Reprinted from Strategic Culture
Francois Hollande and Vladimir Putin
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French President Francois Hollande is pushing for a grand coalition to defeat the self-styled Islamic State terror group. Hollande wants the United States and Russia to join forces in a united fight. Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to welcome the French proposal, saying that such a grand alliance is what Moscow has been advocating for months. Putin has even ordered his naval forces to begin liaising with the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to coordinate aerial bombing operations in Syria against the Islamic State network.
Hollande is due to fly to Washington next week to discuss with American President Barack Obama how this proposed military coalition could be organised. The French leader will then proceed to Moscow two days later to hold the same discussion with Putin.
This could appear to be a step in the right direction. But many questions remain about the feasibility of such a US-Russia alliance that Hollande is seeking to bridge.
No doubt the horror of the Paris massacre on November 13 -- in which 129 people were killed in apparent suicide attacks by IS operatives -- has focused minds. That focus has only been reinforced by confirmation from Russian investigators that the Metrojet civilian airliner was brought down by a terrorist bomb en route from Egypt's Sharm el Sheikh to St Petersburg on October 31, in which all 224 lives on board perished. An IS affiliate claimed responsibility for that atrocity.
Russia has been careful not to crow about this. But the latest spate of terror attacks, including deadly bombs in Beirut and Iraq, serves to underline the correctness of Russia's intervention in Syria that began on September 30. The Russian intervention was from the outset about destroying the IS network and related jihadist terror groups. Key to the Russian strategy has been its full-square support for the Syrian state and close coordination with the Syrian Arab Army of President Bashar al-Assad.
The deadly capability of IS (also known as ISIS, ISIL) to launch attacks outside Syrian territory and in the heart of Europe only underlines the fact that Russia's intervention was the right call to make.
French warplanes this week have now stepped up their bombing raids on the IS stronghold of Raqqa in eastern Syria. Russia has also intensified its operations. This belated determination by France to wipe out the IS group raises the question: what have the French and their American allies been doing for the past year, with their combined bombing raids supposedly against the jihadists up to now having been seen as ineffectual, allowing the IS to run a virtual oil industry in eastern Syria.
There still remains the illegality of what the French and the Americans are doing in Syria with their air forces. As Moscow has repeatedly pointed out, the US-led operations are in violation of international law, as they have not been approved by the Syrian government. Russia's operations were authorised by the Syrian authorities and are therefore legally deployed.
So while the French military operations are now being conducted with a newfound sense of purpose to eradicate the IS, they are still unlawful.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said this week that French military intervention may be countenanced and that Syrian authorities will share intelligence with France -- but only if Paris genuinely joins the fight against terrorism. Assad set France a test of correct commitment. He said that France cannot fight terrorism if it remains an ally of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey -- three countries which Syria has consistently accused of supporting the terror networks waging war against the Syrian state.
The American media have this week been pondering the possibility of a new coalition involving the US and Russia, as Hollande is promulgating.
The McClatchy new agency reported: "As Russia forms a new alliance with France and Russian warplanes rain down bombs on Islamic State targets in Syria, the Paris attacks may be nudging Moscow and Washington closer together."
McClatchy even quoted a Pentagon spokesman as welcoming the latest Russian airstrikes. "Those airstrikes, at least from our vantage point, did appear to strike in ISIL-held territory," said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook. "We welcome any sincere effort on the part of the Russians to play a more constructive role in Syria," he added. Albeit with a misplaced arrogant inference of American righteousness.
The New York Times also ran an article with the headline: "Envisioning How Global Powers Can Smash ISIS." It too weighed the possibilities of the US and Russia combining military effort in Syria. "Much of the world agrees that the Islamic State needs to be crushed. But how that can be accomplished, and what the unintended consequences may be, are a lot more complicated," noted the NY Times. The latter comment is a massive understatement and raises a lot more questions than perhaps the paper even intended. Complicated indeed.