First, that France is breaking with a tradition tied up with colonialism in which force was used only in the service of strength, that is, to reinforce national interests. For the first time, in Libya and in Mali, force has been used explicitly in the interest of freedom and justice. For the first time since the Battle of Valmy a conscious, deliberate link has been established, and avowed, between the exercise of power and the defense of values greater than those of power.
And, second, that France is taking on not only the moral but also the operational leadership of a just war, sending its best soldiers to stand in for the missing Blue Helmets of the United Nations. It is a strange but undeniable fact that France, with its limited means, its high unemployment, its foreign trade deficit, its habit of coming uncoupled from the train of globalization, is playing the role that one might have expected of the powerful United States. France is setting the geopolitical tone, a function normally preempted by the “official” great powers: the United States, Russia, and China. It is heading up, in other words, another form of globalization, a virtuous, generous variant: the globalization of democracy and peace. It could well become the world’s leading exporter of rights or, if you will, the world’s leading anti-totalitarian power.
The world does not know what to think.
Our larger allies, stunned, are reduced to watching events unfold and expressing support, willingly or grudgingly, for the new direction of international relations. Can an intellectual not known for his chauvinism be forgiven for observing that his country appears to be reconnecting with a form of greatness?