Sunday, April 08, 2007

Chapter 7 (1/5): France Matters

It appears as if the decision to set-up the tribunal under “Chapter 7” is all but assured. To the beleaguered Lebanese, this may be an “easy out” for those who claim March 14th, who elected to go the UN and avoid a direct confrontation.

This may not be a wise decision on the long run, since a direct confrontation with Hezb is all but assured. A move to Chapter 7 will only ensure that the coming conflict be even more messy, shifting more decisions to foreign chancelleries.

In the context of the region, events in Lebanon and Syria will be affected by complex interactions among France, England, the United States, Israel, and Iran, where changes are brewing…

This is the first in a Five-Part Series, in which I will look at the effect of the vagaries of the electoral calendar and the interplay among those nations. I’m starting in France, where the elections are still too close to call; with 2 weeks to go before the elections, it is a 3 way race among the main candidates, with a fourth that

can still act as potential spoiler, or "promoter".

Nicolas Sarkozy

Polling at 30%, Sarkozy appears to be the clear leader in this race. But the raw numbers hide two weaknesses; Le Pen and the undecided.

It is possible that as much as 5% Sarkozy’s “declared” supporters may be closet “LePenistes”; some of the backers of the far right tend not to declare their preferences outright because of the stigma associated with it… In addition, with more than 40% of French who are still undecided, Sarkozy still has some convincing to do. Then again, the undecided may prove apathetic, and Sarkozy can still count on his party’s strong organization to mobilize the base and “get out the vote”.

Ségolène Royal

While Madame Royal has demonstrated the power of empty slogans and TV packaging, one should not underestimate the lady’s determination. She muscled her way in becoming the socialist party’s candidate, and she is proving to be more than a match to Sarkozy.

Her inexperience and many gaffes are not helping her, but with 22.5 % of the vote, she appears to be more than a match for Sarkozy

François Bayrou

A second surprise of this race has been Bayrou, often ridiculed as the eternal also-ran of French politics. With 19.5% of the vote, he comes close to both candidates.

He has benefited so far from Segoléne’s gaffes, and his stance may still encourage many undecided to support “anyone but Sarkozy” early on. Regardless of what the MSM may write about him, he's still very much in play.

Jean-Marie Le Pen

Le Pen has a stable support base, around 13% to 15%, but it can grow to 18% or 20% because of many “closet” supporters. The disgust he inspires among the majority of the French is not enough to have him elected as a president. However, in the French 2-round system, he can assure the election of whoever he opposes, if he reaches the second round.

No wonder any candidate would love to have him at the second round..

Style v/s Substance

The main question is; how does it all affect us? The short answer is; very little. Even a socialist president will not change the fundamentals; Their common interests are such that a new French president will become more accommodating to a new American president; with George Bush outta there, even a Presidente Ségolène will collaborate with the Americans. However, her inexperience, and the fact that she ran against her party, will make for a messy beginning.

A new shift towards Syria? Don't count on it; the Syrians appear durably discredited in Europe, and they're not helping their cause by failing to understand that Lebanon is not their exclusive backwater anymore... French troops in Iraq? Don’t be so surprised; the call of oil is louder than the cry of the Internationale

Photo Finish (Update: April 21st, 2007)

This weekend will decide the First Round of the closely contested election. Because Sarkozy’s lead remains slim, and because there are enough other minions (er... Candidates), LePen can still create an upset; he may not win a place to the second round, but he may steal just enough to create a Bayrou-Royal face-off.

This campaign created much opportunity for a few nice Photo-Ops. Enjoy the show:


ghassan karam said...

I don't see how Royal can make it in the second round without support from Le Pen voters which is very highly unlikely. That is why I think that Mr. Sarkozy is the next French president and he has already publicly stated that his administrations policy towards Syria will not change from the current one.

As for French troops in Iraq, I don't see that in the cards. I do not think that the Iraqi parliament will pass the Hydrocarbon law that the Bush administration is pushing. As a result the privatization of Iraqi oil will not happen.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Syria, I think you're underestimating the European Left's penchant for self-deception and tendency to view anyone opposed to the US as a hero.

Syria's isolation will continue only as long as Syria fails to fall into line with a stronger anti-US power that doesn't spend every third second trying to anger Europe.

