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Orient XXI

Election: Melenchon's vision for France and the Middle East

French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon [R] with his spokesperson Charlotte Girard (L) [AFP]

Date of publication: 22 April, 2017

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Interview: Has France's foreign policy helped recruit soldiers to Islamic State, and what should the republic's foreign policy be in Syria, Yemen and beyond? Melenchon's spokesperson, Charlotte Girard responds.
Charlotte Girard, co-head of French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon's 2017 programme, 'Unsubmissive France', speaks to Orient XXI about the left-wing coalition's campaign platform.

What do you consider to be the key policies France should pursue in North Africa and the Middle East?

They form part of the global diplomatic framework outlined in La France Insoumise’s manifesto, l’Avenir en commun [a common future], presented on March 31 by Jean-Luc Mélenchon at the launch of the booklet Une France indépendante au service de la Paix [An Independent France in the Service of Peace].

Our key policy must be the creation of the conditions for peace, which is also our humanitarian duty. We cannot continue to barricade ourselves in a fortress and ignore this vale of tears that surrounds us.

All wars impact on our security, particularly those in regions close to our own. We are now entering an era of multipolar globalisation, which will leave us no less vulnerable to war than we were during the era of unilateral hegemony by the United States. The ecological crisis is feeding conflicts which have their roots in the appropriation of resources, the depletion of biodiversity and climate change.

To these new challenges must be added the effects of decades in which basic human rights have been denied to certain populations, unfettered liberalisation and predatory economic practices, all of which have weakened societies.

We’re seeing an exacerbation of tensions within nations and between nations, as evidenced by heightened divisions along identity lines. France can make an important contribution to peace, but only if it speaks with its own voice and refuses to adopt the language of those who seek to propagate the idea of a ‘clash of civilisations’ between ‘the West’ and ‘Islam’.

France can make an important contribution to peace, but only if it speaks with its own voice and refuses to adopt the language of those who seek to propagate the idea of a ‘clash of civilisations’ between ‘the West’ and ‘Islam’

The first thing France must do is end its political allegiance to the United States.

The Middle East is the tragic backdrop for the coming together of these volatile tensions. Geopolitical rivalries, notably over the control of raw materials and energy routes, combine with conflicts caused by the polarisation of identities, a consequence of weakened states.

In North Africa, the 2011 war in Libya was a catastrophic error. Bypassing the Security Council mandate weakened the UN’s capacity for action. Libya has experienced ongoing instability as a result.

The new strategic directions for these regions proposed by La France Insoumise focus on achieving lasting peace. Military intervention without political vision translates into never-ending conflict.

France should play no further part in such interventions. It must re-examine its alliances and put an end to the brinkmanship that compromises its political position.

The Middle East is the tragic backdrop for the coming together of these volatile tensions

Do you think France has made policy errors in these regions in recent years? If so, which are the most serious?

It’s not France that has committed these errors, but its republican monarchs and the ‘experts’ in charge of its foreign policy.

That distinction made, we deplore France’s foreign policy: it is a mishmash of selective outrage, racketeering and military intervention without political vision. The selective outrage is of great concern because it damages our credibility. It is not acceptable to denounce (justifiably) the abuse of the Syrian people while turning a blind eye to the fate inflicted on civilians in the Yemen by our allies, or tolerating Israel’s sabotage of the peace process, to give just two examples.

It is not acceptable to denounce (justifiably) the abuse of the Syrian people while turning a blind eye to the fate inflicted on civilians in the Yemen by our allies, or tolerating Israel’s sabotage of the peace process

France must recover its independent voice on foreign policy. Our country has been stifled by its alliances. The US, with which we have aligned ourselves, is responsible, through its invasion of Iraq, for much of the current instability in the Middle East.

Its erratic and belligerent new president is yet another reason why it is essential that France learns to speak with its own voice. The same can be said for our links with the Gulf monarchs. France endorses their view of the dynamics of the region, which presents divisions between Sunni and Shia as the be-all and end-all.

Religious differences, easily stirred up and thus accentuated, are not the only thorn in the side of secular (geo)political policy.

There is no reason our country should even involve itself with them. We are so entrenched in a neo-conservatism that combines a crusade for ‘democracy’ with a stubbornly ethnic and denominational reading of conflict, that our foreign policy, in Syria and elsewhere, can only alternate between vague militaristic ambition and moralistic posturing.

This has resulted in us adopting positions that are dangerously detached from reality, like the refusal to negotiate before the initial departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that no one had the ability to enforce.

The US, with which we have aligned ourselves, is responsible, through its invasion of Iraq, for much of the current instability in the Middle East

Choices like this have made France inaudible. In North Africa, after the disastrous Libyan intervention, our country, along with the US and the European Union, is scrabbling to implement political policies that are only leading to greater fragmentation.

France has also missed the opportunity to respond to people's aspirations in places that have experienced peaceful uprisings, such as Tunisia.

