Flogging Mali

Most Threedonians, being well-edumacated and informed as you all are, have known for while that the African country of Mali has been dealing with (read “losing”) and Islamist insurgency (read “take over with future radical oppression in the offing) for awhile now. We’ve talked about it before here and here. Well the French have conducted air raids in the area and have been stepping up their military involvement. As Walter Russell Mead writes at his American Interest blog Via Meadia… Dien Bien Phu? (Gesundheit!)

On Monday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had his own “mission accomplished” moment, announcing that French forces had halted the Islamist advance through Mali just hours before extremist forces captured Diabaly, an important Mali military post. The Islamists are now closer to the country’s capital than ever, and France is more than tripling its forces in response. Mali’s Islamists feel confident that France is getting sucked into a conflict that will be much harder than it ever imagined, against an enemy that can play the long game:

France “has fallen into a trap which is much more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia,” Oumar Ould Hamaha, an insurgent leader, told Europe 1 radio. Stirring longstanding fears that the far-flung military operation in Mali could inspire vengeance as far away as Europe, he warned that the intervention had “opened the gates of hell for all the French.”

It’s too early to tell whether Mali will really become a quagmire; insurgents always make grand claims about their power, but only some are able to make good on it. Even so, France clearly underestimated the initial jihadist military strength in Mali, and the country is already turning to the US for logistical support.

France needs US help, and the US should give it. Just as France’s Libyan intervention failed because the country ran out of military supplies, France’s Malian adventure could collapse without our support. But the situation nevertheless raises alarms. The last time the US supported a major French military operation was the infamous Battle of Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam during the First Indochina War. The French were completely routed, and the US launched the Vietnam War soon after. We hope Mali doesn’t turn into another Dien Bien Phu.

I’m not sure we need to help the French out necessarily but whatever side of that debate you fall… I do not trust current leadership to carry it out (French or American). If it wouldn’t involve our own blood and treasure I might glean some schadenfreude from watching the SCOAMF stumble his way through this looming debacle. But alas… the situation is and will be too tragic to garner any thing other than anger and sadness most likely.

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