Sputnik: What're your thoughts on Emmanuel Macron's statements? Do you think he played such an important role in impacting Trump's decision on Syria? There has been a lot of media coverage that he actually made a telephone call and has pleaded that US forces should remain in Syria.
Socrates Kazolias: That's what he said in his interview, but it was interesting he had to backtrack shortly after that because the Americans distanced themselves from his statement that he convinced them to stay in Syria, with Trump's saying he still wanted to get out troops as soon as possible. I think a bit of French bluster is part of the course. The French are trying very hard to remain relevant on the international scene. However, traditionally, France has sided very closely with the United States on issues concerning the Middle East, so that's not surprising.
Sputnik: How would you evaluate France's role in the Syrian conflict. France has over recent years had terrorist attacks on their homeland. There have been awful scenes. Has that got anything to do with it, do you think?
Socrates Kazolias: Most of the attacks that are happening in France are [done] by domestic terrorists — people who were born here and converted to very radical Islam. I think that if you want to trace the problems with radical Islam in France you have to go into the banlieues and the cités and see what is spurring these people to become radicalized by that. They are not Syrians. Some of them come from North Africa as immigrants, but of them have been domestic, homegrown. France has a traditional foot in the Middle East. Let's not forget that the borders in the Middle East were drawn up by France and Great Britain after the World War I, Sykes-Picot [agreement].
Syria has long been a sphere of influence of France and I think that from the very beginning, France sort of led the way on this for regime change in Syria. If you remember, during the Arab spring, when this first started happening in Syria, this French guy that they liked to call an "intellectual," but Bernard-Henri Levy brought a group of unknown Syrians to see Sarkozy and Sarkozy recognized them as the legitimate government of Syria, basically saying that the government in Damascus was no longer recognized. From the very beginning it has been about regime change and France, as in Libya, often does things that are, perhaps, just too big for their boots.
Macron, he has to be careful because he is alienating his European allies with a lot of his statements. For example, the German foreign minister said that there had to be negotiations and in the end Assad had to leave, but there could be a transition period. Macron has to do more coordinating, especially with Germany, who doesn't want increased tensions with Russia and whose public opinion, was 90% against that strike, putting Merkel in a very difficult position, where she had to publically support NATO allies while at the same time conceding to her public opinion by not taking part and saying she wouldn't take part.
So, I think, Macron is putting himself into a difficult position. He is going to see Trump. They are certainly going to talk about Iran. We mustn't forget that France is one of Israel's biggest supporters in Europe. And with the visit of the Saudi Arabian leader, obviously, France is aligning itself somewhat with the Americans and Saudis on the question of Iran, which is going to get Europeans a bit upset as well, because Europeans want to do business with Iran; they want this nuclear deal to hold, the one that Trump wants to scrap. I'm sure that Macron and Trump are going to talk about that, when Macron visits Washington.
Sputnik: What is your opinion then, with regard to the support from France, with regard to engaging in these strikes against Syria along with the US, and the UK, when other Western allies, specifically Germany, withheld from the strike.
Socrates Kazolias: The French defense minister was interviewed on TV and he said something very interesting. He expressed concern that the Syrian army was now going after Idlib and the couple of other zones that are still held by the rebels. That sort of indicates to me that this strike was more sort of show of support for what's left of rebels in retreat. Let's not forget France has been supporting Al-Qaeda*-affiliated groups like Al-Nusra* from the beginning, Hollande's foreign minister couldn't say enough good things about Al-Nusra
So France is in a contradictory situation. I would say French public opinion is not in favor of these strikes. But let's also say these strikes come in a very opportune time for the three leaders, who are all in very difficult situations at the moment, with public opinion, social unrest in France, with strikes, the Brexit fiasco and Trump's scandals. But I fear that they miscalculated, because public opinion didn't rally around the flag on these attacks.
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* Al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra (also known as Tahrir al-Sham.) are terrorist organizations banned in Russia