American neoconservatives are delighted that France, acting as something of a paid lobbyist for the Saudi-Israeli alliance, sabotaged a possible breakthrough between the West and Iran over its nuclear program, thus preserving the military option against Iran that the neocons have long cherished.
Of course, the neocons say they want a peaceful settlement to the dispute -- essentially Iran's total and humiliating capitulation -- but no one should be fooled over how the French maneuver is keeping the neocons' hopes alive for an eventual crisis that will let the bombs fly and regimes change.
So, with an interim deal within sight, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on his American backers to get to work undermining President Obama's diplomatic strategy. Meanwhile, the Saudi monarchy, which has joined Netanyahu in pushing for a more belligerent U.S. approach toward Syria and Iran, was busy granting lucrative financial contracts to France and its struggling economy.The neocons were bitterly disappointed last summer when President Barack Obama failed to follow through on military threats against the Syrian government. They were then alarmed at the prospect of an international settlement that would impose tighter constraints on Iran's nuclear program but not force its complete shutdown.
Between Israel's lobbying skills and Saudi Arabia's petro-dollars, Obama found himself facing stiff resistance to his negotiations. He also had in Secretary of State John Kerry a befuddled point man who appears to have carried into his new job the fuzzy rhetoric and padded elbows that made him a popular member of the Senate club. But those characteristics have left many international observers shaking their heads at his failure to talk straight or act decisively.
In rounding off the sharp edges as he explained how the Iran deal collapsed, Kerry left out how French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius insisted on extensive last-minute revisions that were unacceptable to the Iranians. Instead, Kerry shifted blame onto the Iranians, apparently to soothe tensions among the "P5-plus-one," the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, the six countries negotiating with Iran.
"The French signed off on it [the final proposal], we signed off on it," Kerry said. "There was unity, but Iran couldn't take it."
That prompted a Tweet from Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, saying "No amount of spinning can change what happened within 5+1 in Geneva from 6PM Thursday to 545 PM Saturday. But it can further erode confidence." Zarif blamed the French for substantially rewriting the proposal, forcing the changes on the P5-plus-1 side, and thus scuttling the impending deal.
Of the P5-plus-one countries, France was the most susceptible to inducements from the Saudi-Israeli alliance, especially financial payoffs from Saudi Arabia. The global power and/or wealth of the United States, China, Russia and Germany mean that they have many other interests beyond making commercial deals with Saudi Arabia. And the United Kingdom is a close ally of the United States.
But France is both more independent of the big powers and more vulnerable because of its faltering economy. Relatively modest commitments of money by Saudi Arabia to France could have more impact. France, in effect, was the weak link in the P5-plus-one.
So, in October, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian concluded a $1.5 billion deal with Saudi Arabia to overhaul six of its navy ships. In July, Saudi Arabia's ally, United Arab Emirates, signed a $913 million deal with France to buy two high-resolution Helios military satellites.
Other lucrative arms deals are reportedly in the works between France and Saudi Arabia (and its Sunni allies). Saudi Arabia also has invested in France's sagging agricultural and food sectors, including a Saudi firm buying a major stake in Groupe Doux, Europe's largest poultry firm based in Brittany.
Beyond pleasing the Saudis and the Israelis, France also won praise from neocon U.S. lawmakers who have criticized France in the past, like when it opposed President George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq. Then, France was derided as a "surrender monkey" and Republicans renamed French fries as "freedom fries" in the Capitol's restaurants.
But the tone was entirely different after France sank the Iranian nuclear deal last weekend. "Vive la France!" Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, exclaimed on Twitter. "France had the courage to prevent a bad nuclear agreement with Iran."
"Thank God for France and thank God for push back," said the hawkish Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, on CNN's "State of the Union" program. "The French are becoming very good leaders in the Mideast."