The crisis in Libya deepens by the day while the NATO-led military campaign against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces fails to break the deadlock. In an article first published in this site's French pages following the start of the imposition of the air exclsuion zone, Mediapart Editor-in-Chief Edwy Plenel argues here why military intervention was misconceived from the start, a dupery led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy primarily for internal political considerations.
As soon as diplomacy has given way to war, populations are called upon to choose if they are for or against and without the time to think about or debate the issue. This limited choice acts as an acid test for journalism's critical function - a function incompatible with unreflective thinking. The Libyan affair is another demonstration of how a just international cause was distorted by the political calculations of the French administration. The ability to criticize is not worth much if it stops short of criticising the use of arms. As for the job of informing, it cannot be done in uniform.
Is it impossible to wish for the rapid fall of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi while not falling dupe to an operation of diversion mounted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy? Can we not hope for international mobilisation at the side of the Arab revolutions now underway without blindly approving when that translates into direct military intervention by the Western powers, who, only yesterday, supported and armed the dictators whose regimes are today shaken by their peoples?
"The first casualty of war is truth." This postulate, the departure point for the 1994 documentary byMarcel Ophuls, The Troubles We've Seen: A History of Journalism in Wartime, based on Yugoslavia, comes to mind these days when listening to or reading the deluge of uniformly laudatory comments on France's engagement against the Libyan regime.
But truth is not a battle of good against evil, of day against night, of light versus darkness, as if there were a binary choice or a choice between two belligerent options. The truth, in its many manifestations, is instead facts versus beliefs, precision versus confusion, remembering rather than forgetting: in short, information versus propaganda, including that coming from the supposed or self-proclaimed camp of right and justice.
Since the first day of his presidency, Nicolas Sarkozy has sought his war. Adopting Napoleon Bonaparte's strategy, he wished for that external event that would silence internal opposition - an event so potent that it would paralyse and numb and whose stunning technical effects would raise a cry for mobilization. He first looked for it in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008, promoted, as he put it, to the field of battle between ancestral civilizations and "barbarity". France's commitment there continues despite the blatant failure of this Western war in Central Asia, a failure that may explain why the French President is relatively silent about it.
He then set his sights on Georgia, in 2008, standing up to Russia with personal theatrics designed for internal consumption during France's presidency of the European Union. To the meagre results on the ground, one must add the long-term grid-lock of European diplomacy and solidarity, for which we are still paying the price today.
In 2011, Nicolas Sarkozy finally found a war to lead. A war he promoted, defended and obtained. Seizing the ball thrown from Benghazi by French essayist and thinker, Bernard-Henri Lévy1, he is indisputably the one to have initiated this war. The United Nations' green light was obtained through a joint Franco-British resolution defended before the Security Council by French Minister of Foreign Affairs Alain Juppé and adopted with 10 votes in favour and 5 abstentions. Sarkozy's visit to a military base in Corsica on Tuesday, March 22nd, during the French parliamentary debate, in other words after the fact, once everything was settled, demonstrates how things are done. The president plays the great warrior while others play at petty politics. In republics through plebiscite, inspired by Julius Cesar and as implemented during France's First (1804-1814) and Second (1852-1870) Napoleonic Empires, a leader emerges - often to the sound of the cannon - but always by debasing democracy.
Promoting the leader rather than the ruling majority through the president-heavy diet with which our public, political and media life is over-fed does the rest. This takes the form of excessively laudatory editorials; tears of patriotic joy at seeing France suddenly become the centre of the world once again; and an opposition caught in the toils of state solidarity and of ideological conformity. This is an opportunity, as if it were necessary, to verify the vital need for a new independent press, far from the industrial press and from government journalism. Mediapart was practically the only media, under editor François Bonnet's by-line, to formulate doubts and to pose questions the day after UN resolution 1973 was adopted by the Security Council.
More than ever, these doubts and these questions are news worthy. Amnesia or loss of all critical sense notwithstanding, the just support for the cause of the Libyan people cannot prevent us from underlining the political calculations of which it is today a tool in France - and beyond. Because Nicolas Sarkozy is at the head of this belligerent operation, his inconsistencies and blindness can only distort and corrupt this tardy international attempt to help the Libyan people.
1: In early March, Bernard-Henri Lévy, then in the Libyan insurgents' stronghold of Benghazi, launched an appeal for international aid to the rebels.