March 24, 2011

Don’t Give to France What Is not France’s

The story may be told in different ways. One (and the most likely, in my opinion) is that French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with his popularity languishing at a record low and facing a presidential election next year and a revived National Front, the far right party led by Ms Le Pen, was in need of a political boost. And on Saturday—when the Operation “Odyssey Dawn” started—he got it. Yet, even before the allied forces attacked Libya on March 19, he had said that France had “decided to assume its role, its role before history” in stopping Gaddafi and his “killing spree” against his own people.

Another, which does not exclude the first, is that Nicolas Sarkozy is seeking to secure oil contracts with a future Libyan government and to increase French influence in that strategically vital area.

Yet another is very flattering for the French president: as Lt. Col. Oliver North told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Monday, “What you now have is very clearly an effort now to support the rebel movement in a civil war to get to Tripoli and unseat Moammar Gadhafi—this brutal despot—who has ruled the country for 40 years and killed thousands of people. Nicolas Sarkozy has no doubt about the mission—he is now the leader of the free world. It doesn’t bother him what Putin says or anybody else for that matter. In fact, I’m told that the message he delivered, very straightforward, was: We’re going with you or without you.”

Unfortunately for Lt. Col. North (and the French president), barely more than three years ago, Sarkozy welcomed Gaddafi on the red carpet in Paris, and allowed him to pitch an air-conditioned Bedouin tent near the Elysee. And this is how he used to approach the whole Gaddafi thing at the time:

Mr. Sarkozy also replied to his critics, saying, “It is rather beautiful the principle that consists in not getting yourself wet, not taking risks,” he said, and “being so certain of everything you think while you’re having your latte on the Boulevard Saint-Germain.”
“If we don’t welcome countries that are starting to take the path of respectability, what can we say to those that leave that path?” Mr. Sarkozy said at a news conference in Lisbon over the weekend.
Jean-David Levitte, Mr. Sarkozy’s diplomatic adviser, recently said that a country like Libya had a “right to redemption.”

But then again, Nicolas Sarkozy, too, has a right to redemption—and many others with him, including Silvio Berlusconi… Yet, one might ask why Sarkozy did not express much support, unlike in the case of Libya, for the recent uprisings which started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt. In other words, why Libya? Some think that this is because the winds of change that swept through Tunisia and Egypt have slowed, and need invigoration, which may be provided by a regime change in Libya. Others think that oil is what makes the difference. I myself, for what it’s worth, wouldn’t want to be too cynical here, but I guess the oil thing is by far the best explanation. This doesn’t necessarily mean that what has been done so far is bad. Not at all. Quite the contrary: something had to be done to stop Gaddafi killing more of his own people. Just please don’t give to France what is not France’s.

On the other hand, and here is something else to consider, as Norman Geras notes, it’s very important to remember that the doctrine of “a responsibility to protect,” which UN resolution 1973 refers to, includes the constraint of right intention (see 4.33 here):

The primary purpose of the intervention must be to halt or avert human suffering. Any use of military force that aims from the outset, for example, for the alteration of borders or the advancement of a particular combatant group's claim to self-determination, cannot be justified. Overthrow of regimes is not, as such, a legitimate objective, although disabling that regime's capacity to harm its own people may be essential to discharging the mandate of protection…

He who has ears to hear, let him hear…


  1. Excellent post indeed. As you have rightly said, something had to be done to stop Gaddafi killing more of his own people. What we didn’t need was a coalition force without Germany and led by Sarkozy’s France, which is clearly Obama’s fault.

  2. Lots about this being said here. Leftists are upset because Obama is using the military. Some of the Left is upset because he's using the military without Congressional approval.
    On the right some are having a bit of fun saying Obama has gone to war for oil (the consistent charge against the Bush's). We agree with those Leftists that he didn't consult with Congress first. We are chagrined that France? has become the 'leader of the free world'...yikes! We don't think we have a dog in this fight (neo-cons do). About the argument of the UN that military force should be used when the rulers are killing or hurting their own people. If that's the case why wasn't there support of stopping Saddam, or Gadhafi before this, or the murderous regime in the Sudan, or Cuba, etc.
    Gadhafi is a billionaire, yet the US has sent him tens of $millions for military support.
    Then it turns out the opposition leadership is Al-Qaeda linked, so the knuckleheads at the top of our government don't even know who they're supporting with this action, or they are knowingly supporting Al-Qaeda.
    My understanding is that a great portion of Europe's oil supply comes from Libya, so if they want to form a coalition and protect that resource, that's fine, keep the US out of it. Since such things have a tendency to escalate, we (some Conservatives) want to stay out of it because Obama is incompetent and in way over his head. (In the two years he's been in office, more soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan that during the whole of the Bush administration. Good grief, he even suggested giving medals to soldiers that withheld fire!)
    Bottom line, this is Europe's problem, do it without US money and US military. We are $trillions in debt, and our military engaged in two wars already.

  3. The oil theory is always a favourite, but whoever has oil has to sell it, and this, no matter who is in power. The clients of today become those of tomorrow, unless there is any valid reason to drop former clients.
    One used the same argument for the Iraqi intervention, but we are still paying the market price of oil. When there's instability, the price goes up, so it stands to reason that a democratic country with oil resources, would be more stable than a tyrannic, totalitarian regime.

    Everyone knew it was right to stop Gaddafi. Had the US President not been sharply reminded by Hilary of the urgency of the situation, and Obama delayed things by another day or two, it might even have been too late. Gaddafi was banking on this.
    All he needed was to take Benghazi, and the war would have been virtually over. Euro-American intervention would then have been considered unjustified.
    The US shouldn't have delayed their support. They could also have recognised the Delegation of Libyan Transition, (what other alternative was there?) but militarily they could have held back even more.

    Whatever Sarkozy does or doesn't do, he won't gain any popularity contest in France, and he knows this. If he felt, as Cameron obviously did, that something had to be done without delay, it was because he, as well as Cameron, sincerely believed it.

    One can always find pictures of Presidents and Prime Ministers who apparently don't shun the contact of tyrants at certain times in history, but that means nothing.
    Without referring to the ten years of subversive terrorist support, before he was given a sharp lesson by Reagan in 1986, what Gaddafi did to try to hang on to his power is inadmissible in today's world. In fact Gaddafis, like Husseins, belong to another age. All these uprisings seem to underline this.

    Today the 'oppressed' have mobile phones and Internet. They are freer than they were previously, but they can now see what they're missing more than ever, and they want and deserve the same extent of freedom.
    Europe and the West can't help free everyone at the same time however, and must step carefully, because certain uprisings can be provoked by radical elements. But what is happening in Libya should act as a positive stimulant for the surrounding countries, especially Egypt that is geopolitically and strategically so important for the world. Naturally it's stability is essential.