France’s Case for Military Action in Syria

President François Hollande has embraced the idea of a military intervention, telling French ambassadors in Paris last Monday that he was “ready to punish” Assad

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Michel Euler / Reuters

French President François Hollande, right, and Ahmad Jarba, head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, walk in the lobby of the Élysée Palace before a meeting in Paris on Aug. 29, 2013

Correction appended: Sept. 2, 2013, 12:00 a.m. E.T.

What a difference a decade makes. When President Barack Obama cast about this week for a coalition to mount military strikes on Syria, he found — not Britain, the closest U.S. ally across the Atlantic, but France, whose hostility against the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 earned it vilification among millions of Americans, and launched the term freedom fries at fast-food outlets in the U.S.

Now it looks like “freedom crumpets” may replace those fries if the U.S. bombs Syria. The British Parliament on Thursday rejected military strikes as retaliation against President Bashar Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons. By contrast, President François Hollande has embraced the idea of a military intervention, telling French ambassadors in Paris last Monday that he was “ready to punish” Assad, and saying in an interview on Friday with the newspaper Le Monde that “the chemical massacre of Damascus cannot and must not remain unpunished.” Hollande said he envisaged “proportional and firm action.” No wonder U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called France “our oldest ally” in his speech in Washington on Friday.

But what exactly can that old ally do to help Obama’s mission?

As a Mediterranean power, France already has military ships in the region, and could provide backup to U.S. aircraft carriers. But unlike the U.S., France has no ship-based missiles; those won’t arrive until next year. So any action from France would come from the air, in the form of long-range Scalp missiles, similar to those the nation used in Kosovo in 1999 and in Libya in 2011. The biggest risk to French forces is Syria’s crack Russian-made air-defense systems, which could be capable of shooting down aircraft. “The Russians are very good for that,” retired general Jean Patrick Gaviard, who was the French air commander in Kosovo, told TIME on Saturday. “Both in Vietnam and Kosovo, it was very difficult for us.”

There are other hurdles too. Similar to the U.S. Congress, France has announced deep military cuts. While it might have dozens of Scalp missiles in stock, analysts say the high expense of replacing them makes precise targeting extremely important, to ensure that none is wasted. “Hollande and Obama suffer from the same thing: they come up with big ideas, but don’t come up with the budgets,” says Robbin Laird, a U.S. military consultant, speaking from Washington. “Where is the cash? Both are cutting their militaries precipitously.”

Then there is the problem of public opinion. An opinion poll released on Friday showed that 64% of French rejected any military action in Syria. More than one-third said they believed bombing strikes could hasten the installation of a new militant Islamic government in Damascus and inflame the entire Middle East. And 17% of people wanted more convincing proof that Assad had indeed used chemical weapons against civilians.

Still, Hollande might not care about such polls, especially if the Syria operation is limited to air strikes, as Obama insists. Unlike Britain’s David Cameron, the French President has the authority to send his military into battle without a parliamentary vote. While the French Parliament has scheduled an emergency meeting on Syria on Wednesday, Hollande is unlikely to seek its approval before joining a U.S.-led mission.

In fact, analysts believe Hollande cares less about public opinion on Syria than his own miserable ratings, which hover around 20%. Despite widespread opposition to bombing Syria, some believe it could nonetheless help Hollande, as it would present him as being in close alliance with Obama in a crucial international conflict. “This operation is far less interesting to France as a country, than it is to Hollande,” says Jean Guisnel, who blogs about military issues for the French newsmagazine Le Point. “Here is an unpopular President who is accused of being too soft, of promising things and not delivering,” he tells TIME. “And besides, it will cost him little. There are no troops on the ground.”

Indeed, while many Americans best remember France’s virulent opposition to the Iraq war, the country is in fact becoming a key military partner to the U.S. in various conflicts. Syria would be the third Muslim country in which French forces have intervened since 2011. President Nicolas Sarkozy led the push for a NATO campaign in Libya in 2011, where French fighter jets dropped the first bombs on Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. And in January, French troops stormed through the huge West African country of Mali and ousted al-Qaeda-linked groups that had seized control of half the country.

