Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Bernard-Henri Lévy on Mali, or more Moral Bankruptcy.

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On Mali the sweeping generalisations of the Stop the War Coalition finds their mirror image in the moral bankruptcy of Bernard-Henri Lévy.

Lévy, we are not entirely surprised, (ho hum…) to learn, supports the French intervention (Here).

This is why (I reproduce the all-too faithful translation of French syntax  on his site of the former Nouveau Philosophe’s French syntax),

Firstly, “It says no to obscurantism and terrorism in the region. The response of the Malian Taliban and what that response tells us about their discipline and their military capacity (for example, their ability to down planes) will finally prove, if more proof were needed, that we are dealing with a criminal army: organized, trained, fearsome.”

Hackles raised (“criminal army: organized, trained, fearsome” as if the Malian Jihadists were a force capable of storming the gates of Hell), we then hear that the intervention,

” blocks the true aim of the Ansar Dine group’s advance on the capital, Bamako, which is to reinforce Islamist cells operating to the west, in Mauritania, and to the southeast, in Niger; to join up, farther south, with the fighters of Boko Haram, the radical Islamist movement that has sown death and destruction in Nigeria for three years now; and thus to open up a lethal corridor through the subregion, a corridor that would, were it not for the French operation, have been nearly impossible to breach.”

With such strategic ambitions, no doubt illustrated by the Islamists clever alienation of the populations under their control, their destruction of religious monuments, their rapes, their cruel Sharia law, we have recourse only to this: the ‘West’ coming in.

“As a matter of principle, it confirms the responsibility to protect civilian populations that underpinned the earlier intervention in Libya.”

The ‘West’s’ actions in Libya were the result of a number of strategic calculations, amongst which the desire to get rid of Gaddafi, on the basis of a popular uprising were but one. The extremely serious former official American Tripoli attaché, Ethan Daniel Chorin, analyses this in Exit Gaddaffi: the hidden History of the Libyan revolution (2012). Chorin notes how complex and hesitant the decisions that led to this  intervention were. Protecting civilian populations was only one of many other, more hard-headed, justifications for the West’s backing for Gaddafi’s overthrow. Even officially….

The result in not generally considered an unqualified success.

Lévy continues,

It reaffirms the old idea of just war brought back into fashion by the Libyan revolution. François Hollande de­cided to use force only as a last resort. He did so in accord with international law as articulated in the Security Council’s resolution of Dec. 12. He satisfied himself that the operation had a “reasonable” chance of success and that the harm that it would inflict would, “in all likelihood,” be less than that which it would prevent. That is the lesson of the jurist Grotius and of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an elegant and useful lesson in practical philosophy.

Grotius and  Saint Thomas Aquinas were no doubt unfamiliar with France’s colonial history in Africa, or with ‘Françafrique. It is doubtful however if they would give the right to declare ‘just wars’ to third parties with interests, but not populations, involved in the fight.They would no doubt have hesitated to endorse  the idea that it was entirely up to François Hollande to decide on the right to intervene in Mali.

We observe in passing that there are plenty of people ready to challenge the idea that he has done so according to international law, not least because of the lack of legitimacy of the Mali government and military.

The military-philospher next declares,

“it restates the prominent role of France in the front lines of the struggle for democracy. Is Hollande following in the footsteps of Sarkozy? As if that were the question! As if what were at stake here were not a thousand times more important than any political rivalry or personal competition. Seen in U.S. terms, France (regardless of party) appears to be in the process of inventing a strategic doctrine that tackles from the rear the twin evils of neoconservatism and noninterventionism.”

The last part of the sentence is a very imperfect translation of “prenant également à revers ces deux fléaux jumeaux que sont, d’une part, le néoconservatisme et, de l’autre, le souverainisme – et de cela encore, sans être exagérément “patriote”, on aurait tort de ne pas se réjouir.” (French version)

This meant, in the original, the “twins” of neoconservativism and “sovereigntism. Sovereigntism is a broad doctrine, held on parts of both the French Right and Left, from the ‘Gaullists’ to the John Pierre Chevènement on the left, that national sovereignty is a prime political value. Supporters of this view (or rather, some of them) oppose intervention in another nation’s affairs, by war above all, not just on ‘non-interventionist’, grounds (which could include a judgement of French national ‘interests) but as a matter of principle.

How can we have democracy without some basic respect for the people, if not the ‘nation’ of ‘sovereign states’ of the world?

There is no actually existing cosmopolitan democracy.

Hollande is acting out of his government’s assessment of their interests. These may include the promotion of democratic values but you don’t have to be a ‘wise guy’ to suspect that the reasons why France is concerned about Sahal states  are principally their own, ‘sovereign’ ones.

Lévy continues,

..inevitably, there will soon arise the chorus of Cassandras crying quagmire, another Vietnam, the adventurism of a war that was supposed to last only a few days but that has ground on. Easy words in a democracy of opinion. Will France’s leaders have enough grit to stand up to the chorus once it finds its voice, to meet it with steady determination and clear explanations of what is at stake?

The American version omits this phrase,

” saura-t-on opposer le mépris qui convient à ceux qui crient déjà au retour de la Françafrique et de ses réflexes néocoloniaux ?”

That is, those who say that this is a return to French neo-colonialism, or “la Françafrique.”

The adventure is beginning to look increasingly framed exactly within these terms.

The real issue is: how to defeat the Islamists, restore democracy to Mali, avoid ethnic killings and the brutality of the Malian army by the actions of the Malian people themselves.

This is no seriously  discussed.

Without taking these central issues into account, Lévy is as bankrupt at the Stop the War Coalition who simply cry out, “it’s another Afghanistan’.

We can, however, agree with his final sentence.

“What is certain is that François Hollande is facing his first real political test—and his first confrontation with history.”


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