Sarkozy's gamble in recognizing the Libyan opposition
Sarkozy accompanies Mahmud Jibril and Ali al-Essawi of Libya's rebel national council on Thursday
March 11th, 2011
07:13 AM ET

Sarkozy's gamble in recognizing the Libyan opposition

Editor's Note: Dr. James Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations (where he blogs) and co-author of "America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy" and a former director for global issues and multilateral affairs at the National Security Council. Kate Collins is a research associate at CFR.

By Dr. James Lindsay and Kate Collins – Special to CNN

On Thursday, France became the first country to recognize Libya’s rebel coalition, the National Libyan Council, as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed representatives of the group to Elysée Palace, calling the National Libyan Council the “only legitimate representative of the Libyan people.”

The news brought cries of joy in besieged Benghazi. But it remains an open question whether, or how soon, other major powers will follow suit.

No European capitals immediately followed Paris’ lead. British Prime Minister David Cameron did sign a letter with Sarkozy offering “support” for the National Libyan Council’s efforts “to prepare for a representative and accountable government.” Paris and London have been leading the effort to push for a no-fly zone over Libya.

Other European leaders grumbled that Sarkozy’s unilateral announcement upset their efforts to forge a common position on Libya. EU High Representative Catherine Ashton tartly warned that, “We cannot unilaterally rush into recognizing groups.” Many Europeans still remember how Germany’s rush to recognize the independence of Croatia and Slovenia in 1991 helped trigger bloodshed in the Balkans.

The White House has so far given Sarkozy’s announcement the cold shoulder. The administration did suspend relations Thursday with the Libyan embassy in Washington, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she will meet with Libyan rebels next week. Both steps fall well short of formal recognition, however. And the administration edged away from the rebels in a separate announcement that in its view the U.N. arms embargo on Libya makes it illegal to give weapons to anti-Qaddafi forces.

Clinton travels to Paris next week for a long-scheduled meeting of the G-8 foreign ministers. Whether to recognize the National Libyan Council will be a subject of debate. With the Obama administration by all indications unwilling to get ahead of its allies, we could see a reversal of the dynamic we saw last decade between George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac — a reluctant American president looking to slow down an impetuous French one.

One thing that Sarkozy’s recognition of the National Libyan Council does not signal is that we are close to Western military intervention in Libya. Many Western capitals are still uneasy about the idea, and Moscow says it will veto any move at the U.N. to impose a “no-fly zone.”

Nor is unilateral French military action on the table. Sarkozy’s approval ratings are at a record low — just 22% of French people give him a thumbs up. Following spectacular gaffes in how his team handled the crises in Tunisia and Egypt, the French people are unlikely to support bold unilateral action by their president in the newest North African hot spot.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Lindsay.

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Onesmallvoice

    Where does this idiot Sarkozy come off deciding who is to be head of state in Libya? And who is he to decide Libya's future? If he wants to interfere in Libya's internal affairs,like I said before,let him do it all by himself completely without our help!

    March 11, 2011 at 7:59 am | Reply
    • truthnow2011

      Sarkozy is an arrogant man who acted without permission of French people! Tomorrow we should declare that his government is illegitimate .

      March 11, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Reply
      • Onesmallvoice

        What France really needs is another Charles De Gaulle who'll put France first. For that matter too,Germany needs a "German" chancellor instead of this Angie Merkel who caters to Washington and London. The Germans have never had a truly "German" chancellor since the fall of Hitler in 1945 and it's high they had one.

        March 11, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
      • Mike

        Onesmallvoice – I assume yo are totally insane. Get help asap.

        March 13, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • Blackseaking

      Sarkzoy is new Hitler who is also half jewish like an Hitler.

      March 12, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Reply
      • imon

        France recognized America in their fight for independence, Sarkozy did the right thing history will vindicate him as for US they have their own problems figthing in three fronts will be suicidal for its economy,Britains Cameron tried but the truth be told they should have iniatiated dialogue between gadafi and the rebels.

        Dialogue works

        March 13, 2011 at 3:57 am |
      • ChristianC

        Hitler, who instigated an extermination plan that eventually murdered 6 million Jews in WWII, half Jewish? Where in the world did you study your world history?

        March 13, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • ChristianC

      So you prefer that Gaddafi continue to butcher his people? The continued and cowardly absence of action on the part of the international community while people die in Libya is reprehensible. France, in recognizing the emerging rebel movement as the new legitimate government in Libya provided the rebels with a strong psychological boost. President Sarkozy is to be commended for his actions. We need to stop dillydallying and instigate a no-fly zone immediately, not a month from now when it will be too late.

      March 13, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Reply
      • wns78

        Okay ChristianC. I believe the Libyan people need help, but if your logic is applied on global basis, the US should then intervene in every African nation filled with civil upheaval. Any no-fly-zone for Libya should be instituted by an Arab and African coalition, not the UN, NATO, EU, or the United States. We want Gadafi to stop killing his own people, but they decided to take up arms against him, this is their fight. We cannot and should not fight for them.

        March 14, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • chris

      agreed Sarkozy is a clown. running scared no one respects him, and the elections are near the corner.

      How ridiculous - Sarkozy's "no fly zone" solution is the "answer" to the Arab League's request, yet all these Arab countries in the League have mainly the same problems as Libya !

      March 19, 2011 at 1:55 am | Reply
  2. AMB

    Kt, tu es formidable!

