The Libyan war has the French, of all people, in the forefront, with President Nicolas Sarkozy’s smug, self-satisfied face mugging for the camera as French fighter jets scream in the skies over Tripoli. The French, who sat out the Iraq war with haughty disdain, are now even more eager than the Americans to get into the thick of it: Sarkozy, in trouble at home, is hoping to distract critics from France’s ever-worsening domestic economic woes and his own party’s diminishing electoral prospects, with a good old-fashioned dollop of Napoleonic tonic. France – once again thrusting into North Africa in search of its former imperial glory! It’s enough to make one nostalgic for the Ugly American.
If the insufferable Sarkozy isn’t enough to make you vow never to eat French fries again, then the man behind Sarkozy’s grandstanding, Bernard Henri-Lévy, the French “public intellectual” and renowned phony, will push you over the edge into outright Francophobia. As the New York Times reports:
“It was Mr. Lévy, by his own still undisputed account, who brought top members of the Libyan opposition — the Interim Transitional National Council — from Benghazi to Paris to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy on March 10, who suggested the unprecedented French recognition of the council as the legitimate government of Libya and who warned Mr. Sarkozy that unless he acted, ‘there will be a massacre in Benghazi, a bloodbath, and the blood of the people of Benghazi will stain the flag of France.’”
Henri-Lévy is famous for … well, it’s not exactly clear. During the 1980s, he and a few of his French commie-socialist comrades excitedly announced that Marxism – which they had previously upheld as a glorious human experiment in idealism – was a Bad Thing. What Stalin’s crimes, committed half a century earlier, hadn’t revealed, the dictates of intellectual fashion and economic opportunity readily unveiled.
Yes, the French have their neocons, too, with BHL—as he’s known – leading the pack. Like his American brethren, BHL combines political polemics with entrepreneurship and has wound up the world’s richest “philosopher,” with inherited assets of his own to which he greatly added to thanks to his political connections.
As questions are raised about the wisdom of Western intervention, the Pepe Le Pew of the War Party is perturbed, and he’s taken to the pages of the Huffington Post – home base for practically all the world’s phony “intellectuals” and empty-headed celebrities – to defend his baby:
“Ah yes. This war began less than a month ago, and already the Norpois, the leaden-footed proponents of salon diplomacy, well-versed in Munich-speak, have raised their heads again and, once over their initial astonishment, have taken up their favorite refrain: what are we doing, involved in this business?”
Leaving aside the pretentious allusion to Proust – the signature conceit of the “literary” French intellectual – notice how easily he reverts to the familiar lexicon of the neocons: “Munich-speak”? We’re not two weeks into this war, and already the War Party’s myrmidons are likening Gadhafi to Hitler! To the neocons, whatever their national origin, it’s always 1939: there’s always a Hitler somewhere in the world, and it’s our responsibility to stop him – which is why we need to spend more on the military than all other nations on earth combined. And if a target country just happens to be strategically located, or sits atop considerable oil reserves, well then who are we to look a gift horse in the mouth?
That’s a good point, however, about our “initial astonishment” at the Libyan intervention: I have to admit to being taken by surprise, because, as low as my opinion may be of President Obama, it was never that low. I never thought he would fall for Henri-Lévy’s line of guff, as regurgitated by the Three Harpies of the Libyan Apocalypse.
Well, then, what are we doing involved in this business?
“First of all, war aims. The ‘true’ aims of this war. And what if the allies had a ‘secret agenda’ and, in particular, “oil”. The imbeciles! The too-clever-for-their-own-good who, eternally seeking the hidden side of things, ultimately fail to see what is right there under their own eyes! Namely, that, oil for oil, there was one simple means to ensure control over Libyan oil, and that means was to touch nothing, to change nothing, and to go on dealing with Gadhafi, as they have for decades. Sarkozy, Cameron, Obama may be capable, like all politicians, of all the cynicism one likes. But concerning this affair, why not have the elementary honesty to recognize their share of sincerity?”
This is nonsensical. BHL may know his Proust, but he likely failed Economics 101. Go here and look at this map of foreign oil concessions in Libya, which are heavily concentrated in the rebellious eastern half of the country. Gadhafi made the British pay a huge price for their oil concessions: as British planes bomb Libyan air defenses – and a few civilians, too – does anyone think the rebels won’t give British Petroleum a better deal than Gadhafi ever would? And the French, who seem to have been largely left out of the Libyan oil rush, will certainly demand their share of the spoils.
