LIBYA: A just war – but just what kind?
21 March 2011
The primary objective of Operation Odyssey Dawn – to protect Libyan civilians – is a just one, says the European press. But the other issues – oil, the fall of Gaddafi and the image of Nicolas Sarkozy – are not neglected.
It is “a very European war,” writes El País editorialist Xavier Vidal-Folch. As in Kosovo in 1999, “the action against Libya was launched once Western public opinion reached a humanitarian point of no return: the good European conscience could not tolerate more killings so close to home.” The war in Libya, however, “is more ad hoc” and “can count on all possible blessings” from the UN Security Council. The “strict international legality is the key that distinguishes the ‘just war’ from the one that is not.” “In large part,” it seems to editorialist Marek Magierowski, writing in Poland’s Rzeczpospolita, “Operation Odyssey Dawn is precisely this ‘just war’ of which Cicero and Tomas Aquinas wrote... Today Muslims are uniting with the infidel West to take down a dangerous lunatic.” For România Libera, it is above all a “war in the French style.” Nicolas Sarkozy, the daily notes, has kept NATO out of the “spectacle” because the French president “must, above all, restore the prestige of France in the Arab world, following accusations that Paris had been too cosy with certain dictators. France then needs as many Arab countries as possible to join in to legitimise an attack that must not come to resemble the offensive in Iraq. Finally, Sarkozy needs this war, as he once needed the war in Georgia [in 2008], to buff up his image for the next presidential campaign.” However, Xavier Vidal-Folch goes on to observe in El País, “in distinction to Kosovo, France is taking a leading role, while Germany is looking like a political midget…. We are witnessing a repeat of the continuous rebalancing of the relationship between the economic giant Germany, which flexed its muscles itself during the euro crisis, and French political capability, which is also exercised through military power…. If Kosovo has strengthened stability in the Balkans, Libya can now help lay the groundwork to relaunch and rethink the Euro-Mediterranean process that Paris had undermined.” For De Standaard, the most optimistic scenario envisages “Gaddafi throwing in the towel himself, though that may seem highly improbable given the statements he made this weekend.” The Brussels daily evokes the spectre of a partition of Libya if the goal is to “protect the population of Libya from Gaddafi’s troops.” If on the other hand the objective is regime change, they question whether that can be done without using ground troops. Another Belgian daily, De Morgen, writes for its part of a “cynical” twist in this umpteenth “war for oil”. Once the new Libyan authorities have “guaranteed the restoration of the supply of oil to France and gas to Italy, the objective of the war will have been achieved,” adds Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, which holds that the other objective is “the destruction of the power of the dictator.” A dictator who, “if he does not die in a bombing, will be hanged by the rebels,” prophesies the Polish daily. Meanwhile, “The trap is closing in on Gaddafi,” headlines Le Figaro, which warns that “this war will be fully approved of only if it is on the way to being won. To avoid stalemate and the risk of splitting up the country, the insurgents will have to take advantage of the help offered them to organise, to mount their own offensive and to bring in a new regime in Tripoli. They will then receive the greatest support. Let us hope they will be able to pull it off.” And that is what motivates Le Temps, sweeping aside any presumption of negotiating with “a man accused of war crimes”, described as a tyrant by the U.S. President and stripped of all legitimacy by the UN Secretary General, to launch an appeal to “arm the insurgents to let them fight a regime that has kept them down for 42 years.” The position is shared by Gazeta Wyborcza. “The intervention in Libya demonstrates that the international community considers the right of peoples to live in security far more important than the right of dictators to keep foreigners from interfering in the internal affairs of his country.”
Despite opposition from the Northern League and Berlusconi’s initial prudence vis-à-vis his former “friend” Gaddafi, Italy is finally taking an active part in the coalition. Angelo Panebianco argues in Corriere della Sera that the Italians “are most at risk, not only economically but physically. We are the country that is closest and most exposed” – an observation confirmed by the arrest of an Italian civilian vessel on March 20 by Libyan gunmen. Italian fears are justified. While military operations are ongoing in Libya, the humanitarian crisis is worsening on the nearby Italian island of Lampedusa. La Stampa reports that more than 5,000 migrants have been gathered in the centres around the island, whose inhabitants – numbering not much more – have blocked the building of a temporary camp to house them and are asking for their immediate transfer to the mainland.