In underlining shifting international trends and developing new fronts in the War on Terrorism, the French intervention in Mali became very significant.
More incidentally, it produced the usual outpouring of sanctimonious hand-wringing among at least one of the Guardian’s commentariat. But, as tempting as it is to dismiss its rambling about “sloganeering propaganda,” (one wonders when imperialism and the military-industrial complex will get a mention,) the article is valuable for highlighting the dearth of strategy among western leaders. That is, the article accurately points out how Operation Unified Protector – the Libyan intervention – cannot be separated from the current violence in Mali.
In this, Mali’s instability is a direct product of the impulse mentality that now sadly predominates in western foreign policy. In Britain, as elsewhere, the urge to ‘do something’ about Libya trumped a more measured assessment of national interest, and more pressing concerns were set aside to pursue Gaddafi. Such range-of-the-moment thinking produced, ultimately, looted arsenals and an influx of weapons to the West’s enemies in Mali. In other words, we have yet another (perhaps soon-to-be-forgotten) case to speak against humanitarian intervention – but Mali’s importance goes beyond that.
…a kinder fiscal treatment so far…
Firstly, it illustrates the implications of the American ‘Pacific shift’ in real terms. With their political leaders consumed by a knee-jerk mindset, European militaries have been cut to the bone with no view to the future. Britain’s 2010 SDSR neatly symbolises this myopic idiocy – note that it slated an airborne surveillance platform for retirement just as its usefulness became evident over Libya. While the French armed forces have seen a kinder fiscal treatment so far, their turn is coming yet. Indeed, already existing deficiencies are suggested by the need for British transport aircraft, or requests for extended Canadian logistical support. Ballooning regional challenges are thus met by increasingly insufficient European force structures – and they do so increasingly on their own.
In other words, the ‘Pacific shift’ means the current batch of blundering mediocrities leading Europe will need to quickly recover at least some of the strategic genius of their forerunners. A diminished American presence – whether in logistics, intelligence, or indeed any form of legwork – will demand a deeper appreciation of military matters than where next to cut. This cannot be stressed enough, especially in light of the additional, critical lesson that Mali holds: we are deep in a period of persistent struggle with Islamism, in which Mali is just the latest engagement. Though the Islamic totalitarian mindset is more befitting the 11th century than the 21st, this is no constraint on its durability and flexibility – or its continued threat to the wellbeing of westerners. It is telling, for instance, that a key figure in the recent hostage-taking in Algeria described his struggle “as yet another jihad front. “The enemy perceives itself engaged in a global war and seeks to act accordingly – with a strategic purpose.
…indulge in quixotic escapades…
Conversely, even as they diminish their already-slim military capacity, European leaders indulge in quixotic escapades that spawn needless problems, as if wandering in a dream-world. With American attention moving elsewhere, the cosy defence arrangements of previous generations is no longer an option – and the likes of Cameron and Hollande should begin to act like it.