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…