"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Mess In Mali

In a recent post on this blog (http://www.uncleguidosfacts.com/2012/08/us-foreign-policymaintaining-illusion.html) I have shown how failed US foreign policy contributed to the political mess in the country. Hilary Clinton, desperately in search of an African success story, lionized Mali and its recently deposed president Amadou Toumani TourĂ© despite the fact that he was one of the continent’s most corrupt autocrats.  Under the veil of rigged elections and superficial reforms, TourĂ© attracted millions in US development and military assistance.  When he was finally toppled in a coup by dissident military factions which had long known about his corrupt rule, Clinton averred that Mali had been on ‘the right path’ until a ‘cadre of soldiers’ had interrupted (temporarily) the country’s progress. Thus dismissing the coup leaders and minor irritants, she chose to overlook the more serious and now endemic corruption and structural weakness in the political and economic system. 

Although the US had been arming the military for years to help it fight against the growing Tuareg separatist insurgency, the government consistently lost ground.  The analogy was frequently made to the rule of Diem in South Vietnam – how could a military victory be run when the civilian rule had few adherents and was perceived to be corrupt by many.

During this period of wasted military and financial resources, the Tuaregs continued to gain territory.  Then came the Libyan Civil War in which both Tuaregs and al-Qaeda were involved.  When the war ended, the Tuaregs were able to arm themselves with captured weapons and ammunition, and became an increasingly powerful fighting force.  This, however, was nothing compared to al-Qaeda which had its own interests in Northern Mali and eventually pushed the Tuaregs out of their newly-acquired territory.  It is this strong, determined, well-armed and well-trained al-Qaeda force that France is now confronting.

Given our recent history in Afghanistan against a similarly well-trained, disciplined, and motivated enemy (Taliban) supported by al-Qaeda; and the predictable outcome of American retreat and withdrawal after declaring victory, the outcome in Mali is predictable.  French airpower – like American air power – will always be limited.  The insurgents know the desert well, and will be able to move and hide from air attacks.  Eventually France will call on America for its drone technology, and we will be ineluctably drawn into the conflict; but as al-Qaeda operatives move south and infiltrate Bamako and surrounding towns, drone strikes will take more and more civilian casualties.

"There are real concerns that the fighting might lead to indiscriminate or other unlawful attacks in areas where members of armed Islamist groups and civilians are intermingled," Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International's deputy director for Africa, said in a statement.(CNN)

The French government has said that they were ‘surprised’ at how well armed and trained the rebels were – so much for intelligence, spy satellites, and historical understanding.  How could they not have known about the Libya connection, the sophistication of al-Qaeda, and the discipline and determination of the enemy?

What appears certain is an Afghanistan-type scenario.  The French (and certainly eventually the Americans) will continue to bomb the North with limited success.  Although the enemy may suffer losses, they, like the Taliban, will resupply, replenish and return.  If the French allows the disaffected, poorly-trained, and –motivated Malian army to take on the rebels, they will certainly lose; so the best that can be hoped for is a military stand-off.

However, al-Qaeda will certainly turn its attention to terrorism; and Bamako will be another Kabul.  Roadside bombs, suicide attacks, and merciless attacks on civilian targets will be the rule, and eventually the French and Americans will lose heart and public support, will declare victory, and leave.

The reason why this outcome seems particularly clear is because there is no government in Mali to speak of – again parallels with Karzai must be drawn.  There may be something called a government, but it will be the corrupt recipient of foreign funds, and when the time is right, will disband, and flee to enjoy their money on the Mediterranean.

One of the reasons why Hollande decided so precipitously to act militarily is not only because of France’s legacy and recent history of helping out weak regimes in the interest of protecting la civilization francaise a l’Outre-Mer, drilling rights, and French pharma; but because Hollande’s popularity ratings are down.  He is considered a weak president.  How best to show you are a real man? Bomb somebody.  Obama is pleased that someone else is doing the dirty work for a change, but he has to realize that he helped get us all into this mess in the first place.

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