The Sarkozy factor is fundamental. The French president loves crises, with their concomitant surge of adrenaline. For him, this is what power is about: taking hard decisions under unfavorable circumstances.
Of course, domestic considerations are not absent from Sarkozy’s thinking. In 2007, when he played a key role in the liberation of Bulgarian nurses imprisoned by Qaddafi, Libya’s leader was rewarded with what looked like a legitimacy prize: an official visit to Paris. He was no longer a pariah, but an eccentric partner.
Today, by contrast, it all looks as if intervention may re-legitimate Sarkozy in the eyes of French citizens, whose votes he will need in next year’s presidential election. An energetic and daring gambler, Sarkozy is taking a high but legitimate risk that he can retake the moral (and political) high ground.
France has a common history and geography with the countries on the southern Mediterranean shore. The duty to intervene – and the cost of indifference – is probably higher for France than for any other Western country.
Indeed, France has a very large immigrant population that originated in the Maghreb, and for which the “Arab spring” is vitally important and a source of fascination and pride. And today, with France taking the lead in an international effort to protect the Libyan people from their leader, they can feel simultaneously proud of being French and of their Arab roots. These positive identities constitute the best protection against the sirens of fundamentalist Islam.
Of course, an ideal scenario implies that the intervention “goes well,” and that it does not incite confusion or chaos in Libya or the wider region. France, together with Great Britain, and with the more distant support of the US, is undeniably risking much, for it is easier to start a war than it is to end one. But it is a worthwhile risk. The cost of non-intervention, of allowing Qaddafi to crush his own people, and of thus signaling to the world’s despots that a campaign of domestic terror is acceptable, is far more menacing.
Sarkozy has chosen the right course. In fact, he has chosen the only possible way forward.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Moïsi on Libya