You’ve heard about the camel putting his nose under the tent? Well how about the tent putting its nose under the walls of the French equivalent of Blair House, H√¥tel Marigny, the former residence of Baron Gustave de Rothschild? Muamar Ghadafi, on a five-day hoopla state visit to France, is stirring up a healthy storm of controversy. Bloodthirsty dictators, once and future jihadis, enemies of freedom, budding genocidal revolutionaries (Pol Pot), retired despots (Baby Doc) have been received with honors, ostensibly courted, or harbored with boundless generosity without disturbing the foreign policy consensus. But the puffy faced Supreme Guide has to face criticism from all directions in a refreshed new free-speech France.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s friends and supporters are embarrassed, his enemies are delighted to have the opportunity to dump on him for a worthy cause, citizens are unreeling endless talkbacks, and U.S. media are strangely indifferent to this three-dimensional demonstration of making friends with our enemies. Don’t they know a carrot when they see it?
Ghadafi last visited France as the guest of Georges Pompidou in 1974 (a news clip is posted on the Figaro site). The vigorous revolutionary and all-purpose agitator lost his political manhood when the U.S. bombed his tents in 1986 but he is still strutting. The spaced out creature with the scraggly, died-black hair and stubbly beard is making no apologies. Other people’s terrorism is Libya’s glorious struggle for national liberation from unjust colonization. Proud and free, Libya now takes it normal place in the concert of nations.
And, as he explained to an audience of 400 academics in Lisbon on the eve of his visit to France, today’s terrorism is the justified violence of “weak nations.” Systematically brushing aside the question of human rights in Libya, Ghadafi was greeted with a thunder of applause from an African audience at UNESCO on Tuesday afternoon, when he referred to recent incidents in the banlieue and accused the French of failing to respect the rights of immigrants. (No one called him on the persecution of sub-Saharan African students in Libya)
The UNESCO appearance was the high point of his stay. He was among friends. The official welcome was pinched, despite the red carpet and plumed Republican Guards. President Sarkozy looked like he was swallowing a live herring every time he shook Ghadafi’s hand. Members of the government boycotted the meeting held in private quarters at the National Assembly-Ghadafi’s request to address the legislature was rebuffed. FM Bernard Kouchner skipped the official dinner, saying he would fortunately be in Brussels that evening. The Bulgarian nurses whose liberation from eight years of torture-the real thing-in Libyan prisons apparently ended Ghadafi’s ostracism, postponed a scheduled visit to France.
Rama Yade, Undersecretary for Human Rights, eloquently declared that France is not a doormat where bloody dictators can wipe off their feet. She was reportedly reprimanded but her words were not erased. This freewheeling expression of opinion and convictions is a refreshing change after decades of leaden silence. A human rights counter-tent was briefly pitched, featuring, among others, disappointed presidential candidates S√©gol√®ne Royal and Fran√ßois Bayrou, Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, SOS Racisme president Dominique Sopo. But the deadly serious exclusive France 2 interview (8 PM December 11) was more effective than their predictable indignation.
The interview–conducted in the tent against a tacky green and yellow palm tree print background, by the clean-shaven neat as a pin David Pujadas, who bears a distant resemblance to a ventriloquist’s dummy– was a masterpiece of incongruity. Asked to react to the controversy provoked by his visit, the Supreme Guide replied with a disdainful pout: he doesn’t have time to follow the news. Did he in fact justify the use of terrorism by “weak countries”? He claims he never said such a thing. Pujadas gulps… but waits until the end of the screened interview to add that the statement made to an audience of 400 at the University of Lisbon was indeed videotaped. Ghadafi denies, with a supercilious frown, his government’s involvement in the 1988 bombing of a French UTA plane over Niger. He also denies that president Sarkozy mentioned human rights or the lack of it in Libya. Why would they need human rights, free speech, freedom of political association anyway, he asks rhetorically. Libyans govern themselves by direct democracy in the Jamahiriya.
Why did President Sarkozy invite Ghadafi and treat him with dignity, exposing himself to quite understandable criticism? It is, he believes, the proper reward for a leader who has renounced terrorism and financially compensated its victims. “What would we say today to Iranian leaders if we did not hold out a hand to the Libyan leader who himself chose to turn his back on nuclear armament and terrorism.” In other words – it’s the carrot, stupid.
Much is made of contracts signed or pending. In fact, these deals have been under negotiation for years, most of them are still iffy, everyone but the Americans is already engaged in commerce with Libya and to a far greater extent with Iran. Unfortunately the economic situation pushes French presidents to double as traveling salesmen. Critics who are dumping on Sarkozy’s clean up-front dealings with Libya dismissed the oil for food scam on Chirac’s watch as a peccadillo in France. And don’t give Sarkozy credit for his stand on Iran sanctions.
