By Daniel DePetris
Emmanuel Macron said something out of character during his first interview with European newspapers as France’s president. And to the surprise of many, the comment may have actually brought him closer to President Donald Trump—a man whose nationalism and anti-global sentiment Macron has taken pains to distinguish himself from.
Asked about his plans for Syria, Macron sounded as if he just got off the phone with Trump after a two-hour conversation. "The real change I’ve made on this question,” Macron told the reporters assembled in the presidential garden last week, "is that I haven’t said the deposing of Bashar al-Assad is a prerequisite for everything. Because no one has introduced me to his legitimate successor.”
Assad, in Macron’s view, may be a mass murderer responsible for the deaths of a half million people and someone deserving to sit in the defendant’s box at the International Criminal Court. But at the same time, Assad is clearly winning the war and boxing his opponents into an ever-shrinking space of northwestern Syria. Dictating an entire Syria policy based on Bashar al-Assad’s immediate resignation from office, therefore, would be like building a house out of cards. Eventually, the house would collapse, and a lawless vacuum would be created.
Macron went on to briefly describe his strategy for Syria, which was ominously similar to Trump’s own thinking. Defeating the Islamic State and international terrorism, working with Russian President Vladimir Putin to “eradicate them,” and ensuring a structure that would make Syria somewhat stable are Macron’s priorities. Nowhere on that list is pushing Bashar al-Assad out of power and repacking his regime from one of dictatorship to one built on democratic principles. "With me, there will be an end to the kind neoconservatism imported into France over the last 10 years.”
Delete the word “France” and substitute it with “the United States,” and that line could very well have been used by Trump during one of his massive rallies.
In fact, Trump’s disdain for neoconservative policies and unending U.S. military deployments overseas comes very close to Macron’s own crusade against neoconservatism. Indeed, when most of the presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle last year were asked to discuss their strategies in relation to Syria, they largely promoted the same combination of destroying ISIS and removing the Syrian government at the same time.
Trump, a candidate who was never reluctant to bash the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as an ill-planned, liberal-crusade that went wrong very early in the war, offered another recommendation entirely. Focus first and foremost on eradicating the Islamic State and deal with the Assad question down the line. All of Trump’s political opponents laughably referred to his prescriptions foolish, a kind of “get out jail, free card” for a dictator who killed hundreds of thousands of his own people during the course of the war.
But, to the extent that Macron’s interview sheds a light on his foreign policy convictions, apparently Trump wasn’t the only individual who believed ISIS was more of a national security threat than the Assad regime’s survival.
Will Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump soon be best friends? No, of course not. Macron loves the transnational European project, ran on a pro-business, internationalist trade outlook for France, and hugs the European Union tight with both arms. And two men differ noticeably on climate change, with Macron regarding it as a serious environmental and national security problem while Trump views it in less than existential terms.
On Syria at least, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron are on the same wave length.
The personalities of the two are bound to clash over the next three and a half years, and Washington and Paris will without question clash to reconcile their positions on issues pertaining to the European Union. But if they have it within themselves to arrange a friendly, business-like relationship, Trump and Macron may be able to temper the desire among their western colleagues to repeat the Iraq and Libya experiences—launching military interventions that, far from exporting democratic governance in foreign societies, resulted in situations that produced disorderly states, churning out thousands of terrorists at a time.
The international state system would be better off because of it.
Daniel DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities.
This piece was originally published by The Washington Examiner on June 26, 2017. Read more HERE.