Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) French President Emmanuel Macron has again openly criticized the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011, led and triggered by France under his predecessor President Sarkozy. On a two-day state visit to Tunisia, he told the President Béji Caïd Essebsi and the Tunisian parliament, ‘France, with the states of Europe and the United States, has a responsibility for what is happening in the region’. He said ‘I do not forget that a number of people decided that it was necessary to get rid of the Libyan leader, but without there being a plan for what should happen afterwards… collectively we plunged Libya into a state of lawlessness without being able to solve the situation’.
He added ‘whatever you think of any particular leader,’ it is not a reason ‘to imagine that one can put oneself in the place of a people’s sovereignty and decide their future.’
But Macron was careful to blame Colonel Gaddafi as the fundamental cause of Libya’s troubles. He said ’The present situation in Libya was first of all due to the years of tyranny’. However, he went on to say ’the idea that it is possible to solve the problems of the country unilaterally and militarily is false.’
Western leaders, Macron included, have no inclination to draw attention to the fact that under Gaddafi Libya became Africa’s richest nation and that it is now, entirely thanks to the NATO intervention, one of its poorest. It is arguable that, whilst Gaddafi was clearly not a Western-style democrat, he was not a tyrant and that under his rule there was a great deal of consultation.
The President’s words confirm a change in French foreign policy in the wider Middle East and North Africa and echo his comments on Syria when he told journalists that for him ‘getting rid of Bashar is not a precondition for everything else. Because no one has told me who his legitimate successor is.’
It is not the first time that President Macron has attacked the military intervention in Libya. In an interview with the newspaper Le Figaro in June 2017 he said ‘democracy doesn’t function from the outside without the involvement of the population concerned. France did not get involved in the war in Iraq and was right not to do so and was wrong to make war in this way in Libya. What was the result of this intervention? Failed states in which terrorist groups prosper. I don’t want that in Syria.’
Libya has been plunged into chaos since the Western backed and encouraged rebellion against Colonel Gaddafi and his murder. The adverse unintended consequences of the Western aggression reached a peak with the assassination of the American ambassador Chris Stevens, and three of his staff in 2012.
The immediate concern for France is to stem the flood of immigration across the Mediterranean that the war has unleashed. France also has an interest in putting an end to the political instability in the Sahel, were French troops are battling with rebels in Mali. The removal of Gaddafi left a vacuum in Libya where terrorism flourishes and has spread south into Africa. In addition, huge amounts of weapons fell into the hands of lawless elements and Islamic extremists. To make things even worse, with the defeat of Isis in Syria, many of those formerly fighting the Syrian government are believed to be returning or moving to Libya.
There is also a wider and more subtle motive in the new French foreign policy line which aims to portray a more neutral French diplomacy, as well as to discourage interventionism more generally in the region. Ultimately the object of Macron’s remarks is not to convey French remorse so much as a concern to dampen America’s aggressive military tendencies.
The instability in Libya and French responsibility for it also gives Macron the opportunity to take a leadership role in attempting to resolving the situation. He has already hosted an unprecedented conference in Paris attended by rival Libyan leaders General Haftar and the UN backed Fayez al Sarraj in July 2017.