Lebanon’s Ambivalent Path Forward

Lebanon is coming to terms with the horrific explosion in Beirut earlier this week. Aid is pouring into the nation from every direction. Old allies, and even old enemies are joining in the effort.  The explosion has focused international attention on Lebanon for the moment, and the world is beginning to see how mismanaged, and corrupt the Lebanese government has become. Granted, Lebanon has always had to deal with this to one extent or another, but in recent years the levels of graft, and negligence have skyrocketed. The Lebanese people are seeking a solution and are not confident one can be found within their government. This was evident on Thursday night as anti-government protests flared up outside of the parliament building in Beirut. Fires were set, stores vandalized, and clashes with security forces broke out. Last night could be an indication of larger unrest to come in the future unless the Lebanese government can convince the people that it is committed to being the solution instead of the problem.

France has wasted no time in coming to Lebanon’s side in support. Less than 24 hours after the explosion French aid was arriving in Beirut and French president Emanuel Macron arrived in the city yesterday. French ties to Lebanon run deep so Macron’s arrival, and France’s swift response come as no surprise. The role that Paris will take in the near future remains to be seen. Macron is calling for politicians in Lebanon to come together and bring about change. In short, Macron is demanding reform, as are many other regional, and Western governments.

Lebanon’s people simply want change. A petition calling for Lebanon to fall under French mandate received the signatures of 50,000 Lebanese. This is indicative of the festering mood in the country and the populace’s almost complete lack of confidence in their government. The people want change, and if it is to come from the outside so be it. A dangerous message. Doubly so in uncertain times like these.

EU Election Aftermath: France and Germany

The flags of Germany, France and the European Union are seen in front of the the Chancellery, before the meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in Berlin

France- The results of last weekend’s EU Parliamentary elections revealed France’s political divisions. Voter turnout in France was the highest for an EU election in nearly a quarter-century. European political analysts point to this fact as proof that citizens are beginning to truly grasp the importance of the EU Parliament in their daily lives. This theory is nonsensical though, given the shifting political landscape in France. The motivation had to do more with many French citizens being determined to lash out at their government and project their disaffection with the present French government, the EU, and centrist political parties in general.

The Take Power party, a nationalist political party aligned closely with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) came out on top with 23.3% of the vote. The mainstream political parties in France, as in much of Europe, did not fare well. The feeling across France is that the mainstream left and right parties are not representing the average citizen very well. The average citizens in France came together and rejected the policies, and politics of not only the EU, but those of their president as well.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance party gained 22.4% of the vote, however. The narrow margin limits the damage to Macron, at least in the short run.

 

Germany- The EU election results in Germany are placing added pressure on Angela Merkel’s grand coalition. The nation’s two major parties suffered substantial losses last weekend, weakening a coalition that’s already fragile enough, and also bringing the possibility of Merkel not finishing her term as chancellor one step closer to becoming a reality. The center-left Social Democrats (SPD) are not at all pleased with the weekend’s results, and where it leaves them. Sunday marked the continuation of a trend of steady decline, internal unrest, and worsening election results. The party took only 15.6% of the vote, down 11 points from 2014, and placing it in third place. Merkel’s own Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian Christian Social Union allies garnered a total of 28.7% of the vote. Yet this was a drop of 7% from 2014 for them.

The internal unrest in SPD has ignited a power struggle. If the left wing of the party comes out on top, SPD could leave the coalition, bringing about new elections and all but serving as the final nail in Angela Merkel’s political coffin. Politicians in Berlin have been downplaying talk of the coalition possibly crumbling, however, the possibility will need to be addressed, and planned for if SPD does walk out.

Macron’s Fumble

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It is no secret that French President Emmanuel Macron considers himself the heir apparent to the European Union throne of influence now occupied by Angela Merkel. With the Merkel’s influence diminishing in Germany, and across the continent, the EU is coming to terms with the reality of life without Merkel at some point in the not-so-distant future. Once she does depart the scene permanently, the EU will find itself at a fork in the road. Down one path is a future where the EU rallies around a strong leader and continues on much like before. The alternate avenue is a future where the EU wanders aimlessly in the wilderness without an effective, charismatic leader to guide, and nurture it.

Macron wants to be that leader. The man who succeeds Merkel and takes the European Union to dazzling new heights with a fresh, progressive vision for the future.

This past weekend’s festivities celebrating the 100th anniversary of the First World War’s end  seemed to be the perfect opportunity for the French leader to showcase to the world his brand of leadership. Instead, Macron dropped the ball and reminded the world why the European Union is so dysfunctional.

