Why this war on Gaddafi is a trap

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A strong brew of French corruption

It will be argued, of course, that the justified end - destroying a dictator, coming to the aid of popular insurrections or protecting civilian populations - relativizes the means. But this is the usual window-dressing for a war invented for the purpose of forgetting past collusion and so that domination will persevere. Create a diversion in internal politics and make a show of force outside. This sums up the comparison in the British press with Margaret Thatcher's Falkland's War, of which one happy consequence was to precipitate the fall of the Argentine military dictatorship - in the same way as one can hope that the current military intervention will accelerate the demise of the Gaddafi regime.

Wishing for these beneficial effects doesn't stop one from remaining lucid with eyes open. If the lot of the Libyan people were truly the primary concern of the French administration, we would probably have noticed it sooner. In truth, Nicolas Sarkozy's France is in the worst position to pretend to bring liberty to Arab populations because it is too compromised with the authoritarian or dictatorial regimes being overthrown today. Since 2007, collusion was the rule, including in ways well beyond the relations ordinarily imposed by diplomatic realpolitik.

There are coincidences that, far from being anecdotal, summarize habits. The French administration, which boasted of having launched a Union for the Mediterranean, had taken its ease in these countries and transformed them into France's playground - resort destinations despite the oppression of their peoples and the corruption of their elites. It is for this reason that, for the 2010 end-of-year holidays, the French President was in residence in the Morocco of a divine right monarch while his Minister of Foreign Affairs was on holiday in the Tunisia of the Ben Ali clan, his special advisor was in the Libya of Colonel Gaddafi and his Prime Minister visiting Egypt at the expense of President Hosni Mubarak.

At the crossroads between public policy and private collusion the Tunisian episode was so damning that it sparked a cabinet crisis in France, leading to the resignation of foreign affairs minister Michèle Alliot-Marie. She had publically proposed French aid policing the demonstrators several days before the regime fell. But that was just the tip of the iceberg of the corruption accepted or encouraged under the double imperative of commercial interest and ideological short-sightedness. The Islamist bogeyman served as an alibi to affairs concluded in greedy secrecy with oligarchic dictatorswho transformed their countries' riches into their family's personal wealth.

Nothing proves that this behaviour has disappeared with the overthrown Tunisian and Egyptian regimes. Perhaps not enough attention was paid to the fact that the only high-level French official visit to the Arab world since the fall of Ben Ali and Mubarak, was made, by the Prime Minister, to Saudi Arabia, the very spot where the Tunisian dictator has sought refuge.

On February 12th and 13th, in the midst of the Arab democratic turmoil, Prime Minister François Fillon, went off to comfort the most unenlightened regime of the region. A regime that imposes Islamic law in daily life and which discriminates not only against non-Muslims but also against Shias, a sect that shares Islam with the Sunnis. Worse, the trip was made during joint manoeuvres of the French and Saudi armies, an illustration of the military and industrial twin interests which dominate French foreign policy in these regions.

Against this yardstick, the Libyan case most resembles a caricature. A recently published book by French journalist Jean Guisnel, Armes de corruption massive ('Arms of massive corruption'), is complete on the subject and, as such, damning. As The Guardian reported, France holds, with Italy, the record for arms sales to the Gaddafi regime since 2007. The grand show of reconciliation both in Tripoli and in Paris with the Libyan dictator, rather than being an initiative of professional diplomats, directly implicated the French presidency and its networks and interests.

This palinode was a strong brew of French corruption including: private management of foreign policy with the unthinkable duo of Claude Guéant and Cecilia Sarkozy1; placing of weapons sales middlemen such as Ziad Takieddine, the key player in the earlier Karachi corruption scandal at the heart of power; arms dealers including Serge Dassault and Arnaud Lagardère, through his EADS holdings, at the heart of our media network; politicians leading careers as professional matchmakers - Patrick Ollier, husband of the foreign minister forced to resign and chair of the National Assembly's Franco-Libyan Friendship Committee, who remains Minister of Parliamentary Relations comes to mind.

Seen from France, the Libyan Affair is a whitewashing and memory-cleansing operation to which we must respond with a determined remembrance of things past. We don't see what miracle of responsibility could have suddenly occurred in a presidency that, only a few months ago, was continuing negotiations with the Libyan dictatorship to export French civilian nuclear technology. These discussions, begun in 2007 and materialised by a Franco-Libyan protocol signed, for France, by then-foreign Click here for more.

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This commentary piece on the international military offensive against the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi (first published by Mediapart in French on March 23rd) is also a more general reflection upon the blindness of our modern times. In this context, it is well worth recalling the prophetic illustration of a journalist's duty in wartime offered by French writer Albert Camus, and concerning the final chapter of World War II.

On August 8th, 1945, writing against the current of every received opinion and of those of others who had the pretension of being part of it, he published an editorial in the French newspaper Combat, which was created by the Resistance movement during the WWII occupation of France. His article went against the current of views held at the end of WWII, because it criticized the dropping of the atomic bomb upon Hiroshima which, followed by the next that dropped upon Nagasaki, forced the surrender of Japan, an ally of Nazi Germany. Camus wrote that the "grave news" of Hiroshima must encourage people "to appeal even more energetically for a true international society, in which the super powers would have no more rights than those of small or medium-sized nations, in which war, a scourge that human intelligence has transformed into definitive being, will no longer depend upon such or such a State's doctrines or appetites."