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Sarkozy: Still French

Throughout the six-month Lebanese presidential crisis, France remained the lone western party actively engaged in monitoring the Lebanese political process. In this vein, French President Nicholas Sarkozy pushed for the Hezbollah-led opposition to accept the will of the parliamentary majority and elect consensus candidate Michel Suleiman president without preconditions. In late December, Sarkozy demonstrated impressive guts when he publicly blamed Syria for the ongoing crisis and suspended contacts with Damascus until it ended its interference–all with Egypt’s diplomatic support. The move left Syria stunned, and France seemed to finally have a president who was willing to play hardball with anti-western forces.

Well, Sarkozy’s response to last week’s Doha agreement–which resolved the political crisis in terms favorable to Hezbollah–should dash such fantasies. Yesterday, Sarkozy phoned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to thank him for his “tireless efforts” in support of the Doha agreement, vowing to strengthen economic and political ties between Damascus and Paris and restoring full diplomatic relations. This only adds to the political windfall that Syria achieved through the Doha agreement–which strengthened its allies within Lebanon–and the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency proudly posted photos of long-lost friends Sarkozy and Assad atop its website.

Make no mistake: Sarkozy’s phone call to Assad represents a diplomatic retreat of epic proportions, as Sarkozy has entirely negated his strong stance against Syria’s role in Lebanon while achieving none of his demands! Indeed, the Doha agreement–which grants Hezbollah veto power within the current cabinet–has all the telltale signs of Syrian interference. Moreover, as the Doha agreement gives Hezbollah substantial influence in formulating a new elections law, Syria has acquired a new means for interfering in Lebanese politics for many years to come.

Ultimately, Sarkozy seems to have embraced the Doha agreement for the same reason that the Bush administration has: because it resolved the Lebanese political crisis without a civil war, which-thanks to constantly increasing support from Iran via Syria-Hezbollah might have won. Yet, unlike the Bush administration–which bizarrely sat on the sidelines throughout the presidential standoff–Sarkozy made clear demands of Syria. To surrender those demands completely in favor of the Doha agreement’s short-term quiet is the ultimate appeasement.