Mali: Here We Go Again

Obama's inauguration speech drops hints at further overseas involvement.

In testimony before Senate and House committees, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enthusiastically endorsed increased U.S. intervention in Africa. When government officials seem incapable of learning obvious lessons from the recent past, maybe their incentive is not to learn but to keep doing the same destructive things.

President Obama’s inaugural speech contained this line, which has gone quite overlooked: “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad.”

That’s a recipe for perpetual war and perpetual fiscal crisis.

The latest locale for American intervention is the west African country of Mali. Aside from whatever covert activity the U.S. government may be conducting there, the American role is said to consist of logistical support for France, Mali’s former colonial overlord, which has intervened militarily to defend a central corrupt government. (The deadly hostage-takings in Algeria may have been retaliation for France’s action.) As The New York Times reports, “The Pentagon is airlifting a French battalion to join the fight in Mali against Islamist militants, Pentagon and administration officials said.” Ominously, the Times adds, “The airlift expands the involvement of the United States in support of a NATO ally, but officials stressed that the American military footprint on the ground in Mali would remain small.” That is, there’s already an American footprint on the ground.

Such is how quagmires begin.

What’s going on in Mali that requires U.S. meddling? It’s a complicated and murky story that goes back to the repression of the separatist ethnic group, the Tuaregs, in northern Mali and, writes Jeremy Keenan, the Algerian government’s effort after Sept. 11, 2001, to concoct a “terrorist threat” to motivate the U.S. government to pay for modernization of its army. Seeing Africa as a rich source of oil, gas, and other resources, the Bush administration was happy to get involved in the region. (Got to keep the Chinese away.)

While the Obama administration sounds alarms about al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), reporter Patrick Cockburn notes that

Tuareg nationalist insurgency, not radical Islam, is at the heart of the crisis in Mali. What, for instance, are AQIM doing in northern Mali, which has never in the past been a bastion for fundamentalists? AQIM is in origin an Algerian movement that emerged from the civil war of the 1990s. Formed in 1998, its members moved to northern Mali in 2003, where the government saw it as a counterbalance to Tuareg separatists.…

The strange truth is that it was the Malian government which, over the last 10 years, tolerated AQIM in northern Mali and allowed it to operate, taking a share in the profits of its kidnapping and drug-running operations. International military aid for use against al-Qa’ida was diverted for use against the Tuareg.

A key precursor to the latest episode was the 2011 U.S. and NATO intervention in Libya, which overthrew the government of Muammar Qaddafi and provided a cornucopia of weapons. When the regime-change operation ended, well-armed Tuaregs, who had fought for Qaddafi, returned to northern Mali to pursue their separatist aims. After expelling the central government’s army, they declared independence last April, after a coup overthrew the government in Bamako. Tuaregs also live in neighboring Algeria, Niger, Libya, and Burkina Faso, and a successful separatist movement in Mali could spread throughout the region, which those countries would abhor.

The Tuareg movement, Keenan writes, was co-opted by jihadists linked to the Algerian intelligence service, and these jihadists have imposed sharia law and have committed horrendous violence. Thus, he wrote, “Washington’s Global War on Terror has come home to roost for the peoples of the Sahara.”

These events now provide the excuse for the latest Western intervention. When will it end?

The lesson is clear: Internationalizing local, often ethnic, conflicts has consequences that furnish the pretext for further intervention. Inevitably, innocents are killed, while the American power elite pursues its geopolitical aims and the military-industrial complex prospers.

Moreover, intervention—once again on behalf of a corrupt and brutal government—makes enemies of those who would otherwise present no threat to the American people. Nothing helps jihadi recruitment like Western occupation.

As a cover for imperialism, the war on terror has worn thin.

This article originally appeared at The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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  • Aresen||

    "That’s a recipe for perpetual war and perpetual fiscal crisis"

    You say that like it's a bad thing.

    /Team Beruled

  • LTC(ret) John||

    "AQIM is in origin an Algerian movement that emerged from the civil war of the 1990s. Formed in 1998, its members moved to northern Mali in 2003"

    "emerged"? How about instead, "the broken remnants fleeing the Algerian Army that proved to be even more savage than the head loppers of the al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha"?

    A bit of a stretch to pin this one on Washington. Now if we start trying to prop up a goofy French effort....well, that movie has been played before - the end sucks.

