French President Emmanuel Macron has bemoaned the decision by his US counterpart to withdraw troops from Syria. Such a move is unbecoming of any “ally,” since they should be “reliable” and “fight shoulder to shoulder,” he said.
“I very deeply regret the decision made on Syria,” Macron said on Sunday, speaking at a news conference during his visit to Chad.
Earlier this week, Donald Trump announced his move to withdraw US troops from the country, citing the “defeat” of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS). While the US president had promised to do this previously, the actual decision apparently caught many by surprise.
“To be allies is to fight shoulder to shoulder. It’s the most important thing for a head of state and head of the military,”Macron stated. “An ally should be reliable.”
While berating Trump, the French president also praised the outgoing US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and his resignation letter, in which he wrote about the importance of allies.
“I want here to pay tribute to General Mattis and the comments that accompanied his decision, for a year we have seen how he was a reliable partner,” Macron said.
Paris will continue its operations in Syria, the president stated, reaffirming French support for the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia. French troops, believed to be quite low in number, remain in Syria without any mandate – just like the American ones – and are effectively occupying territories of a sovereign state.
Macron’s reaction to Trump’s move was not unexpected, since Paris needs the US presence to remain in the region itself. It is trying to appear as an independent player, global affairs analyst and founder of the 21st Century Wire Patrick Henningsen believes.
“On the one hand Macron is wanting to show France as an independent state actor with its own independent decision-making capabilities, especially with regards to security,” Henningsen said. “But the reality here is he wants the US to stay on side with the so-called coalition effort in the Middle East.”
The US withdrawal from Syria leaves its minor partners exposed “not just militarily, but diplomatically,” as it would become quite hard for them to explain to their domestic audiences what exactly they are doing in Syria.
“What Macron is doing, is in fact, the covering for the clandestine operation that is many years down the road, I think six or seven years for France – the clandestine operation to destabilize Syria,” Henningsen said, adding that the “regime change” in Syria has been on the agenda of a whole set of countries for years now.
“If the coalition breaks up – in other words, if the US leaves Syria, then it leaves France exposed to more scrutiny. Before this, they’ve been able to hide by the wing of the United States, so has Britain. So the US pulling out of Syria, out of an illegal occupation of northeastern Syria, does leave its other coalition partners exposed.”
The major part of the “so-called anti-ISIS coalition” members have contributed virtually nothing to the fight, while local forces – Iraqi and Syrian governments, alongside their allies – carried the main burden. The US pullout might ultimately spell the end to the whole coalition, Henningsen warned.
“The so-called anti-ISIS coalition comprises [some] 70 countries. Very few of those countries have done anything to fight or defeat ISIS, other than symbolic gestures or flying sorties,” he said. “The US has been the glue, holding this coalition together, and if it leaves, the coalition will effectively become fragmented and no longer tangible from an operational standpoint.”