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How Bernard-Henri Lévy Started the Libyan War

March 27th, 2011 at 10:32 pm | 17 Comments |

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This weekend’s Financial Times contains a revealing article detailing French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent unilateral decision to grant diplomatic recognition to Libya’s ragtag rebel movement – an important step in his aggressive campaign to push for and lead the ongoing military intervention against Colonel Qaddafi’s government. In her piece, ambulanceSarko’s Lofty Ambition”, nurse FT Paris Bureau Chief Peggy Hollinger reveals that left-wing celebrity philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy – usually referred to as “BHL” – called Sarkozy directly from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi to get the President to recognize Libya’s “National Transitional Council”.

According to an unofficial Sarkozy advisor speaking on condition of anonymity:

Bernard-Henri rang him from Benghazi to tell him that French flags were everywhere. He told him that if he allowed a bloodbath there the blood would stain the French flag. That really affected him.

After talking to BHL, help President Sarkozy – who (in Hollinger’s words) “likes nothing better than a crisis, a fight, and a gamble” – decided to unilaterally grant diplomatic recognition to the Libyan rebels and formally receive their representatives at the Elysée (a meeting also attended by BHL). Sarkozy’s impulsive move not only caused considerable tensions with France’s EU partners (particularly in Berlin) but was apparently not even coordinated with his own foreign minister Alain Juppé. In addition, the president’s ruling center-right UMP party was also kept in the dark.

By aggressively taking the lead in Libya, embattled President Sarkozy clearly hopes to shore up his political fortunes on the home front. Facing the worst approval ratings of any French president ever, Sarkozy is even at risk of being eliminated in the first round of the next presidential elections which are scheduled for April 2012.  Current opinion polls have him finishing third after top-rated National Front leader Marine Le Pen and Socialist heavyweight and current IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Knowing full well that the vast majority of French voters support Operation Odyssey Dawn and view it as a welcome opportunity to reassert France’s leadership on the global stage, Sarkozy is desperately trying to cast himself in the tradition of General Charles de Gaulle.

Like de Gaulle, Sarkozy is attempting to successfully promote France’s “grandeur nationale” in the hopes that this will also boost his own political standing (and historic legacy) as a strong and independent-minded leader. However, in sharp contrast to Sarkozy, de Gaulle was a hard-nosed realist who first and foremost pursued a national-interest-based foreign and security policy. While acting unilaterally where necessary, the conservative de Gaulle would probably turn in his grave if he saw how his political heir allowed a “gauche caviar” celebrity philosopher to hijack French foreign policy and drag the country into a civil war on the side of rebels whose leaders and ultimate agenda we know little about.

Unfortunately, BHL’s recent Libya adventure is not the first time that left-wing humanitarian interventionists have shaped French (conservative) foreign and security policy-making. After taking office in May 2007, President Sarkozy picked Socialist socialite Bernard Kouchner to serve as foreign minister in Prime Minister François Fillon’s newly formed conservative UMP government. Interestingly, Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and an aggressive proponent of humanitarian interventions around the world, was soon kicked out of his party for crossing political lines.

Speaking at an EU summit in Brussels last Thursday, President Sarkozy went so far as to threaten other leaders around the world with military intervention in the case of human rights violations:

Every ruler should understand, and especially every Arab ruler should understand, that the reaction of the international community and of Europe will from this moment on each time be the same: we will be on the side of peaceful protesters who must not be repressed with violence.

General de Gaulle, in contrast, would never have signed off on such a sweeping statement to commit France’s already waning political and military resources in pursuit of a vaguely defined foreign and security agenda so detached from the country’s core national interests.


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17 Comments so far ↓

  • Nanotek

    “… Financial Times … detailing French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent unilateral decision to grant diplomatic recognition to Libya’s ragtag rebel movement – an important step in his aggressive campaign to push for and lead the ongoing military intervention against Colonel Qaddafi’s government,”

    looks he’s winning

  • Bunker555

    Remember the battles at Dien Bien Phu, Mers-el-Kébir, & Trafalgar. Maybe the politicians should talk to historians or just Google “French victories”. Won’t get too many hits.