In both Libya and Mali, France relied heavily on the U.S. military for midair refueling and drone surveillance — capabilities in which the French military is lacking. But defense analysts saw the Mali war as a turning point, where French forces proved that they could lead a complex operation in a blistering, remote region. They have lost only seven soldiers, and won the war within a couple of months. The Mali operation, says Murielle Delaporte, a French military analyst, was “a curious mix of a fully Franco-French operation on the one hand, especially on the ground, and a new type of ad hoc international coalition, especially in the air.” Now once again, the West faces a potential military intervention waged by an ad hoc group of forces.

An earlier version of this article misstated the location of Mali. It is in West Africa, not North Africa.

47 comments
DianaRosalindTrimble
DianaRosalindTrimble

Actually that would be "freedom muffins" - you can't get crumpets in the US and if you could they wouldn't have the word "English" in front of them.  You can, however, get a food called "English muffins", which incidentally have never been sold in England. 

cdblnr
cdblnr

THem commies stick together.


bzxc
bzxc

I'm curiuos about why French people rejected the military action against allged use of chemical weapons.

If an exmple that use of chemical weapons isn't retalized is solidated, then devil nations such as n.k, Iran violate the

international treaty that banned the chemical weapons.

abbas_sman
abbas_sman

@TIME @TIMEWorld Back to French Fries.French were US allies in war of thei independce against Brittain so what's new.How time changes.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

The British press. telegraph.co.uk

August 31st, 2013

U.S. intelligence agencies involved in chemical attack in Syria

The situation in Syria is still in the focus of world media. Experts predict another U.S. aggression for “human rights”. Washington regularly declares its readiness to attack Syria. The official version – to punish al-Assad and Syrian army for the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population.

Meanwhile, the media has spread new proofs of the U.S. intelligence involvement to chemical attack near Damascus. Hacker got access to U.S. intelligence correspondence and published U.S. Army Col. ANTHONY J. MACDONALD’s mail. Macdonald is General Staff Director, Operations and Plans Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence the Army Staff. It’s about chemical attack in Syria.

In the message August 22 Eugene Furst congratulates Col. on successful operation and refers him to Wasington Post publication about chemical attack in Syria. From the Anthony’s wife dialog with her friend it’s clear the video with the children killed in the chemical attack near Damascus was staged by U.S. Intelligence.

http://saidalkhalaki.blog.com/files/2013/08/Mail-McD-1024x489.jpg

http://saidalkhalaki.blog.com/files/2013/08/Mail-Jen-1-1024x533.jpg

http://saidalkhalaki.blog.com/files/2013/08/Mail-Jen-2-1024x530.jpg

http://my.telegraph.co.uk/debatableopinion/debatableopinion/16/u-s-intelligence-agencies-involved-in-chemical-attack-in-syria/

arvay
arvay

France is one of the old colonial powers that made Syria the mess it is.  It needs to keep its nose out of areas where it has already caused so much suffering. 

Hollande, in addition to being a moron whose idea of educational reform is to do away with homework, is confusing the ability to smash a bunch of semi-organized fanatics in a desert with the challenge of Syria's modern armed forces, including an advanced air defense system. Plus -- attacking Assad means aiding al Qaeda.

French voters one hopes will soon remove this comical buffoon before he embarrasses France and contributes to a Mideast disaster. 

PeterApplTaylor
PeterApplTaylor

@TIME @TIMEWorld the US needs a Commanderin Chief prepared to act decisively to preserve international norms. History will absolve you Obama

databaseben.usa
databaseben.usa

pretty sure that there are syrians that have french blood in them, since it was once ruled / controlled by france.  so for france, the violation of the geneva convention by assad is somewhat personal

Yvonmoua
Yvonmoua

Je suis toujour la pour aider la France, vire la Republique, vivre la France, longue vie pour mon president Francois Hollande.

