Bernard-Henri Lévy, popularly known as BHL, is no newcomer on the French scene. He is a man who never met a microphone he didn't like or saw a stage that he did not want to occupy. He first sprang to prominence in the 1970s as one of the so-called "new philosophers." Those were the disillusioned French leftists who, somewhat belatedly, discovered that the Gulag was not a nice place. That was the brilliant perception at the heart of his 1977 bestseller, Barbary with a Human Face (the title sounds better in French).
Since then, Lévy has made a career of dispensing his political opinions via countless magazine articles, op-ed pieces, books, and characteristically French talk shows where everyone talks at once and insults one another. The main advantage to him of the TV appearances is that they allow him to show off his invariably white designer shirts, worn rakishly décolleté, and his lovingly coiffed mane of (now graying) black hair. The other advantage of his self-sustaining celebrity is that it helped him attract leggy blonde lady friends like singer-actress Arielle Dombasle, whom he married in 1993.
Over the years, Lévy has embraced causes ranging from the Afghan mujahidin (since become the Taliban), the Iraq invasion (he was for it), the defense of Israel, western intervention in Bosnia... Okay, he is usually on the right side of important issues (at least from the American point of view), but he manages to become aggravating with his incessant, predictable, and highly visible espousing of something. He flogs causes the way Häagen Dazs flogs flavor-of-the-week ice cream.
His latest cause is the largely unknown Libyan opposition—whose exact composition the C.I.A. can't even figure out—that seems to be made up largely of tribal leaders, defecting soldiers, adventure-seeking teenagers, and Islamists, along, one would hope, with some genuinely democratic professionals and intellectuals. The point is, we don't know
who they are. When Qaddafi is gone—which we all cheering for—we may be facing a Libya run by Islamic fundamentalists, or military officers, or groups so riven by factionalism that, like Iraq, they can hardly function at all.
Such uncertainties did not stop Lévy from charging single-handedly into Libya (well, not really single-handedly, since he also invited some photographers along to document his adventure), contacting
rebel leaders and offering to put them in touch with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The next thing anyone knew, Levy and rebel leader Mahmoud Jabril were sitting in Sarkozy's office in the Elysée Palace. They convinced Sarkozy, who was caught flat-footed by the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, to shore up his own stature by taking the lead among Western nations in recognizing the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya. Incredibly, the French President not only agreed, but immediately promised to send an official ambassador to rebel-held Libya and bomb three Libyan airports. And Sarkozy became a leading advocate for the U.N.-mandated no-fly zone and the full-fledged Western intervention that followed. Where it will all end knows God. But for better or worse—at least "by his own reckoning," as the Times puts it—we apparently have Bernard-Henri Lévy to thank for it.
And that's scary.