[QODLink]
Empire
Transcript: Europe and the Arab revolutions
Read the line-by-line transcription of the Empire episode "War & revolutions: Europe and the Arab world".
Last Modified: 25 May 2011 13:58

This is the transcript for the Empire episode War & revolutions: Europe and the Arab world (Thursday, May 19, 2011).

Marwan Bishara:

Hello and welcome to Empire. Europe has dragged its feet as democratic revolutions swept through Tunisia and Egypt but reacted rather swiftly and firmly to the escalation in Libya. And just when you thought NATO powers had learnt their lesson in Iraq and Afghanistan that it is easier to start a military campaign than to end one, France and Britain rushed their fighter jets across the Mediterranean to enforce a no fly zone.

Armed with a new resolution and Arab support they argue this time it's different. Is it? Or more importantly, are they? Well to find out we've embarked on a journey to Europe's centres of power.

First stop London.

David Cameron:

Gaddafi lied to the international community. He continued to brutalise his own people. He was in flagrant breach of the UN resolution. So it was necessary, legal and right that he should be stopped and that we should help stop him.

Marwan Bishara:

The man they want to get rid of was until recently the man they were propping up. You see Muammar Gaddafi has long been portrayed in the west as an erratic eccentric oddball. But when you take a closer look at Britain’s own policy towards Libya, factor in vast commercial interests and a huge dose of crude oil, well it takes eccentricity to a whole new level.
 
Tony Blair:

I was particularly struck at our earlier meeting with Colonel Gaddafi by his insistence not only of Libya’s determination to carry on down this path of cooperation but also his recognition that Libya’s own future is best secured by a new relationship with the outside world.

Narrator:

How quickly does a lot of people forget but it was needed a convenient villain to rail against, Gaddafi was more than happy to play the role. After Libyan agents allegedly bombed a Berlin nightclub in 1986, Ronald Reagan retaliated with air strikes against Gaddafi's Tripoli compound, and the American leader certainly didn't mince his words.

Ronald Reagan:

This mad dog of the Middle East has a goal of a world revolution, a Muslim fundamentalist revolution.

Narrator:

A secular, Gaddafi of course couldn't have cared less. He threw his weight behind a whole host of groups, shunned by the West. The PLO, the Basque separatists and the outlawed ANC.
The British had even more reason to despise Gaddafi thanks to his defiant support with the IRA.
And so by the mid-1980s the West's position was set in stone. Wide-ranging sanctions were in place and Gaddafi was considered a dangerous adversary. Then came Lockerbie.

Reporter:

A Pan Am jumbo jet with 258 people on board.

Narrator:

But with the nations where was no doubt Libya was responsible. With a full wrath of the West against it how did the Libyan regime go about rehabilitating itself on the world stage? It began with a secret meeting.

Marwan Bishara:

It was December 2003, at the height of tensions between the West and Libya inside this private member’s club Libya spymaster met with his British and American counterparts. With one word in mind, to bring Gaddafi in from the cold. But considering the political fallout from reopening ties would have been toxic, the meeting was kept top secret.

Narrator:

To lead the secret talks Tony Blair sent in this man, MI6 agent Mark Allen. His contact was Musa Kusa. The deal they thrashed out paved the way with big deals to follow. Soon to become Sir, Mark Allen went to work for BP negotiating oil deals in Libya.

The Libyan law of diplomacy went into full swing. Within a year of this meeting Gaddafi had done enough to win over Washington, the African Union and the European Union. Sanctions disappeared as was some companies ways to get a piece of the action. Only one problem remained the man convicted of the bombing, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

Gaddafi wanted him back openly threatened to pull out billions of pounds of business deals if he wasn't returned. The British government came under intense pressure to let Megrahi go. But it was a British company, BP, and not the British government dictating policy. Saying we were concerned with the slow progress that was being made in concluding a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya.

Subtitle:

"...we were concerned with the slow progress that was being made in concluding a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya." [BP press release]

Narrator:

Even the foreign minister admitted it was BP calling the shots.

Subtitle:

"Yes, a very big part... I'm unapologetic about that." [Jack Straw, former British foreign secretary]

Narrator:

Gaddafi that's what he wanted and so business and politics looked like very happy bedfellows. And it would have stayed that way had it not been for the one thing the West never want to consider.
The will of the Libyan people.

So what makes the whole talk of the humanitarian concern sound so jarring. The Libyan people are entitled to freedom how as these western leaders keep telling us, why weren't they saying this for the last few years?