  • John||

    Yeah. As much as I would like to blame this on Obama, I am not seeing it.

  • GILMORE||

    "emerged"? How about instead, "the broken remnants fleeing the Algerian Army that proved to be even more savage than the head loppers of the al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha"?

    You're asking these journos to actually think about their subjects beyond the scope of the last 2 election cycles. This is a futile demand.

  • John||

    The Tuareg movement, Keenan writes, was co-opted by jihadists linked to the Algerian intelligence service, and these jihadists have imposed sharia law and have committed horrendous violence. Thus, he wrote, “Washington’s Global War on Terror has come home to roost for the peoples of the Sahara.”

    So we would be better off if the jihadists were terrorizing the people of Algeria instead?

  • johnl||

    No, we would be better off if Mali was forced to make peace with the Tuareg.

  • John||

    Really? What if the Tuareg are a bunch of assholes who don't want peace? Why should Mali be forced to make peace with that?

  • johnl||

    Why do you think the Tuareg owe anything to Mali? What gives people the right to rule other people?

  • gaoxiaen||

    How dare those Taureg wander the desert and avoid contact with people that hate them?

  • Lyle||

    Libertarians these days are against liberty.

  • Cytotoxic||

    makes enemies of those who would otherwise present no threat to the American people.

    Yeah, what could go wrong in letting AQ control an area the size of Texas? It'll be fine, just like Talib Afghanistan.

    Nothing helps jihadi recruitment like Western occupation.

    Which is why AQ in Iraq...was defeated starting in 2006?

    I'm not even advocating for American involvement, but this column is more bullshit courtesy of the Church of Nonintervention. Every sin intervention will be punished! REPENT.

    Never no mind that the majority of America's military interventions have been neutral or beneficial.

  • John||

    Nothing helps jihadi recruitment like Western occupation.

    Amazing how this is an article of faith among people. Really? What is even more funny is they make that claim usually within five minutes of explaining how we need to leave Afghanistan because Al Quada is no longer there.

  • Sidd Finch||

    Nothing helps jihadi recruitment like Western occupation.

    This is true. Unfortunately for the recruits, nobody kills 'em like Western occupiers.

  • John||

    It is not true at all. If it were true, Iraq would be the world home of jihadis. And that is just not the case.

  • Sidd Finch||

    If it were true, Iraq would be the world home of jihadis.

    Except the Westerners are killing them faster than they're recruiting them.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Westerners and allied Iraqi tribes.

  • Libertarians4Freedom||

    You know that, I know that, but the Choir brooks no disagreement.

    I actually would argue for intervention here. Since the huge number of "peaceful muslims" every liberal and cosmo assure me exist don't seem to be doing much of anything about it, it falls once again to a Western power to intervene and restore some semblance of order. We can't allow AQ to sieze any more territory. They will simply use it as a spring-board for more operations into the US.

  • Sam Grove||

    "...restore some semblance of order."

    Riiiight. That's gonna cost us.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Maybe entropy is preferable in some places.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    it falls once again to a Western power to intervene and restore some semblance of order.

    Why?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Because the wogs aren't managing it themselves, eh wot?

  • Anonymous Coward||

    But is it the "White Man's Burden" if you don't call it that?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Depends on if you end up using sepoy, er native, um, I mean African forces to keep the peace afterward, righto?

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Righto, guv'na.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Zhouaves.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    That is just a most excellent word. I approve.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    But, this situation sounds like it was triggered by the power vacuum resulting from our ousting of Gaddafi. How you go from there to this being a failure of non-interventionism seems a bit odd.

  • Cytotoxic||

    I never said it was a failure of non-interventionism. Libya was a bad idea, but that doesn't mean all interventions are.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    But, its not just that Libya was a bad idea. It is that this entire situation resulted from our intervention in Libya. Let's say we step in and "fix" this. Then what? What unforeseen consequence do we wind up needing to "fix" from this? It's a worthwhile question to at least ponder or weigh against the risk from the Islamist element.

  • mtrueman||

    ¨Which is why AQ in Iraq...was defeated starting in 2006?¨

    I´m not sure this is true. Sunnis were chased out of Baghdad, but these militants are still ensconced in their home provinces like Anbar, and are likely concentrating their meddling activities in Syria at the moment. True, they don´t call themselves AQ anymore. Does that spell defeat to you?

