While the US has largely dominated the Libyan intervention in terms of cruise missiles, the number of aircraft sorties, while an absolute majority, is not overwhelming. This compares favorably with previous wars – Kuwait, the Balkans – where all but the British participation was almost entirely symbolic.
Meanwhile France, in keeping with tradition, has been eager to use its military power to greatest diplomatic and symbolic effect, notably by the first . Among the reasons for such prominence – to assert a political-military leadership in Europe (especially as Germany has been dominating the endless Euro-crisis), immigration, oil, flagging poll numbers… – I had not thought of showcasing the Rafale fighter. I wouldn’t ascribe such low motives to anyone, but it is possible that the war will help in this regard, especially as their performance has been good so far. So far the fighters, which cost over €64 million each, have never been sold abroad.
This is not the first time French planes have been used against Libya. I wrote a dissertation on how François Mitterrand used a no-fly-zone and sporadic bombing to help the Chadians destroy the Libyan army occupying their country. Back then it was Mirage fighters, Mitterrand was even more ambivalent about “war”, and Gaddafi was still a young, botox-free wild-eyed radical. That “war” last 4 years but was relatively bloodless except so far as the Libyans were concerned. Lets hope his forces last rather less long this time.