Marwan Bishara:

While Britain's relationship with Gaddafi has ebbed and flowed we across to Libyan's nearest European neighbour and former colonial power Italy to look at their dubious relationship.

Marwan Bishara:

Whilst it's been living off its imperial past new Italy is not old Rome but like its western industrial partners it does whatever it takes to sustain its economical power.

Narrator:

Italy lobbied hard for sanctions to be lifted and Italian companies in Libya now rake in $16bn a year. Silvio Berlusconi took the relationship to a whole new level.

There's definitely been a change in relations between Italy and Libya. [Translation for Silvio Berlusconi]

Narrator:

And nobody brought Gaddafi in from the cold like the Italian prime minister. They talked, he visited and they fought. Gaddafi pitched his tent in the gardens of Rome's most prestigious villa and lectured Italian models on the virtues of Islam.

And then there was oil. Lots of it. The relationship was cemented by the green stream pipeline uniting both countries. And Libya overtook Saudi Arabia to become Europe's third-largest supplier. With oil deals brought huge dollar reserves so Gaddafi went shopping.

A little bit of fiat.

A bit more of juventus.

And a son playing football for Perugia…

Narrator:

And so, strapped for cash, Italy turned to Gaddafi for a quick fix.

And Libya quickly became the biggest private investor in Italy's largest bank, Unicredit.

As well as in Italy's main arms manufacturer Finmeccanica.

Berlusconi touted that his greatest foreign policy achievement was the friendship treaty he signed with Libya. It seemed that Italy was finally closing a foreign chapter of history that had started with Italy's bombing of Tripoli a century ago. But there has now been another twist. Berlusconi is no longer leaving his other allies waiting and has now joined in with the campaign.

Why was Berlusconi not able to protect Italian interests? It seems that when it comes to foreign policy the seventh biggest economy in the world punches well below the streets.

Marwan Bishara:

Now Prime Minister Berlusconi has become an international embarrassment. Weakened by serious corruption charges and now compromised by his rather close relationship to Libya's dictator Muammar Gaddafi, is leading a political void. A void that is being filled by a rather unlikely alliance. That is of President Giorgio Napolitano and Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. I came to the Foreign Minister and I began by asking Mr Frattini why has Italy acted so late?

Franco Frattini:

Since Italy already decided to give the bases, the military our bases and endower support and to take command of the military naval, maritime mission of NATO, we decided to integrate our participation to protect civilians. Because we were made aware of the horrible crimes committed by Gaddafi particularly in cities like Misrata, Zliten and other regions.

Marwan Bishara:

You've been criticised Foreign Minister, for hedging your bets that after all Italy is Libya's biggest trading partner, biggest arms supplier, you had some very good relationship with Colonel Gaddafi and it took you a long time because you weren't sure how things are going to turn out to be.

Franco Frattini:

Well this is absolutely not true. We were in absolute terms the second country in Europe and the third in the world to recognise the national counsel in Benghazi. To say we were the first absolutely the first to send a diplomat to Benghazi to open the Italian consulate, also to provide technical assistance to the people in Benghazi well before that others decided to come.

Marwan Bishara:

So how does it feel then within several weeks Italy moves from being closest friend to being one of the strongest foes of Colonel Gaddafi?

Franco Frattini:

Because we are close friend of the Libyan people. This is the reason. And we cannot tolerate to see the Libyan people killed and destroyed.

Marwan Bishara:

And you think the way things are going now in reality on the ground, with all of the destruction we're talking about, several thousand dead, even more. So it is pretty dramatic what's going on. Are you optimistic or are you more realistic perhaps, sober about the operation, the military operation?

Franco Frattini:

Well I'm rather optimistic because we see Gaddafi getting weaker and weaker. We can say today we reduced the military capabilities of Gaddafi by 40, 45 per cent. So I think there are many factors that will lead to the further isolation of Gaddafi. Economic elements, military component and political determination of international community.

Marwan Bishara:

So now the Libyan people and as you well said, the whole point at how it is becoming more visible. But when were they Foreign Minister, when you were such close political allies of Colonel Gaddafi and when he was doing whatever he was doing politically?

Franco Frattini:

I don't know frankly speaking because when all the international community used to have normal relations with the regime of Gaddafi including Europe negotiating a bilateral agreement including President Sarkozy receiving Gaddafi with all the honours to the Elysee in Paris, we were not aware of the situation on the ground because of propaganda, because of the repression from the regime and because of the fact that he was hiding the truth before the threat of extremists Islamic radicals, people from Al-Qaeda, living in Benghazi. He was telling us, well these are the extremists that want to kill you. Now we open the eyes and we were immediately able to react.

