François Hollande holds Barack Obama’s coat while the American president discusses Syria with Vladimir Putin. The French president enthusiastically tries to jump into the conversation, but finally agrees to stay on the sidelines while the grown-ups get down to business.
Not quite what happened at the G20, of course. But that’s how the French satirical show Les Guignols de l’Info depicted last week's St Petersburg summit. That’s also how a growing number of my fellow countrymen perceive our nation’s involvement in the Syrian conflict. We’ve become America’s newest poodle. We’re filling Britain’s Iraq war shoes – a pair of pumps we’d rather not have to stand in.
On the last day of August, Hollande was convinced that a Franco-American strike on Damascus would be a matter of days – hours even. Admittedly, he was on a high from his success in Mali. It’s fair to think he must have hoped to gain popularity from his second war as well. Then there was that call from the White House. The US wouldn’t move without consulting Congress first. France would have to wait. And stay on the sidelines.
The Elysée Palace hadn’t seen that one coming. Just like it was “caught by surprise,” Le Monde reports, by Russia’s proposal to get the Syrian government to surrender its chemical arsenal. So what does a country do to get back in the diplomatic game? Putting a resolution in front of the UN was a fine move, to be fair. France’s proposal forces president Bashar al-Assad to stay true to his word – a vow to get rid of his poison gas – or face the consequences: in this case, the use of force.
“The UN resolution is a French initiative,” France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius stressed, as if to recover a semblance of independence.
But let’s not be fooled. Paris won’t be able to pull the trigger until it gets Washington’s OK. It doesn’t have the funds or the troops to do otherwise. Even a limited strike will be bigger, nastier and more expensive than Mali or Libya. France can only afford words, not actions, when it comes to the Syrian front.
Daphnée Denis is an associate producer at Monocle 24