French President Emmanuel Macron’s bilateral relations with Turkey have been consistently strained due to a number of undiplomatic gestures made by Macron which are indicative of the fact that at best, the French President is soft on the terrorist organisation PKK and its Syrian branch YPG.
In April of this year, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that France had helped to cause a divide between the tripartite Astana partnership for peace in Syria comprised of Russia, Turkey and Iran. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu responded to this insult by stating,
“We have to have strong relations with all countries…I’d like to invite him (Macron) to become more serious”.
This incident transpired a month after Macron invited a member of the PKK affiliate YPG’s political arm PYD to the Élysée Palace. This was not only a dangerous move but a diplomatically unwise move. In the 21st century, mature states should not be dealing with non-state entities that are hostile to the legitimate authorities of their country, while mature states should also avoid courting non-state entities that pose a direct terrorist threat to their neighbours. In inviting PYD “politician” Khaled Eissa to the presidential palace of France, President Macron did both of these things. Taken in totality, Macron did nothing more than shake hands with a terrorist.
Now, with French authorities insisting that they will remain in north-eastern Syria in spite of an American withdrawal, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has admonished Paris in the following way:
“If France is staying to contribute to Syria’s future, great, but if they are doing this to protect the [YPG/PKK], this will bring no benefit to anyone”.
Because the recent French military record makes it clear that the country’s armed forces can accomplish little without backing by their far more powerful American partner, as Turkey also has a larger and more regionally experienced military than that of France (Turkey maintains the second biggest military force in NATO), France’s insistence by its de-facto pro-YPG/PKK government that it will not follow the US out of Syria constitutes a mark of arrogance rather than a significant or helpful military strategy.
As the US President is on record saying that the effort to swap American for Turkish troops in north-eastern Syria is being highly coordinated between Ankara and Washington, the presence of French troops in the region represent little more than a proverbial fly in the ointment serving to distract from otherwise coordinated and streamlined US and Turkish efforts to create a smooth transition of military power in the region.
It can certainly not be discounted that the French act of arrogant defiance in north-eastern Syria is an attempt to distract the French public from President Emmanuel Macron’s abysmal poll ratings. With the Yellow Vest protest movement showing no signs of dying down on the streets of major French cities, President Macron decided to spend the Christmas period greeting French soldiers stationed in Chad where he was photographed drinking champagne and eating cake with uniformed men and women.
It could therefore be that in order to create as many distractions as possible from continued domestic chaos, Macron is seeking to unilaterally remain in Syria while apparently doing little to make French troops fit in with the clearly coordinated Turkey-US strategy in the region. By running into the arms of the military at a time of national crisis, Macron is in fact doing what many leaders with little domestic popularity have historically done. Macron is creating a weapon of mass distraction and if he continues to do so in Syria without coordination with Turkey, it will clearly hurt French interests far more than anyone else’s.
Macron would be wise to consult with Turkey about the situation rather than inflame relations further with a key NATO member and major regional player. To do otherwise would be to once again allow supreme arrogance and a clear lack of knowledge in respect of foreign affairs to worsen Franco-Turkish relations while simultaneously making the situation in Syria worse rather than better. In other words, if Macron decides to act in a mature manner, he will start to become part of the regional solution in Syria rather than continue to be part of the problem.