Friday, 1 February 2013

Britain is slipping deeper into the sands of Mali

Inch by inch and day by day, Britain seems to be sliding ever deeper into the shifting sands of the Malian desert. It is, in my view, a military adventure that's unnecessary, ill-advised and fraught with danger.

According to David Cameron, speaking in the House of Commons just 10 days ago, Britain now needs to show "iron resolve" to deal with a threat to our very existence from jihadi terrorists.

"We are in the midst of a generational struggle against an ideology which … holds that mass murder and terror are not only acceptable but necessary," he told MPs. "We must … resist the ideologues' attempt to divide the world into a clash of civilisations."

And just in case you missed the Churchillian overtone, there was this: "We must demonstrate the same resolve and sense of purpose as previous generations have with the challenges that they faced."

So there you have it: we faced down Kaiser Wilhelm, Adolf Hitler, and Uncle Joe Stalin -- and now, in the sands of the Sahara, we will not flinch as we confront, well, who exactly?

A few thousand fighters, many armed with weapons seized from Muammar Gaddafi's armouries in Libya, or purchased with cash obtained as ransoms for kidnapped Westerners, and as divided in their aims and their loyalties as their equivalents in Somalia or Afghanistan.

So why does Mr Cameron seem to be so convinced that the very survival of the Western world is at stake? Could it be that when gunmen over-ran that gas plant in the Algerian desert last month, someone put a briefing paper in one of his red boxes that seriously spooked him?

Perhaps it said something like this: "The best assessment of our security services is that there is now a real and growing threat from jihadi groups in Mali and elsewhere in the region that pose both direct and indirect risks to UK interests. Our strong recommendation is that we do not make the same mistake we made in Afghanistan, when we allowed the Taliban to take control of the country and offer sanctuary to al-Qaeda.  That error, as you will be aware, led directly to the attacks of 9/11 and the deaths of 3,000 people."

Well, I'm sorry, but even if that's what the intelligence bods said (and of course, I have no access to their work), I don't buy it. In an impressively-argued piece in The Guardian this week, Jason Burke, one of the world's leading experts on al-Qaeda, wrote that, if anything, the jihadi groups are now weaker than they were a decade ago, and that they are "as far from posing an existential threat as they have ever been."

No one would argue, of course, that there is no threat at all. I have not the slightest doubt that even as you read these words, somewhere in Yemen, or Somalia, perhaps even in Mali, someone is planning another attack on a major Western target: a plane, or an oil refinery, or a transport hub.

But does the prime minister really think that by backing French military action, and by sending hundreds of British army instructors to train regional African forces, he is going to defeat the forces of evil, just as President Bush and Tony Blair thought they were doing in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Does anyone honestly believe that spending a couple of armour-plated hours in Algiers and Tripoli this week really changed anything, other than perhaps earning a few brownie points in Paris that might come in useful in future euro-rows? ("Now, Fran├žois, remember how I supported you in north Africa, I'm sure you can help me out in Brussels …")

Here's what I would do: leave President Hollande to get on with his own military adventure, trying as best he can to show that he's every bit as macho (it's the same word in French, apparently) as his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, the Liberator of Libya.

Instead, send a senior Foreign Office (oh, all right, MI6) envoy to talk to Tuareg leaders in northern Mali. Engage with them, get to know them, earn their trust, and mediate between them and what remains of the central government in the capital, Bamako, and the army.

Just maybe, we could persuade them that they're more likely to make progress towards a deal on autonomy by negotiating than by making common cause with the jihadi extremists who have brought them nothing except the (fleeting) attention of the world and thousands of rather well-trained French soldiers.

If that doesn't work, and if we're fans of the Danish TV political series Borgen, we could even seek the services of prime minister Birgitte Nyborg, who just last week did rather a good job stitching together a deal between the government and rebels in the fictional African state of Kharoun. (To my eyes, Kharoun bore a startling resemblance to Sudan, but I'm sure she'd manage just as well in Mali.)

By the way, if you've been worried about the fate of the priceless ancient Islamic manuscripts that were reported to have been destroyed in Timbuktu this week, it seems the early reports may have been unduly alarmist. The picture is still far from clear, but TIME magazine quoted a senior Presidential aide in Bamako as saying: “The documents … are safe, they were not burned. They were put in a very safe place. I can guarantee you. The manuscripts are in total security.”


Bob Churchill said...

I don't disagree that any immediate existential threat is hugely exaggerated. And it's possible that most of the ancient books (if not the shrines) are safe.

But you ignore entirely the case for intervention on simple humanitarian grounds. A few thousand militia may compare unfavourably to Stalin or Hitler as a military target, but a few thousand hand-chopping, book-burning, shrine-smashing, armed fundamentalists raping and murdering in your hometown? If a vicious mob like this was rampaging through a sparsely populated US state or a smaller European country - let alone, say, an old agricultural town in the Midlands or something - there'd be no need to even articulate that basic argument: that we probably shouldn't let massive, apocalyptic gangs of rapists and murderers freely dominate previously quite peaceable towns and cities.

I'm sure much of Cameron's rhetoric is self-aggrandising, but in other leaders it could as well have been a means to making a moral intervention; a necessary ruse given our tendency to ignore the immediate, obvious humanitarian case.

Gaye Berry said...

French intervention in Mali, followed by bloody siege in Algeria, marks a serious turning point in what is a new imperialist/colonialism for Africa. These events, following on the heels of US-NATO war for regime change in Libya + US-backed sectarian civil war in Syria, we are witnessing a drive by major powers to re-divide the world, claim resources as their own, regardless of what country really owns them.

