This is likely why I'll never again work on an editorial board.
It's been said some ideas are so looney only academics can hold them. Editorial boards also fit into that mold.
Just so we're clear on this, France and Britain were months ahead of the U.S., Canada and others in calling repeatedly for a military intervention to prevent a genocide in Libya. French and British flew most of the sorties that prevented that possible genocide of 700,000 civilians in Benghazi. French fighter jets were the first to attack Gadhafi's forces, the U.S. preferring to "lead from behind." (*) Well before Gadhafi's ouster was certain, France recognized the rebels' National Transitional Council as the new government. The French and British successfully pushed for unfreezing Gadhafi's 600 million pounds of purloined assets held offshore and is dispatching the funds to the new legitimate government in Tripoli. Tangible French and British assistance in rebuilding Libya includes funding for mine clearance. On their visit to Tripoli and Benghazi late this week, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron "avoided triumphalism," said a U.K. Independent otherwise critical of the visit. Cameron stressed "it is your revolution." The two European leaders implored the rebels to engage in "forgiveness" toward current and former Gadhafi loyalists, and that there be "no settling of accounts."
But, yikes, Sarko and Cameron have been way out of line in visiting Libya. That's a view widely heard, though not in the majority, in Britain and France. I think the Independent summarizes that criticism perhaps best (or worst), even finding an echo of Dubya's infamous "Mission Accomplished" photo op:
The enthusiasm of Libyans [over the European leaders' visit] does not let British and French leaders off the charge that their visit was made in unseemly haste; a case of too much, too soon...The image of two heads of government lined up for the benefit of the world's media was of far greater impact than the rhetoric, giving the impression of rich patrons swooping down to bless their successful project...Mr. Cameron should resist the temptation to try to offset stuttering domestic progress with ersatz foreign policy successes. He should also beware of being co-opted into President Sarkozy's pre-election posturing...With the situation in Libya still so far from a substantive conclusion, yesterday's ceremonies had strong tinges of both hubris and circus. It was too soon for either."
On the most important charge, of haste, it was essential that France and Britain follow up and follow through - precisely what their visit is about, and consistent with the two nation's non-let-up drive to aid the anti-Gadhafi forces in ending the slaughter of Libyan innocents. The alternative? Do the air strikes, then go home, seldom if ever to return. (Rummy wanted U.S. troops out of a "liberated" Iraq by December 2003.) Iraq was a war in Western, and specifically U.S. interests. Toppling Gadhafi was of little strategic value to the West. Gadhafi already had forsaken his nuclear ambitions and was selling his oil - a mere 3% of world production - to whomever paid top dollar for it. (Italy, as it happened.)
Yes, Gadhafi et fils are still on the lam. Yes, there have been acts of retribution by rebels. And yes, the NTC and the Tripoli Military Council are at odds on some issues. Libya is not a monoculture, like Japan. There are seven major tribes in a nation Gadhafi held together by force of arms. It's hardly surprising that discord exists in these early days. And one effective way of resolving it is to have prominent outside friends and supporters show up in person to help consolidate the new order and speak of peaceful resolutions and the need to avoid a slide toward chaotic conditions.
It took America two generations to recognize the People's Republic of China. It still refuses to recognize the half-century long reality of Castro's Cuba. America's best interests have been ill-served on that score.
I can't stress enough how important it is in world diplomacy when formal recognition is extended by one nation to another, sealed by the early personal state visit of the nations embracing the newly constituted nation into the world community. Heck, it's a huge deal when a nation recalls its ambassador to a country with which it's out of sorts - as Israel understandably did last week after militants attack the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Full recognition of a new nationhood - by Security Council members France and Britain, no less - is the most powerful signal possible at this time to LIbyans that (a) a new and better era truly has dawned and (b) that they're not alone in they're project to rebuild their nation.
A less chartiable sort than I would fire the editorial board of the Indpendent, a paper I enjoy and rely on, for describing Gadhafi's ouster after four decades an "ersatz foreign policy success." If it wasn't in the main a great success in achieving the goals set for the mission, I have to guess that the Indpendent's notion of genuine success would be the overnight transformation of Libya into, say, Switzerland.
Finally, Sarko and Cameron are grown-ups in political life. They know, I know, and scribes employed by as distinguished a journal as the Independent should know, that all the foreign policy successes in the world will not advance a pol's electoral prospects at home.
Bush 41, Liberator of Kuwait, rewarded as such with a 90% approval rating, was fired two years later, his presidency cut short by a domestic recession. Churchill was fired the same year peace broke out, finally, in Europe, because economic conditions at home were horrid and Britons wanted a change. (I think Cameron, a fellow Tory, is rather well-versed in Winnie's fate.) This week's visit, a two-day story in the news cycle, will be long forgotten when the French go to the polls in next year's presidential election. Duh and double-duh.
The personal visit by Cameron and Sarkozy, and promptly, will remembered in Libya's major cities a bit longer, for perhaps a few decades.
(*) "Leading from behind" is a term an Obama White House official errantly let slip from his lips, certain fodder for "America the indispensable nation" adherents. What it meant was that a looming disaster in Europe's backyard should properly be dealt with by European powers. No more waiting for Bill Clinton to end the genocide in the Balkans, a comparative stone's throw from Rome, Paris and Berlin. A crucial factor for Obama was that America already had militarily struck two Muslim nations inside a decade - a third begged heightened disfavor of America among 1.6 billion Muslims. And was that Tunisian and Egyptian totalitarian regimes had fallen earlier the same year absent outside military intervention. That this might happen in Libya as well was a consummation devoutly to be wished. As it happened, with likely genocide in the rebel redoubt of Benghazi 48 hours away, the U.S. abruptly changed course and joined the military coalition to end the Gadhafi regime, prompting Canada and even neutral Sweden to dispatch fighter jets to participate in the airstrikes against Gadhafi's forces.