Sarkozy’s sudden zeal for the cause of democracy in Libya comes as his popularity is at record lows just thirteen months before the first round of the 2012 presidential election. With polls showing that Sarkozy is the least popular president since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958, he is betting that French voters will appreciate his efforts in Libya to place France at the center of the world stage and reinforce what Charles de Gaulle once famously called “a certain idea of France” as a nation of exceptional destiny.
In any case, Sarkozy’s main rival is not Gaddafi, but rather Marine Le Pen, the charismatic new leader of the far-right National Front party in France. A new opinion poll published by the Le Parisien newspaper on March 8 has Le Pen, who took over from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in January, winning the first round of next year’s presidential election.
Le Pen, who appeals to middle class voters, is riding high on voter dissatisfaction over the failure of the mainstream parties to address the problem of Muslim immigration. Since taking her post three months ago, Le Pen has single-handedly catapulted the twin issues of Muslim immigration and French national identity to the top of the French political agenda, and in recent weeks, Le Pen has been a permanent fixture on French prime-time television to discuss the threat to France of a wave of immigrants from Libya.
Doing his part, Gaddafi already has pledged that Europe will be “invaded” by an army of African immigrants. In an interview with the French newspaper Journal du Dimanche on March 6, Gaddafi warned: “You will have immigration. Thousands of people from Libya will invade Europe. There will be no one to stop them any more.”
Earlier, during a visit to Italy in August 2010, Gaddafi demanded €5 billion ($7 billion) a year from the European Union to stop illegal immigration which “threatens to turn Europe black.” At the time, Gaddafi asked: “What will be the reaction of the white Christian Europeans to this mass of hungry, uneducated Africans? We don’t know if Europe will remain an advanced and cohesive continent or if it will be destroyed by this barbarian invasion. We have to imagine that this could happen, but before it does we need to work together.”
Since the revolt in Tunisia in January, nearly 15,000 boat people (more than the total for all of 2010) have arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, a 20-square-kilometer island that traditionally has been a major gateway for illegal immigration into the European Union. The panicked French minister for European affairs, Laurent Wauquiez, recently warned that up to 300,000 illegal immigrants could arrive in the European Union from North Africa during 2011. The influx of immigrants from Libya is a “real risk for Europe that must not be underestimated,” he said.
Threatened by Le Pen’s rising popularity, and in urgent need of a political boost, Sarkozy is now using the Libya intervention both to play the role of the respected statesman on the international stage and to address French concerns over mass immigration from North Africa. But during a March 21 interview with France 24, Le Pen dismissed Sarkozy as “a French president who is no longer running anything, who is governing on impulse or emotion, depending on the circumstances.”
Quite apart from the ongoing debate over whether the military intervention in Libya is wise or unwise, legitimate or illegitimate, or if it ultimately will succeed or fail, the European about-face on the use of military force has confirmed the sham that is post-modern European morality, where “cherished” principles are tossed to the wind whenever they are not convenient.
The antiwar idealism of Zapatero and other European fellow travellers is, in its essence, a neo-pacifist reality-evading political façade that Spain and other European governments have hid behind in recent years to avoid military alliance responsibilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. And in an effort to conceal this duplicity, European post-modern pacifism has served as a high-minded, anti-American bully pulpit from which to bash the United States and Israel for refusing to embrace ephemeral concepts like “soft power.”
Boy George, a poster child for European post-modern popular culture, once described the chameleon-like reality of contemporary European morality: “I’m a man without conviction. I’m a man who doesn’t know.”