'Leading From Behind,' Part II: France Strikes in Mali After U.S. Strategy Collapses
France has expanded its assault on Islamists in northern Mali, pounding rebel positions with four days of air strikes and bringing additional troops into the country through the capital, Mali. France did not wait for UN approval, and it tired of what even the New York Times acknowledges was the reluctance of the United States and the international community to do anything about the seizure of half a country by Al Qaeda-linked forces.
Call it “leading from behind,” Part II.
What is worse is that the Islamist rebellion has used American-trained soldiers and officers who defected from Mali’s regular army last year, taking their counter-terrorism training, their advanced combat skills, and their knowledge of western intelligence methods with them. France is now facing off against an Islamist foe that the United States has unwittingly assisted--and the U.S. is barely offering help.
When Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney raised the issue of Mali during the debates last fall, the media reacted with amusement. A few briefly noted that Mali was, indeed, a “serious problem”--that the collapse of the country could create a safe haven for Al Qaeda in the heart of Africa. Others, such as Bill Maher, mocked Romney, secure in the understanding that nothing the Republican said could be taken seriously.
One reason that Americans had not heard much about Mali is the near-total lack of interest by the mainstream media in focusing on the flaws in President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. During the Bush administration, there were near-daily reports of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, and deep analyses of how U.S. intervention policy was creating new dangers. Today, the media are uninterested in foreign policy--even in U.S. deaths.
But the chaos of one day in Cairo and Benghazi--a scandal still underreported by the mainstream media, lest it hurt President Obama--pales in comparison to what has transpired in Mali for several months, partly as a result of Obama administration policy. The New York Times notes that four years of “deliberate planning collapsed swiftly when heavily armed, battle-hardened Islamist fighters returned from combat in Libya.”
The coup in Mali--carried out by an American-trained officer--surprised U.S. intelligence as U.S-trained Malian defectors teamed up with ex-Libyan soldiers and Islamist militias to carve out an Al Qaeda haven in the north of the country. “The same American-trained units that had been seen as the best hope of repelling such an advance proved, in the end, to be a linchpin in the country’s military defeat,” the Times notes.
The Islamist rebels are imposing sharia law, and busily destroying ancient tombs, historic landmarks and UN World Heritage Sites in Timbuktu--much as the Taliban destroyed the 2,000-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan, among other priceless artifacts of pre-Islamic civilization, in early 2001. Meanwhile, paltry U.S. efforts to help neighboring states contain the rebellion have failed--and the French have decided to act decisively.
We have reached a new low in American foreign policy when France leads international intervention against Al Qaeda to fix a mess partly of American making. It is worth noting that France did not wait for a mandate from the UN, from the Arab League, or even from NATO in order to do what is necessary to prevent a regional collapse from becoming a global menace. Leading from behind is not leading at all--much to the world’s detriment.