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The future of greece and of europe – Pages 6-7

FEBRUARY 2013  N o 1302







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The Mali intervention

Mali is an opportunity to apply the foreign policy lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan and define ‘terrorism’ and ‘stabilisation’. If France fails in this, it will seem that its strategy changes at the whim of each president

BERNARD PAGÈS – ‘Studies for Hands and Chicken Wire, Sketch 1’ (1998)

The wrong choice


It is only when it is too late, when all other options have been rejected, that we are asked to choose between bad and worse. Nine days after the 9/11 attacks, President George W Bush was already threatening that “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Two wars followed, first in Afghanistan, then Iraq, with the results we all know. In Mali, we are once again required to decide between two equally hateful alternatives. How can we resign ourselves to armed bands, who spread obscurantist ideology and practices, terrorising the people of the north, then threatening those in the south? But equally how can we ignore the fact that humanitarian motives and the criminalisation of political opponents (Afghan Taliban linked to the opium trade, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to cocaine dealing and hostage taking) are often a pretext for western military operations that smack of neo-colonialism?

It is nearly two years since Osama bin Laden died, but Al-Qaida lives on. The Taliban are doing better than ever. As former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin explains, “the open terrorist sores – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali – tend to grow and form links with one another, join forces, combine in a number of actions” (1). So every western intervention seems to play into the hands of the most radical jihadist groups, who draw their opponents into endless, exhausting conflicts. Libyan weapons have been used in the war in Mali, and they may be recovered and used again on other fronts in Africa.

To justify his country’s military commitment, François Hollande announced that “France will always be there when it comes to the rights of a population, that of Mali, which wants to live in freedom and in a democracy.” Such an extravagant road map is bound to come up against the fact that the problem is not so much to “retake” northern Mali but to secure lasting peace there, with due regard to the legitimate claims of the Tuaregs.

And that is just the start. We will then need to worry about the various secret military alliances and the quasi disappearance of African borders. And to recognise that this was (and still is) encouraged by neoliberal solutions which have destroyed the credibility of states, reduced their farmers and soldiers to beggary, and encouraged the overexploitation of Africa’s mineral resources by western (or Chinese) companies. We will have to admit that the transnational trade in drugs, arms and hostages depends entirely on non-African suppliers and consumers. And to concede that the drop in world prices for cotton has ruined the peasants in Mali, and that global warming has exacerbated the drought in the Sahel.

This (incomplete) list of subjects that are normally of no interest to anyone suggests that any “liberation” of Mali by foreign forces would leave the root causes of the coming conflict intact. When it does come, we will be asked once again to “choose” – after being told, of course, that we no longer have any choice.


(1) Interview on France Inter, 18 January 2013.

Inside this issue

West Africa’s cocaine politics by anna frintz Page 2 Bahrain: broken promises by marc pellas Page 4 Middle East: unhelpful clichés by georges corm Page 5 Gay rights: onwards and upwards by gabriel girard and daniela rojas castro Page 8


When future historians describe France’s military operations in the early 21st century, they may refer to “strategic hiccups”, so inconsistent has the overall strategy been over the last decade. To be described adequately, the operations in Mali must be placed in their long-term politico-military context.

Soon after 9/11, France decided to support the rapid strike intended to topple Afghanistan’s Taliban regime. Since it had few interests in the region, and since the capture of Kabul by “warlords” did not fundamentally change Afghanistan’s endemic state of chaos, France was initially careful not to commit too many ground troops. In September 2002 several thousand troops were sent to Ivory Coast as part of a UN peacekeeping operation. They were fully involved in ground operations and succeeded in preventing full-scale civil war in this former “showcase of francophone Africa”, where France had major interests.

In 2003, after some hesitation, France declined to take part in the US’s neoconservative adventure in Iraq, warning that it would bring chaos to the region and risk a split between the self-proclaimed “moral powers” and the Arab world, which was in the midst of a political and identity crisis. In 2007 France, which had been maintaining a stance of “disengaged engagement” in Afghanistan, allowed the US to drag it into a campaign of counter-insurrectional democratisation, burdened with unrealistic moral objectives and doomed to failure despite the professionalism and dedication of the troops involved. In Libya in 2011, with a tragicomic mixture of sloppy rhetoric and military efficiency, France brought down a dictatorial regime that was no more grotesque than any other, and lastingly destabilised the whole of northern Africa, opening the door to hardline Islamists financed and armed by the Gulf oil states (1).

Olivier Zajec is a senior researcher at France’s Institut de Stratégie et des Conflits and author of La Nouvelle Impuissance Américaine (America’s New Impotence), L’Œuvre, Paris, 2011

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Finding any logic in this vacillation between realism stemming from impotence and idealism stemming from a lack of forethought is a challenge. It also makes analysing the Mali episode more interesting. The French government, after months of procrastination, trapped by its own contradictions, which allowed its opponents time to prepare, is now trying to repair the local damage caused by its intervention in Libya. This, by helping to arm the more radical factions in the Sahel, has established the dominance of the Salafist jihadis of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) and of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the Tuareg rebellion, speeding both the defeat of the Mali government forces and political destabilisation in Bamako.

Deciding what to do has taken some time. As late as 11 October, François Hollande was insisting that there would be “no men on the ground, no engagement by French troops” and that France would only provide material support to Mali’s armed forces (2). This statement imprudently restricted France’s own freedom of action and ran the risk of being contradicted by the local situation, about which very little was known. On 10 January the key town of Konna, 700km northeast of Bamako, was captured by Islamist fighters of Ansar Dine and AQIM. There was then nothing between them and the capital. With the Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas) waiting to see what happened, the EU cautious and the US sceptical, only the option of French fighter planes and ground troops was left.

On 11 January France launched Operation Serval and, three months after declaring that France could not intervene on behalf of African countries, Hollande was forced to contradict himself. This casts doubt on the government’s anticipatory capabilities, and underlines the importance of understanding what “stabilisation” may involve in the future, at different levels.

Behind France’s procrastination lies the quagmire of Afghanistan. This reflects the failure of the US culturalist theory of “global counter-insurrection”, which has over-extended the timeframe for “stabilisation”, confused tactical action with policy, over-moralised the objectives of the war in Afghanistan and so denied itself a credible exit strategy. But the situation in Mali demonstrates that the failure of a strategic theory that has kept 100,000

Continued on page 2

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