This past weekend, I asked an open-ended question on social media. “Why did President Macron visit Lebanon twice in three weeks?” It is historically exceptional for the French commander-in-chief to pay an official visit to a foreign country twice in such a short time. He has only done so previously with Germany, and one can well understand why; both Germany and France have some of the most important intergovernmental cooperation structures in the world and are both carrying the EU on their shoulders, but why visit Lebanon twice in three weeks? Any particular motives?
So, I asked my readers whose intellect, vulnerability, humor, and curiosity constantly educate and entertain me. And, these were the results (see attached photo). I received more than 1,000 answers, which I will decompose in this article.
Before I delve into the subject matter, I’d like to remind everyone that politics is both a history-rich, behavioral, and pragmatism-based science. No answer is definitive, but data can speak volumes. But my purpose is not to tell you what to think. My purpose is to push you to ask questions based on data, so you can formulate your own critical thinking. And I will finish by shedding the light on a very important conclusion.
As a preamble, I will state off the bat that my answer is in the less than 1%. And I will duly explain why.
The vast majority of the answers, 33%, pointed a finger towards business interests: oil, gas, and the port of Beirut mainly. If I am not mistaken, many of these people’s opinions regarding foreign interest in hydrocarbons (oil, natural gas, etc.) may have been influenced by the historic distress that our region has endured at the hands of foreign occupation and oil, which is both deeply traumatic and an understandable concern to have. Foreign powers have historically been destructive thugs, colonialists, remorseless autocratic regime supporters, and devastating masters in conquered lands in their quest for oil that has destroyed this region’s social fabric. Thus, I understand that people would feel compelled to call out such potential motives, but a lot of data points do not really connect to any oil/gas/business motive. I will explain why in a bit.
In second and third place, a cumulative 23% linked Macron’s twin visits to his need to assert his East Mediterranean influence, and to secure a victory in a face-off against Turkey, often citing the need to use the “Beirut Port as a base/foothold” because of “a war of the ports” between “Turkey and France.”
I believe that some of these answers may have been influenced by a couple of videos that widely circulated online in Lebanon. These videos placed Lebanon at the center of the Eastern Mediterranean conflict between Turkey and France, which defies realism in my opinion. By comparison, the Financial Times made a similar video on the same topic to explain why there is such interest in gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the FT’s 4:46 minute long video mentioned Lebanon a grand total of ZERO TIMES. The hard truth is, we’re really not that important. You may watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yi62MocrCSU&feature=youtu.be
In truth, the idea that Lebanon is currently of any interest to any foreign power is simply no longer true. Tell me this. If you were a foreigner with cash to spend, would you invest in Lebanon today? I believe your answer is almost certainly no. Why not? The answer is because Lebanon is on the verge of a total collapse, which will be one of the most severe economic collapses in modern history. Lebanon is also ruled by completely immoral and inconceivably incompetent thugs who are running a scorched earth tactic, where life answers to zero rule of law, and everything is a zero-sum game. There is no security, no safety, no regulations, no governing principles, no rule of law. NO RULE OF LAW. The first rule for any investment is, can you guarantee the security of said investment? If no stability, no investment. The truth is that no foreign power will touch Lebanese contracts in the current situation, not even in the near future.
Let me tell you a personal anecdote. Renewable energy is my professional expertise. I once was pitching a renewable energy project to one of the biggest renewable energy companies in the world whose investment portfolio value exceeds USD 48 billion in projects around the world. I was speaking to them about a project that would have taken place in the Bekaa region, which we visited together back in the heyday of Lebanon where life was all roses and rainbows, and no one had heard of ammonium nitrate, and I really was pushing for the renewable energy policy. Do you know what the executive told me at the end of the day? He said, “To do a project here? Over my dead body. That is what we will find. Dead bodies. Law is not on my side. If tomorrow some militia decides to “visit us” and prohibit my workers from entering the power plant because they received some order from a hidden mafia boss to make trouble, the entire board of directors will be fired. No, thank you. Let’s find another location.”
