France’s Macron gambles on Lebanon cabinet formation


France has taken a keen interest in the formation of the next Lebanese cabinet following the massive explosion that killed almost 200 in Beirut in August.Since the blast, French President Emmanuel Macron has visited Lebanon twice and has met with different parties, including Hezbollah members of parliament. Now a deadline looms and it’s unclear if France can achieve its goal in Lebanon.Macron has taken a gamble. France has often sought to increase its clout in the Middle East in recent years. As the US has begun withdrawing from the region, France, Russia, Iran, Turkey and others have inevitably sought to fill the vacuum. However, this has led to some chaos as all the players seek to gain a footing.France has tended to take a policy view that is independent of the West and Europe, in general. It views itself as having a unique history and a grasp on understanding the interests of countries like Russia. For example, France has tended to be outspoken on the issue of minorities, such as the Kurds, the Armenian Genocide or rights of Christians.In this light, France also plays a role as a former colonial power, helping to direct operations against extremists across the Sahel and also playing a role in Lebanon.Macron has a deep respect for French history and admires France’s past achievements. He has been interested in using Lebanon to test Paris’s abilities to do more. He has done the same, to a lesser extent, in Iraq. But this test case could be unravelling before it has begun.France wants reform in Lebanon. It is not against the system entirely, since it appears to accept that the massive extralegal terrorist group Hezbollah will inevitably play a role, but it wants the old elites to step aside or give technocrats a chance. It knows that Lebanon needs some $93 billion in bailouts and that the port explosion has only made things worse.  By Tuesday, a cabinet still had not been formed, even though it was supposed to happen, and there is a consensus among the media that this is a blow to Macron. Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib met with President Michel Aoun, but it was unclear if forming a cabinet would be possible.Al-Arabiya reported on Wednesday that Macron had told officials that there would be extension until Thursday.US State Department officials are also concerned that the crisis has not resolved the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons storage. Hezbollah has some 150,000 rockets and other illegal weapons that it has used in the Syrian civil war and which threaten Israel.  Adib appears to be unwilling to challenge the entrenched Lebanese elites or demand the reforms that France wants to see. This leaves open the chance someone else could try to form a government, or that he will press ahead with some kind of agreement.The lack of clarity for Lebanon means people wait with more uncertainty ahead. It also means Hezbollah will continue to profit from the disarray.





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