The French President once saved Lebanon’s prime minister from the humiliation of his so-called Saudi captors. But can he now keep Lebanon from falling on its sword? A conference in Paris is a start.
In 2006, immediately after the ceasefire in August between Israel and Lebanon, news footage emerged which made the rounds as a joke.
It was an Italian brigade of soldiers making a landing on a beach in Lebanon which went without incident, although when the EuroNews cameraman came in close to the commander of the unit, that golden moment in broadcasting was filled with an awkward silence, followed by an overdramatized swing of the colonel’s entire body as he straightened out his hair.
But that hilarious moment was only to be trumped by the commentary from a broadcaster who tried to promote the European Union’s garbled, if not hypothetical ‘foreign policy’ (in an era where the term ‘fake news’ was not used) when the journalist mentioned how the EU was helping Lebanon.
It was a lie. Yes, the EU actually lies sometimes. And this is one that has been repeated since the birth of the EU’s hilariously failed foreign policy laughingly called the Barcelona Process in 1995 which, remarkably, spouted a grandiose vision of the EU ruling the entire Mediterranean, with a particularly servile role etched out for Arab countries.
The EU often takes the credit for being a regional player when its member states go ahead, on their own initiative, by sending their own (national) armies to help troubled hot spots. It’s a lie which has been peddled often and usually comes with the tacit support of those countries who would, if given the chance, sign up to an EU army (which, in itself, is another lie).
Emmanuel Macron also shares this vision of the EU being a superpower, with a regional army and a much bigger defence budget as he struggles to deal with the reality that NATO members are defending EU countries more than actual EU countries themselves.
Macron is different though in that he believes he alone, with the sheer strength of his personality, will embolden the EU and create from the ashes of the Barcelona Process an actual policy.
As we see the departure of Federica Mogherini, who so monumentally failed at everything she tried, it is hard not to understand how he would take up the slack.
Mogherini has a long list of failures on the foreign policy circuit which eclipse her British predecessor Cathy Ashton, who only made the headlines once for getting lost, yes lost, inside the delegation building of a foreign country and had to be rescued.
But Mogherini’s last failure, Lebanon, could be an opportunity for Macron to deliver.
On Syria, Macron failed. On Libya, disaster. On NATO, even Trump made him look stupid. On Turkey, his attempt to chastise Erdogan flopped. On the EU itself, hilariously, he has resorted to explaining his bold vision, habitually, in British newspapers (as they seem to be the only EU country interested in publishing them).
For a man whose dream is to be an international player, Macron seems to be struggling to get out of the changing room and onto the pitch, let alone run with the ball.
But Lebanon’s crisis is partly assisted in recent years by an entirely corrupt, self-serving, malevolent EU policy of pumping money into the corruption machine in Beirut in return for fake hegemony, and an unwritten deal to prevent a million Syrian refugees to Europe. This can be resolved by Macron.
It is fair to say, before we entirely write him off, that he did actually rescue Hariri from MBS in Riyadh just a year ago. France now is hosting a summit aimed at helping Lebanon pull itself out of the cesspit that it has created for itself.
Not much is expected from the conference. No cash is to be unveiled, but a certain political inertia is expected from Macron and his countrymen. Put bluntly, Macron needs to support Hariri in Lebanon to create a government made up entirely of technocrats, which ideally, does not feature Hezbollah's man, Gebran Bassil.
If this could be secured, it may be possible for Macron’s team to work with the new government on a slow but steady path of making reforms, which, in turn, will unlock $11 billion in soft loans previously pledged under a deal dubbed ‘Cedar’.
Yet it’s complicated. The cabinet set up that Hariri wants will be seen as a blow to Hezbollah, which, like all other political groups, is locked into the idea that everyone can sit it out. Time is running out though as the country appears to be bracing itself for an implosion of some sort. Food stocks may be hit very badly, along with gasoline, and Lebanon may well be seen as a country turning to the UN for aid.
It’s time now that Macron steps up to the mark and shows us that he is no useless EU foreign policy chief who tries to cover up the scandal of Lebanese cancer rates rising due to EU waste management schemes there poisoning the groundwater.
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