Marwan Bishara:

So Amnesty International, human rights watching all the international UN organisations, when they spoke about the human rights violations.

Franco Frattini:

Well we as Italy, are the country that first took refugees for example and people from Eritrea and Somalia, from the camps in Libya. When we used to ask Gaddafi's regime please allow these people to come to Italy, he used to say okay. It is possible. So this was the point when we were requested from Amnesty International for example or OMJs or UNHCR to take action and that we did. Apparently with no problems but this is the problem that other states including Europeans didn't do the same.

Marwan Bishara:

Well exactly. So it's the Europeans. There's like French Sarkozy and so on and so forth that like Italy that were hopeful that Gaddafi will be your border Policeman basically. The whole question of immigration.

Franco Frattini:

Yes.

Marwan Bishara:

Think that he would be the one on the gate.

Franco Frattini:

Yes. Unfortunately all the western countries used to accommodate themselves on partnerships of convenience instead of partnerships of coexistence and sharing values. This was the mistake made by the west.

Marwan Bishara:

To discuss Europe and most specifically Italy's erratic response to the Arab spring and Libyan repression I sat with three of the countries sharpest minds.

Marwan Bishara:

Emma Bonino you are a vice president of the Italian Senate, former minister, former member of European Parliament. Nathalie Tocci you are a senior fellow at the Institute of International Affairs, deputy director as well with expertise on neighbourhood policy and European foreign policy. And Luisa Morgantini you've been a member of the European Parliament and former deputy director I think of European Parliament with special, again, expertise on Middle Eastern Arab affairs. Ladies welcome to Empire. It seems to me Emma that Italy in so many ways defines this European ambiguity, this European pragmatism, in its relationship with Gaddafi before, onto, going on bombarding Libya. How does it square in Italy today?

Emma Bonino:

Well it simply doesn't square. At the beginning was well France has Spain has Morocco, France has Tunisia. We have Libya and others are more prominent in Egypt. And by the way this partnership with Gaddafi was enthusiastically supported by parties and in my country. The best friend, etc etc. And then suddenly it was not. So if you're asking me what is the Italian policy towards Libya? I would say depends on the day. We had no policy.

Marwan Bishara:

But Nathalie I have a sense that aside from the change of mood or methods or approach from diplomacy to military, the question of oil and energy, the investments, the commercial investments, these are serious corporate calculations?

Nathalie Tocci:

Yes absolutely. Europe's dithering, you know, the sort of divided positions, the changing positions from one to the next, in a sense you can see Italy as a microcosm of this. So the multiplying it by a thousand in many respects. And so as Emma was mentioning in a sense that you see this going from one extreme to the other, you start from one extreme because precisely because of those corporate interests, those energy interests, you were actually doing quite well with Gaddafi.

Marwan Bishara:

So does that, all of that, it explains the hesitancy in the beginning? They wanted to hedge between okay maybe Gaddafi will stay and things will be maintained?

Nathalie Tocco:

Exactly.

Emma Bonino:

Absolutely.

Marwan Bishara:

But then they were stitched by the French?

Nathalie Tocci:

Well exactly. And we don't know what's going to happen in Libya. We kind of pretty much know that it's not going to be the Libya of three months ago. And the minute in which that situation has changed Italy hedged its bets on the other side.

Luisa Morgantini:

You said pragmatic policy but really it's just a fortunistic policy. Following the one where it getting more sign. So I'm very ashamed of the behaviour of my guarantee and also because I'm really thinking about people in Libya. Are we defending them?

Marwan Bishara:

But tell me Nathalie specifically for Italy and Libya it's been a hundred years when the first aerial bombardment took place and that was Italy against Libya. So what does that bring back in terms of Italy's role?

Nathalie Tocci:

The reason why we didn't want to be on the frontline in the military campaign was precisely this. And if you look at the terms of the debates in parliament over and now the decision to move in with the aerial bombings, that's exactly been like the reasons giving. We don't want to exactly repeat history.

Marwan Bishara:

So a lot of people, Emma now says, you know, whatever we do in Europe we criticised damned if we do, and damned if we don't.

Emma Bonino:

Of course you cannot intervene everywhere from Papa New Guinea to whatever. But this is also something that diplomacy and diplomats and establishment still stick to all diplomacy or military intervention. And they refuse systematically to think in normative.
 
