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Dr. Charles G. Cogan

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The Return of the West

Posted: 08/24/11 06:53 PM ET

The French press (or a part of it) is calling it "Sarkozy's War." Certainly the French president precipitated the Allied intervention over Libya beginning on March 19, backed by a UN Resolution and a declaration by the Arab League. An equally charged David Cameron went along with Sarkozy's interventionism, as did Barack Obama, "leading from behind" and in second place. But behind Obama's seeming diffidence, and the early turnover of the operation from the U.S. to NATO, lie a certain number of facts that illustrate the key role of the U.S.: the NATO command and control infrastructure, which had everything to do with the mounting of the mainly British and French air attacks, is largely manned by Americans; the U.S. contributed Predator drones, both at the beginning of the conflict and later on; the U.S. provided reconnaissance and air refueling as well; and in the later period of the conflict, the U.S. supplied munitions badly needed by the British and the French.

Now that the campaign seems to have succeeded, after more than five months of a frustrating, back-and-forth stalemate, who can gainsay this Allied intervention, without which the Libyan rebels would have gone nowhere. (Correspondingly, the NATO operation would not even have been possible without the American support mentioned above). But there are gainsayers, who declare that yet another American military intervention in the Arab world is nothing but counterproductive. Indeed, some Arab commentators see the intervention in Libya as a new manifestation of a colonialism returning to the Arab world, and this is certainly there as an undercurrent in Arab public opinion. But we should never lose sight of the fact that it was this ubuesque Colonel Gaddafi who brought us PAN AM 103 over Lockerbie (1988) and UTA 772 over Chad (1989). It is these heinous in-the-sky bombings of civilian passenger planes for which Gaddafi should now be brought to account.

The Libyan intervention is, if you will, the "anti-Suez" -- that moment in 1956 when Britain and France decided on a military intervention to remove Gamal Abdal Nasser of Egypt -- without telling the U.S. and with disastrous consequences. Now, some fifty-plus years later, the "world powers of the West," as Charles de Gaulle referred to the U.S., Great Britain, and France, have intervened together to help remove a sanguinary dictator west of Suez.

Charles Cogan was the chief of the Near East-South Asia Division in the Directorate of Operations of the CIA from August 1979 to August 1984. From September 1984 to June 1989 he was CIA Chief in Paris. He is now a historian and an associate of the Belfer Center's International Security Program at Harvard University's Kennedy School.