Bruce Crumley reports on the French decision to recognize the reorganized opposition coalition as the “sole representative” of Syria:
“Hollande is taking lead with the Syrian opposition on the logic it will force other Western nations to follow suit—especially the U.S., which has been saying political and diplomatic recognition of rebels was premature until they’d gotten their house into order,” says Karim Bitar, and Middle East and Arab world expert for the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations. “It’s a gamble, though. It may turn out other Western leaders decide the coalition doesn’t really represent—or control—divergent and at times rival militia forces in Syria, and leave France alone in recognizing its legitimacy. The move is only significant if other countries follow the French example, and attain a critical diplomatic mass.”
The U.S. and other European allies shouldn’t reward Hollande’s gamble by playing along. They should do what they ought to have done in March 2011 when Sarkozy pulled a similar stunt in Libya and pay it no attention. If France wants to take the lead on responding to the conflict in Syria, it can do so, but everyone should understand that the U.S. is not obliged to indulge its allies’ adventurism. Along the same lines, our allies should not feel obliged to support the U.S. when our government decided to plunge needlessly into new conflicts. As Paul Pillar concludes:
We need to resist the temptation to think that every messy situation overseas has a feasible solution, and furthermore to think that the United States needs to be leading part of that solution. As for what Hollande is doing, go right ahead, Monsieur le Président. Just don’t get your hopes very high.
France is just the latest to jump out ahead of other Western and allied governments in staking out a Syria policy that amounts to very little unless other states can be pressured into following their example. The Turkish government managed to get ahead of itself with its support for the SNC and it ended up being very far ahead of Turkish public opinion. Now the domestic discontent with Erdogan’s policy is beginning to create problems within his own political coalition:
His foray into the Syrian civil war is contributing to widening the cracks among the coalition of Islamic movements that sustain the power of the AKP.
Erdogan is nothing if not interested in preserving his position and his party’s hold on power, so it seems unlikely that he will risk fracturing his party and turning the Turkish public against him for the sake of a Syria policy that promises to be nothing but trouble for Turkey. If France and Turkey are foolish enough to press ahead with deeper involvement in Syria, the U.S. should be trying to restrain them and not encourage them.