This is the full transcript of the Empire episode: Europe and the Arab World
Marwan Bishara: As Europe's old allies crumble, faltering one after the other, some criticise.
Speaker: "Political leaders should be very careful choosing political friends."
Marwan Bishara: Others justify:
Speaker: "We were not aware of the situation on the ground."
Marwan Bishara: With bombs falling on Libya, international goodwill was falling apart. The resolutions on Libya were trumped up by certain countries. Is this intervention purely humanitarian, or terribly hypocritical? This is Empire.
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 learned 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 the resolution and Arab support, they argue that this time it's different. Is it? Or more importantly, are they? Well, to find out, we have embarked on a journey to Europe's centers of power. First stop, London.
David Cameron, UK prime minister: Ghaddafi lied to the international community. He continues to brutalise his own people. He was in flagrant breach of 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 in Libya, factor in vast commercial interests, and a huge doss 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.
Marwan Bishara: How quickly they want us to forget. When the west needed a convenient villain to rail against, Ghaddafi was more than happy to play the role. After Libyan agents allegedly bombed a Berlin nightclub in 1986, Ronald Reagan retaliated with airstrikes against Ghaddafi's Tripoli compound. 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 - Muslim fundamentalist revolution.
Marwan Bishara: 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, Basque separatists, and the outlawed ANC. The British had even more reason to despise Gaddafi, thanks to his defiant support of the IRA. And so by the mid-1980s, the West's position was set in stone. Wide ranging sanctions were in place and Gaddafi considered a dangerous adversary. Then came Lockerbie. For Western nations, there was no doubt, Libya was responsible. With the full wrath of the West against it, how did the Libyan regime go about rehabilitating itself on the world's 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 members club, Libya's spy master met with his British and American counterparts, with one goal in mind: To bring Ghaddafi in from the cold. But considering the political fallout from reopening ties would have been toxic, the meeting was kept top secret.
Marwan Bishara: To lead the clandestine talks, Tony Blair sent in this man, MI6 agent, Mark Ellen. His contact Mousa Kousa. The deal they threshed out paved the way for the big deals to follow. Soon to become Sir Mark Ellen went to work for BP, negotiating oil deals with Libya. The Libyan dollar 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 Western companies raced to get a piece of the action. Only one problem remained, the man convicted of the bombing, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Gaddafi wanted him back and openly threatened to pull out of 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 in concluding a prison transfer agreement with Libya." Even the foreign minister admitted it was BP calling the shots.
Marwan Bishara: Gaddafi got 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 thought to consider. The will of the Libyan people. That what makes the whole talk of humanitarian concern, sound so jarring. The Libyan people are entitled to democratic freedoms now, as these Western leaders keep telling us. Why weren't the saying this the last few years?
Marwan Bishara: While Britain's relationship with Ghaddafi has ebbed and flowed, we crossed to Libya’s nearest European neighbor, and former colonial power, to Italy to look at their dubious relationship. While it’s been living of its imperial past, new Italy is no old Rome. But like its western industrial partners, it does whatever it takes to sustain its economic power. 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.
Silvio Berlusconi: There's definitely been a change of relations between Italy and Libya.
Marwan Bishara: And nobody brought Gaddafi in from the cold quite like the Italian prime minister. They talked, they visited, and they partied. 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. Big oil deals brought huge dollar reserves, so Ghaddafi went shopping. A little bit of Fiat, a bit more of the Aventers, and a signed playing football. Until, strapped for cash, Italy turned to Gaddafi for a quick fix. And Libya quickly became the biggest private investor in Italy's largest bank, UniCred.
Marwan Bishara: As well as in Italy's main arms manufacturer FinMechanica. Berlusconi touted that his greatest foreign policy achievement was the friendship treaty he signed with Libya. It seemed that Italy was finally closing a violent chapter of history that started with Italy's bombing of Italy a century ago. But there has now been another twist, Berlusconi is no longer leaving his other allies waiting, and has now joined the NATO campaign.
