An out of control cannon

Image: Pascal Küffer


Emmanuel Macron discredits France by making mistake after mistake in foreign policy

A interception by France of Iranian missiles over Jordan earlier this month is Emmanuel Macron's latest mistake, which further discredits his country regarding foreign policy. In 2018, French leader claimed credit for preventing Lebanon from descending into civil war the previous year, after his diplomatic intervention helped resolve the crisis that arose from the scandalous resignation of former prime minister Rafik Hariri while in Saudi Arabia. It was around this time, at the end of 2017, that Emmanuel Macron also started talking about the creation of a European army.

These moves caused many to think that France was trying to revive its traditions of independent foreign policy, the perception of which was reinforced by Emmanuel Macron when telling the The Economist,, at the end of 2019, that NATO had become brain dead. Two years later, the United States took revenge on France by extracting from it a multibillion-dollar nuclear submarine deal with Australia to create AUKUS. The divergent foreign policy views between these two countries over the five years from 2017 to 2021 have clearly become a trend.

However, this began to change after the proxy war between NATO and Russia in Ukraine began half a year later, in early 2022, as France immediately jumped on the American bandwagon, sanctioning Russia and arming Ukraine. This was Emmanuel Macron's first major foreign policy mistake, as it discredited the perception, which he strove to build from 2017 onwards, that France was reviving its independent foreign policy traditions under his leadership.

Throughout this time, the Achilles' heel of this approach remained Africa, where France continued to dominate its former imperial subjects through a crude form of neocolonialism that slowed their socioeconomic development. There was not much dynamism on that front until 2022-2023, after the respective patriotic military coups in Burkina Faso and Niger combined to free the Sahel of France's “sphere of influence”, before which Emmanuel Macron could have reformed such a policy to preventively prevent this from occurring.

Therein lies the second of his major foreign policy mistakes, for by failing to treat these countries with the respect they deserve, especially by failing to offer emergency aid to help them manage the internal crises provoked by the West's anti-Russian sanctions, ended up meaning the end of “Françafrique”. Instead, France could have enacted a truly independent foreign policy to maintain its historical influence under current conditions, which would have allowed it compete with Russia.

The panic that France's withdrawal from the Sahel provoked in Paris led Emmanuel Macron to compensate by trying to create a “sphere of influence” in the South Caucasus centered on Armenia. To this end, his country joined the US in trying to remove Armenia from the CSTO, exploiting false perceptions of Russia's unreliability. This information warfare narrative has been aggressively promoted within Armenian society by ultranationalist diaspora lobby headquartered in France (Paris) and the USA (California).

Although this was successful in the sense that Armenia froze its participation in OTSC e turned decisively to the West, from those who now seek “guarantees of security”, was arguably a Pyrrhic victory for France because it ruined relations with Turkey. Considering that this country wields immense influence throughout the Islamic world, France's pro-Armenia policy can therefore be considered Emmanuel Macron's third major foreign policy mistake, as it has negatively affected the way Muslims view France.

The fourth concerns his threat, at the end of February, to carry out a conventional military intervention in Ukraine, which he specified could occur around Kiev and/or Odessa, if Russia achieve a breakthrough on the front lines sometime later this year. The reason this can be considered a major foreign policy mistake is because it immediately exposed the deep divisions within NATO over this scenario, after many leaders condemned his reckless assertion that this “cannot be ruled out.”

Evidently he thought that presenting France as extremely aggressive towards Russia would appeal to the Western elite and their society, but exactly the opposite ended up happening after they reacted with horror. Far from looking like a leader, France looked like a runaway cannon that was at risk of triggering World War III through miscalculation, with some worried that Emmanuel Macron's infamous ego was finally becoming a danger to everyone. These renewed perceptions understandably discredited France in the eyes of its allies.

And finally, the fifth and final big foreign policy mistake so far was when Emmanuel Macron ordered his pilots in Jordan to intercept some of the missiles that Iran launched against Israel as retaliation for bombing of its consulate in Damascus. In doing so, he dealt a mortal blow to the soft power of France in the Islamic world, which he had worked so hard to improve following his diplomatic intervention in Lebanon in late 2017. By openly siding with Israel, Emmanuel Macron also risks provoking the ire of French Muslims.

This demographic is easily mobilized and has a record of disrupting society with the large-scale protests that its community leaders have organized under various pretexts over the years. They are also an important bloc of voters, i.e. those who are citizens, who could greatly impede their ability to nominate a successor when their second term expires in 2027. French Muslims may vote for other candidates and therefore reduce the chances of Emmanuel Macron's preferred candidate reaching the second round.

Emmanuel Macron's spate of major foreign policy mistakes may not just be due to him personally, but can also be attributed, at least partially, to systemic factors. The Valdai Club published its study “Crafting National Interests:How Diplomatic Training Impacts Sovereignty,” last month, which argues that reforms implemented under his administration risk diminishing the role of national diplomatic traditions. In practical terms, national employees are turning into global employees or, essentially, US puppets.

After all, although Emmanuel Macron has the final say on foreign policy, he is also advised by diplomatic experts on the best possible approach to promoting French interests in a given situation. Instead of conceptualizing these interests as national, as they did at the beginning of their presidency, during the Lebanese crisis of 2017, before their reforms at the beginning of 2022, the year in which everything started to go wrong, they began to conceptualize them as inseparable from interests of the Collective West. This amounted to a cession of sovereignty.

The net effect was that France enthusiastically joined NATO's proxy war against Russia, lost its “sphere of influence” in the Sahel, ruined relations with Turkey (which were already weakened due to Emmanuel Macron's previous controversies) by siding with Armenia, he lost the trust of his NATO allies by revealing details about his secret debates on conventional intervention in Ukraine, and he discredited himself before all Muslims by openly siding with Israel against Iran by shooting down the missiles it the latter was launching, as they passed over Jordan.

At this rate, there is no longer any credible chance of France reviving its independent foreign policy traditions after the five major foreign policy mistakes that Emmanuel Macron has made in the last two years alone. He has done so much damage to his country's reputation that it is impossible to repair it while he is in power. Worse still, he is stirring a hornet's nest at home, risking further unrest from Muslims over his unconditional pro-Israeli policies, which bodes ill for France's future in the years to come.

*Andrew Korybko holds a master's degree in International Relations from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Book author Hybrid Wars: From Color Revolutions to Coups (popular expression). []

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

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