle East, judge François-Aïssa Touazi, founder of the think tank CapMena and former Middle East adviser at the Quai d’Orsay noted in an interview is the most relevant approach. “
Macron wants to diversify his political portfolio so to speak to better leverage France’s interests and thus regain its position as a strategic power-broker where others, mainly the United States have lost much traction.
There lies an inherent opportunity.
As Martin Jay writes for RT: “Europe cannot afford another war in the Middle East, especially if such war is spearheaded by an authoritarian regime that wishes not to bear the consequences: socio-political and financial, of such military adventures.”
France is only to aware of the plethora of dangers further instability in the Middle East will lead to in terms of the integrity of its borders, its sovereignty, and national security. France’s interests, if not that of its war lobby, lie with peace, and the promotion of political stability.
Under Macron’s leadership, as far as one can discern of course, military magnates will play second fiddle to more pressing priorities – reconstruction being the one theme the French President seems most preoccupied with.
That is not to say that France will be the perfect partner, only that Paris is now more inclined to lend an ear to the region as a whole, as opposed to its former elitism.
But where does this leave Iraq?
Most likely, and on the premise that President Macron is indeed determined to challenge the current political status quo in the Middle East, an opportunity too great to ignore. If Iraq is to restore its battered economy and erase the many decades it lost to authoritarianism and wqr, Baghdad will need to craft itself new strategic alliances, anchored in common commercial interests and clever geo-politicking.
France sits a very interesting partner indeed at a juncture in its own history where it seeks to reinvent itself a leading global power. But France’s main appeal may yet lie in the manner it thinks itself institutionally.
France is a republican enterprise anchored in the idea that the French are the children of the state. This has allowed France to develop strong state institutions, and to some extent an administrative tradition which, when not bogged down by bureaucracy, has empowered change.
Under the Third Republic, the Popular Front pioneered reforms in the education sector to empower all citizens, and thus affirm civil liberties. The idea was to liberate the French from the clasp of ignorance and offer social change.
Liberation is a theme dear to France, dearer even to President Macron as he made it the underlying theme of his political manifesto.
For all its laggings and mistakes – which nation can claim to perfection? France’s state building tradition and the relationship the state has held towards its citizens – individuals with equal rights, could serve Iraq in very practical terms.
From a more political perspective France remains a popular protagonist on the international scene, thus allowing certain fluidity in movement, where others have existed according to very set binaries.