So, why would the world’s 6th superpower want to ruse us diplomatically with a clique of incompetent morons to take over failing assets during one of the worst economic crises in modern times in one of the most unstable countries in the world? It makes zero economic sense. Is Macron willing to bet his own credibility, as well as his country’s credibility, on a “port” that currently stands at minus 15 billion dollars that has hangars and warehouses where no one is allowed to enter? Where illicit and questionable material is parked for years and no one, no one, has “legitimacy” to speak up or explore the warehouses? Is Macron so unsophisticatedly amateurish that he would patron a deal for a French company to sign business contracts in an unstable land that answers to ZERO rule of law? No. Do you know that we ranked 137th out of 137 countries in terms of “trade deficit” in the world in 2018? We were the country with the worst trade deficit on planet Earth even before the crisis hit and before the explosion. You can’t make this up. Take my word for it. Any French CEO would rather take a slingshot to her face every morning than to have to partner up with a hopelessly incompetent oligarchy on a damn port in the most unstable region knowing that she will have to go to sleep every night with the high chance that she could wake up the next morning to the news that the port was seized and annihilated. “Nope”, would probably be the answer, or I prophesize, “over my dead body.”
Speaking of dead bodies, do you remember in 1983 when 58 French soldiers were killed in their barracks in a suicide terrorist attack by what is suspected is the organization that would later be known as Hezbollah? What happened afterwards? 300 French troops left Lebanon, closing out the multinational force to “bring peace to Lebanon”, and never returned. That occurred during a full-on war. No, the French won’t be parking any of their economic and military interests in a country that is once again “on the verge of a civil war”, to use Macron’s own words. As for those who mentioned CMA CGM, that’s a different story. The founders of CMA CGM are Lebanese, and most likely have both a personal attachment and interests in Lebanon, which is what takes the foreground. But currently, and in the near future, as long as the country is in shambles, no foreign power will put one penny in Lebanon.
Now onto the talk of the Lebanese shores’ hydrocarbons (oil, natural gas, etc.). First, let me state that these are hydrocarbons that have yet to be located, as they do not exist yet. TOTAL and co drilled one well in block 4 and stopped, seemingly having found nothing. Allegedly no reservoir to hold any of it anyway. Block 9, in the best of scenarios, could hold 9 to 15 trillion cubic feet of gas. That’s great. But it’s hypothetical. But that’s great. But is TOTAL still keen on developing the drilling, and sinking billions and billions of dollars in wells and gas infrastructure on a long-term gas export contract with Lebanon? Experts say no, because it’s now too expensive, too unstable, and makes no sense financially. The world is flushed with gas. Supply is elsewhere. Cyprus hasn’t even touched its Aphrodite field, and powers are attracted to cheap oil and gas, but the Mediterranean is not cheap. This is a complex matter. Politics need to be stable, and the economy of the world plays a big role, and both are not available. That’s only one part of the story. Then, there is peak oil, and carbon footprint.
See, France is a low-carbon electricity economy, owing to its large nuclear fleet. France produces 80% of its energy from nuclear, and no more than low single digits from any single source of hydrocarbons, and 17% renewables. France has completely stopped the extraction of coal and natural gas. Why would Macron be chasing gas? Reelection? If anything, a petrol and gas stamp on a reelection ballot in France makes you lose points. In the wake of the Paris Agreement of 2015, (it’s called the _PARIS_ agreement, for crying out loud), France pledged to substantially reduce, if not fully abandon, the use of fossil fuels as part of their economic and ecological policy. It’s not the 70s and the 80s anymore. Oil peak is here. Global warming is going to kill us all. Gas is for leaders who need to excite their base using old realpolitik, like Erdogan, not Macron.
Which brings me to Turkey. Now that’s a separate topic altogether, and in fact, the EU is dealing with this separately. Turkey has indeed been flexing muscles in the Mediterranean undoubtedly to deflect attention from its internal problems. It’s a classic flag-waving strategy. Their economy is in shambles. If you look up the Turkish lira in the news, you will see that it has reached a record low, and Turkey is facing a total currency meltdown. Know that the economy leads the way in popularity and elections in every democratic country, and the economy is doing really badly in Turkey. In my opinion, this explains why Erdogan is going around jostling for positioning, making a place for himself in current events, talking of expansionism. It’s a diversion tactic from how badly Turkey is doing economically since he needs applause elsewhere. It’s not a Macron problem, it’s a Germany problem. But you know, despite its bad economy, Turkey is nowhere nearly as broke as Lebanon, and believe me, grabbing Greek and Cypriot economic zones is not of the same value as grabbing Hezbollah economic zones. So, the idea that “Turkey wants a piece of Lebanon” and “Macron is fighting Erdogan back because he wants Lebanon for himself” is a plot that sincerely does not exist today. If anything, Lebanon may have to pay Turkey to house the coming Syrian/Lebanese refugees.
