Nicolas Sarkozy, the little man from France, must be elated at his successes lately. He has suddenly become the world’s policeman. Fresh from coercing an indifferent UN Security Council into an open-ended military adventure against Libya, Sarkozy ordered French forces stationed in Côte d’Ivoire as part of a UN mandate to storm that country’s presidential palace and capture the incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo. For a nation suffering from a great power complex in a world dominated by continent-size nations since the end of WWII, he is certainly l’homme du moment. Nevertheless, Sarkozy could never, literally or figuratively, fill the shoes of the man he is trying to emulate: the late Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) whose wartime role as the head of Free French Forces (1940-45) and later his stewardship of France (1959-69) embodied Gallic pride at its best or worst, depending on the observer’s views of the French.
With the US reassessing its priorities and the Obama administration’s lukewarm attitude toward military interventions where U.S security interests are not noticeably at stake, Sarkozy, an astute opportunist, is positioning France to fill the vacuum, albeit on a contingency basis since the country of Louis XIV, Napoleon and De Gaulle could never predominate in today’s world. Moreover the French people have become conscious of the present geopolitical reality and are unenthusiastic in their attitude about France regaining its past glory, which remains a long shot by any measures. Hence, despite his successes, Sarkozy’s popularity continues to sink in that country which in the past considered itself divinely endowed with a mission to civilize the world. This past delusion of grandeur might have been preposterous to others, but not the French. Even Germany, the land of Beethoven, Goethe, Kant, Nietzsche, Wagner, Von Clausewitz and many other illustrious world citizens, was once considered by the French as a nation of beasts that needed to be tamed and brought to the norms of civilization.
Anyone familiar with France’s policies toward Third World countries, particularly in Africa, must have been surprised at Sarkozy’s determined defense of human rights for the Libyan people in his entreaty for a Security Council-sanctioned military intervention in Libya. The fluidity of the resolution was such that the two non-western permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, along with three aspiring permanent members, Brazil, Germany and India, abstained. As per the rules, the abstention of veto-yielding China and Russia enabled the resolution to pass nevertheless. In Côte d’Ivoire, the former crown jewel of French colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa and home to 20.000 French expatriates, Sarkozy was more incensed at Laurent Gbagbo’s defiance, if not insubordination, rather than protecting the civilian population. The notion of a leader of a former French African colony defying France still remains anathema to the French, and the Ivoirian president (2000-11), who for years fought against French neo-colonialism, was made to serve as an example to other would-be recalcitrant.
The responsibility to protect civilian populations, which has become the guiding principle behind military adventurism, is setting the western world on a collusion course with many of the world’s authoritarian regimes. Moreover, it opens the way to politically motivated military interventions that could encourage a return to ideological and regional military alliances, the kind of which triggered countless destructive conflicts before the founding of the United Nations in 1945. In Côte d’Ivoire where French military might is unchallengeable, Sarkozy’s success was more or less assured. In Libya, however, he is walking a fine line, because a month into the UN-sanctioned adventure, experts are talking about a military stalemate and the French are now accusing NATO, the enforcer of the resolution, of not doing enough to bring it to a speedy conclusion. Needless to say, the ramifications of the March 17, 2011, France-inspired Security Council Resolution (1973), may be felt years after the French president would have exited the world stage.
Did Nicolas Sarkozy bite more than he could chew? Noticeably, the chance of bringing down a beleaguered foe for offenses ranging from Khaddafi’s past interferences in Chad, a former French colony abutting Libya, to avenging the September 19, 1989 destruction of a French airliner (UTA flight 772) over Niger, was too great an opportunity for Sarkozy to pass. His animosity toward Khaddafi however has more to do with the pittance France received from Libya (170 million) compared with the 1.5 billion the US and UK settled for the December 21st, 1988 destruction of Pam Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland; both terrorist acts were found to the handiworks of the Libyan Intelligence Services.
Unsurprisingly, few nations seem concerned with the fate of Moammar Khaddafi who, throughout his 41 years in power, managed to offend almost everyone, including his friends and allies. But what should be of concerns to the enforcers of the resolution is the reality that even Satan has sympathizers; the longer the situation endures, the more likely it will tread on Arab sensitivities and enflame passions in the Muslim world. Moreover, this French-inspired military intervention could not have come at a more inopportune moment, given the recent adoption in France of a law banning the wearing of the niqáb (the traditional veil worn by Muslim women), which many Muslims deem anti-Islamic. Thus, the Libyan endeavor may well be detrimental to world peace and Nicolas Sarkozy, who appears obsessed to bringing back the glory of France and settling old scores with Khaddafi, will be solely responsible.
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