The French military intervention in Mali, while long overdue, nevertheless exposes the complications and challenges of reclaiming northern Mali from the fusion of Islamicists and ethnic rebels who have long sought some greater autonomy over the largely barren and deserted region of the Sahara. Whatever sense Westerners make out of the emerging Malian quagmire, the stubborn fact remains that rebuilding the shattered Malian “state” remains elusive. There is no roadmap for putting Mali back together again, neatly, even if the toxic brew of funadmentalism and aggrieved sub-national forces can be contained. The Obama administration wisely waited out the French, who initially sought to keep hands-off the Malian crisis. And now that the French have intervened militarily, their initial reserve becomes more understandable, because the recent fighting makes clear that the usual approach of the French – to subdue an African frebellion or restore a government to national power – with a few hundred troops and vastly superior technologies – may not work in Mali. The alternative is ghastly: a period of months or longer of close fighting between a rogue’s gallery of Islamicists and French forces backed by other African armies. The potential blowback on French soil in the form of terror acts is disturbing; even more disturbing, though, is the high possibility of a hollow victory over the Islamicists. Even if the French win on the battlefield, they face the difficult task of putting the pieces of the diminished and dysfunctional Malian nation-state. Not a task for a committee, or the faint of heart.
Jan 18 2013
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