Friday, April 27, 2018

Trump's French Poodle

Have we reached an historic moment? Is the formulation of US policy in the Middle East now in the hands of Tel Aviv... and Paris? Has USrael has found, in Emmanuel Macron, its Tony Blair? Has Bush's poodle become Trump's French poodle? Has Dumb found his Dumber? Whatever's going on, the Trump-Macron bromance is truly weird.


"Just a month after another brief flirtation with the idea of withdrawing from Syria, President Trump once again said he wants US troops out of Syria, promising 'big decisions' very soon. His first talk of a pullout was scrapped days later. This time, he backtracked almost instantly. With French President Emmanuel Macron in tow, Trump told reporters that he and his allies are taking a long-term approach to Syria, and that this would involve leaving 'a strong and lasting footprint' within Syria. He said talk of the long-term issues in Syria was 'a very big part' of his discussions with Macron.

"The idea that Macron is driving Trump's decision-making was a big issue last week. Macron claimed credit for Trump agreeing to stay in Syria, but quickly reversed course, and insisted the two had always agreed on the issue." (Trump again backtracks on Syria pullout, vows 'strong and lasting footprint', Jason Ditz,, 24/4/18)

Just on the issue of dumbness, how dumb is Macron? By all accounts, tres. 

For example, it seems he's completely unaware of the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism: "Addressing Benjamin Netanyahu [last year]... who attended [an event in France to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Vel D'Hiv round-up, in which 13,152 French Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps by the then Vichy French government], the French leader said: 'We will never surrender to the messages of hate; we will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a reinvention of anti-Semitism." (Emmanuel Macron says anti-Zionism is a new type of anti-Semitism,, 17/7/17)

In addition to conflating the unconflatable and allowing Netanyahu to make cheap propaganda out of the Vel D'Hiv round-up, thus exploiting the suffering of its Jewish victims, France's appalling colonial record in Syria appears to give him no pause for thought whatever - assuming he's even aware of it that is. Now more than ever, it's worth reviewing the sorry story. The following extract comes from Jeremy Salt's vital book, The Unmaking of the Middle East: A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands, 2008:

"In 1919 [the Syrians] held a congress in Damascus and chose a king (the sharif [of Mecca's] son Faisal) without being fully aware of the extent to which their rights were being bargained away in London and Paris. In 1920 France partitioned Syria by establishing an enlarged Lebanon and giving it a constitutional arrangement that privileged Christians against Muslims. When negotiations with the Syrian government failed, it sent an army across the Lebanon mountains to bring Damascus to heel. The French forces met stubborn resistance all the way, punishing 'rebellious' villages by bombing them from the air or putting them to the torch. At the base of the anti-Lebanon mountains thousands of Syrian nationalists took up defensive positions around the pass at Khan Maysalun. The pitched battle that ensued dragged on for several hours; by the time the nationalists were routed, 150 were dead (including their commander Yusuf al 'Azma) and another 1,500 wounded. French losses were 42 dead and 152 wounded. Faisal fled before the French entered Damascus and began taking over public buildings.

"Over the years the French used the full range of colonial devices to control Syria. The strategic need to anchor the French presence at both ends of the Mediterranean meant not just consolidating a military presence on land and at sea but blocking the growth of religious and national sentiment. Accordingly, the French 'did not conceal their preference for Christians above Muslims and for the mountain minorities (Maronites, Alawites, Druzes and Turcomans) above the majority Sunni Arabs of the coast, desert and cities.' Separate states - effectively colonial protectorates - were established around Damascus and Aleppo; within the state of Aleppo, the coastal sanjak (subprovince) of Alexandretta (Iskanderun) was excluded and given its own autonomous administration before France completely debauched its 'sacred trust' responsibility under the mandate by handing the region over to Turkey in 1939 (the very region it had insisted in 1918 was part of la Syrie integrale); the coastal region of Latakia was given statehood, and in the south the Jabal Druze was given autonomy with its own governor and an elected council. These arrangements were modified over the years, but French interests always had to predominate. Each state or autonomous region functioned under the control of French delegues and departmental advisers; parliaments (in Lebanon as well as Syria) could be prorogued at the high commissioner's discretion and constitutions suspended indefinitely.

