The man who successfully lobbied French President Nicolas Sarkozy to recognize the rebel National Council as the legitimate government of Libya also urged the West to recognize rebel leaders Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basayev as the president and prime minister of Chechnya in the 1990s. And after the brief Georgian-Russian war over South Ossetia in August 2008, he said that of all the « resistance fighters », Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is « the most unfamiliar with war. » All of this makes you wonder if the justifications for the intervention in Libya are based in fact.
The man in question, Bernard-Henri Levy (or BHL as he is known in France), signs his articles simply « French philosopher and writer. » But he is not a poor, struggling philosopher; he is a millionaire who recently gave an interview to Der Spiegel in a five-star Paris hotel room with a liveried servant standing at attention nearby.
His opinions are strident and peremptory. As he told Der Spiegel: « Angela Merkel has the worst foreign minister Germany has had in a long time. Guido Westerwelle is a disaster. …And Germany will run into problems in its legitimate effort to secure a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. »
Levy criticized Westerwelle for his refusal to join the military operation in Libya as if he was the ruler of the planet and not a modest « citizen of the world without any legitimacy other than that of his conscience, » as he described himself during a web chat with Le Monde readers.
And indeed, his influence on global politics in the last few weeks has proved to be stronger than that of the 27 EU foreign ministers combined.
He called Sarkozy from Benghazi during the civil unrest in early March to suggest that the French president meet with the leaders of the National Council, the government of the rebel forces fighting the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
Sarkozy immediately agreed to meet with the council members in Paris, without even informing his foreign minister, Alain Juppe, who was in Brussels during the tete-a-tete in Paris. On March 10, Sarkozy announced France’s recognition of the National Council as the legitimate government of Libya, catching Juppe completely off-guard.
« This is the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic that we learned about a major foreign policy decision from foreigners, » a French diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
When French diplomats reached Benghazi several days after Levy, they were told that a more important man representing « the president himself » had been here and had brought the rebel government to Paris.
« You should see those Libyan Massouds, » Levy told Sarkozy. « Do you understand that their visit will be a major political event? »
The fact that Levy had a direct line to the French president clearly impressed the Libyans. Only a philosopher with the stature of a Levy or an Andre Glucksmann would dare talk to the French leader in such a tone.
« One night in Benghazi I had the crazy idea of getting on the telephone and calling the President of the Republic of my country and suggesting that he receive a delegation from free Libya, » he told Le Monde.
Levy does not seem to mind that his « suggestion » has dragged European powers into the middle of a civil war. He behaved in a similar fashion in 1999, when he encouraged the West to recognize Maskhadov’s government in Chechnya after Basayev had invaded Dagestan, just to spite Russia’s « Stalinist-Hitlerian » resime, as he put it.
It is regrettable that the French did not see through Levy at the time. They could have banished him from his posh hotel to an insane asylum. Alain Juppe would have gladly given him a lift.
Juppe first met the hyperactive philosopher during his first term as foreign minister in 1993-1995. Levy, who was in Sarajevo at the time, demanded that NATO immediately launch air strikes against the Serbs. His proposal ran counter to French and German diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the conflict, known as the Kinkel-Juppe initiative.
When you see TV footage of the Libyan rebels, armed with the latest submachine-guns and driving Japanese SUVs, you can’t help but think back to some of Levy’s other favorite « resistance fighters » – the Chechen militants, the mujahedeen in Afghanistan (hence the reference to Ahmad Shah Massoud in Levy’s phone call to Sarkozy), Alija Izetbegovic’s militia in Bosnia, and his latest pet, Mikheil Saakashvili.
Here is what Levy wrote about the Georgian president in Le Monde on August 20, 2008: « He is a Francophile and speaks French. Keen on philosophy. A democrat. A European. A liberal in both the American and European senses of the word. Of all the great resistance fighters I have met in my life, of all the Massouds and Izetbegovics I have had occasion to defend, he is the one who is the most unfamiliar with war, its rites, its emblems, its culture – but he is dealing with it. »
BHL may hate the « emblems of war » but this has not stopped him from instigating several wars. He follows a familiar pattern: find a conflict, throw a tantrum over human rights, and suggest a military solution with no other goal than the complete and utter defeat of the enemy.
« Go ahead, poke around in my subconscious, » he tells Le Monde readers after they suggest that his love of militants is a symptom of a deeper complex.
Perhaps the people of the United States, the EU, and especially France, should root around in their own subconscious to figure out why people like Bernard-Henri Levy hold such sway over public opinion and are revered as the conscience of Europe.
Or maybe they would do better to simply ignore the likes of BHL and Glucksmann, as well as the movements they champion in Russia, Kosovo and Libya.