Flogging Mali
Published on: January 15, 2013
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  • Pingback: The Lessons of Mali « The XX Committee()

  • Ha! And given all that willful ignorance and fecklessness at the high and even mid-levels of the American government, can anyone blame the Israeli government for the horse laughs they no doubt let loose at the report that Obama is saying that “Israel doesn’t understand its own best interests”? (Which is not to say that the Bibi-settlement crowd really ARE getting things right–I hold no brief for them and their blood-soil-God-and-guns mishegaas–but how dare this president, or any American president, display such arrogance?)

  • Beauceron

    Well, that was certainly a refreshing read. Thank you.

    One thing I keep wondering about that most journalists are not bringing up: how do the French think they, with 2,500 troops, and ECOWAS, with an additional 3,000, are ever going to control a land area the size of Texas? That strikes me as an absurd fantasy.

    • Adam Garfinkle

      Thank you–and you’re absolutely right.

  • gallan

    since afghanistan and iraq it’s been very clear u.s military leadership is incompetent, this is actually a long legacy stretching back to ww2, the u.s military is all brawns no brain.

  • Pave Low John

    A few comments on this growing debacle:

    1) Mali is roughly three times the size of Iraq or twice the size of Texas. In other words, it’s a big area, with not much in the way of roads or airfields (take a look at Google map and look at the international airport in Bamako. About the size of the airport in Asheville, NC, for comparison). Could you imagine controlling an area twice the size of Texas with under 3,000 troops? The French are probably using this to distract their population from their crappy domestic situation. Should be interesting to watch how the French press covers this mess.

    2) All U.S. SOF training was terminated once they had their coup last spring. I know this because my old unit, the 6th SOS, had another trip scheduled for Mali but canxed it thanks to President Foure getting pushed aside by the army. So even if USSOCOM was having a positive impact, that was almost a year ago. Once about 8 months passes without any refresher training, you can kiss goodbye to any improvements you might have made in a host nation force.

    3) Didn’t the “mainstream” press laugh at Mitt Romney for mentioning Mali during one of the presidential debates? Who’s laughing now? The American press might, by any measurement, be the worst performing segment of U.S. society. Yeah, they’re worse than the post office and Congress. Personally, I think Mitt was relieved that he doesn’t have to clean up the mess that the next four years is going to represent. Screw the American voting public, they wanted four more years of Obama, they deserve exactly what they’re going to get.

    4) Yes, the U.S. military is full of morons, from top to bottom. But why would you expect anything else? You chase away all the real soldiers with a bunch of useless social engineering and mickey mouse bullshit (mandatory briefings for diversity and homosexual relations? sure, why not, it’s not like we have a war going on or anything….) Once the quality warfighters are gone, you’re left with the idiots who know they’ll never have a better job on the outside or the martinets who enjoy mistreating their subordinates. Either way, the U.S. military is in decline. Just read the articles in Stars and Stripes or any military newspaper. Nothing but sexual scandals, suicides and commanders getting relieved.

    Thank god I retired last June, at least I was in when we still had a world-class fighting organization….

  • J Heath

    “the Tuareg founded a vast empire long before the advent of European colonialism, and that their capital was then, as it is again now, Timbuktu”

    There was never a Tuareg empire based at Timbuktu. Timbuktu was originally an important stop on the Arab caravan routes and a center of Arab learning. The only empire in the area was a Songhay empire (of sorts) in the late middle ages, with its capital in Gao. The Songhay are an 80% majority in Timbuktu, Gao, and all the other large towns near the Niger River, i.e. all of the population centers currently under rebel control except Kidal and Menaka. They are ethnically and linguistically unrelated to the Tuaregs and Arabs. Most Songhay do not support the rebels and they will likely engage in score-settling and perhaps ethnic cleansing when these cities and towns are liberated.

    The US military policy of engaging and training a few Tuareg/Arab officers of the Malian army worked OK (not great, but not disastrously) until the fall of Gaddafi, which could not have been foreseen. Once the rebellion began, led by Tuaregs returning from Libya, the Tuaregs and Arabs who had been incorporated into the Malian army, police force, etc., had no choice but to flee (as refugees) or desert. Those who remained loyal were eliminated by other Malian soldiers.

