As events unfold in Libya and the Ivory Coast, many foreign policy analysts are dissecting a puzzling question: What exactly is going on with France?
France--which vehemently opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq--is suddenly flexing its muscles on the world stage. The country has spearheaded military action in Libya and joined U.N. troops in firing on dictator Laurent Gbagbo's forces and heavy weapons in the Ivory Coast. To be sure, France is also at the forefront of efforts to resolve both conflicts diplomatically. But French President Nicolas Sarkozy's aggressive actions--which come even as France fights alongside the U.S. in Afghanistan--have also generated speculation. What's motivating Sarkozy? Here are the top theories:
Post-Colonial Instincts "It looks to some as though the colonial power is back in business, opening fire on the locals to put its proteges into the palace," writes The Australian's Charles Bremner. Daniel Larison at The American Conservative agrees but claims that the French have long intervened "in Francophone Africa when it suits them."
Humanitarian Intervention: Sarkozy and his officials claim they are applying U.N.-sanctioned military force to save lives in Libya and the Ivory Coast, not to indulge any colonial impulse.
European Revival: France may want to "boost Europe's relevance with tough, human rights-based military interventions, and quash lingering rumblings about the continent's decline" and dependence on the U.S. for security, the Associated Press notes. Analyst Jean-Dominique Giuliani tells the AP that France may want to convince neighbors like Germany that Europe should intervene forcefully when human rights are at stake.
Sarkozy's Reelection Bid: Sarkozy, whose popularity is at an historic low, is expected to seek reelection next year, and he "may be betting that promoting France's values of human rights can be a vote-winning appeal to the French craving for 'grandeur.'" the AP says. A bet, of course, that would pay off if both Gbagbo and Qaddafi step down. A solid majority of French voters support the Libyan intervention, The New York Times notes, but attitudes could sour if the conflict drags on and the price of intervention interferes with France's efforts to reduce its budget deficit.
Compensation for Tunisia and Egypt: French defense expert Bruno Tertrais tells the Times that Sarkozy may have regretted France's support of dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali during the Tunisian uprising and passivity during the Egyptian revolution, prompting him to act more swiftly in subsequent conflicts
Libyan Precedent "After France's intervention in Libya, it would not have been understood if France were to do nothing in Ivory Coast," analyst Dominique Moisi tells the AP.
Idealism in Libya, Realism in Ivory Coast: In an interview with the AP, analyst Philippe Moreau Defarge argues that France is motivated by idealism in Libya and realistic national interests in the Ivory Coast. France, for example, has maintained a military presence in the Ivory Coast--a former French colony--ever since a civil war there in 2002, and also has cultural and economic ties to the country, not to mention French nationals living in the country. In terms of idealism, World Politics Review's Judah Grunstein claims that Libya was a "case of history presenting Sarkozy with the chance to act on something he actually feels strongly about."
Sarkozy's Personality: Catherine Bremer at Reuters contends that "intercontinental firefighting is typical of Sarkozy"--a trait he demonstrated when guiding Europe through the economic crisis as European Union president and negotiating a ceasefire between Georgia and Russia in 2008.
Bernard-Henri Levy: The National Interest's Jacob Heilbrunn asserts that the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who arranged a meeting in early March between Sarkozy and the Libyan opposition and warned of an impending massacre in Libya, is "largely responsible for the attacks on Libya."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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