Marwan Bishara: Why was Berlusconi not able to protect Italian's interests? It seems that when it comes to foreign policy, the seventh biggest economy in the world punches well below its weight. Now Prime Minister Berlusconi has become an international embarrassment. Weakened by serious corruption charges and now compromised by his rather close relationship with Libya's dictator Muammar Ghaddafi is leaving a political void. A void that is being filled by a rather unlikely alliance, that is of President Giorgio Napoletano and Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. I came to the Foreign Minister and I began by asking Mr. Frattini: why has Italy acted so late?
Frattini: Since Italy already decided to give the bases, the military our bases, and in direct support, and to take command of the military, naval mission, of NATO we decide to integrate our participation to protect civilians because we were made aware of the horrible crimes committed by Gaddafi particularly in cities like Misrata, Zintan, and other regions.
Marwan Bishara: You've been criticized, foreign minister for hedging your bets, that after all, Italy is Libya's is biggest trading partner, biggest arms supplier, you had some very good relationships with Colonel Ghaddafi and it took you a very long time because you weren't sure how things were going to turn out to be.
Frattini: Well this is absolutely not true; we were in absolute terms, the second country in Europe and third in the world to recognize the National Council in Benghazi. We were the first, absolutely the first, to send a diplomat in Benghazi to open the Italian consulate also to provide technical assistance to the people in Benghazi well before the others decided to come.
Marwan Bishara: So how does it feel then within several weeks, Italy moves from being closest friends, to being one of the staunchest foes of Col. Gaddafi?
Frattini: Because we are close friends 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 the destruction. We're talking about several thousand dead.
Frattini: Even more.
Marwan Bishara: So it is pretty dramatic what's going on. Are you optimistic; are you more realistic, perhaps sober about the operation, the military operation?
Frattini: Well, I'm a rather optimistic because we see Ghaddafi getting weaker and weaker. We can say today we reduced the military capabilities of Ghaddafi by 40, 45% so I think there are many factors that will lead to the farther isolation of Ghaddafi. Economic elements, military component, and political determination of international community.
Marwan Bishara: So now the Libyan people as you well said, the whole point that how the Libyans have become more visible. But where were they foreign minister when you were such close political allies with Col. Ghaddafi when he was doing whatever he was doing to the Libyan people.
Frattini: I don't know, frankly speaking, because when all the international community used to have normal relations with the regime of Ghaddafi, including Europe, negotiating a bilateral agreement including President Sarkozy receiving Ghaddafi with all the honors to Elisee 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 extremism, 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 had open eyes and we were immediately able to react.
Marwan Bishara: So Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and all of the international UN organizations that spoke about the UN violations-
Well we as Italy are the country that first took refugees for examples, and people from Eritrea and Somalia for example 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 where we were repressed from Amnesty International for example, or OMJs or UNHCR to take action on that, we did. Apparently, with no problems. But this is the problem with other states, including European, they didn't do the same.
Marwan Bishara: Exactly so the Europeans like French Sarkozy, and so on and so forth like Italy, were hopeful that Ghaddafi would be, border policeman basically. With the whole question with immigration that he would be the one on the gate.
Frattini; Yes, unfortunately, all the Western countries used to accommodate themselves with 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 more specifically, Italy’s erratic response to the Arab spring and Libyan repression, I sat with three of the country's sharpest minds. Emma Bonina, you are a vice president of the Italian Senate, former minister, former member of the Italian parliament, and
Marwan Bishara: To discuss Europe and more specifically, Italy’s erratic response to the Arab spring and Libyan repression, I sat with three of the country's sharpest minds. Emma Bonino, you are a vice president of the Italian Senate, former minister, former member of the European parliament, and Nathalie Tocci you are Senior Fellow at the Institute for International Affairs, deputy director as well, with expertise on neighborhood policy and foreign policy and Luisa Morgantini you've been a member of the European Parliament and former deputy director, I think with special again expertise on Middle Eastern Affairs. Ladies, welcome to Empire. It seems to me that Italy in so many ways defines this European ambiguity, this European pragmatism in its relationship with Ghaddafi before until going on bombarding Libya. How does it square in Libya today?
