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Syria: Sarkozy’s comeback?

Syria: Sarkozy’s comeback?

Source: AFP

He simply could not resist. The addiction of power won over his pledge; Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy made his return to political life by igniting a new controversy over the lack of action of French President François Hollande in Syria. In a joint statement with Abdulbaset Sieda, president of the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council and Syrian opposition leader, they “noted a total convergence in their views on the seriousness of the Syrian crisis as well as the need for rapid action by the international community to avoid massacres,” and “they agreed that there are great similarities with the Libyan crisis.”

Crisis in French Politics


Sarkozy’s words have created a mini political crisis in the circles of French politics. Members of the UMP, right-wing party, have used his call in order to criticize Mr. Hollande’s foreign policy and diplomatic approach to Syria as only “pretending” to act. As expressed by another UMP official, Philipe Juvin, in a statement, “Why is Francois Hollande…doing less than Sarkozy? Why has he decided not to intervene? Because of fear? Because of amateurism? Because he doesn’t know how to decide?” On the other side of the spectrum, the socialists, such as Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius or even a top French diplomat, Hubert Védrine, have argued that Libya and Syria are two different cases with very distinct military and geopolitical components.

Was Libya such an exemplary international mission?

Back in June 2011, former French President Sarkozy was able to bring the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to agree on the UNSC Resolution 1973 allowing the implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya. For strategic, military and financial reasons, NATO was used in order to implement the no-fly zone.

Even though Libya was freed from its long time ruling dictator Qaddafi, and has since then been working on its democratic transition, Libya has created a serious precedent in international affairs and interventions. The UNSCR 1973, which was only authorizing a no-fly zone, was instead used by Britain, France and the U.S. in order to push for a regime change. China and Russia felt at the time that the members of the Euro-Atlantic community were using a legal military intervention in order to advance their interests in this strategic region in transition. Since then, the U.N. Security Council has been stuck on important issues, especially on Syria. So yes, the Libyan mission was a personal victory for Mr. Sarkozy, but not a political one. For example, during the 2012 presidential race, Mr. Sarkozy did not use this ‘achievement’ in order to increase his chances of reelection. Furthermore, from a diplomatic standpoint, Libya has been a disaster; the U.N. has since then been blocked between China and Russia on one side, and the U.S., Britain and France on the other.

For his defense, Mr. Hollande was not elected on his foreign policy program. Many, myself included, were concerned about his lack of foreign policy and

Syria: Sarkozy’s comeback?

Credit: Marc Roussel.

diplomatic experience. In a recent interview with the French newspaper, Le Parisien, French high-profile philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, who has been axiomatic in Libya as an unofficial advisor to Sarkozy, has expressed his disappointment with Mr. Hollande approach to the Syrian case.

However, one factor could play in favor of Hollande. Ten days ago, France just received the presidency of the U.N. Security Council for the month of august. The presidency offers the possibility to advance very specific policies and agenda. Hopefully, France will use it in order to foster cooperation and trying to bring Moscow and Beijing closer to Western interests on finding a solution for the Syrian drama. It will be a very interesting presidency considering that French Ambassador to the U.N., Gérard Araud, is a well respected and savvy diplomat. One question remains: will the French presidency be enough to convince Moscow and Beijing of the necessity of action considering the gravity of the situation in Syria?

Sarkozy seeking for a new job?

It is hard to believe that the sole reason behind Sarkozy’s joint statement is to harm President Hollande’s declining reputation. In fact, this intervention by Sarkozy raises one question: is Sarkozy looking for a high level/visible international job? It has been claimed by French media that despite being outside politics — for only three months — Mr. Sarkozy has continued to be in close contact and meeting with international leaders. It has become common practice to see former heads of state or government, such as Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and others, to seek for an international role. Let’s reflect on the possible position for Sarkozy:

Syria: Sarkozy’s comeback?

Credit: AFP

Domestically, it would be very unlikely to see Sarkozy becoming a special representative to the current socialist government. The political tension between the two parties is at its paramount, and comparable to the toxic environment in Washington D.C. At the European level, the mandate of the High Representative, Catherine Ashton, expires in 2014, which is still far away in political terms. Furthermore, France has key advisors to the HR, such as Pierre Vimont, reigning at the top of the EEAS. So the chances for a French HR remain quite slim. Furthermore the mandate of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, has been extended in May 2012 for an additional two and half years. Putting aside the mandate, it would be surprising the see the heads of

states and governments appointing a person like Mr. Sarkozy at the head of the European Council as he would considerably undermine their relevance. Internationally, is Mr. Sarkozy seeking for Kofi Annan’s job as the special envoy of the U.N. and League of Arab States for Syria? This would be surprising as well considering Mr. Sarkozy’s clear position on the crisis as well as the fact that France holds a permanent seat at the Security Council. Thus, Mr. Kofi Annan summarized quite well his job as “mission impossible.” This would not be a favorable job for a comeback. However, Mr. Annan did leave several advises in a recent op-ed in the Financial Timeson how to solve the crisis.

This leaves only one job: could it be that Mr. Sarkozy seeks to become the first French Secretary General of NATO? France reintegrated NATO’s Military Command Structure in 2008 during his presidency. Sarkozy was not afraid to use NATO in Libya in order to advance French interests and influence in the region. Thus, Mr. Sarkozy has had no problem interacting with his British and American counterparts during his presidency. Mr. Rasmussen’s mandate is due to expire in 2013. This could be right on time for a push to the leadership of the organization.



Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.