In particular, Russia can and will protect Syria, just as it has been protecting Iran in a far more dangerous conflict.

Fortunately, I don't think Royal will win. If she does, it says that the French care far more about image than they care if their country is run by a competent person. Royal reminds me of Bush (shudder).

apokraphyte said...

Yes, what about Russia and China? I am also interested to know what evidence supports "all but assured." Perhaps you are right, but I would like to know why.

I also wonder if you are not perhaps underestimating Chirac's very personal interest in Lebanon and the fortunes of the Hariri family. If Sarkozy wins, as I think he will, he will follow a much closer Israeli line on matters levantine, meaning he would be up for any opportunity to embarass the Syrian regime, but uninterested in anything that might destabilize that regime.

One might want to rethink Pelosi's visit in this context, as Olmert also follows US electoral politics. It is not for nothing that he has fought off domestic calls for talks with Syria by letting it be known publicly that it is the Bush Administration that does not want such talks. Pelosi is an idiot, but Olmert may have been playing a delicate, albeit familiar double-game. Although he is currently following this line to fight back the ascendant Likudniks, he may well need talks with Syria to hold them off.

Lots of balls in the air, to be sure, but I wonder if, as always, the Lebanon one hits the ground first. M14 may be in big trouble if AIPAC and others start to back away from the "New Middle East," a prescription that Israelis never cared for to begin with.

If France loses some (some is enough) of its interest in the tribunal, China and Russia will be happy to bleed the Americans over the coming flurry of diplomacy. I cannot help but think that the Americans will give up Lebanon along the way.

That is why I think going Chapter 7 is a desparate and ill-timed move. What happens if the UNSC dithers, as I think it will. It seems to me that unless M14 has received guarantees of a US attack Iran in the coming months, this is all very ill-considered. But what do I know ...

Jeha said...


I am not so sure about the final result; the parameters are too numerous, and the interaction too complex... Still, I think we're for a few surprises over the next 2 years, after all the cosmetic political changes in the West. Hence the idea for a "series"...

Anon 03:47

Both you and Apokraphyte raise a valid question, but I discounted Russia and China because no drastic changes are projected there. In any case, it is important to bear in mind that Russia's "protecting" Syria or Iran is purely mercenary; at this stage of the game, it suits them to piss off the Americans and extract juicy contracts from Iran. It will not go further, and the Russians will never allow a Islamic country with a nuclear bomb so close to their border. Recall what happened in Kazakhstan, when the Kazakhs claimed the right to control the nuclear missiles located on silos on their own soil... The Chinese are in desperate need for oil, and declining Iranian production is insufficient to cover their needs.


I do not overestimate Chirac's sense of decency; when Hariri was assassinated, he commented that it was a "crime too many". That was not a good sign of support; it is stricking that, while the French were willing to disreguard many crimes (Delamarre, Hama... ), they were not willing to tolerate THIS crime. Chirac's personal relations with the Hariris notwithstanding, France is still the land of "Raison d'Etat", and there are many important interests at play. The Hariri assassination had more to do with issues of Syrian succession than Lebanese Freedom, a contest in which Bashar Assad was opposing other powerful interests. In the process of ensuring his succession, Bashar narrowed his political base, and lost much credibility... In politics as in chess, it is not advisable to have such a limited margin of maneuver, and Bashar had been stuck following this path, and has little other recourse... Sooner or later, events will catch up with him. I think this will come after the smoke clears in the West, but I am getting ahead of myself.

apokraphyte said...

Thanks for your response.

I do not discount Russia's "mercernary" interest in protecting Iran and Syria, nor China's almost unthinkable energy needs, but I think the picture is getting more complex by the day. I will explain more fully when I get the chance, but basically I would argue that the weaknesses in the US position in the region may encourage one or both to assume a more active role. Indeed, I would say the Iranians are betting on just this, just as I think the Russians and the Saudis are happy to keep the US-Iran standoff on a low simmer for as long as humanly possible.

fubar said...

PARIS (Reuters, Apr. 27) - The French dislike themselves even more than the Americans dislike them, according to an opinion poll published on Friday.

The survey of six nations, carried out for the International Herald Tribune daily and France 24 TV station, said 44 percent of French people thought badly of themselves against 38 percent of U.S. respondents who had a negative view of the French.