JANUARY 18, 2013 12:07AM

Mali: Here We Go Again

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If you put aside the intermittent melodramas caused by the existence of a “debt ceiling” the political turmoil these days seems to be all about security. As trillions of dollars thrown at agencies and programs tasked to assuring security turned into debt, they became part of the fiscal problems as well so it’s fair to ask whether the results have been worth the cost.

Allow me to set the table here with some assumptions about the progress of these agencies and programs based on their performance over the last decade. Note that one of these initiatives, stopping Islamic rebels, just suffered a major setback.

The fact that the Malian affair is being directed by the French is not inspiring. The first descriptive terms that showed up in a Google News search after the raid were “bungled” and “botched”. The ensuing events, particularly the taking of hostages in Algeria does not bode well for the French military or any other foreign nationals in the vicinity. (As of this writing it appears the Algerian army killed many of the western hostages when they fired on four of the trucks carrying them). The French have promised annihilation of Islamic resistance as an unconditional goal regardless of the cost or the time frame.  In context, the French bravado is almost laughable, but unfortunately it will be difficult to find much humor in an extended version based on the first few days of this new battle front.

Since the U.S. has already become a partner in this questionable endeavor it should not be surprising that American hostages are back in style, enjoying a renaissance amongst the “terrorist” community as the War on Terror continues to amaze for the following reasons. First, that the Malian rebels have gained strength almost exclusively because of organized crime. Their specialties are drug smuggling and kidnappings and if it weren’t from the proceeds from their profits and the success they’ve enjoyed in the War on Drugs, they probably couldn’t afford to become a threat to the government and become part of the War on Terror.

Apparently the solution to this unfortunate paradigm is military intervention which has a way of costing way more than anyone cares to think about when they’re rallying the faithful, a common election-year ploy that was proving its worth in Israel before it spread to France. French President Hollande was in a much worse position than Netanyahu however, his popularity sinking to levels not seen since guillotines were used to address failed political leadership.

This adventure may be popular in France, at least for the time being, but without the benefit of polling numbers on the subject, I can’t imagine Americans being as enamored with the thought of combat forces in western Africa fighting the same type of insurgents that have handed American troops an embarrassing defeat in Afghanistan.

Depending on how much the war escalates, how many fringe groups join the fight, it is possible the Mali rebels will be better-equipped than the Taliban, but there are other problems with jumping into this thing without serious reservations. For one U.S. policy is in serious danger of becoming not only hypocritical but also contradictory. In Bahrain for example, American hardware and weapons have been turned on pro-democracy protesters which are espousing the same reforms as other pro-democracy groups that the U.S. supports. In Libya and Syria alliances with erstwhile “terrorist” groups were part of the strategy to overthrow dictatorial regimes.

At the same time, in the background, the U.S. military has essentially thrown in the towel in both Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no way to characterize those wars as successful without also becoming a Kool-Aid neocon. The military had a blank check courtesy of Congress and many years to accomplish their missions in those countries but after troops exit Afghanistan it is very possible both countries will be in much worse shape than they were before American “nation building” theory was tested once again.

Glenn Greenwald wrote the definitive piece on this folly, truly a must-read because of its wisdom and insight regarding this phenomenon of justified-failure. Here are some excerpts but I would suggest reading the entire piece, saving it, sharing it, then reading it every day until sanity is restored.

The bombing of Mali highlights all the lessons of western intervention

“As French war planes bomb Mali, there is one simple statistic that provides the key context: this west African nation of 15 million people is the eighth country in which western powers - over the last four years alone - have bombed and killed Muslims - after Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and the Philippines (that does not count the numerous lethal tyrannies propped up by the west in that region). For obvious reasons, the rhetoric that the west is not at war with the Islamic world grows increasingly hollow with each new expansion of this militarism. But within this new massive bombing campaign, one finds most of the vital lessons about western intervention that, typically, are steadfastly ignored.

“First, as the New York Times' background account from this morning makes clear, much of the instability in Mali is the direct result of NATO's intervention in Libya. Specifically, ‘heavily armed, battle-hardened Islamist fighters returned from combat in Libya’ and ‘the big weaponry coming out of Libya and the different, more Islamic fighters who came back’ played the precipitating role in the collapse of the US-supported central government. As Owen Jones wrote in an excellent column this morning in the Independent:

 "This intervention is itself the consequence of another. The Libyan war is frequently touted as a success story for liberal interventionism. Yet the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi's dictatorship had consequences that Western intelligence services probably never even bothered to imagine. Tuaregs – who traditionally hailed from northern Mali – made up a large portion of his army. When Gaddafi was ejected from power, they returned to their homeland: sometimes forcibly so as black Africans came under attack in post-Gaddafi Libya, an uncomfortable fact largely ignored by the Western media. . . . [T]he Libyan war was seen as a success . . . and here we are now engaging with its catastrophic blowback."

