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How a philosopher swayed France's response on Libya

After meeting March 4 with Libyan rebels leaders in Benghazi, the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy arranged for them to speak with President Sarkozy at the Élysée Palace.

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Bernard-Henri Lévy, the controversial French philosopher, may deserve as much credit for prodding the international community to act on Libya as President Sarkozy.

He worked behind the scenes at the Élysée Palace, encouraging French action while the United States still debated the no-fly zone. Mr. Lévy, who has Mr. Sarkozy's ear, despite differences, has, with other public intellectuals, framed the Libyan conflict as a moment for France to act, to ensure it wouldn't have blood on its hands if Muammar Qaddafi's forces overran the rebel stronghold in Benghazi.

Lévy took up the Libyan cause in earnest after meeting Mustafa Abdul Jalil, former Libyan justice minister and leader of the opposition's National Transition Council (NTC). He traveled to Libya March 4 wearing his journalist's hat – he's on the board of the progressive French daily Libération. During the interview, Lévy asked Mr. Abdul Jalil if the NTC would come to Paris. That night he phoned Mr. Sarkozy: Will the president meet "the Libyan Massouds," he reportedly asked, referencing Ahmad Shah Massoud, the former leader of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, who is revered in France. The president agreed.


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