Replaying World War I, Macron Wants to Fight “Over There”

French President Emmanuel Macron is less concerned with the waning hopes of Ukraine than he is with his political standing in France. By proposing to send French troops to inflict defeat on the evil Russians in Ukraine, he’s trying to cast himself in the role of a European superhero.
Emmanuel Macron

PARIS, FRANCE – APRIL 8, 2017 : Emmanuel Macron speaking about french ultramarine for the french presidential election of 2017 at the head office of his political party en marche. © Frederic Legrand – COMEO / shutterstock.com

March 20, 2024 02:03 EDT

Macron must have very good reasons to seek the kind of military confrontation that could put France, Europe and the world on the nuclear brink. He recently invited two television journalists to the Elysée Palace to clarify those reasons. Instead of walking back his provocative suggestion, he doubled down, insisting to his audience’s disbelief that “the security of Europe and the security of the French is playing out over there.”

Macron’s basic preùise is that “we mustn’t let Russia win.” Should we understand that as the expression of an ideal to inspire hope or as a categorical imperative, that must be accomplished at all costs? And what does he mean? Who is the “we”? France, NATO, Europe, Macron’s government or all morally decent people? He can’t count on Pope Francis, who recently called for Ukraine to summon the “courage to raise the white flag.”

And what does he mean by not letting “Russia win?” Would retaining conquered territory and formalizing Ukraine’s neutrality be considered a “win” for Russia? Macron’s tone appears to signify that he not only wants to prevent Russia’s victory, but to inflict on it the humiliation he insisted, two years ago, must be avoided.

When in February, in the presence of 27 European leaders, he first suggested sending troops to Ukraine, Macron may have assumed no one would take his grandstanding seriously. Unfortunately, both his NATO allies and critics at home took notice and excoriated him for overreaching.

To deflect criticism, Macron cleverly confessed to practicing “strategic ambiguity.” No one should doubt Macron’s taste for ambiguity, but if he had any real sense of strategy he would have understood that the starting point for strategic thinking must be reality rather than the fantasy of French bravery galloping in on a shining steed to miraculously turn the tide. Most experts, even in his own military, are convinced Ukraine simply cannot defeat Russia.

In the interview, Macron offered this curious conditional statement: “If the situation were to deteriorate, we must be ready and we will be ready.” (Si la situation devait se dégrader, nous devons être prêts et nous serons prêts.)

Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary definition:


Circumstances that, because they are beyond one’s control, may be invoked in provocative ways to create the illusion that one is capable of control.

Contextual note

Macron’s conditional assertion must be deemed odd, if only because every knowledgeable person about the state of play in Ukraine recognizes see the situation as already deteriorating. This is not a matter of speculation.

Monsieur le Président appears to be saying we must act now. But France cannot act alone. He has even labeled his allies cowards. Perhaps Macron sees himself in the role of NATO’s Jeanne d’Arc before the battle of Orléans, the heroic champion who mounts his horse and sallies forth to inspire courage in the faltering king’s forces, forcing the English – in this case the Russians – to flee.

To play such a role, serious drama is required. Macron describes the war in Ukraine as “existential for our Europe and for France” (“existentielle pour notre Europe et pour la France). The interesting word here is “notre.” What can he possibly mean by “our Europe?” Does he believe there are multiple Europes? Is Russia a different Europe?

More likely, “our” points to a class of people or an ideology within Europe. Macron has never made a secret of his own ideology and class, which is composed of ENA graduates, Rothschild bankers, hauts fonctionnaires (senior bureaucrats) and McKinsey consultants. Macron himself was a Rothschild banker. He notoriously paid McKinsey handsomely to play a significant role in guiding his policies of governance. The Europe of bankers, consultants and private think tanks is real. From the beginning of his career, Macron was groomed inside it and for it. The  Europe he calls “our Europe” is indeed facing an existential threat.

That class of professionals, largely shielded from direct contact with the people of Europe’s disparate nations, has governed and managed the European Union for decades. It’s the Europe of banks, multinationals, consultants, lawyers and an army of senior bureaucrats who comfortably make decisions and spend money within the very real and well-defended security of institutions that were designed to stand above the plebian masses with no accountability to the people. Though regularly challenged by multiple parties and movements, the self-satisfied, arrogant technocracy that reigns in Brussels and depends on US-led NATO for its security, is the “existing” Europe that Macron perceives as being existentially threatened.

Those in Europe who challenge an invisible hierarchy of financial and political interests tied by an umbilical cord to its protector, NATO (the US military-industrial complex), fall into three categories: nationalistic populists on the right, anti-capitalist parties on the left and a wide range of sometimes prestigious but largely marginalized intellectuals and independent thinkers. Prominent among them are personalities with historical connections to politics but no longer tied to established parties, such as Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister and Dominique de Villepin, former French prime minister. They, and the people of the European community, in the full ideological diversity, appear to belong to something other than Macron’s “notre Europe.”

Historical note

France did have its moment of very real influence during the Cold War. It even had several moments, despite its obvious weakness regarding the two competing superpowers. In 1966, De Gaulle withdrew France from NATO’s integrated military command structure. De Gaulle believed that France should not be bound by decisions made by other NATO members, particularly the United States.

Similarly, under his leadership, France insisted on developing its own nuclear deterrent, including the testing and deployment of nuclear weapons. The French nuclear program aimed to ensure that France could defend itself independently, without relying on other nuclear powers.

Perhaps even more significantly in February 1965, de Gaulle announced France’s intention to exchange its U.S. dollar reserves for gold at the official exchange rate, effectively calling what had become the post Bretton Woods bluff. The general dared to call the dollar the “exorbitant privilege” that allowed the US to hold the world hostage to a currency everyone had to have and hold, meaning the US was free to print the money that allowed it to wage wars and conduct covert operations across the globe.

At a time when the US had become comfortable with the idea that a divided Europe was a good thing, even if it meant allowing the Soviet Union to pull strings in the east, De Gaulle advocated for a united Europe that could assert its interests on the global stage. He dared to evoke a Europe stretching “from the Atlantic to the Urals.” Though some in the US and Europe categorized the general as an impertinent nationalist, his thinking was consistently regional. As Henri Guaino, a close collaborator of President Nicolas Sarkozy, recently remarked, De Gaulle “wanted sovereignty for France and independence for Europe.”

Guaino, and former prime minister Dominique de Villepin under President Jacques Chriac, are two prominent voices today who, not content to critique Macron’s bellicose foreign policy, argue strongly in favor of diplomacy rather than intransigent confrontation as the means of resolving conflict. Both invoke the Gaullist tradition.

De Gaulle left office in 1969 and died a year later. The irony of history is that today, six decades on, NATO is not only threatened existentially by its failure to master events in Ukraine but the almighty dollar also appears to be losing its exorbitant privilege as multiple forces line up to weaken its dominance.

No one can predict how the two current wars – in Ukraine and Gaza – will end or drag on. But the brightest minds understand that the Western “rules-based” and dollar-based order has lost a significant measure of its prestige. France’s politics, much like the US, have achieved a level of astoning incoherence. My prediction for France is that De Gaulle’s heritage will be felt again, not in a spirit of Make France Great Again, but by permitting to rethink France’s fundamental “existential” relationships across in Europe and elsewhere. An unpredictable multipolar world is emerging and France, but not Macron, will have something to contribute to it. 

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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