While much of the media coverage of the Libyan conflict has focused on the debate over a no-fly zone, the European and American military intervention in Libya is clearly much broader than than a no-fly zone would imply. The initial targets and timing of French and American airstrikes make clear that allying with the Libyan opposition forces and protecting their positions in Benghazi are the primary goals of the intervention.
A story in the Christian Science Monitor examines the French role in the initial airstrikes. Reports in Al Jazeera, The New York Times, the Guardian, and Le Monde reinforce this interpretation of the rationale for the military intervention.
Now that the United States and its allies have intervened to support the opposition forces (or rebels), policymakers need to identify the anti-Ghaddafi forces and discern their political aims. Having spent years trying to decipher the shifting groups of participants in early seventeenth-century civil conflicts, I believe that this will be very difficult to do in Libya, especially without a significant U.S. diplomatic or military presence on the ground. Civil conflicts that are not based on regional, ethnic, or religious affiliations often produce incredibly fragmented political and military groups with varying interests. This promises to be a very complicated, and potentially lengthy, military intervention in Libya.
French historians will be interested in following this latest expression of French nationalism and militarism in North Africa. France has a long history of colonial projects and neocolonial relationships in North African and the Mediterranean. Nicolas Sarkozy resumed the French arms trade to Libya several years ago, permitting Gaddafi to purchase French missiles, aircraft, and military radio equipment. French concerns about immigration from North Africa are clearly shaping Sarkozy’s policies and his government’s intervention in Libya, especially following news of more than 100,000 refugees already fleeing from the Libyan conflict. While Libya’s oil reserves certainly figure in the French intervention in Libya, these other concerns are clearly operative, too.