The real Napoleon didn’t have to go around with a tin cup begging for military aid. He had the best army on the continent and imposed his will at will. He made allies through conquest and extracted assistance through threats. When Napoleon Bonaparte spoke, countries listened. When today’s Napoleon-wannabe speaks, people snicker.
That doesn’t mean President Sarkozy’s vaulting ambition hasn’t already created enormous damage. The West likely will lose irrespective of the outcome. A stalemate will embarrass NATO, create long-term regional instability, and ensure continued hardship for the Libyan people. A rebel victory may turn into a violent power struggle in which liberal elements lose. Years of Western intervention and “nation-building” seem certain to follow.
But President Sarkozy’s foolish new imperialism has an ironic silver lining. France’s Libyan project has exposed European pretensions to be a new Weltmacht in competition with China and the U.S. The Europeans want to help manage the globe, but they are incapable of removing a petty dictator on their doorstep. And their military capabilities are scheduled to continue shrinking. They can’t expect to be taken seriously if they are unwilling to act seriously.
France has a storied military history. Unfortunately, that is not evident in Libya today. If President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to wander the world bombing other nations, he needs to create a military capable of fulfilling that mission. So far, at least, neither the U.S. nor Europe seems prepared to join his foolish geopolitical crusade.