This year may have provided the Obama administration with plenty of lessons on website building and fiscal fiscos, but 2013 has also highlighted trends, developments, and lessons that will impact America’s foreign policy for the rest of Obama’s presidency and beyond. The past year has shown the different sort of interventions undertaken to address Islamism, the moral hypocrisy of the United States' foreign aid policy, the growth of the drone club, Africa's role in the War on Terror, and the effect American snooping can have on relations abroad.
One: Not all interventions have to be vast nation-building exercises
Since the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 the Taliban have been removed from power and American forces have killed Osama Bin Laden. Yet despite these successes American forces remain in Afghanistan.
During the more than 12 years the American military has been in Afghanistan, the U.S. also invaded and withdrew from Iraq, a mission that was sold as a liberation.
Despite the American military adventures since 9/11, Iraq is still a bloody mess gripped by sectarian violence, the Taliban continue to organize and carry out attacks in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda and its allies continue to operate not only in neighboring Pakistan, but also in Yemen, Syria, and swathes of North Africa.
While the failures of America’s most recent interventions should be noted, in the last year there has been a demonstration of a style of military intervention very different from the American interventions since 2001 that demonstrate that not all foreign adventures need to be attempts at nation-building.
In January this year, the French launched an intervention in Mali in order to halt the advance of jihadists who had take over much of the north of their former colony. Some people, myself included, were wary of the mission, and warned of the potential blowback that could have negative impacts in the region and in France.
However, almost a year after the intervention began, the French mission in Mali has provided lessons that American policy-makers can learn from as long as they insist on throwing America’s military might around.
The French intervened at the invitation of the Malian government and with the backing of countries and organizations in the region, lending the mission credibility and support.
The mission also had clear and realistic victory conditions. Jihadists in northern Mali did pose a threat to Mali’s security and integrity, and French President Francois Hollande made clear that the purpose of the intervention was to push jihadists out of the territory they had taken.
Aside from the invitation to intervene and the clear victory conditions, the French mission in Mali also demonstrated the effectiveness of a comparatively small, well trained, and highly deployable military, something American lawmakers should keep in mind given how much of the American government’s spending is dedicated to the military. In the 21st Century it is increasingly likely that the sort missions seen in Mali will become more common than the embedded and vast interventions that U.S. has recently pursued.
The fact that the French intervention in Mali has succeeded in removing jihadists from their strongholds in northern Mali does not necessarily mean that foreign intervention is always the right policy to pursue when countries are suffering internal unrest.
However, if the U.S. is going to continue in the misguided trend of being overly involved in the world (something recent polling suggests most Americans are against), the French intervention in Mali provides an example of how every intervention need not also be a vast nation-building exercise and that certain conditions makes foreign military adventures abroad much easier to execute.
Next: America's foreign aid policy is morally confused and diplomatically awkward