Emma Bonino: Well it simply doesn't square. At the beginning, Spain has Morocco, France has Tunisia we have Libya, and others are more prominent in Egypt. And by the way this partnership with Ghaddafi was enthusiastically supported by parties in my country. The best friend in the trifecta, then suddenly it was not. So if you ask me what is the Italian policy towards Libya, I would say depends on the day. We have no policy.
Marwan Bishara: But Natalie I have a sense that aside from the change of mood or method or approach from diplomacy to military, the question of oil and energy, the investments, the commercial affairs, these are serious corporate calculations.
Nathalie Tocci: Absolutely, Europe's tethering, the divide, the changing positions from one day to the next, in a sense you can see Italy as a microcosm of this. So they're multiplying it by a thousand, in many respects. As Emma was mentioning, essentially you see this going from one extreme to the other, you start from one extreme, precisely because of those corporate interests and energy interests, we were actually doing quite well with Ghaddafi.
Marwan Bishara: So does all of that explain the hesitancy in the beginning, they wanted to hedge, between okay perhaps Ghaddafi will stay, maintain-
Nathalie Tocci: Exactly.
Marwan Bishara: But they were stiffed by the French.
Nathalie Tocci: Well exactly, and the minute you mention the French. We don't know what's going to happen in Libya. We kind of pretty much know it's not going to be the Libya of three few months ago. And the minute in which that situation has changed, Italy hedged its bets on the other side.
Luisa Morgantini: You said pragmatic power but really it's just opportunistic policy, following the one we are getting or saying. I'm very ashamed of the behavior of my government, 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 100 years when the first aerial bombardment took place and that was Italy against Libya, and what does that bring back in terms of Italy's role?
Nathalie Tocci: The reason why we didn't want to be on the front line in the military campaign was precisely this, if you look at the terms of the debates in Parliament over, now the decision to move in with the aerial bombings, that's exactly been the reasons given. We don't want to exactly repeat history.
Marwan Bishara: So a lot people -- says whatever we do in Europe we're criticized, damned if we do and damned if we don't.
Emma Bonino: Of course you cannot intervene everywhere from Papua New Guinea to whatever. But this is also something that diplomacy and diplomatic establishment still stick to all diplomacy or military intervention. And they refuse, systematically to think innovative.
Luisa Morgantini: I think it's really so important what she is saying. That we need a new form of diplomacy that speaks to the people but I’m afraid why there is no response. And our government is acting like that. You have a government- I think we have to-
Nathalie Tocci: There are very very few links between them.
Marwan Bishara: So elitists see this as towards them.
Luisa Morgantini: I think that we have to try to challenge our own democracy, first of all. Because our democracy doesn't work anymore.
Marwan Bishara: So we need a Tahrir Square in Rome?
Luisa Morgantini: We need a Tahrir Square for sure.
Marwan Bishara: There's an internal struggle within Europe, between presumably Europe the citizens and Europe the corporate, the populist interest. And that internal strife, and conflict in Europe, is going which way?
Emma Bonino: You have a rise all over Europe of a racist anti-immigration mood. Take Finland, I would have never expected such a mood. Or take Hungary. Take Netherlands, so that's when we were saying that the traditional democracies are facing a big crisis that makes us totally blind.
Luisa Morgantini: I agree, but at the same time there are responsibilities.
Emma Bonino: Absolutely.
Luisa Morgantini: Because of course when government and leadership are just making propaganda for racism against immigration, while Europe is making the new document on counter immigration. Europe has become a fortress, then of course we are helping the population to become more and more racist. There is a big responsibility of the leadership of the government on this issue.
Emma Bonino: What I do think is that our democracy is in a deep deep crisis.
Marwan Bishara: Coming from the vice president of the Italian Senate this is-
Emma Bonino: I’ve always been very vocal on that. And what we are seeing is sort 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. Or course, Berlusconi is the most visible, right? But it's not the only one.
Marwan Bishara: So Sarkozy for example in Italy, same populism again domestic politics, his low in the polls and so he takes on this foreign adventure.
