France eclipsed by Turkey in Libya, and has failed to own its mess – columnist

French President Emmanuel Macron has not only been eclipsed by Turkey in Libya, but has also neglected to acknowledge France’s culpability in the North African country’s civil war as he continues to point fingers at Ankara, columnist Bobby Ghosh wrote for Bloomberg on Friday. 

Ghosh said that a barb by Hami Aksoy, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, that Macron had had an “eclipse of the mind” over France’s failure to acknowledge its intervention in the conflict was “on the nose”.

“Macron’s pronouncements on Libya have devolved from hyperbole and hypocrisy to something approaching hysteria. Having backed a suspected war criminal against a United Nations-recognised government in Tripoli, Macron now accuses Turkey of ‘playing a dangerous game’ in Libya,” Ghosh said, referring to General Khalifa Haftar’s fight against the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

“And having lost any leverage France might have had in the civil war, (Macron) avers that he ‘will not tolerate’ the Turkish interference.”

Turkey has backed the Tripoli-based GNA in its fight against eastern-based forces allied to Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which is supported by Russia, Egypt and France, among others.

Haftar launched an offensive in April last year to try to capture Tripoli from the Ankara-backed GNA, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, but his forces were forced to retreat from much of western Libya in recent weeks after Turkey stepped up its military support.

Ghosh said Macron could have blamed his predecessor, Francois Hollande, for involving France in the civil war, but has declined to do so. 

The death of three French soldiers in a July 2016 helicopter crash in Libya brought Hollande’s intervention to the world’s attention, while Hollande’s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian mischaracterised Haftar as a partner in the fight against “Salafi-Jihadi terrorism” in the region when there are Islamist extremists on both sides of the civil war. French anti-tank missiles also later turned up at one of Haftar’s bases, Ghosh said.

While Macron has helped to legitimise Haftar in the eyes of some, the rebel general has treated his French patrons with disdain, Ghosh argued. In the meantime, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increased military intervention has decisively forced Haftar into retreat, and Turkey’s footprint in the country is only likely to grow. 

Ghosh also said that the discovery of mass graves in territory liberated from the rebels suggests that France’s champion was presiding over industrial-scale atrocities.

“It does not take Macronian cynicism to see his rhetorical bluster toward Turkey as a desperate effort to distract attention from French culpability,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the fallout between the two countries continued to intensify this week.

"France is attempting to divide Libya. It wants to go back to old colonial times," Al Jazeera reported Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu as saying on Wednesday. 

France on Wednesday demanded a discussion within the European Union on its relationship with Turkey, which officially remains a candidate to join the bloc despite a stalled membership process.

"France considers it essential that the European Union very quickly opens a comprehensive discussion, without taboos and naivety, on the prospects for its future relationship with Ankara," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the French lawmakers.

"Clarifications are needed on the role that Turkey plans to play in Libya,” he added.