Luisa Mortgantini:

I think it's really so important what you were saying that we need a new form of diplomacy which is really speaks to the people. But I'm afraid that why there is not that policy also because our leaders are acting like that.

Emma Bonino:

Yes. Yes.

Nathalie Tocci:

There are very, very few links.

Marwan Bishara:

But you need to see it as they are towards them.

Luisa Mortgantini:

I think that we have to try to challenge our own democracy.

Emma Bonino:

Yes absolutely.

Luisa Mortgantini:

Because our democracy doesn't work anymore.

Marwan Bishara:

Is there a need for a Tahrir Square in Rome?
 
Luisa Mortgantini:

Yes, for sure.

Marwan Bishara:

There's an internal struggle within Europe between presumably Europe, the citizens and Europe the corporate, the populous interests. And that internal strives conflict within Europe you think is going which way?

Emma Bonino:

You have strives all over Europe. Over a racist anti immigration mood all over. Take Finland. I would never ever expected such Finland or take Hungary. Take Netherlands. So that's when we were saying that the traditional democracy are facing a big crisis that makes us totally bribed.

Luisa Mortgantini:

I agree. In the same time there are responsibilities.

Emma Bonino:

Absolutely.

Luisa Mortgantini:

Because of course when government and leadership are just making propaganda for races against immigration why Europe is making the new document on contra immigration. If Europe becomes a fortress then of course we are helping the population to become more and more racist. So there is a big responsibility of the leadership of the government on this issue.

Emma Bonino:

But what I do think is that our democracy are on a deep, deep crisis.

Marwan Bishara:

Coming from the vice president of the Italian senate this is....

Emma Bonino:

No. No. But I always been very vocal on that and what we are seeing in terms of a crisis of the old traditional democracies. And so we don't understand what is happening but we have to put our house in order first of all. And this is not only Italy. Of course Berlusconi is the most visible right.

Marwan Bishara:

Very visible.

Emma Bonino:

But it's not the only one.

Marwan Bishara:

So Sarkozy for example Nathalie, the same populous again, domestic politics is low in the polls and hence he takes on this foreign adventure.

Nathalie Tocci:

Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean I think had it not been for a presidential campaign in the offing in France and the fact that.

Nathalie Tocci:

Absolutely. And the fact that you know, with the Tunisian and Egypt's presidents, Sarkozy was kind of losing points very quickly, domestically on foreign policy counts. There was a sort of internal domestic push to do something about it. And Sarkozy being the impulsive person that we know jumped on the bandwagon and this was the most easy way to do it.

Marwan Bishara:

But Emma there's a problem with the idea that one of the more important powers around the world, a rising European union, deals with politics domestically in almost a hundred percent but at the same time runs this irresponsible trade policy where pragmatism rules.

Emma Bonino:

But that's everybody. You don't have to say that I'm not doing differently, Canada is not doing differently, Australia's not doing differently. I mean historically speaking we.

Marwan Bishara:

But Europe is more, is not going to be any exception to the rule or...

Luisa Mortgantini:

We're not making any progress is that we are of universe human rights. It's really crisis in that.

Marwan Bishara:

Which Europe claims to descend.

Luisa Mortgantini:

Yes Britain. Because I mean we will be leading for a long time and now it's gone. Because we are completely, on this issue, incoherent. So we had to go back to the old time where human rights were the value, had value.

Marwan Bishara:

So the question of Libya then. Is it going to be the test of Italy's/Europe's approach future in the Arab world?

Emma Bonino:

No. No. I think it was by chance because we had the strong push by Sarkozy, the others didn't know what to do. The UN also.

Marwan Bishara:

Outside Libya what is the policy then towards the Arab spring?

Nathalie Tocci:

There's actually not really going to be the specific European policy towards Libya or in fact towards Egypt or Tunisia or you name it. To me the litmus test is the way in which the European Union as a whole will or will not conceptualise its policy towards the southern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Emma Bonino:

Nathalie that means a totally new framework.

Nathalie Tocci:

Absolutely.

Emma Bonino:

And a totally new policy.

Marwan Bishara:

Is that feasible?

Emma Bonino:

Well I think it's a need because the fact is that the Mediterranean is not that sea that divides us. It's a lake that unites us.

Marwan Bishara:

On this responsible and very sobering note ladies we're going to have to wrap it up. Thank you for joining Empire.

Nathalie Tocci:

Thank you.

Emma Bonino:

Thank you.

Marwan Bishara:

This was the perspective from Rome. After the break we'll explore other European perspectives on the Arab spring and the march to war.