It is shameful that not a single significant step has been taken to relieve the country’s debt burden, which makes all attempts to meet the expectations of the revolution impossible.

La France Insoumise has proposed realistic solutions in this regard, in conjunction with our friends in the Popular Front of Tunisia.

Are there steps France should take in these regions? Should it act as part of specific alliances? If so, which?

France should have policies in relation to these regions that are independent, coherent and make strategic sense for the places in question.

In the Middle East, notably Syria and Yemen, it should break with the alliances that isolate it, and put its weight behind political solutions. This is also the case in Palestine and Israel. The Palestinian state must be recognised: under international law, the weakest have the right to have their voices heard and this right must be upheld.

The Palestinian state must be recognised: under international law, the weakest have the right to have their voices heard and this right must be upheld

France has to rediscover the art of negotiation, in the context of the UN. This means looking beyond the West - one of the guiding principles of our international programme. That is not to say we should give up ground in the fight against terrorism, but we see this principally as an internal security issue (see the policy booklet: Sécurité: retour à la raison [Security: A return to common sense] ).

The international aspect of this fight should be conducted through the UN, in the context of a global strategy targeting terrorist organisations, incorporating a military element but with the priority being the removal of their economic resources, international support and social bases.

Looking forward, France must fundamentally rethink its relationship with this part of the world, an area that is, in a sense, cursed by its natural resources.

Our ideas concerning these new relationships are linked to our proposals on ecological planning. We need to learn to live without gas and oil, just as countries that export to us are being forced to end their reliance on fossil fuels.

Jihadist groups in the Middle East, North Africa and the Sahel are more numerous and more widespread today than they were on September 11, 2001. How do you explain why none of the military operations launched against them by the US or France have succeeded in eliminating them? Are we even seeing the opposite effect?

The ‘wars on terror’ have been a terrible failure from all perspectives bar that of the (primarily US) military-industrial complex. Their real purpose was not to eliminate terrorists but to maintain a military presence in the region.

As military operations, they were absurd. It’s not possible to fight a war against an abstract concept; you can only fight a real enemy in real space and time. Anything else is a war without a defined aim, which is a war that can never end.

Failure is assured when your adversaries have all the time they need. We mustn’t underestimate the role the Iraq invasion has played in the upsurge in terrorism. The US line, parroted by our leaders, is that Islamic State group (IS) was a product of the Syrian crisis, even a creation of the Syrian regime. The regime did profit for a time from an increase in religious dogmatism amongst Syrian forces, but this was served to it on a plate by its enemies.

IS emerged in an Iraqi state first destroyed by its aggressors, then abandoned, its ethnic and religious divides having been reinforced by a new reactionary constitution. The seasoned fighters of IS are a product of these events. Yet no lessons have been learned. Our foreign policy interventions continue to take the same course. They reinforce the propaganda of the terrorists; the very fact of being targeted by the most powerful countries in the world elevates their status from criminals to soldiers defending a cause.

Our foreign policy interventions continue to take the same course. They reinforce the propaganda of the terrorists

Our policy of mass bombardment creates civilian casualties. The more a political agenda is absent, the more societies fracture. All of this explains why there is no lasting solution in sight, merely the odd tactical victory.

What do you consider to be the main roots of jihadism? Is there a link between our foreign or domestic policies and the fact there have been attacks on France?

To concentrate on the recent past, we believe the roots to be multiple: ideological (rather than strictly religious), social, economic, (geo)political… The ideological element of jihadism depends on an identity-based, and therefore political, application of religion.

Jihadism is the product of global dynamics and is in no sense intrinsic to the Islamic world. That said, domestic policy in the region also plays a major part: the Gulf monarchies, with their inconsistent, reactionary proselytising, and other dictatorships, despite their claims to secularism, have used ethnic and religious divides to their advantage.

Jihadism is the product of global dynamics and is in no sense intrinsic to the Islamic world... Jihadism would never have grown so strong without the wars led by the US

But jihadism would never have grown so strong without the wars led by the US. The jihadists would never have developed the organisational and military knowledge they have now without the support they received during the Cold War as part of the fight against communism.

The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were training grounds for fighters who are indispensable to these organisations today. From this we can conclude that there is a link between the foreign policy decisions we’ve made and the fact that France has been targeted.

In terms of domestic policy, if by that we mean, for example, our secular system, which is regularly denounced in jihadist propaganda, then we affirm that concessions to reactionary forces of any sort would constitute a defeat. We must look to our own society, because most of the people implicated in the attacks were part of it. But these are issues too complex to explore in just a few lines.

The important thing is that the fight against terrorism in our country can only succeed if we reject the contrived divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims that the jihadists seek to exploit. This demands a domestic security policy centred on human intelligence and judicial enquiry.

Jean-Luc Mélanchon’s presidency will be one based on productive action and civil peace, rather than showmanship and fear.

This is an edited translation, originally published in French by our partners at OrientXXI.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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