    • ottovbvs

      Fontenoy, Marengo, Austerlitz, Friedland, Jena, Wagram, Borodino, Solferino, The Marne, Verdun, Bir Hakeim????? I do wish people knew what they were talking about and could get beyond childish prejudices before they make comments like this.

  • Watusie

    Taking phone calls from philosophers appears to produce better results than believing that God speaks to you directly.

  • ottovbvs

    left-wing celebrity philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy

    Bernard-Henri Levy is actually as something of philosophical loose cannon and frequently sides with conservatives.

  • armstp

    “Libyan War” Which war are you talking about in the FF title of this piece? Are you talking about the Libyan civil war? It sounds like Bernard-Henri Lévy made his call to Sarkozy after the war had already started, so I am not sure how he started the war. Was he actively involved in rallying the opposition to Qadaffi in Libya way back in February after the arrest of a human rights worker? I do not think so. Was he responsible for the uprising across the Middle East that gave the people of Libya the courage to stand up?

    “Arrest of human rights campaigner sparks violent protests in eastern city of Benghazi that rapidly spread to other cities.” I do not think it was Bernard-Henri Lévy who they are talking about.

    Now if you are saying in the title of this piece that Bernard-Henri Lévy tried to influence France to get involved, then fine, but he did not start this “war”. Nothing wrong with that. It is a free “country/world”. He may have helped, as many did, particularly the Libyans themself, to convince the international community to get the no-fly zone going, but that it not starting the war. I do not think the people of Libya will be erecting a statue of Bernard-Henri Lévy anytime soon.

    This title, as usual on FF, is a very big stretch and not quite all that accurate. The FT article also seems a bit of a stretch. I am sure there were far more variables involved than just Bernard-Henri Lévy. Did he also influence the English, who were right there from the beginning?

    • ottovbvs

      Now if you are saying in the title of this piece that Bernard-Henri Lévy tried to influence France to get involved, then fine

      I thought DF was trying to influence the US to get involved for several weeks, until the President did get the US involved, and then DF decided it was a bad idea. A bit like that other patriot Newt Gingrich. Perhaps the Libyan people will erect statues of David and Newt… or maybe Ghadaffi will.

  • ashtabula

    BHL…just another Neo-con conspirator…speaking fluent French…his heart and sold belongs with the
    Chosen Folks home…

  • Primrose

    I see. You (your party) didn’t succeed in calling him a ditherer. You didn’t succeed in saying he should have consulted congress. You didn’t succeed in saying women made him do it. So now we are saying he did it because the French told him too?

    Mr. Frum you need to tell your party that being a sore loser is bad PR too.

  • WillyP

    ashtabula, thanks for the morning dose of rank anti-semitism. not.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    What a complete piece of trash.
    What primrose said. I simply see no way in hell was Obama going to allow Benghazi, Tobruk, etc. to be razed and a million refugees pour into our regional and critical ally Egypt.

    And look at this final paragraph: General de Gaulle, in contrast, would never have signed off on such a sweeping statement to commit France’s already waning political and military resources in pursuit of a vaguely defined foreign and security agenda so detached from the country’s core national interests.

    The guy is now claiming to channel de Gaulle. It has so many fallacies it is pathetic, one France is not waning, it is a wealthy prosperous European major power with a score of top industries, UHC, a far better energy situation than the US, etc. to call it waning is idiotic.
    There is nothing vaguely defined about stopping the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Libyans and preventing a humanitarian crisis.
    Gadhafi ordered the downing of a French plane as well as Pan Am. This is not the first time the French have involved themselves in an alliance with Democrats, they did so in Kosovo and Bosnia.
    This writer seems to be hopelessly Franco-phobic. I guess his being German naturally lets him side with dictators who want to commit genocide. He obviously can’t help it. Yes, I know this is a cheap shot but this article is pure rubbish. Ulf Gartzke is an adjunct professor…ADJUNCT professor, the guy is a rent a teacher. The guy looks 60 years old and he still doesn’t have tenure? Oh, right, because he produces garbage.

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