Bernard-Henri Levy: War in Iraq was detestable. War in Libya was inevitable.
Bernard-Henri Levy, the French author and philosopher, played a key role in convincing French President Nicolas Sarkozy to recognize the Libyan rebels' transitional government and establish the no-fly zone. Here he discusses the mission in Libya and the importance of ousting Qaddafi.
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Legal framework gives legitimacy to war
Gardels: If France goes too far, won’t you lose the legitimacy the support of the UN confers?Skip to next paragraph
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Levy: This is what I am telling you: 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.
Gardels: What about the faltering Arab League?
Levy: I wouldn’t say it has “faltered.” All right, it’s wavering a bit. You have a guy at the head of it, Amr Moussa, who has some political ulterior motives and who’s playing both sides, it’s true. But on the whole, the League is hanging on. Don’t forget, it was the League that launched the first appeal to save the Libyan people from the predicted slaughter. And, at the time I’m speaking, fundamentally, it has not changed its position and thus still supports the allied operation.
Gardels: Arabs seem at odds with the French effort to overthrow Qaddafi? Why?
Levy: What Arabs? Not Arab public opinion, at any rate. The Egyptians, for example, the intense strength of the new Egypt, support their Libyan brothers, are stirred by them and suffer with them and, contrary to what Monsieur Moussa may believe, have no problem with the presence of American, English, and French planes in the skies over Libya.
Gardels: The successful Arab revolts – in Egypt and Tunisia – have indelible legitimacy because they were totally indigenous. Will French intervention coupled with the Americans and British undercut the legitimacy of the Libyan revolt, playing into Qaddafi’s hands on his claim that this is Western imperialism after Libyan oil?
Levy: The oil argument is an idiotic argument. Had the problem been oil, the easiest solution would have been to maintain Qaddafi’s presence. One can “deal” very well with dictators.
Libyan rebels are secularists, want unified country
Gardels: If the French aim is successful and Qaddafi falls, who are the rebels the West is allying with? Secularists? Islamists? And what do they want?
Levy: Secularists. They want a unified Libya whose capital will remain Tripoli and whose government will be elected as a result of free and transparent elections. I am not saying that this will happen from one day to the next, and starting on the first day. But I have seen these men enough, I have spoken with them enough, to know that this is undeniably the dream, the goal, the principle of legitimacy. I would add that this National Council of Transition does not represent, as I have read all too often, only Cyrnaica. [Cyrenaica is the eastern coastal region of Libya.] All of the regions are represented there. All the tribes. Including Qaddafi’s tribe or the tribes that are allied with it.
If Qaddafi wins, death of Arab spring
Gardels: President Obama has argued for action in Libya because Qaddafi is killing his own people. But so are they too in Bahrain and Yemen, Western allies in “the war on terror.” Isn’t there a case for intervention in those places as well?
Levy: Yes, certainly. But for now, let’s take down Qaddafi. You shall see that this will serve as a warning for all the other dictators. We cannot intervene everywhere. But an intervention can set a tone, serve as an example and a dissuasive factor. If Qaddafi wins, it will be the death knell of the Arab spring. If he is beaten, a fair wind of democracy will blow once again – and even harder.
Levy: The parallels are obvious. Beginning with the hatred of the cities, the urbicide temptation, that Qaddafi shares with the Serb Radovan Karadzic or the Hutu perpetrators of genocide. The difference is that in Bosnia, or Rwanda, it was allowed to happen. Whereas in this case, intervention was decided upon very rapidly. And that is to the honor, this time, of the international community.