Libya Reveals Sarkozy’s Inner Idealist

Amid all the criticism of the U.S. and coalition military intervention in Libya, one strain in particular has focused on the role played by France and President Nicolas Sarkozy in leading the charge toward action. In his typically thorough fashion, Art Goldhammer does a great job of explaining both the personal and political factors behind Sarkozy's zeal. As Goldhammer mentions, there is the thirst for glory, the appetite for risk, the desire to make up for flubbing Tunisia and receiving Gadhafi on a state visit to Paris in December 2007, as well as the potential boost a global leadership role might give Sarkozy's flagging domestic fortunes.

I'd add that there is also a desire to prove France's resolve and willingness to engage in military action, especially in its own backyard, in a way that the increased engagement in Afghanistan just can't accomplish do to its distance and low visibility. Furthermore, at the outset, it seemed like a promising opportunity to flesh out the new Franco-British military partnership as an alternative to the EU and NATO, although that has already proven itself to be a chimera. (Contrary to what Goldhammer says, though, neither France nor Britain lack the force projection capabilities for the current operation, although the British might be reconsidering the wisdom of foregoing an aircraft carrier. What they lack is the command and control capabilities to harmonize such a broad and disparate coalition of forces, but that puts them in good company with the rest of the non-American world.)

But while he mentions it, Goldhammer -- and others -- give short shrift to the actual humanitarian component of the intervention. In particular, there's one aspect with regard to Sarkozy that people are forgetting -- namely, that although foreign policy was largely absent from the 2007 presidential campaign, to the extent that it was broached, Sarkozy actually ran on a very aggressive human rights plank. He talked about business as usual with Russia being unacceptable so long as the Russian army was committing atrocities in Chechnya, for instance, and I have the vague recollection that China, too, came up in this regard. He also emphasized returning France to its largely self-imagined role as the defender of human rights around the globe. Upon being elected, he named Bernard Kouchner, known as a hawkish liberal interventionist, as foreign minister and created a subcabinet position -- secretary of state for human rights -- under Kouchner, to which he appointed Rama Yade.

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