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Louis Guilloux suggested the idea: one writes not in order to say something, but to avoid saying anything at all. The letter signed last week by France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, the United Kingdom’s David Cameron and US President Barack Obama, has all the markings of obfuscation. The words double over, blur, confuse.
Let us cast our eyes over the morally direct material. There are various trite assertions in the note that was published in the Times of London, the International Herald Tribune and Le Figaro. ‘Even as we continue military operations today to protect civilians in Libya, we are determined to look for the future. We are convinced that better times lie ahead for the people of Libya, and a pathway can be forged to achieve just that.’
The actions, on the other hand, suggest something quite different. Targets continue being pummelled, though with less enthusiasm. Behind the scenes, it seems that not all is well. Pressure is mounting from countries who feel that the no-fly zone resolution of the Security Council has been not merely exceeded but trashed.
Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev has a second in command (believing he is first) who claims that the engaged forces are waging a holy war against Islam. The Indians are deeply troubled about seeing the conflict continuing on a military footing. The Chinese remain as ever traditional in their opposition against the use of external military force to resolve disputes. With each day, the war becomes more unpopular internationally.
They are not claiming any intention to remove Gaddafi, but nonetheless, suggest that a stable Libya cannot exist in a political order that keeps him at the helm. ‘Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Gaddafi by force.’ The civilian appears from the foam and mist of international politics, the apologia of moral reassurance. ‘Tens of thousands of lives have been protected. But the people of Libya are suffering terrible horrors at Gaddafi’s hands each and every day.’ The fact that the civilian here is less evident that the overt support for rebels doesn’t trouble the architects of this continued operation.
Sarkozy’s Africa policy is very much part of the opportunistic mix that has characterised French involvement in the Ivory Coast and Africa in general. Unpopular at home, the humanitarian card, laced with Gallic enthusiasm, has proven a useful one to play for a government in crisis. The now fallen Laurent Gbagbo was a perfect candidate for the unctuous sacrifice. Scalping a despot tends improves domestic ratings. Not that it seems to be working on this occasion, with the latest figures from an Ifop poll showing Sarkozy with an approval rating of 28 percent.
The boxes have been ticked, the raids continue, though with a more abridged American involvement, and Pandora’s Box reveals yet again the dangers of an open-ended engagement.
BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org