AnthonyDiaz
AnthonyDiaz

let s not be hasty. Why don't you let mussie soldiers from other islamic countries that is your allies do the fighting and not you france & allies

eetom
eetom

The French are shrew opportunists.  They don't have the capability to launch an attack on Syria alone.  But they like to taste the glory of fighting by the side of a super power.  But there is a deeper motive in their psychic--nostalgic attachment of the glorious bygones when they were rulers of Mali, Libya and of course of Syria.  They like to feel that in a way they are still responsible for the welfare of their former subjects.  This is some sort of self-delusion.  For the same reason Japan cannot allow Communist China to be united with Taiwan.  Japan occupied Taiwan once, remembered?  Japan has to accept the fact that Taiwan has escaped its grip.  The least it can do is to keep Taiwan as independent from Communist China as possible.

mrjoco69
mrjoco69

@TIME @TIMEWorld Another nation bathing in its former glory trying to polish it up. Sorry France you are no more a super power.

icedux
icedux

@TIME @TIMEWorld .. not surprising anyone who THINKS. Look what are they becoming... they must do something before french way of life ends.

sensi
sensi

"and launched the term “freedom fries” at fast-food outlets in the U.S."

Hmm nope, that was only at the US Congress canteen.

greg_dekooters
greg_dekooters

There are no good reasons articulated for unprovoked Franco-American aggression against Syria or its people.

paulejb
paulejb

All the world looks to France for leadership as Britain and the USA falter. What could go wrong?

donglaa
donglaa

@jenanmoussa the art of war generates money and pumps money into circulation~just nid to figure the how

suzisaul
suzisaul

“My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” said Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.


Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion. The father described the weapons as having a “tube-like structure” while others were like a “huge gas bottle.”

Abdel-Moneim said his son and the others died during the chemical weapons attack. That same day, the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al-Qaida, announced that it would similarly attack civilians in the Assad regime’s heartland of Latakia on Syria’s western coast, in purported retaliation.

“They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” complained a female fighter named ‘K.’ “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”

“When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,” she warned. She, like other Syrians, do not want to use their full names for fear of retribution.

A well-known rebel leader in Ghouta named ‘J’ agreed. “Jabhat al-Nusra militants do not cooperate with other rebels, except with fighting on the ground. They do not share secret information. They merely used some ordinary rebels to carry and operate this material,” he said.

don_koh
don_koh

@Sibir_Russia Yet another disinformation and deception piece in keeping with the trend.  The clear objective being to divert attention from ongoing brutal war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Assad regime -- spinning focus on perception of US's bullying Syrian Assad with threats of retaliatory/preventative strike.

don_koh
don_koh

@arvay  (cute wolf by the way)

But I'm sorry, the Kremlin has unfortunately caused more suffering indirectly in Syria than France, since March of 2011, in form of political, moral green-light and military-technical support to truly brutal Assad regime.  And sure, as you mentioned, Syria wouldn't be a modern nation-state today if not for France creating the mandate to establish Syria from post-WWI Ottoman Empire... 

Nevertheless, the age of colonialism was indeed an example of flawed/unjust human activity and were root cause themselves to definite tragedies in history (whether it was colonialism/imperialism dating back to ancient times, or through the 20th century).  In ancient Syrian times, yes, the area was scene to constant conquests, shifting-empires and competing kingdoms.  In modern Syria, independence in 1946 was greeted by an unfortunate Cold War and saw only more continuation of repeating of tumult and competing dominion. 

Regardless, the relentless 'war solution' at-any-cost policy must be ended and replaced with a 'cease-fire solution' and political process.  That should be the absolute and decisive goal and push today.  It must become the prevailing paradigm shift.

smackman150
smackman150

@databaseben.usa"so for france, the violation of the geneva convention by assad is somewhat personal"

And for the rest of the free world... where's the proof???

don_koh
don_koh

@eetom 

First of all, one must humbly recognize the Modern nation state of Syria in it's existence was created from Ottoman Empire by French mandate following WWI.  Beyond that luxury of having such nation state and being proud, yes, there have been centuries and literally millennia of competing reigns of colonialism, conquest, dynasties and kingdoms.  France had her fair share of dabbling during former times, yet so has Russian Fed, China, Japan, rest of Europe and US.  Although, we truly need to get beyond the hypocritical and arrogant ideological pissing matches and focus on the issue at hand in Syria..i.e. the need to pressure an end to the 'war solution' and replace it with a  push for Cease fire and political process/solution.  The major powers today owe Syria and Syrians that much.

eetom
eetom

@samudanjou @GillesKLEIN If you want to write to people who read English, please write in English.

