Jacob Heilbrunn

Beware the French Poseur Bernard-Henri Levy

Oh, the French. So cool, so suave, so comme ci comme ca. A country that decided it was better to capitulate than fight during World War II in what the historian Marc Bloch called "a strange defeat," that lords its assumed cultural superiority over the rest of the world.

Now it has produced a new Danton in the form of Bernard-Henri Levy. "B.H.L.," or Levy, as the New York Times' Stephen Erlanger, among others, reported, is almost single-handedly responsible for prompting French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, to send in French forces (which are also battling in another civil war in the Ivory Coast under United Nations auspices, firing on Laurent Gbagbo). It seems that Levy brought the members of the Libyan opposition, a motley crew if there ever was one, to Paris to meet with Sarkozy on March 10. He told Sarkozy "there will be a massacre in Benghazi, a bloodbath, and the blood of the
people of Benghazi will stain the flag of France.” Sarkozy, eager for some military action to boost his poll ratings, bit. He is largely responsible for the attacks on Libya.

The question is this: should American policy, let alone French, be determined by an open-shirt, Charvet-wearing French philosophe? George Orwell once observed about James Burnham that intellectuals like to have the whip-hand--they relish the idea of exercising power, of seeing their ideals implemented. The results are usually bloody. See the French revolution.

The wonder of it all is that President Obama got dragged into the war as well. American policy, it seems, is being determined by a claque of intellectuals thirsting for combat, at least vicariously. Levy even rode into Benghazi a few weeks ago--the intellectual and man of action. Sarkozy apparently acceded to Levy's adjurations and, overnight, recognized the rebels as a legitimate opposition force, the true government of Libya. Much of Europe is baffled by Sarkozy's actions, or at least rubbing its eyes in disbelief.

Of course French interventions abroad have not usually gone well. Napoleon came to grief in Egypt. Now Sarkozy, his diminutive successor, is following in his path. He seems to be going bonkers. What will follow the intervention in the Ivory Coast? Is France trying to reconstitute its former empire?

These are heady times for Sarkozy and, by extensions, Levy. But the consequences of their revolutionary ardor will soon become clear. Perhaps Sarkozy can compose his memoirs with the help of Levy. But by then Levy may be trying to meddle in the next foreign crisis.