Nathalie Tocci: Absolutely and in a presidential campaign in the offing in France and the fact that with the Tunisian, Egyptian presidents, Sarkozy was losing points very quickly on foreign policy counts, there was an internal domestic push to do something about it. And Sarkozy being the impulsive person we know jumped on the bandwagon and this was the most evident way to do it.
Marwan Bishara: But Emma there is a problem with the idea that one of the more important powers around the world, the rising European Union, deals with politics domestically almost hundred percent but at the same time, runs this irresponsible trade policies where pragmatism rules.
Emma Bonino: But that's everybody, The United States is not doing different, Canada is not doing differently, Australia is not doing differently. I mean historically speaking we are not.
Marwan Bishara: So Europe is not going to be any exception to the rule.
Emma Bonino: It's nothing new!
Luisa Morgantini: What's in crisis is really the idea of universal human rights, which Europe claims to defend.
Emma Bonino: All democracies pretend that.
Luisa Morgantini: You believe it for a time, and now it’s gone. So we are completely on this issue, incoherent. So we have to go back to the old time when human rights were of value.
Marwan Bishara: So the question of Libya then is it going to be the test of Italy's slash Europe's approach, future in the Arab world?
Emma Bonino: No I think it was by chance because we had the strong push by Sarkozy, the other one didn’t know what to do, the UN-
Marwan Bishara: So on the outside Libya, what is the policy on the Arab spring?
Nathalie Tocci: There's not going to be the specific European policy towards Libya, or in fact towards Egypt or Tunisia. To me the litmus test is the way in which the European Union as a whole will or will not conceptualize its policy toward the southern Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Emma Bonino: Natalie that means a totally new framework, and a totally new policy.
Marwan Bishara: Is that feasible?
Emma Bonino: Well I think it’s a need, because the fact is the Mediterranean is not a sea that divides us; it's a lake that unites us.
Marwan Bishara: On this responsible and very responsible note, ladies we're going to have to wrap it up. Ladies, thank you for joining empire. This was the perspective from Rome, after the break we'll explore other European perspectives on the Arab Spring and the march to war.
Marwan Bishara: Welcome back. Since the Libyan uprising began the French president has been the most outspoken, the most forceful, and the most belligerent Western leader meeting with opposition figures and calling for regime change. And in the process raising eyebrows even here, in his own foreign ministry.
Nicolas Sarkozy: Today we are 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.
Marwan Bishara: 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 dealings with the Arab world that have left many others suspicious of his motives, or convinced he never truly grasped the importance of the messages he was sending.
Marwan Bishara: For example, there was his much trumpeted union of the Mediterranean, launched with plenty of glitz and glamour four years ago and promoted as an example of his strong leadership. Sarkozy's vision fizzled before it even began. Critics saw his warm embrace of Hosni Mubarak and others certain autocrats and heard his calls for 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.
Marwan Bishara: Tunisians beg to differ. When they rose in defiance, the French government read the situation there so badly, Pres. Sarkozy had to sack his foreign minister for her blatantly close ties to the regime. Initial French reaction to the uprising, to the one in Egypt seemed to be one of indifference. That's why his military display over Libya seemed so out of character. Did it have something to do perhaps with domestic concerns? Sarkozy is deeply unpopular in France and faces a tough fight to win reelections. His political life depends on him projecting the air of decisive leadership. Events in Libya therefore, fit the bill perfectly. Perhaps though, they fit a bit too perfectly. Late last year, France and Britain decided to put on a war game. Operation, southern mistral which 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 the 21st of March of this year. But it was never played out. Or was it. The actual bombing of Libya, began on March 19th. Now perhaps this is just a coincident, 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: But 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. Gentlemen welcome to empire, Dominique Moisi, you are a founder and senior advisor at FIIA the French Institution for 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 decades you were the financial times correspondent for North Africa.
Marwan Bishara: Dominique let me start with you. So one day in the beginning of January, France, the rest of Europe was procrastinating in responding to the so called Arab spring the Arab revolutions. 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 rev in the streets and we failed to see it. We failed to realize 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 a part of it. I was in Tunis in late November and my last few visits to Tunisia have been struck to what extent in a country I've known since I was 6 years old, that people felt so humiliated by the regime. It got to a point with such thuggishness, such nastiness, such vulgarity too in the display of wealth, that people felt humiliated like never even in the worst French colonial bill, they never felt so humiliated.
