War in Libya pushed by “insufferable” French mini-imperialists

As the war in Libya drags on, this piece in the Daily Beast fully explains the role of French President Sarkozy and the supposed French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy (BHL), a man who loves a good Western-led war to allegedly protect the innocent but he reveals his true side by blindly backing Israel at the expense of the Palestinians:

From the uprising’s outset, the French president’s objective was to take down Gaddafi, says an intelligence source close him. “We almost decided to do it ourselves,” he adds. The French have a long history of unilateral interventions in Africa, including against Gaddafi in Chad in the 1980s. This time, however, they quickly found partners. The British under Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron were very much on board. So were the leading members of the Arab League, who had their own grudges against Gaddafi. But Sarkozy seemed practically obsessed.

It’s worth remembering that Sarkozy once made a mission of bringing Gaddafi into the world’s good graces. Just weeks after his election in 2007, the new French president outbid his European partners to ransom five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had been imprisoned in Libya for eight years and threatened with execution. And late that year, clearly hoping for huge contracts from a supposedly rehabilitated Gaddafi, Sarkozy spent almost a week playing host to him, only to be humiliated daily by the Libyan leader’s outlandish demands. Gaddafi pitched his famous tent next to the presidential palace, at the 19th-century Hôtel de Marigny, and when Gaddafi decided to visit the Louvre on the spur of the moment, Sarkozy ordered the museum cleared. Still, the really big contracts did not materialize. Helping Libyans to get rid of their dictator might help wipe that memory clean.

But you can’t just support an amorphous “uprising.” You need somebody to call. Who could speak for the New Libya? Sarkozy had no idea.

At just that moment, BHL rang the Elysée Palace switchboard to tell the president he’d decided to go to the rebel capital of Benghazi. Sarkozy told BHL to let him know if he found any leaders among the fighters, and the self-styled intellectual swashbuckler needed no further encouragement. From Bosnia to Afghanistan, Iraq to Pakistan, BHL has always taken the side of those he saw as oppressed—and never failed to promote himself in the process. “BHL did the usual,” says a close friend of Sarkozy. “You know, ‘Save this! Save that!’ But he did manage to push the system to do something that cannot now be undone.”

Sarkozy and BHL used to be good friends. They went skiing together in Alpe d’Huez and vacationed on the Riviera. When BHL was pushing for intervention in Bosnia in the early 1990s, Sarkozy (a relatively junior minister in the cabinet of then prime minister Jacques Chirac) took BHL’s side against formidable opponents like Alain Juppé, who was then, and is again, France’s minister of foreign affairs.

The BHL-Sarkozy friendship turned icy during Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential run. BHL backed the Socialist candidate and, adding ink to injury, published the story of Sarkozy’s failed efforts to recruit him. “Now I hear the clannish, feudal, possibly brutal Sarkozy that his opponents have denounced, and which I never wanted to believe in,” BHL wrote: “a man with a warrior vision of politics, who hystericizes relations, believes that those who aren’t with him are against him, who doesn’t care about ideas, who thinks interpersonal relations and friendship are the only things that matter.”

Then Sarkozy’s wife ditched him and Sarkozy hooked up with Carla Bruni, who had previously stolen the husband of BHL’s daughter. To describe relations among the French elite as incestuous is almost literally true.

Even as BHL took off for Libya at the beginning of last month with Sarkozy’s blessing, the relationship between the two remained uneasy. It was a mission on a wing and a prayer. Inveterate networker BHL knew no one in the country, in fact. He had to hitch a ride in a vegetable vendor’s panel truck to get to Benghazi. And once he was there the protestors seemed to be losing the revolutionary fervor that had enabled them to seize half the populated areas of the country with scarcely a shot fired in the previous weeks. “What I smelled was the democratic revolution cooling down,” BHL recalls. His cause was slipping away from beneath him. And at the same time, Gaddafi’s forces had begun to regroup for a counteroffensive. So BHL grew bolder. With a lot of name-dropping, he got himself invited to a meeting of the newly named Interim National Transitional Council.

On a sketchy old satellite phone that shut off every few minutes, BHL repeatedly called Sarkozy—who put up with the interruptions—and brokered a deal for a Libyan delegation to be received in Paris at the presidential palace. Two days later, on Monday, March 7, BHL was back in Paris, meeting with the president. Sarkozy said he’d take the extraordinary step of recognizing the rebels’ government the following Thursday. Then BHL took an extraordinary step of his own. He asked Sarkozy to keep the whole thing a secret from the Germans, who were already expressing reservations about supporting the Libyan uprising—and also from French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, who would, BHL insisted, “throw a wrench in the works.”

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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