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?