“Over and over, western intervention ends up - whether by ineptitude or design - sowing the seeds of further intervention. Given the massive instability still plaguing Libya as well as enduring anger over the Benghazi attack, how long will it be before we hear that bombing and invasions in that country are - once again - necessary to combat the empowered ‘Islamist’ forces there: forces empowered as a result of the NATO overthrow of that country's government?

“Second, the overthrow of the Malian government was enabled by US-trained-and-armed soldiers who defected. From the NYT: ‘commanders of this nation's elite army units, the fruit of years of careful American training, defected when they were needed most — taking troops, guns, trucks and their newfound skills to the enemy in the heat of battle, according to senior Malian military officials.’ And then: ‘an American-trained officer overthrew Mali's elected government, setting the stage for more than half of the country to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists.’

“In other words, the west is once again at war with the very forces that it trained, funded and armed. Nobody is better at creating its own enemies, and thus ensuring a posture of endless war, than the US and its allies. Where the US cannot find enemies to fight against it, it simply empowers them.

“Third, western bombing of Muslims in yet another country will obviously provoke even more anti-western sentiment, the fuel of terrorism. Already, as the Guardian reports, French fighter jets in Mali have killed ‘at least 11 civilians including three children’. . .

“Finally, the propaganda used to justify all of this is depressingly common yet wildly effective. Any western government that wants to bomb Muslims simply slaps the label of ‘terrorists’ on them, and any real debate or critical assessment instantly ends before it can even begin. ‘The president is totally determined that we must eradicate these terrorists who threaten the security of Mali, our own country and Europe,’ proclaimed French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

“The French bombing of Mali, perhaps to include some form of US participation, illustrates every lesson of western intervention. The ‘war on terror’ is a self-perpetuating war precisely because it endlessly engenders its own enemies and provides the fuel to ensure that the fire rages without end. But the sloganeering propaganda used to justify this is so cheap and easy - we must kill the Terrorists! - that it's hard to see what will finally cause this to end. The blinding fear - not just of violence, but of Otherness - that has been successfully implanted in the minds of many western citizens is such that this single, empty word (Terrorists), standing alone, is sufficient to generate unquestioning support for whatever their governments do in its name, no matter how secret or unaccompanied by evidence it may be.”

Thank you to Mr. Greenwald for explaining these things in such a concise manner. Take another step back and you’ll also see that there is some serious overlap between the other topics of the day. It seems impossible to have a serious on budget cuts, primarily domestic cuts that effect real Americans trying to survive as their income and savings decline and their debt increases to record levels without an intelligent discussion about $800 million warships that aren’t functional.


We’ve also learned the Pentagon retirement system may be in worse shape than some state and local governments that have no chance of meeting their unfunded pension obligations in the future:


At what point does the military have its budgetary exemption revoked because clearly Americans have not gotten their money’s worth as far as military expenditures associated with “national security”? If we accept Greenwald’s conclusions, paying out huge sums that only exacerbates the “terror” problem is especially mindless at a point when budget battles threaten not only the American economy, but also its credit rating which if allowed to decline, would add hundreds of billions more to the national debt in higher interest payments.

The profit engine for many of these conflicts, the War on Drugs, has also left a trail of death and misery along with revelations like the money-laundering scandals involving TBTF racketeers. That war has not only failed miserably according to many sources of data and experts, it has become another way of assuring that illicit profits will continue to finance the same groups that America is supposedly at war. Meanwhile in the halls of Congress representatives are tossing grandma, grandpa and the middle class under the bus to keep contractors making $800-million floating boondoggles in business. Is this supposed to make sense?  

I don’t know about the rest of America, but after watching the transformation to police state, the mass shootings, military failures versus an enemy that are showing no signs of giving up or going away, and some of the rhetoric coming from the far right, the notion of “security” seems rather clouded at this point. It doesn’t appear the French feel any more secure either since they vowed to eliminate the terrorist threat in Mali. More evidence Glenn Greenwald is a fairly bright guy:

PARIS (AP) —“ France's military campaign to stop advancing Islamist insurgents in Mali has been met with a volley of threats from the extremists, feeding fears that the French could be targeted within their own borders. On Tuesday, as security forces stepped up patrols everywhere from airports to the Eiffel Tower, France's top security official issued a grim warning: the enemy is already here.”


Cross-post: GlobalRev

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Thanks for posting this. The BBC has been covering this extensively - perhaps because the conservative British government is stressing the need to keep clear of another Afghanistan-style quagmire. The French were also the most gungho about bombing and dropping weapons to al Qaeda rebels in Libyan - who have made good used of them in trying to take over Mali. I think someone needs to look at the arms manufacturers who are making a bundle selling weapons to both sides.