More Incoherence on the ‘Inevitable’ Libyan War

by Victor Davis Hanson

Bernard-Henri Levy, who we are told “convinced” Sarkozy to intervene in Libya, gave an interview to something called Global Viewpoint Network, and in it we see Western incoherence on Libya in its most naked and cynical form.

Levy brags about Libya being different from past interventions like Iraq because this time the U.N. provided a resolution for intervention:

One of the major differences between this war, inevitable, and the war in Iraq, detestable, is the mandate of the United Nations, its absolutely legal framework. It would be regrettable to stray outside of this legal framework. And I believe France will not do so.

And then, without blinking an eye, Levy goes on to claim that to win the war, France in fact would have to go “beyond that” and “break the military machine”: 

The purpose is written in the resolution. To protect civilians. To prevent the bloodbath Qaddafi is anticipating. And, beyond that, to break the military machine that Qaddafi, as you know, had turned against his own people. Protecting civilians, then, is putting the army and the power of Qaddafi out of commission.

Note the traditional French linguistic gymnastics (especially the “then”) when Levy absurdly says both (a) that they are protecting civilians, in accordance with the limited U.N. resolution, and (b) that the resolution really means, beyond that, “putting the army and power of Qaddafi out of commission.” That is the only way to end the war, but most certainly is not the “absolutely legal” U.N. mandate. 

And so here we get to the heart of the Libyan/U.N. absurdity: Obama and the Europeans keep bleating about a new sort of intervention based on U.N. (and Arab League) resolutions, and then flagrantly (as the Russians point out) violate it, as they must if they really wish to win the war.

Do Obama, the Brits, and the French strengthen the U.N. by predicating their use of force on a U.N. resolution? Or do they in fact weaken it by deliberately ignoring the specifics of the resolution, and instead doing what they wish and must to win under the “U.N. approval” fig leaf? Which is what it is, unless one claims, as Levy does, that protecting civilians from Qaddafi really means removing him. But if that’s the case, why didn’t the U.N. resolution simply say that? Because then it doubtless would not have passed?

Levy calls Iraq “detestable,” so I would remind him of one embarrassing fact: Under Saddam, the French enjoyed the most cynical and advantageous oil concession in the history of Middle East petroleum contracts; when he was deposed and the U.S. fostered a constitutional government, the new government held a transparent oil auction of leases for the first time in the country’s history, one in which American oil companies did not win a concession. 

In contrast, can we expect to see in Libya such a similar recognition that Qaddafi’s past oil-contractual arrangements (largely British, French, and Italian affairs) were similarly morally suspect, and that the replacement constitutional government will, as in the case of Iraq, renegotiate the leases under transparent and democratic auspices?

Anything less, and we will soon learn the proper use of “detestable” — an adjective that Levy most certainly did not employ in 2006 at the zenith of the insurgency when he declared in so-so fashion of Iraq, “I have a lot of friends who came out in favor of the war. I understand why. I myself hesitated to decide. Finally I was against. My line was that the war in Iraq was morally right and politically wrong.” And so on.

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