So where do we all stand? François Hollande announced that France is at war and has called for an international coalition to fight against ISIS with the goal of "destroying terrorism." So do we finally have the response that we have been waiting for since the first few hours after the attack in Paris: a coordinated deployment of international troops to Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS?
Not exactly. When read alongside the speech Obama made at almost exactly the same time, the French President's brave pronouncement of resistance reveals that, on the contrary, any actions taken in the Middle East during the next few months will not include the preparation of military forces on a grand scale. There will be many actions taken and the pressure on the Caliphate will escalate, but at the same time the course which the West seems to have chosen is still that of a combination of military pressure and diplomacy. But let us go back and return to the President's speech at Versailles.
Hollande has raised the bar for action to an unprecedented level both within and outside of his country. The president made his address to a gravely solemn room, and at the end of his speech, the members of Parliament rose to their feet began singing the French national anthem. He announced an increase of internal security forces as well as other drastic measures, including stripping French nationals who are suspected of having terrorist connections of their dual citizenship. Lastly he called for a change to the French constitution itself that would allow for an expansion of the government's powers under a state of emergency. His comments on the actions to be taken outside of France were just as strong and were directed at the world as a whole, not just the West, including Iran, Turkey and the Gulf countries. He has requested a meeting of the UN Security Council "to speak with Putin and Obama" and announced that the aircraft carrier De Gaulle has been dispatched to Syria, which will intensify pressure in the region.
But beneath this impressive and forceful affirmation of principles, the French President's speech is somewhat tenuous. He did not ask that the NATO self-defense clause be invoked (the conditions of which are currently debatable); what he asked for in fact was that the other members of the European Union invoke the much more generic Article 42 of the Lisbon Treaty, which calls for aid from the other countries when one member-state is attacked. Of course, he also called for a meeting with Putin and Obama, which they will undoubtedly agree to given Hollande's obligatory absence from the G20 summit. The request for a meeting of the UN Security Council is also a relatively simple one, given that France is a member.
At almost the exact same time as Hollande was making his speech, Obama concluded the G20 summit with a generic call to fight terrorism. It was as generic as the closing statement of the summit, which was, in truth, a meeting dominated by distant promises, due in part to some vague rhetoric with regards to a project for a coordinated military intervention in Syria. It was, in fact, the discussion on Assad's fate which kept the diplomats busy behind closed doors. In Vienna on Saturday, under pressure after the bloodshed in Paris, 17 countries headed by John Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, came up with the beginnings of an agreement regarding Syria. It called for negotiations between opposition forces in Syria which would start January 1st, while in the meantime there would be an attempt to come to a decision about the future of Assad, the man who has now come to symbolize both the solution and the crisis in Damascus.
According to an informal document from the summit, they Syrian president will not be a candidate in any upcoming elections: an announcement which was made almost simultaneously with Hollande's speech.
An interesting detail to note about this agreement is that it created a list of terrorist organizations which includes ISIS as well as al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group that is in competition with ISIS. Another interesting thing to note is that the list will be compiled by Jordan and can be expanded to include other terrorist organizations.
But after everything, there still is not an existing, international political coalition to intervene in Syria. Ironically, the root of this nightmare in Syria is the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran: two countries that no Western nation, including Russia, can afford to alienate.
According to the speech made by Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni before Parliament, Italy believes it is already doing a great deal, and is not disposed to do much more. Renzi himself has repeated multiple times over the last few days that he does not want "emotional reactions." Germany, which already houses thousands of immigrants from the Middle East and is expecting a million more over the next few years, has been very quiet. The German Foreign Minister Frank- Walter Steinmeier was at the stadium with Hollande the night of the bombings, but has not said a single word. England is already involved in many foreign engagements, and if it takes any action, including military action, will intend to maintain its own agenda.
So after a careful dissection, what is left of this "declaration of war" from Hollande? Certainly the level of Western intervention in Syria will be escalated. France will surely receive the support that is asks for -- after all the United States is already helping out and perhaps other European countries will be able to lend a hand. But the assistance will probably be in the form of a greater coordination of intelligence and usage of assets: an efficient intervention to keep pressure on the forces of terrorism (as well as those of Assad) while a political solution is being worked on. That means no troops on the ground, and definitely no general coalition.
It is not the wrong path to take, as long as this political solution is found within a short time period. The risk of prolonging the Syrian crisis after all of the words spoken, promises made and blood spilled, would signify a further strengthening of ISIS and all other terrorists who are born of and thrive off war in the Middle East.
This post first appeared on HuffPost Italy. It has been was translated into English and edited for clarity.
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