The beneficial side effects of a Napoleon complex

Posted on April 6, 2011


It used to be that the French were shirkers of duty. If you ask those US navy personnel at the fifth fleet base in Bahrain eating their breakfast, they’ll tell you that. They only eat Freedom toast, not French toast. Anything else would be insulting.

But strangely the French now are leading incursions on two fronts in Africa, and the tables seem to have turned entirely since the world lambasted the “cheese eating surrender monkeys” who would not involve themselves in any military actions following the 9/11 attacks.

Some have called it a cavalier return to colonial ways; others say that it’s all for the purposes of polls (which French President Nicolas Sarkozy is languishing in). Both are most likely true, but from the most inauspicious of aims, we’ve got a perverse outcome: the French are helping democracy.

The desperate need for Sarkozy to claw back some status in national polling ahead of an imminent Presidential election has meant that the international community is getting things done. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi is being told that enough is enough, and Cote d’Ivoire’s Laurent Gbagbo is eventually (four months after losing a free and fair election) being moved on. “Today, France can be proud to have participated in the defence and expression of democracy in the Ivory Coast”, Juppe said yesterday.

The problem is that while yes, it is good that we have intervened to allow democratic processes in the Ivory Coast and Libya to either come to fruition or start their path towards success, respectively, it has all come too late. Gaddafi has been like this for decades. Gbagbo lost his election at New Year – I learnt about it on Al-Jazeera at that time while researching information for African Lions; the rest of the mainstream media outlets have largely overlooked the news for years and present it now as if it is a success for democracy, and a new news story.

Events often have unintended side-effects, some good, some bad. It just so happens that this time the side effect of a Napoleonic French President who needs a boost in the polls in time to retain his seat have helped give a rightful winner of an election more of a chance of taking power himself, and look to be – slowly, surely – removing a dictator from power in Libya. The French now are doing their duty, and the rest of the world has been roped in too. Good. But they’re doing it for all the wrong reasons.

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