Part Two

Marwan Bishara:

Welcome back. Since the Libyan uprising began the French president has been the most outspoken, most forceful and most belligerent with the leader meeting with opposition figures and calling for regime change. And in the process raising eyebrows even here at his own foreign ministry.

Today we're intervening in Libya. We're doing this in order to protect the civilian population from the murderous madness of a regime that by killing its own people has lost all legitimacy. [Translation for Nicolas Sarkozy]

Narrator:

Well who gave it that legitimacy in the first place? That's the uncomfortable question facing Nicolas Sarkozy right now. The fact remains over the past few years he has made a series of poor decisions in his dealing with the Arab world which have left many other suspicious of his motives or convinced he never truly grasped the importance of the message he was sending.

For example there was his much trumpeted union of the Mediterranean launched with plenty of glitz and glamour four years ago and prompted as an example of his strong leadership Sarkozy's vision fizzled before it even began.

Critics saw his one embrace of Hosni Mubarak and other southern autocrats and heard his calls for a closer partnership with them. They also noted that to get Mubarak through the door Sarkozy was happy to take the question of human rights off the table.

Then there was his warm relationship with Tunisia's Ben Ali, a man whom Sarkozy commended for his human rights record.

Tunisians like to differ. With their roles in defiance the French government read the situation there so badly, President Sarkozy had to sack hi foreign minister for her blatantly close ties to the Tunisian regime.

The initial French reaction to that uprising and to the one in Egypt seemed to be one of indifference. That's why the military display over Libya seemed so out of character. Could it have something to do perhaps with domestic concerns?

Marwan Bishara:

Sarkozy is deeply unpopular in France and faces a tough fight to win re-elections.

Narrator:

His political life right now depends on him projecting the air of decisive leadership.

Events in Libya therefore fit the bill perfectly. Perhaps though is it a bit too perfect?

Late last year France and Britain decided to put on a war game. Operation South Mistral. It would involve thousands of military personnel and hardware from both countries. In this dream scenario the two long time military rivals would join forces in a long-range bombing campaign against a pretend southern dictator. The simulated war condoned by a fictitious UN resolution was scheduled to begin on 21st March of this year. But it was never played out. But was it?

The actual bombing of Libya begun on March 19th. Now perhaps this is just a coincidence. Or perhaps it explains why a serious diplomatic approach never really got off the ground because the bombers were already on the runway.

Marwan Bishara:

Well be that as it may the war in Libya has gotten complicated. And to discuss the nuances and contradictions of France and Europe’s policy towards Libya and the Arab spring I am joined by three of Europe’s leading experts.

Marwan Bishara:

Gentlemen welcome to Empire. Dominique Moisi you are a founder and senior advisor at IFRI, the French Institute of International Affairs. Alvaro De Vasconcelos you are a director of the EU Institute for Security Studies and last but not least, Francis Ghiles you are a researcher at the Barcelona Institute for International Studies and for a couple of decades you were the Financial Times correspondent for North Africa.

Marwan Bishara:

Dominique let me start with you. So one day at the beginning of January France, the rest of Europe, was procrastinating and responding to the so called Arab spring, the Arab revolution. And then several weeks later it was rushing to war in Libya. How can we explain that?

Dominique Moisi:

Initially the French government, like many others, was really taken by surprise. There was a revolution in the streets and we failed to see it. We failed to realise that what was happening on the ground was simply of a historical nature.

Marwan Bishara:

Francis why did Europe fail to see that? One French intellectual wrote recently saying condescension, cultural indifference, and occidental centrism.

Francis Ghiles:

I think condescension is very much part of it. I was in Tunisia in late November and my last few visits of Tunisia I've been struck to what extent, in a country I've known since I was 6 years old, people felt so deeply humiliated by the regime. I mean it had got to a point which was rare, such thuggishness, of so much nastiness, of such vulgarity to a display of wealth that people felt humiliated like never even in the worst French colonial bill, they’d never felt so humiliated.

Marwan Bishara:

Is it the sort of a devil you know is better than the one you don't know? Is that what it is?

Alvardo De Vasconcelos:

The Europeans have supported Ben Ali for years. And supported Mubarak. And have considered that the regimes in place were better than the options. Because Europeans were very afraid of political Islam. And Ben Ali was considered the good student of the class, an ally. And what I realised that this revolution were not just against the regimes. Were also against those who supported the regimes. In that sense also against the European who have supported the regimes for all these years. Considered that they were their best allies because they are very afraid of change. The Europeans were in fact against change.

