On July 25, at peace talks in Paris convened by French President Emmanuel Macron, the leaders of Libya’s two main factions—Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and Marshal Khalifa Haftar of the self-styled Libyan National Army, based near the eastern city of Benghazi—verbally agreed to a cease-fire and national elections, to be held “as soon as possible.” The deal has generated positive headlines and served as an early diplomatic achievement for the young French president. But by including Haftar in the talks—despite UN, EU, and NATO backing of the GNA—France is helping transform him from a rogue warlord into a legitimate political actor, thereby encouraging his plans to conquer and rule the country as a whole. The Paris summit is thus unlikely to lead to a near-term solution to the country’s civil war.
RISE OF THE FRENCH HAWKS
Macron’s diplomatic initiative, whose tone and format favored Haftar, is consistent with France’s previous actions in Libya over recent years. Since early 2015, France has assisted Haftar’s coalition by deploying advisers, clandestine operatives, and special forces to eastern Libya while offering little to the GNA. In February, Haftar told a French newspaper that France supports his government “morally and from a security point of view.” (France publicly acknowledged this military support in July 2016, after three French special-forces soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash near Benghazi.)
Haftar’s main champion in Paris is Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. From 2012 to 2017, Le Drian served as minister of defense for President François Hollande. In that position, he was instrumental in consolidating a shift, begun under Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, away from the restrained foreign policy of President Jacques Chirac (1995–2007) to France’s more assertive and interventionist stance in recent years. When it comes to Africa and the Middle East, Paris has come a long way from the “freedom fries” dovishness of the mid-2000s.