France Is First Country to Recognize Libyan Rebels

Two hundred and thirty three years after France was the first to recognize the American colonies as a country separate from Britain, it became the first (and so far only) country to recognize the Libyan Rebels fighting to overthrow Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who has led an oppressive regime in Libya for more than 40 years.

But there are differences.

First, America’s struggle for independence was a revolution in slow motion. In 1775 and into 1776 the Continental Congress was looking for a way to assert its rights and to reconcile with the Britain. Many months in 1776 were a political dance to ensure that all thirteen colonies would finally agree to independence. Then Congress formally adopted it (2-Jul-1776) and then announced it (4-Jul-1776). We remember the Declaration of Independence for the soaring language in the first part of the document. But at the time the most important section was at the end, where these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, with the full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances … That allowed Congress, on behalf of the colonies, to begin the long diplomatic courtship with France which, due to the canny diplomacy of Dr. Franklin — plus the British defeat at the Battles of Saratoga (Oct-177) — finally became an engagement with the Treaty of Alliance (Feb-1778).

What is happening in Libya is much more like the storming of the Bastille. The single goal for the rebels is to topple Gaddafi’s government — without thought about what will come next.

One can admire France. By recognizing the rebel leadership it is trying to get out ahead of the situation, ahead of its allies, and perhaps trying to apply lessons from its mistakes in Algeria. But it is not supporting a state; it is supporting a goal: the removal of Gaddafi, and the people that have that goal.

The United States has been lucky in so many ways, most especially in the way the American Revolution unfolded over extended time. Unfortunately, the rebels in Libya don't have that option. They've grabbed the tail of a tiger and cannot let go.

JDN | 10-Mar-2011

It is difficult to recapture the intensity of excitement felt by Americans in 1776 over the prospect of forming new republican governments. It is a work, said Thomas Jefferson, of the most interesting nature and such as every individual would wish to have his voice in. Even the business of the Continental Congress was stifled because so many delegates — including Jefferson — left for home to take part in the paramount activity of erecting the new state governments. Constitutions, remarked Francis Lightfoot Lee, employ every pen. ... Nothing — not the creation of [the] confederacy, not the Continental Congress, not the war, not the French alliance — in the years surrounding the Declaration of Independence engaged the interests of Americans more that the framing of these governments.

Gordon S. Wood
The Creation of the American Republic, 1776—1787 (1969)