Marwan Bishara:

But then at one point Dominique came the rude Arab awakening in Libya. And we started seeing that later on in Yemen and Syria when leaders simply would not give up. And then Europe got involved and France in particular rushed to war. Not even any serious attempt at diplomacy. Why is that do you think?

Dominique Moisi:

We came in quite late and there was a sense of urgency. The President is a man of passion, of calculus but also of passion. He's a very emotional man. He was convinced that if he had not sent military plane the city of Benghazi would have fallen. And personally like many other Frenchmen I was behind him.

Marwan Bishara:

So you don't think it has something to do with his chances for the next elections or how he fares in the public opinion in France?

Dominique Moisi:

I think it would be naive to consider.

Marwan Bishara:

That he's a politician.

Dominique Moisi:

No. The President didn't go to war to win the election. But of course he's a politician. There were many things in his head that motivated him but political calculus was not the primary consideration.

Marwan Bishara:

Was this rush towards, especially by the French but also by Europe in general, taking place in the absence of any strategy for this?

Alvadro De Vasconcelos:

No I will not agree that we have rushed to war first. There was a UN resolution in 1970 imposing sanctions, asking the international criminal court to take care of the case. There was a lot of pressure on Gaddafi but still Gaddafi moved with his troops to Benghazi. And there was a sense of urgency. A sense that we should apply the principle of responsibility to protect.

Marwan Bishara:

But it says all necessary means. Diplomacy doesn't figure among all necessary means?

Alvadro De Vasconcelos:

It means that if the tanks are in front of Benghazi, if he has already killed hundreds of people, you will vote on talking and they will have destroyed Benghazi.

Marwan Bishara:

But no one goes to Tripoli.

Alvadro De Vasconcelos:

Thousands of people killed and now we know what we will be saying now, you have not done it in the Balkans, we have not in Rwanda and the guy who has allowed people to be killed in Benghazi.

Marwan Bishara:

But not even a single politician, I mean the President sent even his wife for five Bulgarian nurses. There were attempt at diplomacy. Not even an attempt to send a politician like the first Iraq war you sent Baker and you give them ultimatum, you do this or we do that. Not even an attempt.

Alvadro De Vasconcelos:

There was diplomatic initiatives but as Gaddafi didn't stop and what you should see is the precise situation. Benghazi, a city of one million of people, and in front of Benghazi the Gaddafi tanks. What would you do? Allow the tanks to go in a city of one million people? What you could say is that we are not doing enough to protect the civilians in Libya. Not that we are doing too much.

Marwan Bishara:

Back to France, Francis, just a few weeks before this whole thing started President Sarkozy said we will no longer intervene militarily in Africa and then within one month he's intervening in Cote d'Ivoire, he's intervening in Libya.

Francis Ghiles:

The French had been humiliated by the whole affair of the Foreign Minister of Tunisia because they'd misread Tunisia completely. Then the minister's links with Tunisia. So you had to repair this damage and from what I know of President Sarkozy, very early on wanted to go in. The problem was to convince everyone else, at least the British because you couldn't go in on your own. So I think that they rushed into this and I don't think from what I know, there was any discussion of strategy at all. Because if you look at the Libyan regime the Libyan regime more than any other in the Arab world holds by its head. If you cut off the head, the thing would collapse.

So if you wanted to do that you needn't have gone to the United Nations, you could have gone in without saying it and just got rid of the family. That's perfectly feasible. And that would have saved a lot of human suffering. But I think we bungled into it for whatever the reasons. On French television we had experts from the Ministry of Defence appearing saying that Gaddafi had a few rusted tanks and aeroplanes two months ago. Low and behold that army can fight. So we don't know anything. And I'll finish on this, one senior British defence expert when I asked him in late March what intelligence did Britain have on Libya before going in? He said, zero.

Marwan Bishara:

So another quagmire, another stalemate Dominique.

Dominique Moisi:

No I don't think so. I think by the end of the day Gaddafi will be disposed of. The problem is the calendar. Will Gaddafi regime fall after the collapse of Libya or before? And this is the problem. He will fall. I have no doubt about it but when.

Marwan Bishara:

And Alvadro, the idea that what we now call liberal intervention for some now means intervention in Libya but liberal towards Bahrain, and towards Syria, towards Yemen and so on. There's a double standard here.

Alvadro De Vasconcelos:

It is not Europe that is making the intervention in Libya. And fortunately Arab was not able to come together. It is France and Great Britain. And that's not by a chance. And the French and the British are the two most well prepared military of the European state. And France has this tradition of military intervention. I don't think it's just calculus.