Economics is not BHL’s strong point: you know how those French intellectuals are! Well, then, perhaps he’s better at military strategy, a favorite pastime of our neocon laptop bombardiers. On second thought, maybe not:
“Then, the length of this war. The way it has of ‘getting stuck’ in the sands of the Libyan desert, when we had hoped it would be short and sweet. Once again, grotesque. Unutterable bad faith. For–quite apart from the fact that four weeks is nothing compared to the decade of the Afghan war or the ten weeks of that of Kosovo–there is a reason, only one, that operations are lasting beyond the successful rescue of Benghazi. And this reason is the strategy of a Gadhafi who has hunkered down in the bunkers of his other cities, turning their inhabitants into human shields.”
A favorite neocon strategy: hyperbole. The opposition is not merely wrong, it is “grotesque.” These are not victims of error, but purveyors of “unutterable bad faith.” All for asking why it’s taking so long! BHL isn’t quite himself, it seems, unless he’s in a state of High Moral Dudgeon, but his passion let slip a telling detail. That he’s comparing an operation that was supposed to continue for “days, not weeks,” as the President put it, to the decade-long Afghan conflict merely confirms our worst fears about this latest adventure in world-saving: that an ambiguously defined mission, which is already expanding well beyond its original mandate, has every prospect of becoming a long term commitment.
“At that point, there are two strategies possible. Either blow up the crowd, in which case, yes, things will go swiftly (and it’s no surprise to see the butcher of Chechnya, Vladimir Putin, in the front ranks of those who think things are dragging on). Or else look out for the lives of civilians, not losing sight of the fact that the international community has provided a mandate to protect them, the civilians, and that it will take the time it will take. (To deny that, one must be drugged on quick solutions, drunk with the urge for immediacy, or, worse, irresponsible.)”
BHL never acknowledges what is apparent to even a casual observer of the Libyan events: that Gadhafi has real support in the country, especially in the area around Tripoli. After all, it isn’t just mercenaries fighting on his behalf: his fellow tribesmen and their allies, as well as Gadhafi’s personal followers and the beneficiaries of the regime, are apparently rallying to his cause. This is the reason why it hasn’t been a quick victory for the rebels. But to BHL, the “literary” intellectual, who references Proust instead of anything related to the reality of Libya, this is inadmissible because it ruins the narrative, the tall tale he’s telling himself and his audience about the demonic despot versus the virtuous rebels.
His third argument is just another neocon ploy: the old “straw man” strategem. BHL tells us that some people are criticizing the rebels for their “amateurism,” and then goes on for a good paragraph using this “criticism” to valorize them and make the case for arming and training them. “Indigent bastards!, they say. Good for nothings! Short hitters!” Who is the author of such slanderous epithets? Perhaps he means Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who, when asked, didn’t put very much store in the rebels’ military prowess – but so what?
“Fourth objection, the National Council of Transition. After all, what do we know of this Council of ‘nebulous’ outlines? And wasn’t France jumping the gun a bit in recognizing it? There again, it takes a lot of nerve to think so. And there’s something profoundly perverse in this way of depicting who knows what occult power–an Angkar as in Cambodia, the black box of a Libya not as free as it professes to be–and in this way of spreading doubt and insinuating, in reality, the worst. For the members of the Council are well known. Their biographies are transparent. They are either those who have earned a price on their heads in Tripoli for rallying to the cause, whose respective political itineraries are known to all, or men who are new but who speak to whomever openly. But it’s true that, to set this supposed mystery to rest, one must take the trouble to go to Benghazi….”
Emtting clouds of obfuscatory rhetoric like a squid under attack, BHL resorts to the familiar abuse of his opponents: they aren’t just “perverse,” they are “profoundly perverse.” Those ingrates “have a lot of nerve” to even ask questions about just who the UN and the NATO powers are throwing their weight behind. Because, after all, “the members of the Council are well-known.” To whom are they well-known, exactly? Well, it turns out, “to set this supposed mystery to rest one must take the trouble to go to Benghazi”!
