Can France Fill US Void in Syria?
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Can France Fill US Void in Syria?

Many American politicians and top defense officials have lashed out at the White House decision, arguing that the troops' pullout will destroy the Washington image in the eyes of the allies. The decision immediately triggered some resignations in Trump administration. The Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the US envoy to the international anti-ISIS coalition Brett H. McGurk resigned from their posts in opposition to the withdrawal. Washington's European allies were also shocked by Trump's surprise decision and expressed their discontent with the move. Meanwhile, France is the most important actor in Syria with the biggest opposition to Trump announcement. The French Minister of Defense Florence Parly said on Friday that Trump made “an extremely grave decision” to pull his forces out of Syria. “We do not share the analyses that the territorial caliphate (of ISIS) has been annihilated,” Florence Parly said on France’s RTL radio. “It’s an extremely grave decision and we think … the job must be finished,” he added. Earlier, the French Foreign Ministry had said that the European country will maintain their presence in Syria “to fight terrorism” even if Washington decides to remove its forces from the war-ravaged nation. The European news agencies reported that France promised the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a predominantly Syrian Kurdish force with a small number of Arab fighters, that Paris will continue to support them after US withdrawal. On December 21, France hosted a delegation of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the SDF’s political wing, headed by co-chair Riyaz Darar and Ilham Ahmad, the SDC’s Executive Council co-chair, giving them the guarantees for support. What is driving Paris to support the Syrian Kurds? France’s potentials to fill the US void in the Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria come in four categories: 1. France has a history of presence in Syria. The European power following the WWI took Syria under its mandate. In fact, French leaders have always developed a desire to meddle in Syria’s home affairs. With regard to Paris's role in the creation of the modern Syrian government, the French leaders seek to play a role through their military presence in northern and eastern Syria. 2. The second reason for France to help the Kurdish fighters is the positive reaction of the European public to the idea of supporting the Kurdish forces in the face of the ISIS terrorists. 3. Another reason for Paris’s pro-Kurdish stance is the warm relationship of France with Kurds over the past decades. 4. Yet another drive for the French leaders to offer pro-Kurdish backing is their desire to show a degree of independence from the US. Recently, the French President Emmanuel Macron, along with Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, publicized his willingness to move out of the orbit of Washington's leadership. The Syrian crisis, and the cover for the SDF, can best offer the French leader the field to materialize his wish. What are the French limitations in northern Syria? It seems that, Paris on the ground, will face huge obstacles to supply take Washington's role in Syria, including: 1. The strong opposition of Turkey can make the two countries’ militaries come to blows. Turkish President's recent warning to France may stand as a sign to such a confrontation. On December 21, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan deemed the French promise of help to stabilization of the northern Syria, which is held by the Kurds, a “support for terrorism.” He warned that France could become “target” if it helps the Kurdish militiamen. The remarks very likely will make the French government take what is necessary to avoid facing off a NATO member. 2. The opposition of the Syrian government and its allies Russia and Iran. Maintaining Syria's territorial integrity has been a top priority to the Assad government and its allies and supporting Kurdish militias who have been seeking to establish an autonomous or semi- autonomous region in northern Syria could drew fierce reactions from them. 3. Lack of international and legal legitimacy for the French military presence is another barrier. The US and other uninvited countries face a crisis of illegitimacy in Syria. The Syrian government only invited Iran and Russia, and Lebanese Hezbollah to join its fight against an array of foreign-backed terrorist groups across the country. 4. Lack of a clear strategy by France to play a role in Syria's future. To be clear, the French leaders are yet to know what kind of role they should play in Syria and what their strategy for the future should be. With regard to the above-mentioned limitations, France lacks needed factors to play a role in Syria's north and east. The prediction is that after the US forces' pullout, Paris will find it unavoidable to remove its troops out of the war-torn country.

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