There is every reason to believe that this campaign to re-colonize will be even bloodier, more oppressive than the original colonization of Africa.

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron vowed that the UK will “work with others to close down the ungoverned space” in NW Africa “with all the means that we have.” Terming the developments in Mali & neighboring countries a “global threat,” Cameron declared they would “require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months.” (Cameron's own, personal Afghanistan?)

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta commented: “We have a responsibility to go after Al Qaeda wherever they are. And we’ve gone after them in the FATA (Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas). We’re going after them in Yemen & Somalia. And we have a responsibility to make sure that Al Qaeda does not establish a base for operations in N. Africa & Mali.”

The message is unmistakable. Mali and the region are to be turned into a new killing field, to be carried out in the first instance with Predator Drones and Hellfire Missiles.

The US has also announced that it is sending US Special Forces troops as “trainers/advisors” to 6 countries: Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo & Ghana, which are to provide the troops for an African force being snapped together by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a proxy for imperialism.

The media reports each new crisis, from the fighting in Mali to the hostage drama in Algeria, as if it were a senseless outrage totally explicable, just part of the fight against "evil-doers" i.e. global terrorists.

The word “blowback” is not uttered on the news. Yet this is precisely what is happening. The US-NATO war for regime-change in Libya destabilized the entire region. It had the effect of sending Tuaregs, many of whom who had served in Gaddafi’s security forces, fleeing back into Mali under conditions in which Libya’s NATO-backed “revolutionaries” were hunting down, murdering people using one criterion: black skins.

It has become impossible to understand US policy in the Middle East and Africa without recognizing that US operates in a de facto ALLIANCE WITH Al Qaeda forces.

The Algerian government has charged that AQIM, like the US-backed “rebels” in Syria, is funded by US’s key ally, the Gulf sheikdom of Qatar. And before the present conflict, it was well known that AQIM and similar groups enjoyed the tacit approval of Mali’s US & French-backed central government, which saw the Islamists as useful.

Now we are asked to believe that this same force has become a “global” threat that may at any moment attack our homelands.

The escalating war in Africa is neither about terror nor Al Qaeda. Time magazine outlined the real motives in Mali: “The dangers expand elsewhere, with huge oil reserves attracting Western companies to set up production across the vast Sahel. South of Algeria and Mali sits Niger, a dirt-poor desert country with the world’s fourth largest output of uranium, which supplies France’s crucial network of nuclear-power stations. East of Algeria is Libya, where a number of Western companies exploit some of Africa’s biggest oil reserves.”

US imperialism and the European powers that formerly colonized Africa are determined to lay hold of these resources. Having been supplanted by China as Africa’s single largest trading partner, US & EU powers are turning to military intervention as a means of offsetting economic decline. This is what they do to win hearts and minds, they kill bodies.

Who will tackle the lies, reveal the full truth - the media?

quietoaktree said...

" The manuscripts are in total security.”

--that by itself just saved my day.

What has been ruining the previous days is the realization that London (or UK) appears to be a hot-bed of not only Moslem extremism but also of Jewish ( West Bank settlers?)

The recently reported ´Easyjet´ highjack by ultra Orthodox and Orthodox worshippers suggests a non-acceptance and respect of secularism.

´The Middle East conflict at 35,000 feet

--a ´neutral´solution implies Jewish, Moslem, secular, Protestant and Catholic flights as a minimum for carriers --if separation barriers cannot be built on planes. ( who complained about in-flight smoking ?)

-and while ´practice makes perfect´-- this turns up.

´Israel gave birth control to Ethiopian Jews without their consent.

---------- (use/misuse in USA)

"*1967-1978: The largest test on humans of Depo-Provera begins and is conducted for eleven years through the Grady Clinic in Atlanta, GA on 14,000 women. 50% of the subjects in this experiment were Black, low-income, and rural women. The trials were conducted on many of these women without their knowledge or consent, violating FDA regulations. They were also not told that there were side effects associated with Depo. "


With International Foreign Polices ever more being dictated to by ´Nut Cases´, I agree if anyone can be more than useful to keep the peace in Mali it is likely he who has the Taureg on their side --they must be listened to.

--and if a Glub Pasha appears on the scene --why not ?

-- We beggars are not choosers --as should have by now been learned.

Richard from London said...

I think we should keep well out of Mali. We have no particular interest in the area and any interventions we do make are likely to make things worse rather than better.

Our whole recent history is a classic example of how to make things worse, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya and Syria.

Sure, Gaddafi and Sadam Hussein have gone but at what cost and are things in those countries really much better? And Afghanistan?

I think you really have to leave these places to sort out their own futures as we did in the past.

It may not be very nice but nor was out Civil War, nor the US's.

quietoaktree said...

"We must demonstrate the same resolve and sense of purpose as previous generations have with the challenges that they faced."

--A rather ´rubbery´statement that most Brits by now are getting used to while living standards are falling.

After following France on Libya, Cameron is giving the impression of ´Sovereignty´-- But none of the EU members will forget that the UK blocked the formation of an EU headquarters to organize the fight against the pirates-- a dilution of UK ´Sovereignty´was the excuse.

With France already looking for an exit strategy from Mali and the (some troops) French Foreign Legion rather depressed at not even having fired a shot, the ´damp squid´is only drying in the desert sun ?

-- And the UK can send its Gurkhas --anywhere Cameron wants --and cheaper.

quietoaktree said...


`Mali Tuaregs seize two Islamist leaders fleeing French strikes

"The Tuareg group (MNLA) says it is willing to help the French-led mission by hunting down Islamists. It has offered to hold peace talks with the government in a bid to heal wounds between Mali's restive Saharan north and the black African-dominated south."