Now that’s a dirty trick. He makes us read all the way to the end of that tortured paragraph before getting to the punchline – some “humanitarian”!
Reality, however, once again departs from BHL’s preferred narrative, because the biography of, say, Col. Khalifa Haftar, the US-supported self-proclaimed “commander” of the Libyan rebel forces, is far from “transparent” – especially regarding his capture during the war with Chad, an event which seems to have conicided with his remarkable political turnaround. The most well known rebel leaders are former officials of the Gadhafi regime, who supported him loyally for many years and only saw the light when it looked like the regime was finished – a record that may indeed be transparent, but is hardly admirable.
“And then, Al-Qaeda. Ah! Al-Qaeda. On the pretext that, among the foreign jihadis who once left to fight in Iraq were a small majority of Libyans, one concludes that there would be a majority of jihadis at the heart of today’s Free Libya. The sophism, in this case, is not only perverse, it is despicable. And it’s the same abjectness, by the way, that, fifteen years ago at Sarajevo, inferred the probable birth of a fundamentalist State in the heart of Europe–and therefore the necessity to let Bosnia in its entirety die–from the presence of a handful of Iranians in the 7th corps of the Bosnian army. In this case, the truth is simple. It is possible that a few jihadis have infiltrated Derna or Benghazi. It is probably a rule that such sleeper agents profit from the chaos of war to reinforce their position. But it is a lie, accredited for the time being only by hazy statements backed by a Gaddafism which is in dire straits and fresh out of arguments, that they have a significant role in the ranks of the insurgents.”
Getting past the name-calling – his opponents are, once again, “perverse,” and even “despicable” – the fact-free nature of BHL’s “argument” is readily apparent. To begin with, it wasn’t just the Iranians who were fighting on the side of the Bosnians and Kosovars during the Balkan wars: al-Qaeda sent a brigade to fight for the KLA during the Kosovo war, and continues to be a presence in the region. Furthermore, BHL doesn’t even mention the ample evidence that Al-Qaeda had its best recruiting success in Libya, although he does mention the town of Derna, where many fighters who fought US troops in Iraq hailed from.
Aside from this, however, to say that bin Laden’s boys do not now play a significant role in the Libyan insurgency is not to rule it out as a distinct possibility. As the only seasoned fighters, except for defecting Libyan soldiers, they are bound to acquire some renown and authority on account of their military experience. I am not one who believes, as some do, that the rebellion is the brainchild of Osama bin Laden. Yet, given the evidence, it is rational to raise the question of al-Qaeda’s influence – unless you’re a myth-maker, a spinner of ready-to-wear narratives, in which case it’s better not to ask too many questions.
“I would add,” says BHL, that
“The best way of delivering Libya into the hands of chaos would be to abandon in mid-river those we have encouraged to ford it, giving in, at the last minute, to the sirens who would convince us to save what can be saved of the Gadhafi regime. He, really, is not only a butcher of civilians, a patent hater of the West and of democratic values, the declared enemy of the Arab–and, tomorrow, the African–spring, but a world class champion, all categories included, of terrorism. More than ever, this man should beat it.”
“This man should beat it”?
Either the Huffington Post needs to get a new translator, or else BHL is going all “cool” and “trendy” on us by riffing on a Michael Jackson tune.
The author’s stylistic idiosyncrasies aside, however, his arguments are oddly familiar: now that we’ve already gotten involved, the West can’t just leave. The neocons made – and continue to make – the same argument when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan. Heck, they sang the same song as the Vietnam war came to a bloody and chaotic close: we can’t leave our heroic allies in the lurch!
Ho Chi Minh was, no doubt, a butcher of civilians – although the US surpassed him in that regard – and also “a patent hater of the West and of democratic values,” but that war was a mistake from the beginning – just like this one. In that conflict, too, we helped one side in a civil war which had divided the country into two de facto independent states, one totalitarian and the other “free.” That war, too, started out small, with military aid and “advisers,” eventually expanding into a presence of hundreds of thousands of troops and a long drawn out conflict that ended in disaster – as this one will if we follow the course laid out by BHL and the War Party.
A word about BHL: this guy is supposed to be a “public intellectual,” but what kind of “intellectual” gets bamboozled by an obvious hoax such as this? Read and laugh at the pretensions of this champion phony.