So, what’s my answer? Why did Macron visit twice? Macron visited twice because of the urgency of the imminent total collapse of Lebanon and the awful repercussions it will have on Europe.
Our house is on fire. Our country is burning down. Emmanuel Macron and his team are feeling the heat, all the way in France, more than the Lebanese politicians because they work with clear pragmatism. Bodies will soon start washing up on shores across the Mediterranean again, and this time, it’s going to be even more hot for France because refugees from Lebanon will go straight to the land where they have linguistic and cultural affinities, where there are already significant compatriot communities. France knows it will be a prime target destination for the human hemorrhage that will very soon result from the total collapse of the state, and it is doing its best to stop it. But it doesn’t stop there, Macron and Europe cannot possibly deal with the wave of religious extremism that will result from a Lebanese collapse.
One of my readers said it best, “Macron fears collapse will turn Lebanon into another Syria.” And in my personal opinion, that is the soundest answer today. It is imperative that Lebanon not collapse, otherwise, France and Europe are in for another very bad trip, and Macron ran on the European ticket, being the most explicitly pro-European of all the French candidates. He needs to “hold the doors of immigration in the Mediterranean”, as another one of my readers wrote, that will obstruct the religious extremism that will surely result from a Lebanon collapse.
Of course, France as a country holds enduring fraternal instincts towards Lebanon, and the 5% who answered that Macron is acting out of love for Lebanon may be correct for a portion of the story, as well as the 3% who said he’s doing this for his legacy because that is indeed a French presidential trend to help Lebanon. After all Macron is a sentient human being, and the French have truly been very generous with us regarding aid, but in my opinion, these points are almost certainly not the prime motivation this instant, neither are his need for French Lebanese votes. There are ~80,000 French Lebanese registered voters at the embassy in France, and there are 47,568,693 French registered voters in France. The Lebanese represent 0.17% of the registered voters. If all 80,000 Lebanese voted for Macron (and that’s not the case) in the 2017 elections, that accounts for 0.3% of his votes. I don’t know, but I think the numbers speak for themselves.
This is the main idea: Macron gains nothing in France from helping to stabilize Lebanon, but he stands to lose if Lebanon implodes. Macron does not really care more than that, neither should he. If the Lebanese barely even care, why should Macron? Even Santa Claus doesn’t operate this way. Macron needs stability in Lebanon at all costs, that’s really it, at this point.
But it’s heat for him. How will he do it? “Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” So, Macron did a preemptive strike. He visited. Personally. Twice. Out of dire urgency. He gave the sadistic mafia and militia orders to their faces (nod to the 4% who answered that Macron traveled to pressure the politicians, that’s definitely part of the story), and urged them to get their act together, so they can kick-start CEDRE and the IMF program, give everyone a breather, and avoid collapse.
But what happened?
*Drum roll* The cancerous oligarchy gave him the middle finger, broke his word, the French initiative is flapping, and now, we are heading towards an unprecedented collapse if a government does not get formed and does reforms to get financial support. We have two months before the Central Bank reserves run out. Two months. 60 days.
We were taught in 9th grade that “Lebanon is the door between the East and West”, and that we are an exceptional country like none around us, and everyone either seeks to take refuge or conquest in this green gem in the Middle East. That gave us a level of pride and conceit that we never shook off. But that is no longer our reality. We have to come to terms with how bad the situation is. We are not special in the world anymore. We are not even special in the Levant. Gas, port, business deals, world power competition, all of these may belong in the future, but they don’t belong in our present because we are collapsing.
The focus should indisputably be on presenting a real alternative to the oligarchy, now, to work with the French and the IMF who are the only ones who can save this country. We need an independent political front. The miserable oligarchy is finished. But their absence absolutely does not guarantee that our future is bright unless we step up our game as the organized opposition. Let us stop overlooking the data. Let us organize the opposition and let us work to make Lebanon the exceptional country we all want it to be.