  • AlmightyJB||

    "a rich source of oil, gas, and other resources"

    And that is why we are there and will remain there for the foreseeable future. $$$. Every other reason given is just propaganda.

  • John||

    I hope that is true. At least we are there for a good reason.

  • sarcasmic||

    I wish we would strip occupied lands of wealth and natural resources to pay for invasions and occupations.
    Doing it on the credit card will eventually bite us in the ass.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    You're forgetting the most important aspect...spreading DEMOCRACY!

  • LTC(ret) John||

    I rather expect more contracts for BP and TotalFinaElf or whatever the #$&* the latest French oil behemoth is called.

    America haz a sad for the this one.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Not really. If you look, we do a lot of this stupid shit out of "generosity". That is, we do it because we really do think we're saving the world for the poor benighted backward folks. Iraq is a prime example. We could capture the resources with a hell of a lot less cost simply buying them.

  • sloopyinca||

    OT: It's not nice to say "retarded".

    He may be correct, but his choice of words will have Flacco in trouble just like Obama with his Letterman bowling remark.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Flacco should be more concerned about not botching the offense in New Orleans and less concerned about architecture or mental disabilities.

  • sloopyinca||

    I know, right? What a moron.

  • ||

    Nah, think about it: the expectations have been so low for him every game he's played that it would be a mistake to suddenly act like his team isn't forlorn because of him because he wins in spite of that.

  • Loki||

    That's retarde. And queer.

  • GILMORE||

    Qui est retardée

  • SugarFree||

    Given that picture of Flacco they always use, I'm pretty sure he knows what he's talking about.

  • GILMORE||

    I must at least applaud the administration's boldness in its belief that American Military Power can somehow "improve" tribal societies with no tradition of impartial secular institutions sans a highly corrupt military and rapaicious dictators

    I mean, we can apply our successes from Afghanistan! I hear they're naming Main St in Kabul after Dick Cheney

    To add = I'm even more skeptical of our Nation's history of "military training" of 3rd world militias by "advisors".

    Some might look back with fondness at the SF history with Montaignards... I tend to think 'Contras'. In general, I doubt little real military ethos is ever imposed; rather, "here's how you set off a claymore, Habib"

  • John||

    We generally did stop communism from spreading to too many places. Would have been better if we had decided that instead of fighting communism that "the best recruiting tool for the communist party is attacking and killing communists"?

  • db||

    It's a little different when you're in their neighborhoods shooting up their neighbors, interfering in their businesses, and telling them how to run things. Americans get pissed off when someone shoots down one of our planes or attacks an outpost, but we don't go after them in a horde either--primarily because it's happening on their turf. If that shit was happening down at the corner of Vine and Main, and the guy down the street had just been hauled out of his house by invading Russian forces for suspected collaboration witg the resistance, Americans would have a somewhat different reaction, I imagine.

    Long story short, it matters whose turf you're on.

  • Cytotoxic||

    The Malians LOVE their French liberators. LOVE them.

  • Lyle||

    Reason can't report these facts though because it undercuts their ridiculous neo-imperialism argument.

    Haha.

  • ||

    And the best recruiting tool for the US in many ways was the media that showed young Russians how much better their counterparts in America were living.

    It may have started when they first saw blue jeans. Millions of them decided they couldn't live without them. The best argument for capitalism is capitalism.

  • John||

    That was only after years of communist rule. The communists in places like Latin America knew plenty about Blue Jeans. They didn't want them. They wanted to kill and enslave their fellow countryman.

  • GILMORE||

    The best argument for capitalism is capitalism.

    The best argument against Socialism is Socialism, unsurprisingly

  • GILMORE||

    uhm. It wasnt' really communism in central america. It was "not our guy"

    And it didn't work in Vietnam either. Despite it becoming the template.

    And it didn't work for the communists either when they tried fomenting revolutions in Africa. Even when they won, "their guys" turned out to be rapacious capitalist dictators too.

    BTW = this? ..."Would have been better if we had decided that instead of fighting communism [insert logical fallacy of The False Alternative HERE]..."

    Lawyer John should know better.

    All I pointed out is that "War by Proxy" has a very checquered history and tends not to produce the 'low cost/high reward' results it envisions.

