Saturday, March 23, 2013

France Will Call for Arming Syrian Rebels

My old friend Justin Vaïsse, who is now director of policy planning for the French Foreign Ministry, says that France will call for the EU to supply "vetted" Syrian rebel commanders with ground-to-air missiles in order to "level the playing field," which is currently tilted because Russia is supplying the Assad regime with arms while the western powers remain paralyzed for fear of supplying weapons that will end up in the hands of Islamists.

Hollande has evidently decided to take an aggressive and risky position on the Syria question. Of course the US is also currently reassessing its position on arms shipments and may be leaning toward a similar decision. The decision cannot be an easy one, and one shudders at the thought of these weapons ending up in the possession of people who might use them against civilian airliners. One can only hope that the intelligence, for once, is good. France has always prided itself on its knowledge of Syria, and it may feel that its intelligence services are in a better position to assess the reliability of the various rebel factions than, say, the CIA.

But think back to the beginning of Sarkozy's presidency, when the French strategy was clearly to bet on Assad as an Arab leader amenable to reason and capable of brokering a peace with Israel. France wanted to set itself up as Syria's privileged interlocutor (since Syria and the US were not on speaking terms) and thus to increase its influence over the Middle East peace process, such as it was. Clearly it bet on the wrong horse back then, although at the time the idea seemed plausible enough. I would like to know more about the basis of France's confidence that it knows who can be trusted among the Syrian rebels.

I wish Justin all the best for success in his new job.

Populist Parties in Europe

Anthony Painter has published a study of the rise of populist parties in a number of European countries. (h/t Laurent Bouvet)