French President Sarkozy is the new George Bush, pushing the military intervention first in Libya and now in the Ivory Coast, where French-led UN forces, battling another murderous dictator, captured President Gbagbo, who was ousted in an election but refused to leave office. Now Europe is interventionist, while the United States comes in only reluctantly, if at all. Like Europe used to do.
Barack Obama swept to power in 2008 on a wave of anti-war sentiment, while David Cameron entered Downing Street last year insisting that the West “can’t drop democracy from 40,000ft”.
Yet the past three weeks have found the [UN security] council – this time with a less noisy Anglo-American wing – willing to pass stunningly powerful resolutions allowing missile strikes against murderous leaders.
Both resolution 1973 on Libya and resolution 1975 on Ivory Coast give external forces the authority to take “all necessary” measures to protect civilians from violence – practically a carte blanche.
A Western diplomat at the UN last night said the resolutions showed members were taking seriously the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, adopted in 2006, promising “timely and decisive action” against atrocities.
“TV pictures and the threat of humanitarian catastrophe have made people not want to wait for massacres to happen, as in Rwanda,” he said, in language strikingly reminiscent of the Blair-Clinton era.The diplomat said that crucial in both cases had been the endorsement of action by the respective regional authorities – on Libya, the Arab League and on Ivory Coast, Ecowas and the African Union.
“It’s very difficult if you’re Russia or China to say ‘no’ if the Arabs and the Africans themselves are saying ‘yes’,” he said.
Also important has been the belligerence of Paris. The site of the Chirac-era “Non!” has become gung-ho, ensuring military – and symbolic – backing from the European mainland.
While Mr Obama has stayed almost invisible, the domestically embattled Nicolas Sarkozy has taken personal “ownership” of both interventions, rushing out his statements before anyone else.