    March 11, 2011 at 9:39 am | Reply
  3. Stephen

    Thank you if you have to require wait for the UN. iT IS TERRIBLE for the Japanese situation but I think we have to move on Lbyia NOW

    March 11, 2011 at 10:05 am | Reply
  4. Alex

    " Many Europeans still remember how Germany’s rush to recognize the independence of Croatia and Slovenia in 1991 helped trigger bloodshed in the Balkans" . That is extremely stupid and completely false statement. SLOVENIA ??? That country had a small independence war (less than 100 dead) half a year BEFORE Germany recognized it. After the recognition, no bloodshed whatsover.

    March 11, 2011 at 10:57 am | Reply
    • truthnow2011

      Well said and you are 100% right!

      March 11, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Reply
  5. kudu

    sarkozy just wants to be ahead of the other crooked hypocrites to get the oil . is it not what its all about .unsc ,icc react within days .but yet with regards to palestine not a hum from the humbugs yesterday Saudi shot at its protestors using live ammunition where is the ICC on this .The people of yemen ,algeria,bahrain are all fighting for democracy and an end to brutal dictatorships . As far as libya is concernd the western mercenaries have allready invaded libya and an arms supply route has been opened

    March 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Reply
  6. Tsylvain

    An impetuous French president... sure he is. I don't like his policy in many fields. Among them, foreign affairs hasn't been great for three or four months. Now he's just rushing to acknowledge the rebels. This is so bold ! Whether it's a good or a bad idea, I have no clue. For me it appears he's trying to reduce the impact of France's fiasco in and about Tunisia, to cover his own difficulties at home with French citizens' resentment of his decisions and also an opportunistic move in order to prepare the "after Ghaddafi" (with loads and loads of oil for French firms to exploit : the "real politique", the way he calls it)

    Although I don't like the reasons which I suppose have led him to do it, I hope this move won't be yet another wrong move. And I hope it'll bring something good for the Lybians, that's the important thing !

    March 11, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Reply
  7. Brian

    Sarkozy is a worthless zionist

    March 11, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Reply
    • Onesmallvoice

      He is also a right-wing fanatic pandering to both London and Washington,hoping to help reap the spoils of the war in Afghanistan and exploit that country's mineral resources.

      March 11, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Reply
    • truthnow2011

      I couldn't agree more! I hope that the French people will kick his a*** for this!

      March 11, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  8. Yakobi

    True face of western hinduismi (criminality) imposing hinduism (imperialism) on the name of freedom. The way of hindu gentile (criminal slaves) of hindu sanatan Pharisees (criminal racist hypocrites) pretending to be follower of Jesus in trinty (deception)

    March 11, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Reply
    • azwar

      Stop this Rubbish you throw around Claiming to be a Muslim, With the sort of postings you do, i don't think you are a Human being even. It is ok to differ from someone or a religion but to write all that Trash is uncalled for.

      Follow me " LOVE FOR ALL HATRED FOR NONE "

      March 13, 2011 at 10:20 am | Reply
  9. SiriusVH

    Nice to see that France-bashing is as popular in this country as ever ....

    March 11, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Reply
  10. helenecha

    It's dramatic. Applaud!

    March 11, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  11. vkmo

    France and Europe should engage Libya. Obama can't unilaterally get US into this war. Bush got into Iraq war over mistaken WMDs (never found), Afghanistan because of 911 (perpetrators were never challenged before the action occurred). In this case – the Libyan oil goes to NATO allies in Europe. They are close to Libya, have the means to engage Libya. US is broke due partly to Iraq and Afghanistan, so it can aid them but not engage in Libya itself. That should be done by Arab League, NATO allies and UN. Also, end of this conflict would mean oil will be supplied worldwide again. Libya intervention and reconstruction will prolong the war and will hurt everybody in lives and be ruinous economically.

    March 12, 2011 at 2:21 am | Reply
  12. tuy cqan

    The president of France is going to lose when gambling on Libya ; he should learn to be a wise leader like president Obama !

    March 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Reply
  13. azwar

    Well i know for a fact that Iraq was doing Ok with Saddam, Balkans with Tito, and Libya with Qaddafi, Egypt with Mubarak, telling you these all people should just ask for a bit more freedom than to get these Guys out. I hope i am wrong but looks like i am going to be right.

    March 13, 2011 at 10:17 am | Reply
  14. j. von hettlingen

    It is typical of Sarkozy to be the centre of attraction. He will be the laughing stock of the international community, if things don't work out his way. I wrote to the BBC two weeks ago that Gaddafi would bounce back.

    March 13, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Reply
  15. JesterR

    how about these hero nations or self rated "Good Guys" stay out and mind their own bussiness and not set eyes on Oils. It is very much clear now that West when needs to occupy a country`s resource, it first tries to enter its coorperations and if that doesnt work and it tries to make space for them and same has happened here, and same was the case in Afghanistan when Taliban denied the Gas PipeLine project and then it all began

    March 14, 2011 at 2:12 am | Reply
  16. Chris

    At last someone who is prepared to stand up for human rights. Well done Sarkozy. You have the balls to put freedom of speech, rule of law, democracy, human rights before ignorant short sighted self interest. Obama talks the talk but not the walk.
    People in countries with dictators deserve better. Work now for the eradication of dictators.
    Principles before self interest. Those countries in NATO should be acting now to prevent the killing of thousands.
    Gadaffi will only rule by fear now and as North Korea, Iran to name a few have shown this can go on for generations
    Help the Libyan people to have a better life. I

    March 14, 2011 at 5:20 am | Reply
  17. Robbie Hakkem

    They sold Libya. The fix is in. I am ashamed

    March 14, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Reply

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