by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
“You don’t win a war with planes, so we need ground forces.”
Those words, spoken yesterday to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, are very important — because they were offered on American television by France’s ambassador to the United States. A senior career diplomat, Gérard Araud knew how his words would be received by a White House determined to avoid boots on the ground in Syria. That is to say, he knew the White House would be angry.
After all, the ambassador was acting as an arm’s-length intermediary for French president François Hollande. Under a pretense of diplomatic cover, the ambassador’s words signal Hollande’s deep dissatisfaction with President Obama’s Syria strategy. This interview hints, too, at a broader strategic consequence of the Paris attacks: After witnessing the American president’s ludicrous reaction to the atrocity, France is sidestepping Obama on the Islamic State. And it’s not just France.
Just watch how the British prime minister David Cameron answered a question on U.K. cooperation with Russia in Syria. Aggressively rebuking the questioner, Cameron stated that he did not care about polling data in standing up to the Russian leader. Cameron is clearly frustrated by Russia’s intransigence in defending the Assad regime in Syria. Cameron’s anger strikes a considerable contrast with President Obama’s tone in his sit-down with Putin in Turkey earlier this week. The key here is that by his obstinate commitment to an absurd non-strategy, Obama is encouraging world leaders — friend and foe alike — to work around him.
President Hollande will visit both Moscow and Washington next week, and he is clearly considering an alliance with Russia. As a senior editor of French liberal newspaper Le Monde explained yesterday, tensions over issues such as arms deliveries (canceled in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), are giving way to new cooperation between France and Russia. According to Le Monde, Hollande is prioritizing cooperation against ISIS above other disagreements with President Putin about Bashar al-Assad’s despotic Syrian rule.