Yvonmoua
Yvonmoua

@samudanjou @GillesKLEIN 

Aller la France aller.... aller la France aller... vivre la France merci!

arvay
arvay

@don_koh @arvay

 "And sure, as you mentioned, Syria wouldn't be a modern nation-state today if not for France creating the mandate to establish Syria from post-WWI Ottoman Empire... "

Incorrectly positioned. Syria would not be the mess it is, had not it been carved into existence by France, in order to have a weak, internally incoherent "nation-state" at its disposal. Its a measure of France's relative impotence that it can only "project force"now in places like Ivory Coast and Mali. Quel dommange.

The Soviet and now the Russian (much diminished, unfortunately) role has been largely to oppose American neocolonialism in the region. Crocodile tears for the "brutality" needed to weld this artificial state together. The colonial/neocolonial structures are now dissolving, and what will emerge? Maybe something -- a few decades hence and after much conflict -- that incorporate both Lebanon and what we call Syria today. No peaceful way to that outcome.

Cutting to the essential point -- the best thing for America and we Americans is to have the regional policy of the last sixty-plus years fail -- as it was always destined to fail -- a quickly as possible. Better for us, better for the region.

Bloodshed does sometimes produced positive results (see: the American Civil War)  -- and the deep opposition to any more military adventures that grows out of the Iraq and Afghan fiascoes is an example. The American public needs to be reminded that the administration's policy will aid the organization that flew those planes into the Twin Towers.

Given the actors involved, especially Saudi Arabia determined to push against Iran and back al Qaeda -- no "cease fire" solution is possible. Only the utter, devastating defeat of Saudi/al Qaeda/Qatar forces will work. 

arvay
arvay

@Don_Ko @arvay @don_koh 

France is a has-been colonialist power that has no business intervening anywhere. Who appointed France? Or us, for that matter? Bad history, bad motives.

I'm not so much pro-war as resigned to the fact that the messes will be sorted out with some conflict involved. Many Syrians had started to rebel against Assad, and I have no problem in that, or interest in intervening. But Saudi Arabia and Qatar introduced arms and the influence of al Qaeda.

You continue to saying the colonial song of how the colonial powers are responsible for this "state" as though the little occupants should be grateful for Big Massa's intervention. Maybe a contrast will help you.

Before WWI, Germany won the contract to build a railroad through Turkey, a major improvement. Germany dealt with Turkey as an equal, not a colonial occupier. That's very different from how vultures like France feasted on the pieces of the Ottoman Empire.

Hollande wants to act (under the eagle's wing, of course) under the same neocolonial spirit. Cowardly little rat.

There is no "world community" unfortunately -- the US has seen to that. "The willing" are its poodles and stalking horses, and happily that tattered alliance is falling apart. The Brits have just resigned, ironically -- declaring their Independence fro their former colony. 

"Greater Syria" would be a better outcome than a collection of mutually hostile and fighting little statelets. Not for people who want to see the region open to neocolonial intervention, but ultimately for the population there. But that's up to them. 



Don_Ko
Don_Ko

@arvay @don_koh

I still disagree with your apparent argument to 'push forward' with a pro- 'War solution' paradigm, as the path to a brighter future.  Although, in contrast, you almost sound upset and frustrated at France's intervention in Mali with goal to preempt severe violence, instability and radicalism?

Yet, again, refer to the historical to Syria's formation and creation as a state.  France, rightly or wrongly, is the main historical reason for Syria's existence as a country today.  Yes, from the dissolution of the post-WWI Ottoman Empire, France established Syria -- that's non-negotiable.


With respect to anyone's hope that 'there be no peaceful outcome' or no alternative to some inevitable 'Greater Syria' being created from the ashes?  Well, let's just hope that the greater influences (both Syrian people and external) and opportunities will prove you wrong and that more peaceful alternatives will exist, will overcome and will eventually prevail to preempt the catastrophic Syrian 'war solution at-any-cost' policy today.  

This must be the decisive diplomatic emphasis today by a world community of the willing; it's time to end the 'War solution' catastrophe in Syria (also threatening regional security).  It's time to start the 'Cease fire' solution and 'political' solution process.