Marwan Bishara: Is it sort of the devil you know is better than the one you don't know, is that what it is?
Dominique Moisi: The Europeans had supported Ben Ali for years, and support Mubarak have considered that the regimes in place were better than the options because the Europeans were very afraid of political Islam. Ben Ali was considered a good student of the class, an ally. And what I realized that this revolution, were not just against the regimes were also against those who support the regimes. In that sense also against the Europeans 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: Then at one point Dominique, came the rude Arab Awakening in Libya. And we started seeing that later on in Yemen in Syria when leaders would not give up. And then Europe got involved. France in particular rushed to war. Not even any serious attempt at diplomacy, why is that?
Dominique Moisi: 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 planes the city of Benghazi would have fallen. And personally like many other Frenchmen, I was behind it.
Marwan Bishara: So you don't think it has anything to do with chances with the next election, or how he fares in the public opinion in France. I think it would be naive to consider the president didn't go to war to win the election. But of course, he's a politician. There are many things in his head that motivated him but political calculus was not the primary consideration.
Marwan Bishara: Was this rush to war especially by the French but also by Europe in general, taken place in the absence of any strategy for this.
Alvaro de Vasconcelos: No I would not agree that we went to war first. There was a UN resolution 1970 approving sanctions, asking the international criminal court to take care of the case. There was a lot of pressure on Ghaddafi but still Ghaddafi moved with his troops to Benghazi, and there was a sense of urgency, a sense that we should apply the principle of the responsibility to protect.
Marwan Bishara: But it says all necessary means. Diplomacy doesn't figure among all necessary means?
Alvaro de Vasconcelos: It means that when the tanks are in front of Benghazi, he has already killed hundreds of people, that you will go on talking and you will let them destroy Benghazi and you will let thousands of people killed. And we know what you will be saying now: you have not done it the Balkans; you have not in Rwanda, and to allow 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 attempts, they were attempts at diplomacy. Not even an attempt to send a politician like at the eve of the first Iraq war. You sent Baker in you give them ultimatums, you do this or we do that. Not even an attempt?
Alvaro de Vasconcelos: There were diplomatic initiatives. Ghaddafi didn't stop. And what you should see is the precise situation: Benghazi a city of one million people, and in front of Benghazi, the Ghaddafi tanks, what would you do? Allow the tanks to go into a city of one million people? What you could say is that we are not doing enough to protect the civilians of Libya, not that we are doing too much.
Marwan Bishara: Back to France, Francis, just a few weeks before this whole thing started. Pres. 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 have been humiliated by the whole Alliot-Marie affair, the foreign minister of Tunisia, because they had misread Tunisia completely. Then the minister's links with Tunisia. So you had to repair this damage and from what I know, Pres. Sarkozy very early on wanted to go in. The problem was to convince somebody 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. 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've gone in without saying it and just got rid of the family, that's perfectly feasible. And that would've saved a lot of human suffering. But I think we bungled into it for whatever the reasons on French televisions we had experts and minister of defense appearing saying Ghaddafi had a few rusted tanks and airplanes two months ago. Low and behold that army can fight! So we don't know anything and I'll finish on this. One thing that the British defense 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, Ghaddafi will be disposed of. The problem is the calendar. Will the Ghaddafi 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 is the idea that what we now call liberal intervention for some now means intervention in Libya but liberal towards Bahrain, towards Syria, towards Yemen, so on and so far. There is a double standard here.
Dominique Moisi: It is not that Europe that is making the intervention in Libya. Unfortunately Arabs were not able to come together. It was France and Great Britain and that's not by chance. And the French and the British are the two most well prepared military of the European states and France has this tradition of military intervention. I don't think it's just calculus.
Marwan Bishara: 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 center for decades, and suddenly its holier than thou that it cannot tolerate human rights violations.
Alvaro de Vasconcelos: You remember what happened in the Balkans. Where in France in the beginning there was a lot of support to Milosevic to Serbia but at the end of the day there was a strong public opinion trend in France demanding for a military intervention.
