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Answers to Three Questions About Libya

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Is this a just war? The word seems to make people edgy. And the time of reasonable debate (without risk of attracting the thunder of sovereignist neopacifism) on this very old concept of political philosophy one would have thought had proven its theoretical validity, from the Dominican Francisco de Vitoria to the American Michael Walzer, is in the past. Then, let's say inevitable war. Let's say that, confronted with a rabid tyrant, when a people's right to self-determination becomes the right of the tyrant to determine their fate, when he, the tyrant, claims the double principle of sovereignty (a man's home is his castle; what happens within my borders is my affair and mine alone) and of equality of States before the law (a crazy putschist, a professional criminal, is equal to a democrat, therefore nothing and no one has the right to curb his bloodthirsty impulses), moral law dictates, yes, that one must intervene to stop him. This is what has just occurred in Libya. This is what the international community, spurred on by the Arab League and France, has just declared, with one voice, through Resolution 1973 of the Security Council. And anyone who contests that, any doctrinal quibbling that behind intervention one senses a hint of colonialism and arrogance, any abstentionism resembling that advocated by a hyper-conservative Germany currently consumed by short-term electoral considerations and consequently breaking the half-century long pact of "never again that" anti-fascism, any academic objections like those of philosophers waiting expectantly to discover the axioms and canons of the "communist hypothesis" they favor in the popular insurrection of Benghazi -- in short, all these little calculations amount to indifference, cynicism, and, whether one wishes or not, complicity with the crime.

Why Libya? Why not Bahrain, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen? Even if they contain a grain of truth, let us avoid the contingent replies. The reader can be spared the "because we were there and not someplace else". There is no need to insist upon the absurdity, with its Lewis Carroll-esque quality, of the objection, "since one cannot be everywhere, we must be nowhere". (This is, of course, the exact counterpart of the no less absurd neopacifist theorem whereby one should refuse to save civilians on the pretext of collateral damage that would imply, otherwise put : "for fear of military blunders, we must accept the massacres" or "we must let them die, because we don't want any cadavers".) However, we shall invoke the fortunate chain whereby from a moral action, that is to say one dictated by a maxim based upon a universal principle, other actions of the same nature, at least in thought, will ensue. Thus one will reply that, if an intervention is just, if it is intended to conform to a moral dictate more than the interests of its agents, it will itself provoke a flow of consequences that will threaten other tyrants, purely by its dissuasive effect. Plainly put, giving Gaddafi a free hand would have been tantamount to telling Assad and the other Salehs that they can rest easy, because democratic recess time is over. To stop him is to send the inverse signal and suggest to the same individuals that it is time to slow down, to compromise, perhaps to give up, unless they want to suffer the same fate. Jurisprudence Gaddafi. Dissuasion through Gaddafi. The name of Gaddafi, -- or, inversely, of Benghazi -- as a warning offered by a heretofore unheard of coalition of Western, Arab, and African States. Acting in Libya was, is, intervening in Bahrain, Yemen, and Riyad.

Third question. What happens next? What do you know about your insurgents ? And how do you know that this heteroclite gathering of historical opponents and former servants of the regime will lead to a new Libya? My answer is simple. Obviously, I am not naïve. In Benghazi, as elsewhere, I am past the age of idealism and of angelism. And between now and victory, I cannot see Mustafa Abdeljalil, a former minister who is now the head of the National Council of Transition, absorbing the complete works of de Tocqueville. And yet, there are the facts! We know, for example, that among the eleven members of the Council whose names have been made public, not one is an Islamist. We know that, among the twenty others, whose names are kept secret for the time being for reasons of security, there are representatives of all the regions of the country and that the danger of tribal conflict has been -- intentionally? -- overestimated. And I think that, even if the Council does not institute Churchillian parliamentarianism from one day to the next, it will inject into this broken country, ravaged by dictatorship, ruined by corruption and State gangsterism, a bit more democracy -- and that this "bit more" will be, already, a benediction. Should I add that anything is better than putting back in the saddle a man who assured us, in every possible way, that he had "renounced terrorism" but whose first reflex, on the eve of the intervention, was nonetheless to warn that "for every military plane you destroy, I will shoot down one of your civilian airplanes"? The alternatives in Libya are clear. Either terrorist insanity. Or the humble, patient, difficult, interminable invention of democracy. That's the way it is.