Macron’s Syria Policy: Does France want to Play the Role of the US?

French President Emmanuel Macron took his stance in the White House-Pentagon conflict, praising James Mattis, who resigned from his position as U.S. defense secretary. Just like Mattis, Macron believed that the U.S. should have remained in Syria to support the PKK and YPG, otherwise the regime forces will fill the power gap.

Macron s Syria Policy Does France want to Play the
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes U.S. President Donald Trump prior to their meeting at the Elysee Presidential Palace on November 10, 2018 in Paris, France. Getty Images

Has Daesh, which fell into decline in Syria, lent a hand to Macron while he was escaping from the Yellow Vests? The harshest criticism on Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria came from France. Addressing reporters in N’Djamena, the capital of the old French colony Chad, President Emmanuel Macron stated that he deeply regrets Trump’s decision. Despite the fact that Macron witnessed many disappointments, especially after the meetings marking the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, he was still known as the leading European leader believing in Trump.

French President Macron didn’t explicitly state it, he was as stressful as CENTCOM Commander General Joseph Votel, who said that he felt like he was punched in the gut when he heard the news concerning the U.S.

Although the French President didn’t explicitly state it, he was as stressful as CENTCOM Commander General Joseph Votel, who said that he felt like he was punched in the gut when he heard the news concerning the U.S. withdrawal from Syria. In addition to expressing his regret, Macron gave some advice, stating that an ally should be reliable and consult other allies. He also took his stance in the White House-Pentagon conflict, praising James Mattis, who resigned from his position as U.S. defense secretary.

Just like Mattis, Macron believed that the U.S. should have remained in Syria to support the PKK and YPG, otherwise the regime forces will fill the power gap. Following Trump’s announcement, the French Minister for European Affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, stated that they will stay in Syria as a requirement of their engagement and send extra troops to the region. There are now discussions on whether Paris might provide support to the PKK and YPG.

One of the most notable analyses written on possible future steps that France will take was published by Le Monde with the title, “France, in the labyrinth of the Syrian Conflict.” “Of course, the YPG asks for both diplomatic and military support while Turkey announced in a determined tone that it will launch an operation in the East of the Euphrates. In the meantime, the Kurds and Syrian regime might have an agreement. But what could France do in this picture without the U.S.?” Nothing!

It is claimed that France needs the U.S. even for taking its injured military officers out of the country via helicopters. So, how can France fill the vacuum of power in Syria with the US withdrawal?

It is claimed that France needs the U.S. even for taking its injured military officers out of the country via helicopters. Quoting Marc Pierini, the former EU Ambassador to Damascus, who is currently working at Carnegie Europe, the following question is directed in an analysis: The complete dissolution of Daesh is France’s priority. But other than that target, what can France do in Syria? Or to put it otherwise, what does France wish to do in Syria in view of the fact that Iran, Turkey, and Syria, short-circuited, even the United Nations?

Of course, Rojava’s demand for support from France is not the result of a newly-established relationship. Relations between Kurds and the French date back to the period of Mitterrand. In April 1991, following the First Gulf War in Iraq and the Kurdish uprisings quelled by Sadam Hussein through bloodshed, France took the initiative for an establishment of an independent Kurdish region against the Baghdad administration under the guarantee of the West with the formation of Iraqi no-fly zones in reference to the UN Security Council Resolution 688. However, according to this analysis, this scenario is impossible for Syria since Erdogan is not Saddam and Turkey is not Iraq, but rather a NATO ally and an EU candidate.

Another factor limiting France’s space for maneuver in Syria is the fact that Russia, which leads in supporting the U.S. decision to withdraw, has direct or indirect relations with all parties in Syria. As the country cannot cooperate with Assad or the Iranian regime, Turkey stands as the only remaining partner for France. However, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stressed that the presence of French forces in Syria, which support the Kurdish militia, will not be favored by anyone.  

Will Macron’s France step into Syria to replace the U.S. in spite of all these dynamics? Of course not! When French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a delegation of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at the Elysee Palace on March 29 last year, Figaro published a report on its website titled “France to send troops to Syrian Kurdistan,” then edited it as “France might send troops to Syrian Kurdistan.” Combining Trump’s withdrawal announcement and the YPG’s statements, it has been suggested that France will take the place of the U.S.

Le Monde’s editorial was published on its website first with the title “France, in the labyrinth of the Syrian conflict,” but then changed to “France is out of the play in the Syrian conflict” in the daily’s printed version. Why?

In the midst of these allegations, the Elysee Palace refuted the reports claiming that France would send reinforcement troops to Manbij and issued a statement highlighting that the purpose of France is to achieve stability in the secure zone located in northeastern Syria through an inclusive and balanced regime and political solution. The statement also underlined that France hopes for the establishment of dialogue between the SDF and Turkey with the help of the international community. This expression has been interpreted as an implication of the possibility of France coming up with a new governance model for the Syrian Kurds living nearby the Turkey-Syria border if Manbij is included in the area controlled by Turkey.

Months ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Macron suggested such opinions in a one-to-one meeting, adding that he spoke very oddly. Apparently, the French now agree with this comment made by Erdogan in March. Thus, Le Monde’s editorial was firstly published on its website with the title “France, in the labyrinth of the Syrian conflict,” but then was changed to “France is out of the play in the Syrian conflict” in the daily’s printed version.

Belkıs Kılıçkaya
Kılıçkaya worked as a journalist for Cumhuriyet and Milliyet newspapers. In 1992 she moved to Paris and completed her studies in International Relations. After returning to Turkey in 2009, Kılıçkaya started working for Habertürk. In 2016, she formed a three-part documentary on DAESH.