    I personally don't think Al Q, or islamic revolutionaries in general* are somehow a new Global Existential Threat a la Communism, although that is indeed how many pants-wetters treat it.

    (*as noted previously, I don't think every "Al Qaeda fan club" amounts to a threat to our National Interests)

  • John||

    It wasnt' really communism in central america.

    The people of Cuba would disagree. And so would the people of Chili. There really were communists.

    I personally don't think Al Q, or islamic revolutionaries in general* are somehow a new Global Existential Threat a la Communism, although that is indeed how many pants-wetters treat it.

    They are a threat in that they have guns and will and will take over a lot of places and turn them into hell holes as they have done in Iran and are doing in Egypt. Are they an existential threat? No. But that doesn't mean they are not a threat. They are certainly capable of doing a lot of harm to us and the rest of the world. Just because they are not the Soviets doesn't mean we should ignore them or not defend ourselves.

  • Calidissident||

    Cuba isn't in Central America. Nor is Chile (notice how it's spelled).

    There's a difference between thinking we should ignore Islamic terrorists and thinking that the most effective way of dealing with terrorism is large scale war,long-term occupation, constant interfering in the internal politics of hellholes around the globe, and drone strikes that kill large numbers of civilians.

  • Calidissident||

    *isn't large scale war, etc

  • John||

    There's a difference between thinking we should ignore Islamic terrorists and thinking that the most effective way of dealing with terrorism is large scale war,long-term occupatio

    Oh so we should deal with them as long as it doesn't involve actually fighting them or defending ourselves.

    Got it. I kid but libertarians always say that but then they never once support any actual effort to do something about it. There is always something to be done, it is just never what we are trying to do now.

    Whatever.

  • Cytotoxic||

    It's a faith John. A faith. CD seriously believes the Cold War 'was all posturing and bullshit'.

  • GILMORE||

    Oh so we should deal with them as long as it doesn't involve actually fighting them or defending ourselves

    i missed the part when we formed part of the Triple Entente Alliance with fucking *Mali*

    if your threshold of what constitutes "defending ourselves" includes guaranteeing security of sub-saharan shitholes... then we really have a different notion of what "security" entails. under your schema of 'justification for international intervention', you set the bar low enough to qualify virtually any 'foreign instability' as a threat to our national interest. Where do you draw the line? actual congressional declaration of war?

  • gaoxiaen||

    So the side with the English that I can't read points to me, right?

  • ||

    Do we have an exit strategy? Any endgame whatsoever beyond hoping that the Malians renounce centuries of social and religious pressure and become a Westernized democracy?

  • albo||

    The reality is, there are still massive numbers of poorly-government nations that are ripe for shitheels like al-Qaeda to take over. And when a terrorist state is established, the record shows they are a danger to every nation in the world, especially the nations they hate with religious fervor, e.g. the West.

    So, for our security at least, we have to fight back. That sucks and is expensive. But Europe has abandoned its colonies and has spent money on social welfare programs, not its military. China and Russia could do it, but do you think either of them would do the job then leave?

    It's up to Uncle Sugar. We're the last remaining sober guy at the bar, and we got a honkin' big van with lots of guns on it.

  • crazyfingers||

    The idea that terrorists need a state, or launching pad or whatever, to do whatever they're going to do, is total bullshit. The best thing the U.S. government can do is, I don't know, maybe stop getting involved in these conflicts and funding militants when it's likely (or inevitable) that it's going to come back and bite us in the ass.

    Sorry to kill everyone's Pentagon boners.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    "The idea that terrorists need a state, or launching pad or whatever, to do whatever they're going to do, is total bullshit."

    Need or want? It makes ops an awful lot easier - open travel, using the banking system, state resources, etc.

    "I don't know, maybe stop getting involved in these conflicts and funding militants..."

    First part can be argued fairly logically, but the second is still kind of a stretch - is the US paying AQ Mahgreb? I know the author tried to draw out some sort of circuitous route that funding took - but that was done by the states involved, not the US directly. I think you are making more of an argument that the US should simply not fund anyone in these type of fights, yes?

  • GILMORE||

    albo| 1.29.13 @ 2:13PM |#

    The reality is, there are still massive numbers of poorly-government nations that are ripe for shitheels like al-Qaeda to take over.

    "Take over"?

    I think your cup runneth over, Sahib

    Name one "government" Al Q has ever managed to "take over"

    Even the Taliban were on the verge of kicking Al Q out BEFORE 9/11. They thought they were dicks.

