Tragedy, farce or what else? Mali sees doomed, Western-led repetition
Volatile lands with loose borders drawn by colonialists; a centralized government with no authority in tribal belts; a military trained and armed by an imperialist power, coupled with their coup against the government; rising Islamist militancy posing a regional threat, together with their takeover of vast territories; and of course, a Western military intervention with the never-ending, through disingenuous, clarion call: liberation.
More or less, this is the abridged story of what has been happening in Mali and its neighboring region nowadays. What Mali and, to a larger extent, West and North Africa have been witnessing one way or another is the latest round in what has been seen in the previous related acts in Afghanistan, Libya or Iraq.
Political and military chaos gave France the excuse to embark on an adventure, which will most likely bring more disaster to Mali and will hardly see Paris achieve its goal in its former colony. Why, then, was France’s Socialist president, François Hollande, so eager for “Operation Mali,” even though the United States, which is already too ensconced in Afghanistan, saw no “real threat” there and assumed a surprisingly pacifist role with the argument that a military intervention would further radicalize Islamists there? Because it was not only Mali, but the whole region, that was on the edge of falling into the hands of Islamist “enemies” in the French eyes.
Islamist rebels now fighting the French forces have alleged, shadowy relations with an al-Qaeda-linked group that aims at forming a regional pact to establish a shariah state. However, both the Islamists’ rise and the growing al-Qaeda threat, which carry echoes of the reasoning behind the Afghan occupation, in the region were energized by yet another Western intervention in Libya, which failed to bring stability, but instead further wreaked havoc on the country.
All hell broke loose with the re-mobilization of the Tuaregs, who have been left without a cause after years of fighting for the late Libyan leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, back to Mali. Their declaration of independence in the north fell into the void; it brought more radicalization and division to them with the rise of two Islamist groups. Islamist offshoots backed by foreign fighters took over control of the north while the U.S.-backed elite military units, the West’s best hope against the militants, defected with an American-trained officer, further fueling the fire with a coup.
On the other side of the border in Algeria, which also has a heavy record of Islamist extremism, the Mali aggression resulted in retaliation against France and its allies with an ongoing, opaque hostage crisis created by an Islamist offshoot of the self-proclaimed al-Qaeda in the Maghreb with a leader trained in battles against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
In the end, if there would be an end, the crisis in the West and North Africa may bring a couple of scenarios to its conflicting parties. On the rebels’ part, the conflict points out at a revised version of jihadism, which has its roots in both Libya and Afghanistan. The influence of Islamists, either linked to al-Qaeda or not, is mounting but they are far away from reaching their goals due to their internal hostilities. The exported, multinational jihadism failed in places like Iraq and partly in Afghanistan since the local society refused to absorb it.
For the West, France in particular, the Mali intervention carries the high possibility of becoming another open-ended, costly war, like the one in Afghanistan, or partly in Libya and Iraq. The mission will never be “accomplished” and the military adventure will bring nothing but another “failed state” radiating threats to its region.
So, since the first instance was tragedy and the second was farce, what should this new repetition in history be called with the Mali failure? Or inverting the question, would anyone take any lessons amid the remote, although not entirely impossible, doomsday scenario in Turkey’s neighbor Syria, which has also been witnessing the rise of militant Islamist extremism fighting against the Damascus regime?