Donald Trump accepted Emmanuel Macron’s invitation to meet in Paris for the Bastille Day Parade on July 15. The American and French presidents had meaningful encounters in recent days, shaking hands in Brussels, and standing side-by-side for a group photograph at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg. Macron even left his assigned spot in the center and barged his way in front of others to have a private chat with Trump on the left side of the group shot!
This year’s Bastille Day weekend allows the two leaders a chance to iron out details of bilateral cooperation and develop an approach regarding future Western policies toward the Middle East.
Macron and Trump have common ground from which to build. The two have been favorably compared to each other for their pro-business records; although they focus on economic development and other improvements in their home countries, neither has proven willing to turn a blind eye to truly pressing problems around the world.
On June 28, Agence France-Presse reports a telephone call between the two presidents; they agreed on a joint military response in the event of another chemical attack in Syria. On June 26, the White House said Assad appeared to be preparing another chemical weapons attack, and warned that he would “pay a heavy price,” if one took place.
Macron and Trump are on the right side of the Syrian issue. In vowing to respond to what might be “crimes against humanity,” Macron is also staying true to France’s identity as a Great Power and global defender of rights and dignity. But the situation in Syria and surrounding area calls for more than a military response to blatant human rights violations. It requires a comprehensive strategy to root out causes of those abuses. Here is where Macron and Trump can expand on their common ground in Paris on Friday.
The myriad of crimes of the Assad regime would have come to an end years ago, if not for the fact his regime is propped up from outside by direct intervention of Iran, and later Russia. What’s more, Tehran contributed substantially to the escalation of those crimes, as well as adding more to the list through its promotion of Shiite terrorist groups as part of pro-Assad fighting forces. Many of these groups have committed human rights abuses against Sunni populations in quantities rivaling those carried out by ISIS, aka Islamic State, against Shiites in Mosul, Iraq. And unlike ISIS, Iran-backed militants now are poised to stay in Iraq and Syria over the long term.
If Macron wishes France to have the impact it deserves as a Great Power, he must be willing to align with Trump and confront the Islamic Republic of Iran directly. And they ought to position their countries to lead NATO in doing the same in Europe and the Middle East. If Trump is reluctant to lead NATO, Macron should be prepared to do so without Washington.
This is not to say any Western power should be jostling for a new war in the Middle East, and this is certainly not what Washington has been advocating. On June 15, the U.S. Senate voted increased sanctions on the Iranian regime over its ballistic missile program, support for terrorism, and human rights violations. Friday’s meeting is a significant chance for both presidents to encourage renewed commitments to sanctions and diplomatic pressure, e.g., coercive diplomacy.
Iran must be countered by exposing its vulnerability and pushing it from areas of foreign influence. Economic penalties against the Islamic Republic can serve a further purpose, namely encouragement of domestic forces that might facilitate a transfer of power out of the hands of the clerical regime into arms of democratic representatives of the Iranian people.
The Macron-Trump meeting takes place two weeks after an annual international rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which also took place in Paris, attended by some 100,000 Iranian expats. I was at the rally conducting interviews for this article and heard NCRI President Maryam Rajavi emphasize the Iranian regime is much more vulnerable than is generally acknowledged, because of its overextension in the broader Middle East and hundreds of barely-reported protests taking place daily across the country.
Sanctions on the Islamic Republic could be the thing finalizing conditions for regime change from within Iran and subsequent improvement in prospects for Syria and the region as a whole. Iran’s democratic opposition would refrain from subverting Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
If Friday’s talks go well, the two presidents would be the ones most credited with setting this transformative chain of events in motion and accelerating the arc of history toward security and justice.
Prof. Raymond Tanter (@AmericanCHR) served as a senior member on the Middle East Desk of the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration, Personal Representative of the Secretary of Defense to international security and arms control talks in Europe, and is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan. Tanter is on the comprehensive list of conservative writers and columnists who appear in The Wall Street Journal, Townhall.com, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Human Events, The American Spectator, and now in Newsmax. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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