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France and the Middle East
French Play Lawrence d’Arabie as U.S. Sits on Sideline

As the relationship between the US and our Gulf Arab allies cools, another Western power has taken shrewd advantage—France. An extensive piece in The New York Times earlier this week highlighted one of the most interesting, not to say telling, trends in foreign affairs today:

Just days ago, France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said that French officials were working on memorandums of understanding for “several tens of billions of euros” in projects in Saudi Arabia. Last week, President François Hollande was warmly welcomed at a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council, where he oversaw the signing of a $7 billion deal to sell fighter jets to Qatar.

Mr. Hollande was the first Western leader to attend a GCC conference, and observers say that the invitation was a pointed message to Washington. So, too, are recent regional arms purchases:

“By appearing slightly tougher than the rest of the Western coalition on the nuclear deal, the French find a niche for themselves, a window of opportunity,” said Dominique Moïsi, a political scientist specializing in international affairs and a founder of the French Institute of International Relations. “And by buying French, the Saudis are also showing their displeasure with the Americans.”

According to the Times, the Gulf leaders know France can’t really replace the U.S.—in fact, the speculation is that long-term, the French connection will mainly replace a downsized British presence as the junior Western partner in the region.

But in the short term, an ostentatious dalliance with the French mistress is also intended to send a pointed message to the American wife, about how our long-term partners are dissatisfied with us. For anyone interested in the regional dynamics, we recommend you read the whole thing.

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