    Yemen, Somalia, Libya etc. They remain nothing but an annoying substrata of the leading conflicting parties. At best they're a tolerated annoyance.

    "the record shows they are a danger to every nation in the world"

    North Korea has a sad

  • LTC(ret) John||

    "North Korea has a sad"

    WE LAUNCH ROCKET! SHOW YOU THREAT!!!

  • Rasilio||

    No No No, you gotta get the accent right..

    Re Raunch Locket!

  • Bill Dalasio||

    You are worfress Arec Barwin!

  • gaoxiaen||

    It's CRAW! Not CRAW!

  • ||

    Frankly, other than offering humanitarian aid, I'd rather not see us "involved" anywhere. We have enough problems at home. I vastly prefer programs like Lawrence O'Donnell's K.I.N.D. (kids in need of desks) that provides desks for African children who've never even seen one in their lifetime.

    Nonetheless, I find it sad that, the darker the color of their skin, the less motivated we seem to be to help people. If that weren't true, we would never have sad back idly during the genocide in Rwanda.

  • sarcasmic||

    Humanitarian Aid: Taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries.

  • albo||

    I find it sad that, the darker the color of their skin, the less motivated we seem to be to help people

    You're talking Africa, basically. The continent where even the flies want to bite and infect you. Where there are hundreds of different tribes and cultures and languages. Where, outside of the cities, "infrastructure "consists of dirt roads. Where, a few countries notwithstanding, government is terrible and probably corrupt, and so are its armies.

    Military intervention in Africa is the definition of quagmire, and simply throwing money at their governments is a proven failure. This isn't a black-white thing.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Nonetheless, I find it sad that, the darker the color of their skin, the less motivated we seem to be to help people.

    Being involved in Africa is a double-edged sword. You keep your hands off, the natives tend towards their historic urge to rape and slaughter the opposing tribes and clans because of some goat theft that took place 500 years ago. Send in the Airborne and the press is helpful enough to screech about the "spectre of imperialism" or "neo-imperialism". They might even throw in a reference to the Belgain Congo for few who have cracked the spine of a history book about Africa.

  • GILMORE||

    USJournaiist| 1.29.13 @ 2:18PM |#

    I find it sad that, the darker the color of their skin, the less motivated we seem to be to help people.

    erm. You're not big on history are you?

    I think if you looked at the 20th century efforts by the Ford, Carnegie, Gates, and Rockefeller Foundations, USAID & UNAID, et al... 99% of their efforts were with "teh brown peoples"

    You have apparently confused "lack of results" with "lack of effort"

  • sloopyinca||

    Something about consequences and intentions belongs here.

  • Sidd Finch||

    They might even throw in a reference to the Belgain Congo for few who have cracked the spine of a history book about Africa.

    The Leopold Congo. They "neo-imperialism" screechers have a curious habit of ignoring the post-Leopold Belgian Congo.

  • Lyle||

    Haha... it's like progressives in America who ignore the violence in Chicago, Detroit, Philly, Baltimore, and New Orleans.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Well I vastly prefer Samuel Kinison's A.I.N.U. (Africans in Need of U-Hauls). But, what difference does that make? The sweat off our brows is no more due Africans than Asians, Europeans or Australians. Nor are any particularly entitled to the blood of our youth. The only reason we might rationally put either at stake is that we might (rarely) have some abiding national interest at stake. And Africa has historically proven a sink-hole of national interests.

  • waaminn||

    OK wow that dude is talking a LOT of smack!

    www.irAnon.tk

  • gaoxiaen||

    Funny that the Obama administration wants to give (full-auto) guns to everyone but Americans.

  • johnl||

    We are on the wrong side of this one. The French are the bad guys. All of North Africa was carved up by France in such a way as to maximize the probability of civil war, so that France could be called back. It's only recently South Sudan was spared from this, Darfour still suffers, as do the Tuareg of Mali and Niger. We should leave people to solve their own quarrels, instead of emboldening oppressors.

    It's this simple. We know this is wrong, because France is doing it.

  • TakinThyBacon||

    Agreed, now if you'll excuse me I'm going to eat my freedom fries ;)

  • شات عراقنا||

    Nicest chat and chat Iraqi entertaining Adject all over the world
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