Macron talks big but few believe him in the region

August 30, 2021 - 22:14

TEHRAN – During a visit to Iraq, French President Emanuel Macron sought to portray his country as a reliable outside force that can be counted on in the era of American decline. 

But regional power circles with different perspectives said in unison that France is not capable of playing a role previously assumed by other much more powerful countries. 

Sensing a regional premonition of danger in some Arab states due to possible American withdrawal from the region, President Macron seized the opportunity of Baghdad's regional summit to open a new chapter for French power projection in the region.

Speaking at a news conference in Baghdad where several regional leaders were attending the summit, Macron struck a different note than that of his American allies who are in the process of withdrawing from decades-long quagmires such as Afghanistan. While Americans are busy handling the repercussions of their withdrawal, Macron made it clear that France is here to stay.

In what appeared to be a reassurance call to apprehensive allies of the U.S. in the region, the French president said his troops will remain in Iraq until further notice. 
“No matter what choices the Americans make, we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight against terrorism,” as long as the Iraqi government wanted it, Macron told reporters. 

Earlier in a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Macron had justified the retention of French troops with the threat posed by the Daesh terrorist group.

“We all know that we must not lower our guard, because Daesh (ISIS) remains a threat, and I know that the fight against these terrorist groups is a priority of your government,” the French president said. 

He also paid a visit to Iraq’s holy sites in Mosul and Kadhimiya in a gesture of respect to all Iraq’s religious sects. “We are here to stress the importance of Mosul and to express appreciation for all the sects that make up Iraqi society,” Macron said in a speech at Mosul’s Church of Our Lady of the Hour.

Macron also announced France’s intention to open schools and a consulate in the city. The French president’s statements and remarks were met with different reactions in the region. Some criticized his insistence on maintaining French troops in Iraq when some countries in the region strongly oppose the presence of foreign troops there. Others described Macron’s readiness to maintain troops in Iraq as an effort to further meddle in the country’s internal affairs. 

But all unanimously agreed that France is seeking to play an outsize role in a region where even greater powers with more capabilities failed to achieve their goals. 

“French President Emmanuel Macron rose up to play a role that exceeds the size and presence of his country, which he seeks to consolidate in Baghdad, thinking that ‘anti-terror’ operations can continue forever,” Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar said.

The position of the French president came as the “combat mission” of the United States, which maintains about 2,500 soldiers in Iraq, according to the announced official figures, ends by the end of this year, when the mission of the American soldiers in Iraq will turn into an “advisory” role.  

Quoting a political source who closely followed the Baghdad summit, the Lebanese newspaper said France intends to assume the role of a proxy for the Americans after they withdraw from Iraq. The source considered that the French military - numbering 600 in the framework of the international coalition - is not qualified in terms of quantity and armament to play a different role if the country faces any dangers similar to what happened in 2014.

Al Arab, a newspaper close to the United Arab Emirates, echoed a similar assessment of French capabilities in the region. It said that “France is too big to be neglected, but too small to offer comprehensive options and solutions at the level offered by the United States if it seeks to take advantage of the vacuum that the United States will leave after the withdrawal.”

Quoting observers, the London-based newspaper noted that the last thing Iraq needs now is a “false French dawn.”

It also compared Macron’s support for Iraqi Christians with France’s guardianship over Christians in Lebanon. “The visit of the French president to Mosul reflected support for the Christians of Iraq. This is reminiscent of France's guardianship over Christians in Lebanon, which indicates that France is trying to create the same conditions in which it worked in Lebanon and failed,” Al Arab said. 

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