Sarkozy’s Libyan Odyssey

A Parisian dove

French President Nicolas Sarkozy never tires of repeating that it should be the Libyans themselves who decide Moammar Gadhafi’s political fate in Libya, not the international coalition.

“Libya’s future and Libya’s political choice, including what they decide to do with Gadhafi and his fanatics, are a problem for the Libyans, not us,” the French leader stressed last week. “We are not in Libya to carry out a revolution in place of the Libyans themselves or to resolve political problems that the Libyans themselves need to deal with,” he added.

That would all sound very nice had we not recently witnessed Sarkozy’s active African realpolitik in the form of support for dictatorships in exchange for economic preferences.

Here are two examples for those who still take the propaganda at face value.

In 2008, France gave military support to the ruling regime in Chad, which, like Libya today, was threatened by rebels; and in 2009, Paris supported the transfer of power in Gabon to Ali Bongo, son of deceased President Omar Bongo, a long-time “friend” and ally of France. To put it mildly, the elections in Gabon fell far short of democratic standards; however, the interests of the oil company Total outweighed liberal democratic values.

Why is Sarkozy so passionate about what is happening in Libya now? Especially considering the zeal with which Paris rammed Resolution 1973 through the UN Security Council.


The first thing a number of commentators in the leading international media are trying to do is associate the initiation of the coalition’s current military operation in Libya with a passionate desire by the hotheaded French leader to punish Gadhafi for insulting him.

They mention the political defection of Gadhafi’s former protocol chief Nouri al-Mismari last November. People who watch the news on the leading international satellite channels probably recall that colorful figure; he had been chief of protocol for 36 years, and it is commonly believed his influence extended far beyond his official duties.

It has been suggested that in return for asylum in France (in Libya he was accused of embezzling €7 billion) he could have “leaked” a lot of unpleasant things that Gadhafi said about Sarkozy in private conversations.

Moreover, the famous French journalist Thierry Meyssan theorized that there was a plot against Libya in which the bombing was planned last November.

He asserts that al-Mismari presented Paris with a plan to overthrow Gadhafi, and that Sarkozy supported it out of a desire to get even for canceling contracts worth €10 billion.

Meyssan expressed his conviction that, after the plan was drafted, France offered to make Great Britain a part of it. As a result, an agreement was supposedly signed on December 2 of last year. Strangely, the turmoil in the region began right after that.

However, I suppose that is all beside the point. It is the systemic factors that we quite often lose sight of.


Since taking office, Sarkozy has repeatedly stated his resolve to take an entirely different approach to relations with African countries using his favorite but still non-functional foreign policy plaything—the Mediterranean Union.

Incidentally, is also important to note that the French paid special attention to the leading countries of non-French-speaking Africa during the last Africa-France summit in Nice, primarily Sudan and Libya, given their hydrocarbon reserves (the first for its potential, and the second for its actual oil output).

So far, everything is going according to plan in Sudan. Total has become a key operator in South Sudanese oil and has already said it intends to triple oil production in Southern Sudan in the near future and build an alternative “Northern Sudan” oil pipeline across Kenya to the Indian Ocean on an accelerated schedule (China plans on building an oil refinery in Kenya at a cost of about $1.5 billion).

But Total has achieved nothing to boast about with the unpredictable and obstinate Gadhafi. The Libyan authorities fined Total a half billion euros, and it lost out on numerous Libyan tenders for joint hydrocarbon production.

Also at issue are the failed French-Libyan deal to buy French Rafale fighters and other arms worth a total of €4.5 billion, and Tripoli’s obstacles to the shipment of uranium for French nuclear power plants, and Gadhafi’s dissenting opinion on the Mediterranean Union.

In general, when you have Napoleonic plans towards Libya and the entire continent, it is better to have stable puppets than a “friend” from whom you don’t know what to expect next.

And a little PR

Sarkozy would be untrue to himself if he did not try to kill several political rabbits with one bullet.

In the first place, he evidently has realized that his bold political improvisations improve his electoral appeal among the French people. That is what occurred in 2008 during the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict when he mediated the peace talks between Russia and Georgia. And it happened again after the financial crisis when he called for new Bretton-Woods agreements. Finally, the same thing occurred when he used personal contacts with then “friend” Moammar Gadhafi to help resolve the problem of the six Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor convicted in Libya.

Second, Sarkozy obviously wants to show Germany and the other EU countries that his country is a key player in the European security system.

And third, from the standpoint of internal French bureaucratic games, it is useful to let the new Foreign Minister know who France’s chief foreign policy wonk is.

The main thing now is make sure that, after having catalyzed the current Libyan odyssey, Sarkozy does not initiate a struggle for peace that will leave everything in ruins.

Source: New Eastern Outlook

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