Macron chose to take a major swipe at France’s most powerful ally, and closest friend, the United States.  He called for the creation of an EU army to defend Europe from threats posed by Russia, China, and possibly even the United States. He pressed Europe to denounce nationalism, and become “a more sovereign, a more united and democratic power,” curtailing the historical alliance between Europe and the United States in the process. President Trump called Macron’s proposal ‘very insulting’ and rightfully so.

Macron was not sincere about his desire to see an EU army formed. The proposal acted as a political reaffirmation of his ‘Europe First’ values, as well as a reminder of the similarities between himself and Merkel.

Unfortunately for Macron, the play did not work as planned. The ‘EU Army’ proposal made Trump feel more estranged from his European counterparts and supposed allies. The festivities surrounding the 100th anniversary of World War I’s conclusion were ruined. Macron picked up no political capital at home or abroad.

The plan he’d set in motion for the weekend, packed of sound and fury, ended up signifying nothing when all was said and done.

On Syria Part I

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If the Middle East were a forest, Syria would be a propane tank burning beside it. Despite the efforts of firemen, the blaze continues. It’s only a matter of time before the tank explodes and sets the trees afire. The Syrian Conflict has been raging for seven years and shows no signs of receding. The war has transformed from a civil war to an amalgamation of loosely connected blood feuds, civil, tribal, and proxy wars that have the potential to spark a major regional conflict or worse. To make matters more complex, the Syrian Conflict is now on the verge of escalating to a point where two allies are threatening war on each other.

Syrian Government forces, with the invaluable support of Russian, and Iranian forces, are rolling up rebel forces, and expanding the amount of territory it controls. ISIS is reeling as US, and British forces are moving in for the kill. Iranian actions have brought about Israeli air strikes and the threat of further Israeli involvement in the conflict. Meanwhile, in the north Turkish forces continue their offensive against Kurdish militias, and forces, some of which are supported by the US and other Western governments. France is now taking a stand against Turkish operations against the Kurds. Relations between Ankara and Paris are deteriorating amid reports the French are considering sending additional troops to Syria to aid the Kurds if Turkish forces extend their offensive east of Afrin. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated Turkey would regard such a move as an invasion. Turkey and France, both members of NATO, are sounding more like opponents instead of allies these days. The repercussions of a military clash between the two countries would be felt around the world.

The latest layer added to the conflict is President Trump hinting that the US will be scaling down or ending entirely its military presence in Syria. With ISIS close to defeat on the battlefield, the primary mission for US forces is ending and Trump sees no reason to keep them in country. A final decision has not been made, however, and some senior US officials have warned that a US pullout now could strengthen Russia and Iran’s influence across the entire region.

Later this week I’ll continue this subject by discussing the ongoing geopolitical chess match in the Middle East between the US on one side and Russia, Iran, and Turkey on the other.

Saturday 6 May, 2017 Update: Day of Decision Looming for France

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Tomorrow, France will choose between two candidates and their respective paths. The path of Emanuel Macron is pro-European Union and built on the support of many politicians who are responsible for the mess that France finds itself in right now. The other path is offered by Marine Le Pen, a right-wing candidate with a message which has resonated among many working-class French citizens. Le Pen’s path is forged in populism and is decidedly anti-European Union. Truthfully, Le Pen’s candidacy bears a striking resemblance to Donald Trump in 2016.

It will be a decisive, and momentous day for France no matter who wins. The ramifications that will follow the decision will be felt far and wide from Washington to Brussels and Berlin. The results will also push many questions about France’s future to the forefront. Should Le Pen win will a Frexit referendum be long in coming? Or, if Macron is victorious how much closer will he move France into the EU’s bosom?

Macron is leading in the polls yet the former investment banker has had a difficult last week of campaigning. First it was a volatile debate with Le Pen where the infamous ‘France will be led by a woman’ remark was made. Then today the Macron campaign suffered a major hacking attack. It is unclear how damaging the attack will be, but comparisons between the Macron hack and what happened to Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year are already being made.

With the polls set to open in less than 24 hours, one has to wonder about Macron’s lead in the polls. Is it a genuine lead, the result of intentional under-representation in the polling, or because many Le Pen supporters are hesitant to reveal who they are really voting for? 2016 is not that far behind us and the debacles that polling data suffered during Brexit and the US election are on many minds today.

The wild card is the computer hack. France’s election campaign commission has warned that anyone spreading the leaked information before the election could face criminal charges. Whether this deters people or not remains to be seen. It is unclear how large of a role, if any, the incident will have come tomorrow.

For what it is worth, I would like to see Le Pen win tomorrow. However, even if she is not the winner, France has not seen the last of her.