Marwan Bishara:

See as an outsider I find it hard to believe that France can be politically, economically, in every security wise, in bed with dictators right left and centre for decades, and now suddenly it's holier than though. That it cannot tolerate human rights violations.

Alvadro De Vasconcelos:

You remember what happened in the Balkans where in France there was, in the beginning, a lot of support to Milosevic and to Serbia. But at the end of the day there was a strong public opinion throughout France demanding for a military intervention.

Marwan Bishara:

But that's Europe.

Alvadro De Vasconcelos:

That's Europe. And that happen again in a certain sense.

Marwan Bishara:

Because you can't withstand another genocide happening within its own continent.

Alvadro De Vasconcelos:

But you must realise that Mediterranean is in a certain way part of Europe. At least it's our neighbours. It's where Arab has a responsibility. The Americans are saying this is your domain. Is there where you need to make security to provide international security. So it's clear that Libya is not so far away from Europe. Now why we don't act in Syria.

Marwan Bishara:

I'm certainly not calling for intervention in Syria but the idea that you approach Bahrain one way, you approach Libya in a different way.

Alvadro De Vasconcelos:

Yeah you are right. And this is lack of coherence. Is lack of coherence with the European values. And this is clear the case today in Syria because we see in Syria things going as wrong as in Libya before. And we don't see a strong European position. The need to defend human rights and to protect people is the same. It's the fact that with political calculations that Syria is more complicated because it's in the Middle East. But also Egypt is in the Middle East. And we finally support Mubarak's international measure in Israel.

Marwan Bishara:

A bit late but supported nonetheless.

Alvadro De Vasconcelos:

Yes.

Francis Ghiles:

Well I think that all this dressing up, you know, about human rights, is fine but frankly I consider a lot of this but however people are interested. Don't forget Colonel Gaddafi actually shot down planes. He armed the IRA. So as far as I'm concerned the French and the British certainly have more of a right if you will or a reason to go in then other people.

Marwan Bishara:

But Francis they're normalising a relations with him for the last 7,8 years, they've been spoiling him rotten. They've been doing whatever it takes. They've been schmoozing him. And now all of a sudden we're talking about IRA….

Francis Ghiles:

Well then I think what this points to maybe is that I'm not convinced that either Europe or France or Britain has a foreign policy worth the name left today. Because they're doing one thing in the country, and we're not thinking ahead at all. I mean everybody would have known that if you go into Libya it's going to end up in a huge mess because of the nature of the man running it.

In the case of Syria why don't we move? Well one because Syria's at the interconnection of all kinds of very complex infers, Israel, Lebanon, Iran. So irrespective of how many people get killed in the streets, we know that if Assad falls then we're into something we have no idea how it'll end. Libya, the Americans have made it clear they've got no strategic influence. If Libya, the mess in Libya can continue for years.

Marwan Bishara:

How do you think this fits in Europe for once, although gun ho, but still to be more independent if you will of the United States?

Dominique Moisi:

Well I don't think it's going in the right direction. I mean from that standpoint the Arab spring will not be perceived by historians as the great awakening of Europe. There were countries that came out more or less strongly, France and Great Britain, but Europe as such is in a very different situation.

Marwan Bishara:

Divided?

Dominique Moisi:

It's not only divided but when the Balkans erupted Europe had a secret weapon which was the carrot of enlargement. In the case of the Arab spring, we may want different relations but we are not going to tell them.

Marwan Bishara:

No incentives.

Dominique Moisi:

Behave well, if you do so, you are going to become a member of the European Union.

Marwan Bishara:

Well to complete our journey through Europe's political landscape I sat down with NATO's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen for the third time in six months, to discuss the western alliance strategy and its creeping mission in Libya.

Marwan Bishara:

Secretary General welcome again to Empire. In terms of deadline we've heard almost contradictory statements. On the one hand Italian Foreign Minister Frattini speaks about a need for a deadline to finish this thing. And British Foreign Secretary, Hague, saying absolutely no deadlines. We're going to have to wait until this is done. What's your feeling about it?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

First we must see an end to all attacks against the civilian population. Second Gaddafi must withdraw his military and paramilitary forces to their bases and barracks. And thirdly they must accept unhindered and immediate access for humanitarian aid to Libya. These three very clear military objectives must be fulfilled until we can say mission accomplished.

Marwan Bishara:

So what if that doesn't happen? What then?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

Well we will continue with the aim to protect the civilian population. And as mandated in the UN Security Council resolution take all necessary measures to protect the civilian population.

