Why this war on Gaddafi is a trap

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Why not intervene in Bahrain?

Lying at the origins of this war, driven by Nicolas Sarkozy solely for internal political reasons, is indeed a media coup. It is that of the French columnist, essayist and thinker Bernard-Henri Lévy who, as previously mentioned, implored intervention in his articles from Benghazi (page one of this article). As is his habit, and not without a certain coherence, he rallied behind him with panache the French equivalent of the American neo-conservatives. On the left of the right, and on the right of the left, according to their political paths, they recycle, in these uncertain times, the old logic of a West sure of its actions, of its power and its values, and above all the values of its power. They run after a lost glory while the world crumbles beneath their feet, inventing new relationships, new liberties and new equalities.

An open-letter appeal in favour of the intervention in Libya published March 16th in French daily Le Monde, (upon whose supervisory board sits Bernard-Henri Lévy), was signed by several personalities who have made indignation - in all its convoluted forms - their hallmark.

Taking just three examples: there was Bernard Kouchner, a former leading Socialist Party figure who jumped ship to become foreign affairs minister under Nicolas Sarkozy. He is the very symbol, among the signatories of the March appeal, of those who, like himself, previously supported the US invasion of Irak, founded upon lies and which violated international law.

Next is the thinker André Glucksmann, who recently distinguished himself with a comment piece in Le Monde that left the rights of Palestinians, still denied despite so many other UN resolutions, by the roadside of history. Finally, there was also Antoine Sfeir, journalist and teacher, specialist in Middle East affairs, who himself represents those who once supported in a largely interested manner the former Tunisian dictator Ben Ali, and who now attempt to blast away the traces in a storm of warrior-like zeal for liberty in Libya.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The war proclaimed in Paris is a new episode in a key battle to decided future international relations. That there are sometimes inevitable or necessary wars, that they require an alliance of interests and a coalition of ideas between nations, is obvious, if always pitiful. But are there also, as we are told again today, wars that are ‘just', are ‘of principle' or ‘lawful'?

Whatever the absolute cause cited - religion or justice, faith or law - it is always in order to elevate war into an Absolute. The process by which upholding law automatically provides legitimacy for war is akin to a conjuring trick in as much as it ignores the necessary questions that are; who makes the law, who expresses the law and who is the judge?

Everyone knows that, concerning international relations, the UN Security Council majority votes give expression to a balance of power rather than to any firmly held beliefs. Those who promoted the Libyan campaign have a partial agenda. If the proclaimed objective is to protect civilian populations from the repression unleashed upon them by their own government, what should also be done - to stick to the Arab world - in Yemen, Syria, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, where similarly repressive events are taking place? Should the UN set in train military intervention as often as there are insurrections, repression and civil wars? Why not have asked it to intervene when, late 2008 and early 2009, Israel invaded the Gaza Strip, with a disproportionate scale of weaponry that would take a heavy toll of the Palestinian civilian population?

It is clear that, confronted by the complexity of the world, the ideological reasoning behind France's neo-cons does not resist the test of reality. By choosing between allies and enemies, by designating powers authorized to violate international law and those states labeled rogue because they are weak, the only coherence at heart is one of interests, not principles. At the very moment that air strikes were launched against Libya, there was increased repression in the Arab peninsular states. In particular it targeted Shiite minorities, the subject of a discrimination that highlights a refusal of pluralism on the part of oil-rich monarchs, concerned with upholding their reigns while threatened by their own peoples.

Whatever the final result - a happy one if the dictator falls quickly, unhappy if it turns into a fiasco - this war which all Libyan opponents spontaneously approved is no less a trap. It is a trap for politics, for thought, for the world. There is hope that the Arab populations, in their momentum for freedom, will discover a means of turning this trap to their benefit, in a strategy of the weak against the strong. But there is no reason to jump into it head first with arms and legs tied, having lost all critical sense. Playing the game and gambling is one thing, but trickery is not allowed. Notably when it concerns the truth about events and the history of situations.

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This article by Edwy Plenel was originally published in Mediapart's French pages on March 23rd, 2011.

English version by Patricia Brett and Graham Tearse

(Editing by Graham Tearse)

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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."