Having almost foamed at the mouth in this column for weeks about the irresolution and incongruity of the administration’s Libya policy, I would be churlish and ungrateful if I did not express my sense of relief that the president moved, just before it was too late. Other people at another time will have to determine what Mr. Obama thought he was doing stating that Qaddafi had no legitimacy and had to leave, but that the U.S. would do nothing substantial to produce that outcome, and then praising the virtues of “organic revolutions,” as if lamenting in the abstract the inability of the Libyan dissidents to rise up volcanically and expel the lunatic who has riveted himself on the back of his country for 42 years.
With millions of others, I watched with rising astonishment as Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whom I praised in this place just three weeks ago, told a Senate committee that a no-fly zone was beyond the capabilities of an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and incited the inference that enforcing such a zone was a military challenge equivalent to the invasion of Northwest Europe on June 6, 1944 (ten divisions crossed from England to France in one day by sea and air). Hillary Clinton was sent by the White House to nod earnestly and winsomely at the television cameras and affirm that there is violence in the Congo and Sudan and elsewhere and that she and the president must not be overly preoccupied by the scuffles in Libya.
These howlers were delivered with commendable poker faces, given that Qaddafi is unrelievedly bad and that his “organic” support and mercenaries could be sent packing by the Tallahassee police force, with a couple of armored personnel carriers. The Libyan armed forces are incapable of anything more militarily challenging than the massacre of unarmed innocents, which the negligent casuistry of the president of the United States was facilitating until this week.
I have thought all along that the key to a satisfactory outcome lay with the French. France is a Mediterranean country; Algeria, Libya’s neighbor, was a French département (state or province) from 1830 until 1963, and there were more than a million authentic Frenchmen in Algeria, including the great writer Albert Camus. France, in all its feline self-indulgence, was happy to claim for decades its tolerance and vocation for absorption and fraternization with the Arabs, especially while de Gaulle could irritate the Americans by truckling to Arab anti-Semitism, and the French elites could sit in their cafes waving their smoldering Gitane or Gauloise cigarettes and snifters of cognac or absinthe about, extolling the virtues of French trans-Mediterranean Arabophilia (in refreshing contrast to America’s hypocrisy and bigotry vis-à-vis its black population). The whole charade was supported by feting James Baldwin and other American black intellectuals virtually with such open arms as those with which Americans embraced Antoine de St. Exupéry and Andre Gide during World War II; or those with which the French court welcomed Jacques Cartier’s representative Canadian Indian, Donnacona, in the 16th century. (Gide, an aggressive homosexual decades ahead of his time, was attracted to America chiefly by the relatively tight trousers of American GIs, who, as he put it, rolled their buttocks fetchingly along the great boulevards of the French cities they liberated (ultimately almost all of them).
Anyone who knows France knew that as soon as the militant Islamists in France provoked the French by seriously disturbing their enjoyment of their magnificently sumptuous country, the best wined and dined nationality in human history, sharing one of the world’s most distinguished cultures in every field with only 20 or 30 million others apart from the 60 million French themselves, the French public, almost in unison, would throw down the pious mask of fraternal egalitarianism and lower the truncheons of their well-practiced police on the ethnically covered heads of the real infidels. Beau geste is fine as a divertissement, but the French will not be deterred from savoring their birthright. The Islamists may torch 200 of their own automobiles a night in no-go areas of North Paris, but once they question the serenity of la Belle Marianne in all her pleasures and refinements, it is time to call for the riot police, the severity of French courts (so well described by Camus in The Stranger), and the tenebrous thickets of the French penal bureaucracy.