Thursday, March 31, 2011

How Libya might go wrong for President Sarkozy

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In the eyes of French public opinion, Sarkozy is looking fairly good at the moment. The deeply unpopular President has experienced a small boost of approval at home and abroad due to his role in rallying risk-averse allies into staging air intervention to prevent what would have been a massacre of opponents and civilians at the hands of advancing Gaddafi troops. Sarkozy's hawkishness on Libya "is winning him applause in France today due to the universal hostility towards Gaddafi," says Karim Emile Bitar, a Middle East specialist for the Institution of International and Strategic Relations in Paris,  

"but that could prove short-lived for several reasons, and come back to haunt him."

That's because French public opinion could quickly develop mission fatigue especially with Paris already imposing a whole array of austerities to battle the domestic budget deficit. The moral imperative to help the Libyan rebels may bog down when the French people figure the money involved is better spent at home.

There is not just French and Wester public opinion to worry about. "If the military operation goes on far very long," says Bitar,  

"Arab public opinion will begin rapidly [to compare] it to Iraq, and start viewing it as another kind of invasion of an Arab country, rather than an attempt to let Libyans determine their fate in a fair fight. And that's not even considering the possibility of large numbers of Libyan civilians being killed as collateral damage in strikes, or if they get caught between opposing forces in what becomes and open-ended civil war. There, too, Arab public opinion will turn hostile to the intervention, and blame it for the unending violence and death."

Sarkozy won a fair measure of praise for being the first leader to recognize the Libyan opposition as the legitimate leadership of the country — but even that may come back to haunt him if things go wrong. Sarkozy's decision was taken almost on the spur of the moment, and under the spectacular brow-beating of mediagenic philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, who decided to make crusading to protect the Libyan opposition a re-make of his 1990 campaign as the savior of the Bosnians during the Balkan war. Sarkozy reportedly did so without even consulting his newly-named Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppe (who was said to have been both hostile to the move and aghast that a media star had taken his role as France's top diplomat). 

"There may heavy consequences," says Bitar, "when a president makes decisions based on input by celebrities."

Background to Libya for kindle .70p - 'About Libya - Basic Facts and Figures'

Libya: From Colony to Independence (Oneworld Short Histories)