The already-complex geopolitical situation in the Middle East has been further complicated by U.S. President Donald Trump, who last month said that his country would be out of Syria "very soon." According to media reports, Trump proceeded to ask Saudi Arabia for $4 billion in an attempt to hasten a U.S. exit. At the same time, France appears to have tasked itself to fill the void U.S. troops would leave behind. Speaking to local media last week, a member of the PKK terrorist organization's Syrian affiliate People's Protection Units (YPG) confirmed that there had been an uptick in the number of French troops in the area. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron received a delegation from the YPG in Paris and reportedly told them that he would like to mediate talks between Ankara and the YPG, which received a strong retort from Ankara.
The timeline for Washington's departure from Syria remains unclear. Trump's plans for withdrawal face resistance from the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) officials who seem unwilling to openly challenge the White House out of fear that they could be next to get fired over Twitter. The U.S. military's immediate withdrawal from Syria is not a popular idea in Turkey either. Although Turkish-U.S. relations have been strained in recent years and Ankara faces criticism for drifting away from NATO, Turkish officials would like to work with the Trump administration to clean up the mess left behind by former President Barack Obama. If Trump thinks he can just leave France and Saudi Arabia in charge, we as Daily Sabah, say, he should think again.
Saudi Arabia and France are motivated by two separate factors. Riyadh wants to stay in Trump's good graces to ensure continued U.S. support to the emerging anti-Iran bloc, which includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Israel and Egypt.
The French president, in turn, seems to be under the influence of his country's colonial past by seizing this opportunity to reclaim control of Syria and other parts of the Middle East. Similar steps have been taken by the French military in Africa – namely Mali and the Central African Republic. While Macron's efforts to join the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran in resolving the Syrian crisis are admirable, his inconsistent actions harm his objectives.
The obvious problem with Macron's approach is that French imperialism created Syria's modern problems. Under French supervision, quiet parts of the Ottoman Empire became some of the world's most explosive conflict zones. Minority rule, in particular, which remains intact today in the form of Bashar Assad's tyrannical regime, caused grievances that ultimately gave rise to Daesh terrorism.
Macron is not the next Charles de Gaulle, even though he desperately wants to be. Instead of trying to be a charismatic leader, he should be a team player and listen to France's diplomatic and military establishment, which is clearly opposed to an ill-fated military adventure in Syria. Instead of walking down the same path again, France must leave aside its neocolonial dreams and avoid the potential political and financial costs of deeper involvement in a conflict zone.
It is no secret that Turkey's military intervention in northern Syria has upset some powers. Likewise, the country's active involvement in the Astana process, which is shaping the future of Syria, has been frowned upon by Western politicians and commentators. Instead of complaining and whining, however, they should wake up to the fact that Turkey, a NATO ally, is the West's only ally with actual influence over the Syrian crisis, and protect their interests along with Ankara.
Neither France nor the United States can protect their interests by going down with the Syrian branch of a designated terrorist organization, the PKK/PYD, whose shelf life ended the day Turkish troops set foot in northern Syria. Instead of further alienating the Turkish leadership, Washington and Paris should cooperate with Ankara against terrorists and, in return, work through Ankara to influence the situation on the ground. The same kind of commitment should come from Germany, which must start acting like a sovereign country by stepping out of Washington's shadow, as it is not 1945 anymore.