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AQ Sypathizers Proclaim Islamic Republic in Northern Mali

The fallout from the Libya mission continues; today the BBC announced that the two rebel groups who took over Mali last month have agreed to unify their territories and form an Islamic state. The agreement united an ethnically based resistance group with an al-Qaeda linked jihadi group; for the moment, official Mali government forces are incapable of resisting the establishment of a state in land from which its armed forces have been expelled.

300,000 refugees are reported to have fled the territory of the new “Islamic Republic of Azawad”.

The government in Bamako, Mali’s capital, seems paralyzed. A coup overthrew the elected president; the coup-makers were forced to step back, but the civilian president was then beaten to a pulp by ‘demonstrators’ sympathetic to the coup and is recuperating in a hospital in France.

Before the coup, Mali had been hailed by the development groupies as a rare but encouraging example of an emerging African democracy. If “emerging” is a synomym for weak, unstable and inept, they were clearly right. The latest round of trouble began when hundreds of fighters who supported Gaddafi during the NATO campaign to oust him fled the fall of his regime and brought their weapons with them. These fighters were able to reignite a long running insurgency and in very rapid order the Malian army was chased out of its northern strongholds.

The coup in Mali proper came when the army, furious at what it saw as lack of civilian competence or support in the war in the north, overthrew the government. Now as diplomats bicker and the other West African countries refuse to recognize the military, the central government is largely inert as the rebel groups consolidate power in the north.

Northern Mali itself is of limited strategic interest to anyone in the United States, but the prospect of a large swathe of territory under the control of fighters aligned with Al-Qaeda is a different story. This is not a situation we can indefinitely ignore.

There are two important lessons here. The first is that many of the ‘African success stories’ that the media and the development world celebrate so industriously are much more fragile than their supporters would like. The line between success and failure in some parts of the world is thin. It took very little for Mali to transform from promising example for the region into a basket case of refugees, civil war and government paralysis. Some of the other ‘successes’ are equally fragile.

The second lesson is that interventions like the one in Libya rarely end on the happy note of democracy defended and order restored. By the time the killing is over in Mali, and by the time the refugees have either gone home or made new lives for themselves where they are, it’s likely that far more people will have died than would have died in the Libyan ‘bloodbath’ the NATO war was intended to prevent.

That doesn’t mean we don’t sometime have to do things like the Libyan war, but it does mean that the humanitarian case for intervention is usually much, much weaker than its partisans are willing to admit. It is not at all clear that the NATO war in Libya was, on balance, a step forward for security, democracy and human rights.

NATO’s Wilsonian war in Libya helped create hundreds of thousands of refugees, destroyed what Africa experts called one of the more promising young democracies on the continent, brought jihadi fanatics into power and sparked what is likely to be a bloody civil war.

I am glad Gaddafi is gone, but how, exactly, was the war in Libya a humanitarian win?




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  • rkka

    “I am glad Gaddafi is gone,”

    Why? Does anyone else look better at running Libya?

    “but how, exactly, was the war in Libya a humanitarian win?”

    It wasn’t. Torture and killing are now more prevalent than they were while Gaddafi was running the place.

    And I expect the same would have turned out to be true if Russia and China hadn’t stopped the West and the Sunni gulf kingdoms getting their way over Syria this past spring.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “The second lesson is that interventions like the one in Libya rarely end on the happy note of democracy defended and order restored.”

    “Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.” Edmund Burke

    Even a culture’s failed attempt to support Democracy is a learning experience for a culture. 1. Capitalism, 2. Democracy, and 3. The Rule of Law can’t stand without local cultural support. The backward cultures of the world have a long way to go before they can support the three pillars of Western Culture.

    “Cultures evolve at glacial speeds” Jacksonian Libertarian

    We regularly see cultures which cannot yet support Democracy, sliding back into Tyranny. Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, etc… have all slipped back or are slipping back into Authoritarian rule because of this.

    Cultural evolution can be accelerated by exposure to a superior culture, but cultural evolution is still glacially slow. That said, I believe that over the next generation even the most backward cultures will evolve to the point where supporting the three pillars of western culture becomes viable. Every culture is now being exposed to the superior western culture and they have been so exposed for a generation. By the time 2 generations have been exposed to the superior western culture, local culture will have evolved enough to support the tree pillars.

    We have the example of immigrants’ assimilation into a national culture by which to gage a time line for cultural evolution; the difference being the difference between exposure and immersion.

  • Foobarista

    I first read this as “Ah-Q” sympathizers. Somehow seems appropriate to Al Qaeda if you’ve ever read the story, as it’s about a guy who always loses but convinces himself he’s winning:

  • Maid Abusing Socialist

    US air support over Libya: ~$600 million/week;

    Bombs dropped on loyalist forces: ~$25 million;

    Democracy promotion, post-Gaddafi Libya: ~$8 million;

    Gadaffi’s public death, begging for mercy with a jagged pipe rammed up his a**: Priceless.

  • John Burke

    My only thought is, where is the French army?

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