Marwan Bishara:

But you must know that the population is not exactly protected nowadays and hasn't been for the last four weeks. Thousands of dead.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

Yeah the problem is that of course we cannot by air strikes protect civilians against all kinds of attacks. And we are not mandated to put boots on the ground. And we have no intention to put troops on the ground in Libya. We will fulfil the UN Security Council resolution as mandated.

Marwan Bishara:

Sometimes I don't envy your position being on top of this big body of you know, different thinking, different national agendas and it seems for our viewers around the world, it was clear that there has been this hesitation, there's maybe ambiguity, there's been division, so the last few weeks haven't been exactly honeymoon for NATO.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

Actually I would say that we see right now a very strong support for our mission. The 28 allies stand united behind our operation and several of them have contributed significantly and some of them have even increased their contributions and they have allowed more flexible use of their aircraft. So there's a strong determination within NATO and in addition to that we have got contributions from partner countries including partners from the region. So there is a very strong determination.

Marwan Bishara:

Do you think this will continue as the stalemate settles in in Libya?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

I wouldn't call it a stalemate. Of course there is no military clarification right now and I also have to say there is no military solution solely to the problems in Libya. We must have a political solution.

Marwan Bishara:

Do you get my sense that perhaps NATO was nudged or pushed into this by the French a bit too early, the whole military operation in Libya?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

No on the contrary. We took our decision after very careful discussions and considerations. I appreciate that a coalition of countries, including France, UK, the United States and others, that they took rapid action after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution with the aim to protect civilians.

Marwan Bishara:

It seems to me that operationally NATO is an alliance. Isn't America the sort of the command centre for NATO like operations?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

It goes without saying that the United States play a crucial role within NATO because of the size and the strength of the United States. But I also have to say that NATO is more than the United States. We have 28 member states and when we take decisions they are taken on the basis of consensus. So Luxembourg, the small country, Luxembourg has in principle the same weight in the decision making process as the big ally, the United States.
 
Marwan Bishara:

To cap and to end Secretary General, it seems a bit of a shift in a few weeks, Muammar Gaddafi was if not an ally, certainly a friend of many of these NATO members you're talking about. And suddenly he's a foe. This discrepancy you think there is a way to avoid it in the future as we look at the Arab spring down the road and for the rest of the Arab countries instead of selling them arms maybe be a bit more careful about that and so on?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

Yeah. Personally I do believe that political leaders should be very careful in picking and choosing political friends and partners and always take into consideration our obligation to protect human rights and basic political liberties.

Marwan Bishara:

But what you're doing in Libya, what about Syria, Bahrain and so on and so forth?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

Yeah. Two points. First as far as Libya is concerned what we saw was the Gaddafi regime initiate brutal and systematic attacks against their own civilian population just because of peaceful demonstrations, people want a better life, they want democracy, they want freedom. And we have an obligation to protect and I'm very pleased that the UN Security Council mandated an operation to protect civilians against attacks. And then your next question is yes but this is Libya, but you see similar problems in other countries. I think we have to pursue a pragmatic approach and look upon this case by case because one country's not like the other country and we have to find proper answers to these challenges on a case by case basis.

Marwan Bishara:

Case by case it is. Secretary General thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

You're welcome.

Marwan Bishara:

NATO-led intervention in Libya has further complicated the progression of the Arab Spring that's been suffering from its own setbacks.

I don't know about you but I'm not buying into the whole ignorance argument. We didn't know about the Arab repression. Or the southern surplus morality NATO will do anything to protect you.

But at least this time for the first time despite their cynical calculations western powers are on the right side of Arab history. If they're smart they will denounce the colonial ambitions altogether. And that's the way it goes.

Write to me with your suggestions or visit our website. Until next time.

Source:
Al Jazeera
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
More than one-quarter of Gaza's population has been displaced, causing a humanitarian crisis.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
Muslim charities claim discrimination after major UK banks began closing their accounts.
Italy struggles to deal with growing flood of migrants willing to risk their lives to reach the nearest European shores.
Featured
Study says tipping point reached as poachers kill 7 percent of African elephants annually; birth rate is 5 percent.
Zimbabwe's leader given rotating chairmanship of 15-member nation bloc a year after he won disputed presidential polls.
Government regulations and security fears are choking the once thriving industry in India-administered Kashmir.
Is fast-track deportation for 60,000 migrant children from Latin America obstructing due process?
Feminist Initiative is fiercely campaigning to enter Sweden's parliament after the September elections.
join our mailing list