FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Breaking Mali

by BARRY LANDO

Paris.

There is a massive, historic upheaval gong on—one chaotic Islamic country after another–spanning more than 7000 miles of the globe—a huge tectonic shift—from Western Africa to the Western frontiers of China.

And, despite a military budget larger than most of the rest of the world combined, the Pentagon and Barack Obama, are basically consigned the roll of on-lookers, cautiously kibitzing from the side, occasionally trying to influence things. Often, not even leading from behind.

Mali, at the Western end of that volatile crescent, is a case in point.

As Colin Powell famously warned George H.W. Bush on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, “if you break it, you own it.”

France is not responsible for “breaking” Mali. The country was already a West African basket case long before the French intervention.

But, as things now stand, France “owns” the shattered country. And there’s no crazy glue in sight.

In other words, France, which enraged many Americans by refusing to participate in the invasion of Iraq, now finds itself stuck with the results of their own intervention.

French President Francois Hollande’s dilemma is how to finesse that predicament—without making it look like France has cut and run, leaving an unseemly chaos in his wake.

Hollande made his conundrum clear during his visit this past Saturday to Mali when he announced that France “will stay as long as necessary, but its purpose is not to stay.”

Not that different a straddle from the problem the U.S. faced in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In fact, France’s sputtering economy can ill-afford this military adventure. More than 10% of the population is unemployed, factories continue to shut down, automobile sales slumped 15% in January, public employees are out on strike, etc. etc.

But to whom does France hand-off the ominous situation it confronts in Mali?

What passes for leadership in that country is a “transitional regime” the product of a military coup against the previous regime, which was corrupt, ineffectual, totally unable to deal with the growing crisis.

Which was why it was overthrown. Somehow, elections are going to have to be organized, which also means negotiating some kind of settlement with the Tuaregs of Northern Mali, who have been demanding attention from the central government for decades. It was their rebellion that was hijacked by the jihadis-some of whom were linked with Al Qaeda.

But what to do about those jihadis? In fact, the big question now, is where they hell are they? As far as is known, they took very few casualties. In most cases, without a shot being fired from the ground, they evaporated back into the desert or from wherever they came–often long before the French troops arrived.

But they’ve still got their arms, their jihadist ideals, and their income flowing in from traditional smuggling activities.

So, do they just disappear or launch hit-and-run attacks against troops sent to hunt them down? Or wait until most of the French pull out?

Up till now, the majority of French still back Hollande’s Mali expedition. But what happens if the French army—which lost just one soldier in the entire three week campaign–what happens if they start taking casualties, or more French civilians get taken hostage by jihadi groups?  Or French targets elsewhere are attacked?

 

What happens if the French-backed Malien army commits more outrages on the civilian population? What happens if the French feel obliged to overstay their visit, and—like the U.S. in Iraq or Afghanistan–become viewed as occupiers rather than liberators.

The French have been talking about turning over frontline duties to African troops. But the Malien army is woefully trained, and equipped, its officers are said to be up to their helmets in cigarette and drug smuggling, often in cahoots with the radical Islamic groups they were supposed to be keeping at bay.

There are also thousands of other African troops from West Africa, who have been arriving in dribs and drabs in various states of readiness and training. They also lack weapons, logistics support, skill in desert fighting, and, above all, money to pay for their operations.

[Indeed some countries volunteer for such operations because it’s a great way to have someone else pick up the tab for their own over bloated armies.]

So, apart from training those troops, who’s going to pick up the tab? Again, France finds itself scanning the horizon for help.

Earlier this week, the President of the Ivory Coast announced at a donors’ conference in Ethiopia that the price tag for the “African-led International Support Mission to Mali” would be $950 million. That’s to cover not just military deployment and logistics, but humanitarian assistance, and at least the down payment on future development.

But despite the supposed crisis that threatens not just Africa, but Europe as well, the assembled delegates came up with only $450 million, less than half the amount requested.
Among the donors, Japan, which pledged $120 million, the United States, $96 million, Germany, 20 million.
But the most outrageous pledges came from the governments of India and China –$1 million dollars—each!

This is China, mind you, that, with huge investments throughout West Africa, has an enormous amount at risk if political instability spreads.

The last thing the Chinese want, however, is for their projects–and thousands of their citizens–throughout the region to also become targets of Islamic radicals.

Let the French handle this one.

That same caution, fueled by the bitter lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq, has kept France’s allies on the sidelines, supplying aircraft to transport French troops and refuel French fighter jets, as is the U.S., but staying clear of any front-line roles themselves.

Washington has wanted to keep an arms length from the conflict in order not to offer the jihadis a rallying point to inflame recruits.

But the U.S. is providing pilotless drones to track the rebels. And the problem is that to be effective, those drones will also have to be armed with missiles to take out the rebels they track down.

What happens as the inevitable cases of collateral damage start rolling in?

As a nod to the French, the British finally decided to send 350 soldiers, but only to serve as instructors for the African troops. There is no way they’re going to be involved in ground combat.

Indeed Prime Minister David Cameron, delivered one of the most pessimistic verdicts on the situation, when, during a recent visit to Algeria, he declared Britain’s determination to deal with “the terrorism threat” in Mali. “It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months, and it requires a response that…has an absolutely iron resolve…”

Or, as one retired French colonel blogged, “war against non-state organizations is a war of Sisyphus. We’re in the Sahel for a long time.”

Barry M. Lando, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia University, spent 25 years as an award-winning investigative producer with 60 Minutes. His latest book is “Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush.” Lando is currently completing a novel, “The Watchman’s File”, concerning Israel’s most closely guarded secret (it’s not the bomb.) He can be reached through his blog.

BARRY LANDO is a former producer for 60 Minutes. He is the author of The Watchman’s File. He can be reached at: barrylando@gmail.com or through his website.

February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
Farzana Versey
Of Beyoncé, Trudeau and Culture Predators
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail