In their favored haunts all across the city, at the bar of the Hotel Raphael near the Arc de Triomphe, in the tearooms of the Lutetia on the Left Bank and the Bristol on the Right Bank—a long way, in short, from the carnage in the Libyan desert—the Paris literati are bantering nonstop about the nuances of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s somewhat puzzling decision to lead their country and the Western world to war. Not a few have been amused, or chagrined, or both, to learn that one of their own, the ever-so-flamboyant (some would say insufferable) philosophe Bernard-Henri Lévy had a pivotal role in prompting the allies’ intervention. “I might write a book about it myself,” says the man commonly known as BHL—by far the most controversial public intellectual in France—as he settles into the Raphael’s dark red-velvet upholstery.
Any such account will, inevitably, lay out the moral case for protecting civilians from a tyrant. But the more one learns of the inside story of the war’s inception, as told by people close to Sarkozy, the clearer it is why U.S. President Barack Obama seemed wary of this alliance from the first. Early in the Libyan no-fly-zone operation, White House aides shied away from what they called “Sarkozy’s war” and were glad to let France have the glory—or blame. Later, under the NATO command structure agreed to last week, they spread responsibility around so widely it was hard to know who the White House thought was…
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