Far too much is always made of the human rights card that French leaders are asked to use as a joker after they’ve shaken hands and signed contracts with one or another of the multitude of unsavory leaders they deal with. Did you ask Putin when he’s going to grant human rights? Did you tell Hu Jintao we’re expecting some progress in the way of human rights?
Nothing at all has been made of Ghadafi’s denial of Israel’s right to exist. I can’t find any mention of the subject in the extensive daily French media reports. Elaine Sciolino does touch the issue in a New York Times / International Herald Tribune article, where makes a colossal gaffe:
“During his speech to Parliament, [in fact he did not speak to the legislature] Qaddafi appealed for a ‘single democratic state’ uniting Israelis and Palestinians as the only viable solution for the region.
“‘It is not possible to create two states in the region,’ Qaddafi said, appearing to dismiss the longstanding Palestinian demand for a state.
“Palestinians and Israelis, he said, ‘are integrated on the terrain, it is not feasible to separate them.’ He said international efforts should ‘converge to create a single state.'”
Is she kidding? Ghadafi’s one-state solution dismisses the Palestinian demand for a state? Or how Israel could be wiped off the map and the NY Times would not even notice.
Heir apparent Seif al-Islam, the modern face of Libya’s bright future, interviewed on the eve of his father’s visit was asked if he was interested in President Sarkozy’s Mediterranean Union project. “Yes,” he replied, “if it doesn’t include Israel.”
Conspicuously unmentioned in the French media was President Sarkozy’s December 10th encounter with former and potentially future Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu who was in Paris for a conference on the failures of the peace process. As reported in the Jerusalem Post, a Palestinian stood on the roof of a building and threatened to throw himself to his death in protest against the presence at that conference of former chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon and another IDF officer
According to Uzi Arad, Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser, Sarkozy “violated international protocol” to slip out of the Elys√©e Palace for a warm friendly meeting at which the two discussed, privately, the enduring danger of a nuclear Iran…and reaffirmed their determination to prevent it.
In an interview scheduled for publication in Thursday’s Nouvel Observateur, Sarkozy reiterates this warning: there is a clear and present danger of war with Iran, not because the Americans might rush to the attack but because Israel may have to attack before it’s too late. Concurrently, he tried in vain to get his fuzzy guest Ghadafi to clearly condemn yesterday’s car bomb attacks in Algiers. FM Kouchner, back in Paris, has clearly condemned Ghadafi’s rant about French mistreatment of immigrants.
If one recognizes the continuity between Ghadafi’s longstanding implication in global jihad and Ahmadinejad’s vigorous new participation in the same struggle to the same ends, Sarkozy’s statement on war with Iran is more important than any lip service to human rights in the face of his embarrassing guest.
As for the camels, they are mentioned in several comments from readers but the media have neither seen nor shown them. Are they deliberately ignoring them-like Ghadafi’s one-state solution for the Palestinians-or is it because he only brought the tent, the Amazon bodyguards, and a stock of whatever it is he’s taking to maintain that zonked look…
UPDATE – December 14:
Le Figaro reports that Ghadafi finally cried Uncle…and condemned the recent car bomb attacks in Algiers. Score one for President Sarkozy who did not accept the Supreme Guide’s “right of first refusal.” Having conceded on the tent, brought out the Republican Guard, and remained polite in the face of endless pinpricks, the French president kept the pressure on Ghadafi until he said the right thing. (Even if he doesn’t mean it.)
Lib√©ration reports that the thunderous applause in response to Ghadafi’s UNESCO speech–in which he told the French to get off his back on human rights unless and until they could treat their immigrants with due respect-came from a claque bused in from a SONOCOTRA worker’s dorm in the Seine St. Denis banlieue, and rewarded with a generous contribution to their “Griots” association. In the noble tradition of the griot, they had praised the powers that be…except that they are living in France, and the power that is is the Sarkozy government. Never underestimate the oumah. The Malian who apparently organized the operation and his enthusiastic troops sincerely admire Ghadafi “the president of all the Africans.” It’s true, he was wearing his forest green map-of-Africa badge every day.
Guysen Israel News reports that Ghadafi’s delegation unexpectedly bumped into Netanyahu’s Mossad escort on the steps of the Ritz Hotel. A diplomatic incident was narrowly avoided. We’d love to have the details, but the terse GIN report doesn’t elaborate and the French media, which have mentioned Netanyahu’s presence in Paris, weren’t about to tell what happened when the president of all the Africans met the secret service of the only Jewish state.
According to an OpinionWay survey 81% of those polled approve of Rama Yade (Undersecretary for Human Rights) for publicly expressing her opinion on Ghadafi’s visit: “France is not a doormat where dictators can wipe off their bloody feet.” An equally strong percentage agree with Sarkozy’s policy of free speech for cabinet ministers, a radical break with past administrations both Right and Left in which ministers marched to the same drummer or left the parade.