Marwan Bishara: But that's Europe.
Alvaro de Vasconcelos: That's Europe. And that happened again.
Marwan Bishara: Because Europe cannot withstand another genocide happening within its own continent.
Alvaro de Vasconcelos: But you must realize Mediterranean is in a certain way part of Europe. At least it's our neighbor; it's where Europe has responsibilities. The Americans are saying this is your domain; it's where you need to make security. And 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 in one way and you approach Libya in a different way.
Alvaro de Vasconcelos: You're absolutely right and this is lack of coherence, its lack of coherence with European values and this is clearly 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 intervention. The need to defend human rights and to protect people is the same. It's the fact that political calculations, Syria is more complicated because it's in the Middle East. But also Egypt is in the Middle East and we finally support democratic transformation in Egypt.
Marwan Bishara: A bit late, but supported it nonetheless.
Francis Ghiles: Well I think all of this dressing up of human rights is fine. But frankly I consider a lot of this bunk however people are interested. Don't forget Col. Ghaddafi actually shot down planes he armed the IRA so as far as I’m concerned, the French and the British certainly have more the right if you will or reason to go in than other people.
Marwan Bishara: But France has been normalizing relations with him the past seven, eight years. They've been spoiling him rotten, they've been doing whatever it takes, and they’ve been schmoozing him. And now all of a sudden we talk 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 we're doing one thing on the contrary and we're not thinking ahead at all. And 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 is the interconnection of all kinds of very complex issues: Israel, Lebanon, Iran, 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 clear they have no strategic interest. The mess in Libya can continue for years.
Marwan Bishara: How do you think this fits if Europe for once although gung ho but still to be more independent of the United States?
Dominique Moisi: I don't think it's going in the right direction. 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 that 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 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 Von Rasmusen for the third time in six months to discuss the Western aligned strategy and its creeping mission in Libya.
Marwan Bishara: Secretary General, welcome again to empire. In terms of deadlines, we've heard almost contradictory statements. On the one hand, Italian Foreign Minister Frattini speaks about the need for deadlines to finish this thing And British foreign secretary Hayes says absolutely no deadlines we're going to have wait until this is done. What's your feeling about this?
Anders Von Rasmusen: First we must see an end to all attacks against the civilian population. Second, Ghaddafi must withdraw his military and paramilitary forces in their bases and barracks. And certainly 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 Von Rasmusen: We will continue with the aim to protect the civilian population. And as mandated in the UN Security Council Resolution to take all necessary measures to protect the civilian population.
Marwan Bishara: But you must agree that the population is not exactly protected nowadays and hasn't been for the last several years, we're talking about thousands of dead.
Anders Von Rasmusen: Yeah, the problem is that of course we cannot buy 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 fulfill the UN Security Council Resolution as mandated.
Marwan Bishara: Secretary General sometimes I don't envy your position being on top of this big body of different thinking, different national agendas and it seems for our viewers around the world, it was clear that has been this hesitation, this ambiguity, there have been divisions. So the last few weeks haven't exactly been a honeymoon for NATO.
Anders Von Rasmusen: 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 gotten 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 Von Rasmusen: I wouldn't call it a stalemate. Of course there's 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, pulled, pushed into this by France, a bit too early. The whole military operation.
Anders Von Rasmusen: No on the contrary, we took our decision after very careful discussions and considerations. I appreciate that a coalition f countries, including France, the UK, the United States and others that took rapid action after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution with an aim to protect civilians.
Marwan Bishara: Seems to me that operationally it was an alliance. Isn't America the command center for NATO like operations?
Anders Von Rasmusen: It goes without saying that the United States plays 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 Sergeant General, it seems a bit of a shift in the last few weeks Muammar Ghaddafi 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, do you think there's a way we can 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 and so on?
Anders Von Rasmusen: 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 you’re still avoiding Libya. You're not including Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen, so on and so forth.
Anders Von Rasmusen: Two points, first, as far as Libya is concerned, what we saw was the Ghaddafi regime initiating broad and systematic attacks against its own.
Source: Al Jazeera