The French Connection in Syria
France appeared on the global stage in the current Syrian imbroglio as if out of whole cloth, the nation's single aircraft carrier steaming to the Mediterranean. Sadly, most Americans have no clue why.
There are obvious reasons, but they are obscured by trends in the teaching of history, warfare and diplomacy over the past 40 years. On most liberal arts campuses today, history is more sociology and identity politics than the study of actual events. Warfare is not taught in many colleges, except in former ROTC courses disguised as curricula in "peace, war and defense." Graduate degrees in diplomacy are marred by a huge lacuna: resistance to acknowledging the value of the experience of western colonialism and the application of its lessons to current events. This reluctance to learn from colonialism is a process that began with the radical scholars who declared Western civilization anathema for nurturing racism, chauvinism and -- the root cause of these social sins -- imperialism. It naturally followed that courses of study that draw on the experiences of colonialism are deemed unworthy of consideration.
I can testify to the woefully inadequate academic capability to confront issues such as civil war in Syria. I attended a conclave of distinguished foreign policy, security and "grand strategy" grandees (Yale's John Lewis delivered the keynote address) gathered at the 50th anniversary of a loosely organized but highly regarded Duke/UNC symposium on global affairs in 2009. I innocently challenged a statement by an internationally known scholar, pointing out his statements ignored obvious facts available to him from the history of Western colonialism. After my question, the air left the room as if an old-fashioned attic fan abruptly switched on. An icy silence ensued as the speaker stared me down as if I had mooned the convocation.
Despite this example that lessons learned from colonialism are to be ignored and ridiculed, France has a large and emotional stake in the region going back to the division of the spoils of the Ottoman Empire after World War 1 when Greater Syria, which included Lebanon, was placed under French protection until Gallic rule was forced out in 1943 by the never-ending US campaign to stamp out the vestiges of imperialism. While European nations are aware of the old relationships with former colonies, protectorates and mandates, the US -- and its academic advisors -- does not appear to take into account old ties to the Mother Country in times of turmoil or crisis for fear of being perceived as politically incorrect.
The recent unpleasantness in Mali caused by Muslim ambitions was repulsed by French troops as a matter of course owing to a previous colonial relationship. Great Britain's strategic interest in dozens of modern nations is anchored by a former relationship. The 54-member Commonwealth of Nations -- headed by the British Sovereign -- is comprised of former UK dependencies which operate effectively through back channels. Since the group recognizes a colonial past: in effect diplomacy that dare not speak its name. Italy keeps its hand in Libya, Holland in Indonesia, Belgium in the Congo, the Portuguese in Mozambique, the British in Hong Kong and Spain in Latin America. If anything happens in a former dependency, be assured the former imperial power will be involved, a reality we dismiss at our peril.
That most Americans do not know why France is regularly connected to news stories about the Syrian crisis is consistent with the paucity of information out of Washington. US citizens know very little of the dangers to come by American intervention, except in terms of the modern diplomatic Newspeak of human rights and global morality. Once involved, however, the rhetoric of the righteous proponents of one-world utopia -- the motive that Obama will embrace to stick a Cruise missile into the Syrian cauldron -- will be seen for what it is: naïve platitudes that ignore the danger of unintended consequences, including dangerous surprises and an expanded regional war. Russia, China, Syria's neighbors -- including Israel -- and former colonial actors like France will have a dog in the fight based on imperial closeness Americans cannot perceive.
The US assiduously disdains the impact of the world's imperial past. But we also take the moral high ground due to our delusion we never engaged in the practice. Mexico, Hawaii (before statehood), the Philippines, Liberia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama Canal Zone, Trust Territories of the Pacific, Marshall Islands Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia have all been controlled by the US in the past. Today, the US controls Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Yet we huffily assert we are not colonialists and stare down our noses at those nations who were.
America may be a "superpower" -- and a colonial empire in denial -- but it is weak-minded and vulnerable when it comes to gauging the situation on the ground once the moral passion is swept away by realpolitik. The fact that no one in the Obama administration or the MSM has explained why France has joined the fray -- along with our usual disdain for the role of history -- is a certain indicator America is severely handicapped when it comes to perceiving reality in Syria. President Obama should think again before taking any action that involves the US in Syria. What appears as a modern nation state is terra incognito.