    • Adam Garfinkle

      Not so. Tuareg founded the city in the 11th century, and by the 12th and into the 13th centuries it thrived via the gold, ivory and spice trade. Great libraries and scholarship thrived. I used the term empire perhaps loosely, but the Tuareg were in charge–and that’s an empire as far as I’m concerned for those times. The Songhay Empire came later, 15th and 16th centuries. Any standard history says as much. So my statement is correct.

  • “Drive-by” is about right when it comes to US journalism these days. And to think: the rest of the media slavishly follows the lazy ignoramuses at the Times.

    The French need something on the order of at least 10-20,000 ground troops to stop what’s happening in Mali. They don’t have it, nor will they get it.

  • K2K

    When will the African Union finally drop their insistence on maintaining colonial borders? Seems so archaic when the civil wars never seem to end, and yet they never stop complaining about the evils of that same colonialism.

    Do not the Tuaregs and Berbers merit self-determination? Of course they do. Somaliland should have gained UN member state status by now, yet the AU refuses to allow secession from the failed state of Somalia!

    The US used to publish Army Area Manuals (AAM), which were quite good as briefings on a nation’s history, culture, geography, etc.

    Maybe the USA should outsource counter-terror training to Algeria.

    Sorry for the randomness. Just so happy that no one is (yet) blaming Mossad for the fall of Timbuktu.

    btw, the ethno-religious map of Iran is far more fascinating: a Persian minority surrounded by non-Persians, several with non-violent aspirations to self-determination, including Kurds, Azeris, and Baluchis:

  • The Twisted One

    Dr. Garfinkle,

    You point out that “Mali is an extreme example of a modern state cobbled together from various ethnic and religious groups.” Further, K2K in comment #8 argues for reorganizing the borders to carve out homogeneous ethnostates.

    Now, I may be wrong here, but I thought that diversity was strength (multiculturalism, and all that); and that separating people on racial, ethnic, and religious lines is bad, and that borders need opened and immigration restrictions loosened to make countries less homogeneous. So why are you arguing against diversity and multiculturalism here?

    • Adam Garfinkle

      Yes, you are wrong, or twisted, depending on how you define multiculturalism. I am not arguing against diversity or multiculturalism as a general proposition, but general propositions are useless in situations like this. Multiculturalism and diversity are great in the context of liberal institutions, but when there are no such institutions one often ends in hierarchical domination, violence, protracted civil strife, even mass murder. Remember Rwanda, Darfur, Halabja, and I could go on? As a practical matter, are you going to put Mali back together so it can be diverse and multicultural? At what cost, and to whom? General feel-good abstractions are really quite pointless when you get down to cases. So your remark is not so much wrong, I suppose, as irrelevant.

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  • Michael

    Currently there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm in Southern Mali (or, in other words, Black Mali) about the French, and the French intervention, and rightly so.

    I wonder what will happen, however, when the French will NOT reconquer for the Black Malians the entire state territory. As several commenters pointed out, this is almost impossible under the current political and financial constraints.

    I have a sense that the massive outpouring of goodwill toward the French, and by extension the West as a whole, in southern Mali might then turn into massive disappointment, a sense of betrayal even. What is currently a sentiment of cultural rapprochement between Black West Africans and the West (as represented by the French) against them crazy Arabs or semi-Arabs / Berbers could then turn around because not all the Christmas gifts hoped for by the Black Malians were delivered.

    In the long run, there indeed must be an Azawad, be it as a de facto independent region inside a legal Malian shell, or as a real new state.

    The breakup of African states cannot but continue. What began in East Africa (think Eritrea, South Sudan, Somaliland) must and will, over decades, continue in other regions of the continent. The Congo obviously is a hot candidate. And in the Sahel the Darfur saga may not have come to its end once and for all.

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  • Thanks for a quite refreshing perspective – a great change from the plithora of both media and blog reportings. Having worked in – and on the area, here are 2 blogs recently posted focusing on the history and another coming up.
    As in most complex situations, knowledge of the history is a critical dimension and, as you note, sadly lacking in recent reportings.



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