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.
Bernard-Henri Levy, the French author and philosopher (his latest book is “Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism”), has played a high-profile role in convincing French President Nicolas Sarkozy to take the lead in recognizing the rebels in Libya and establishing the no-fly zone. He spoke with Global Viewpoint Network editor Nathan Gardels on Thursday.
Nathan Gardels: It’s been said that you have played the key role in convincing Sarkozy to enter into this war.
Bernard-Henri Levy: The key role, I don’t know. President Sarkozy is certainly old enough to know what he has to do. Especially since, as you may know, I am a fierce opponent of his policies. I didn’t vote for him in 2007. I will not vote for him in 2012. And he knows it.
Gardels: Then why is it that you were present on March 10th, at the Elysée, when he received the representatives of the National Council of Transition and recognized them as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people?
Levy: Well, that’s something else. I was there because I was the one who arranged the meeting. I am the one who convinced Sarkozy to receive these three men and who had suggested this “diplomatic recognition” to him. I was in Benghazi covering a story in the liberated section of Libya. As luck would have it, I met these people from the National Council of Transition and, in particular, its president, Mustafa Abdel Jalil. And it’s true that I called the president of my country from Benghazi to tell him, “There are people here, good people; these people hold the same values as we do, and they’re going to die to the last one if we allow Qaddafi to go on to the conclusion of his criminal logic. Would you accept to receive them in Paris and thus send a strong signal to the butcher?” Nicolas Sarkozy immediately said yes. And he confirmed his agreement the following Monday, on the morning I returned, when I went to see him at the Elysée.
Gardels: Fine. But why did you operate in secret? And place your partners, in particular the Europeans, before the fait accompli?
Levy: Because talking about this idea, verbalizing it, revealing it, would have meant its failure. When you consider everything that happened afterwards – squawks of protest from one and the other, dilatory maneuvers of all kinds – you can imagine what would have taken place beforehand: The operation would simply have been drowned in the flood of quibbling and neo-Munichesque blah-blah-blah. It would have been sabotaged before it had even begun. It had to be secret. For this powerful political act, this decisive act of sovereignty, this act that would break with all custom, all diplomatic rules, all conformisms, the effect of surprise was absolutely necessary. Nicolas Sarkozy understood that. And I am grateful to him for that.
Gardels: From your point of view, what is the purpose of the operation?
Levy: 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.
Gardels: Have we accomplished this?
Levy: The coalition has smashed the military airports, destroyed the heavy artillery, cut off the supply lines. But, for the time being, it has been unable to prevent him from sending his last tanks into the heart of Misurata, transforming the city’s inhabitants into just so many human shields. Qaddafi has hunkered down in the cities. Imagine a Hitler whose bunker would have been all of Berlin. That is Qaddafi today.
Gardels: Do you have any news from Misurata?
Levy: Yes. This afternoon [March 24]. From one of the city’s teachers, whom I reached by phone. Qaddafi’s mercenaries are firing on the hospital. Killing the wounded. The city dwellers no longer leave their homes for fear of being gunned down like rabbits by snipers. Blood is flowing in Misurata.
Gardels: What does one do when the rebels go on the offensive under cover of the no-fly zone and then are caught on some front line, locked in battle? Does the coalition have to support them?
Levy: It all depends on what you mean by “support.” If it’s sending troops on the ground to accomplish the Libyan revolution in the place of the Libyan people, no, that is not in the mandate voted by the United Nations, that is not what the National Council of Transition is requesting, and it is not what the president of the French Republic said to its emissaries at the Elysée. His words were quite clear and he hammered on them several times: “No one is going to come and accomplish your revolution in your place; the Libyan revolution belongs to the Libyan people and to them alone. We, the French, I can tell you we would have hated for this people or that to come and steal our 1789.” On the other hand, we must arm the insurgents. Arm them and train them. I believe that is what the Egyptians are doing. And perhaps the French.