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France is Leading the Way?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
I walked into a colleague's office yesterday morning and apologized for being late to a meeting by saying: "Sorry, I was doing Russian TV and it ran over."

I was informed it was first and likely the only time that phrase would be uttered in that office.


I DID do Russian TV yesterday along with an academic who was in Cairo and another who was in Paris. The host of the program is a former American (grew up in the Northeast, college in California) who has lived in Eastern Europe and now Russia "for more than half of my life."

The issue was: Does the U.S. have a clue about what's going on in the Middle East and North Africa?

I suggested that I hadn't seen any evidence that anyone has much of a clue and that includes the nations of the Middle East and North Africa.

One of them said that the United States has been very good at talking about what ought to be done (starting with Egypt) but not very good at helping to affect the outcome. Gaddafi, he pointed out, has been a brutal dictator since 1969 and the U.S. has not helped the oppressed Libyans to get rid of him.

I said I was unclear how committing military resources to get rid of Muammar Gaddafi was in America's national interest. Humanitarian interest, maybe. But that's about it.

The other then launched into a tirade against the U.S. for our invasion of Iraq - even though, at the time there was plenty of reason to believe that was in our national interest.

We then got into a discussion about the United Nations and how he felt that vibrant organization was the right forum to decide what to do. I made the point - I might have interrupted the guy in Paris who held this view - that the U.N. was such a worthless, hollow, meaningless organization that until last week Libya - the same Libya which has run by Muammar Gaddafi and his band of thugs and murderers for lo all these years - was an elected member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.


I also pointed out that America supports the Egyptian military to the tune of $1.3 billion per year, and inasmuch as Libya is Egypt's next door neighbor, maybe the Egyptian military could - in the name of Arab Freedom - actually drive to Libya and help force Gaddafi out.

Alas, it doesn't appear that, notwithstanding all the noisy adherents of freedom in the region, very many of them are racing into Libya to help the rebels. There are, however, a lot of people trying to get out.

France has jumped into the fray, recognizing the Interim Governing Council of the rebels as the true leaders of Libya and being the loudest voice in support of establishing a no-fly zone.

I didn't think of this while I was on the air, but in the cab back to my office it occurred to me that France does have a national interest in helping to stop the violence in Libya and stopping its spread to Algeria and Morocco.


Remember all those people trying to get out of Libya? France doesn't want a half million Muslims from what is known as Maghreb (the northwest corner of the African continent) washing ashore at Marseilles and clamoring for political asylum.

I am not making this stuff up. The wire service Agence France-Presse reported yesterday that a source has said President Nicolas Sarkozy favors air strikes on Gaddafi's command base.

The U.N., with its usual sprint to the core of the problem, is looking toward scheduling a meeting "early next week" to begin to see what, if anything, Russia and China will agree to in terms of military action against Gaddafi.


Russia has declared an arms embargo, but that's a long way from agreeing to a U.N. Security Council resolution allowing Sarkozy to launch air attacks.

Based upon that very thin sample of three guys, the United States is being blamed for (a) inaction and (b) too much interference. We are no better off now than when George W. Bush was the world's biggest booster for democratization throughout the world.

Whatever the people in this troubled region of the world thought Barack Obama was going to do; he has not been able to do it, has not wanted to do it, and/or does not know how to do it.

If nothing else, having France leading the way should be, at a minimum, embarrassing to the Obama Administration. I'm not certain they get it.

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