As a matter of principle, it confirms the responsibility to protect civilian populations that underpinned the earlier intervention in Libya. The first use of the doctrine merely sets a precedent, but the second is case law, and, for those who favor the duty to intervene, for those who oppose the convenient muddling of the right of self-determination with the right of the rich nations to wash their hands of the wretched of the earth, for all those who think that democracy should not stop at the border any more than terrorism does, the French intervention is an undeniable victory.
It reaffirms the old idea of just war brought back into fashion by the Libyan revolution. François Hollande decided to use force only as a last resort. He did so in accord with international law as articulated in the Security Council’s resolution of Dec. 12. He satisfied himself that the operation had a “reasonable” chance of success and that the harm that it would inflict would, “in all likelihood,” be less than that which it would prevent. That is the lesson of the jurist Grotius and of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an elegant and useful lesson in practical philosophy.
And finally, it restates the prominent role of France in the front lines of the struggle for democracy. Is Hollande following in the footsteps of Sarkozy? As if that were the question!