France to the Rescue

By Levy, Bernard-Henri | Newsweek, January 18, 2013 | Go to article overview

France to the Rescue


Levy, Bernard-Henri, Newsweek


Byline: Bernard-Henri Levy

Taking on the terrorists of Mali.

The French intervention in Mali is a good thing for at least five reasons.

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.

It 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.

As a matter of principle, it confirms the responsibility to protect civilian populations that underpinned the earlier intervention in Libya. The first use of the doctrine merely sets a precedent, but the second is case law, and, for those who favor the duty to intervene, for those who oppose the convenient muddling of the right of self-determination with the right of the rich nations to wash their hands of the wretched of the earth, for all those who think that democracy should not stop at the border any more than terrorism does, the French intervention is an undeniable victory.

It reaffirms the old idea of just war brought back into fashion by the Libyan revolution. Francois Hollande de cided 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.

And finally, 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.

But the fact remains that, as I write these lines, the game is far from over. It would be equally wrong to hang out the flags and declare the mission accomplished. …

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