Romina Ruiz-Goiriena Headshot

Sorry Sarkozy, Libya's Tyrant Gaddafi Is Going Nowhere

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Paris. 11PM. Thursday, March 17th, St Patrick's Day. Evening. The news flashed across TV screens all around Europe; French President Nicolas Sarkozy had convinced the United Nations Security Council to agree to a no-fly zone in Libya.

If the French leader had his way, war planes would leave Paris the following day, an air base would be set up in Corsica and another of north Africa's bully-boys, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, would be forcibly ejected from power after a dramatic and memorable battle for the heart of rebellious Benghazi.

Or would it? Instead, maybe, Gaddafi would play his cards right, just like he did in the 1980s, making a laughing stock of the French leader and those who chose to join him in a mission that is at best frivolous, but more likely than not, foolhardy.

Sarkozy keeps his eye on the prize

While the French president publicly stated that democratic countries could not stand by and watch as Gaddafi "waged war on his people," you have to wonder whether Sarkozy's commitment to equality, fraternity and liberty -- the catch-cries of the French Revolution -- is more opportunistic, than real.

Indeed, his commitment to the widely-held ideals has already been publicly called into question. Recently a number of highly-visible members of his own government, including Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, who herself has become the object of public scorn over too-close-for-comfort ties with ousted Tunisian dictator Ben Ali, has questioned his thinking on Libya

But there's a simple answer. With dismal approval ratings even across his political base, and with a presidential election in May 2012, 'Sarko' needs a coup.

The betting is on the probability that these two factors are likely to have persuaded the French leader "to appear authoritative and presidential on the international stage" explained Jon Frosch, a journalist at FRANCE 24, who has written extensively about Sarkozy.

Same place, different time

After all, Sarkozy (and the rest of the UN) appears to have forgotten that this is the second time the Libyan leader faced-off foreign military attacks.

In 1986, former US President Ronald Reagan ordered operation El Dorado Canyon as a response to Gaddafi's involvement in the terrorist bombing of West Berlin's La Belle discotheque. Years later, the Stasi archives revealed the operation had been carried out by Libyan agents prosecuted by reunited Germany in the 1990s.

Reagan's air raid on April 15, 1986, failed to kill the African strongman. Instead it left 60 people dead including Gaddafi's youngest daughter, Hannah. Gaddafi's troops did not battle American forces. Libya's tribal chief laid low for a while, inconspicuously arming left-wing terrorist groups such as the IRA in Ireland, or the German Bader-Meinhof group, or offering sanctuary and training facilities to the anti-Israeli terrorist group Abu Nidal, which killed about three hundred people and wounded hundreds more in its reign of terror during the 1980s in twenty countries across the globe.

Same old Gaddafi

However, the point is not whether French diplomacy is making a global comeback, but the fact that Muammar Gaddafi has managed to master the diplomatic tyrant's dance for years, courting even the thorniest of countries.

And all the while managing to quash dissenters and consolidate his power. Just like in 1986, this time around could well just be more of the same

Amidst the waves of popular uprisings that are taking place across the Arab world, it's become a faux-pas to claim that a single formula can't be applied across the board.

Popular Uprisings?

More important, though, is to put into perspective the legitimacy of a popular movement if it cannot stand on its own without the military intervention of the international community.

There is no question that without the application of a no-fly zone, Gaddafi's forces would have certainly reclaimed even the most rebellious towns captured by the rebels.

And while western democracies state that Libyans should have a say in the future of their nation, the more compelling issue is how much is France willing to risk in order to drive out another dictator.

And so...

There are reasons why Germany did not approve of the 'no-fly' zone despite being one of the biggest proponents of the departure of Mubarak in Egypt. Perhaps, the fear that Gaddafi could replicate the Berlin bombing or fund new radical groups is among those reasons.

And then there is also the specter of Germany's own past that has made it reluctant to get involved in military actions, home or away. German Chancellor Angie Merkel is no fool and knows that the German public would have little stomach for any such campaign.

Unfortunately that which The Economist reported back in its April 16, 1986, edition still rings true today: "One of the things on the European side is fear. Europeans are more vulnerable to terrorism... they have had more of it; they are closer to its Middle East command centers; their entry controls are sloppier; they have bigger pools of Arab immigrants among whom terrorists can swim."

Sadly, what is certain for France as well as the rest of us is that "people of the region will pay for Muammar Gaddafi's megalomania, and the security and stability of the Mediterranean will suffer."