"From beginning to end the platform on which this colonial structure was built was force. More than six thousand French soldiers (most of them colonial troops from North or West Africa) had already died suppressing 'rebels' and 'brigands' since 1920 when Sultan al Atrash, angered at the arrest of Druze sheikhs, routed a French column in late July 1925 and besieged the occupied Druze town of Suwayda. When a second column sent to punish the sheikh for the destruction of the first was also scattered, a wave of uprisings spread across the whole of Syria with the speed of a grass fire. The 'great Arab revolt' had begun, and the French moved swiftly to crush it. In October an uprising in Hama led by Fawzi al Qawuqji - later to make his name fighting the British in Iraq and the Zionists in Palestine - was met with aerial bombardment of the market area and ground action by the hated Senegalese levies that left more than three hundred dead. Outside the town 'rebels' set fire to railway stations and pulled up the lines; in the south, eight villages and the town of Majd al Shams in the Golan were left in ruins after French attacks that left tens of thousands of people homeless; attacks on the Druze in one part of Syria led to Druze uprisings elsewhere, with the town of Hasbeyya (in Grand Liban) being recaptured only after an assault by more than three battalions of Algerian infantry backed by cavalry, tanks, field artillery, and air support.

"Inevitably, Damascus had to bear the brunt of French imperial anger. The main point of resistance was the orchard area on the outskirts of the city known as the Ghuta. Already by October 15 about a hundred 'brigands' had been killed in 'clearing operations.' Twenty-four of the bodies were carried into the city by French soldiers and put on public display in the central square, a touch of barbarity that only further inflamed public feeling. On October 17, Druze horsemen arrived at the Ghuta, and the nationalists began moving toward the center of Damascus, bypassing the barricades set up to keep them out. The next evening the French began bombarding the southern quarters of the town before turning their attention to the center the following morning, 'this time with high explosive shells striking in all quarters from the central bazaars down to the middle of the Maydan.' In two days, 1,416 people (including 336 women and children) were killed and much of the central city was ruined by tank and artillery fire and air attack. The Suq Midhat Pasha and the Suq al Hamidiyya markets near the Umayyad mosque were destroyed. Shop fronts were riddled with machine-gun fire. In the biblical 'street called straight' (running alongside the Umayyad mosque), whole buildings collapsed into piles of rubble. The palatial mansions of the urban notables were shattered. The French high commissioner (General Sarrail) had made part of the 'Azm Palace his quarters, and that was quickly besieged by 'rebels.' The general's rooms were pillaged and the selamlik (where official guests were received) was destroyed. 'Very serious damage' was done to the library, 'where valuable and irreplaceable prints and books dealing with Arabic art have either been absolutely destroyed or injured beyond repair.' Tapestries and carpets were looted both from the 'Azm Palace and the mosques of the Maydan quarter by persons unknown, but the nationalists accused French troops of taking them before setting the mosques on fire.

"There were no apologies from the French government, only outrage at the killing of French troops and the destruction of property by 'brigands.' A collective fine (of about P35 per person) was imposed on Damascus, and the city was subjected to a house-by-house search for weapons. In the country, villages 'where brigands are reported to have been harbored and victualled' were torched, yet the resistance continued. More than 200 Druze fighters were killed and more than 200 wounded in fighting with the French around Majd al Shams in April 1926. Suwayda was retaken by the French the same month after a large-scale battle between 12,000 French troops and a Druze force of 4,000 to 5,000, of which number about 600 men were killed and another 800 wounded for perhaps 120 deaths on the French side.

"With resistance slowly being broken in the north and the south, the French were able to concentrate on the center. In February they had made another attempt to crush resistance in Damascus, and on May 7 they struck again: 'In less than 12 hours the French army struck with more intensity than it had either in October [1925] or February. The number of houses and shops destroyed during the aerial bombardment or as a result of incendiaries was estimated at well over 1,000. The death toll was equally staggering, between 600 and 1,000. The vast majority were unarmed civilians, including a large number of women and children: only 50 rebels were reported killed in the attack. Afterwards the troops indulged in pillaging and looting and then paraded their spoils through the streets in the city centre... The French assault made a formerly busy quarter of 30,000 a virtually deserted ruin.'

"On July 8, a further six days of fighting began when the French military command sent some 5,000 troops, backed up by tanks, field artillery, and aircraft, into the Ghuta. Another 1,500 people (an estimate because, like most occupying armies, the French had no interest in counting the people they were killing) died (only a few hundred of them 'rebels') at the cost of about 200 'French' (mainly colonial troops) lives. Druze and other nationalist leaders fled into Transjordan; France was to retain its hold on Syria and Lebanon until 1946, when, weakened by the war and disgraced by a final bombardment of Damascus in which hundreds of people were killed, it was compelled to withdraw under British pressure and transfer the authority given to it by the League of Nations to nationalist governments." (pp 83-86)

And Macron wants the US to stay in Syria?

1 comment:

Grappler said...

There is no more anti-semitic philosophy than Zionism. How do you get the world to hate Jews? You have a country that treats non-Jews as animals (in their words), that attacks its neighbours on a regular basis, that ignores international law, that refuses to declare its borders so that it can argue for the theft of more land from its neighbours, and that occupies land it does not own and treats the natives abysmally. And then you proclaim that it is the home of all Jews? How anti-semitic can you get?