The ‘War on Terror’ Comes to Mali

Mali, where Islamists have claimed control of the remote north, is the latest front in the so-called “global war on terrorism,” partly a spillover of conflicts in northern Africa. But should the U.S. get involved, asks the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland.

By Ivan Eland

The United States is meddling in another internal civil war to prevent a “terrorist haven” from developing. This time it’s not in Somalia or Yemen but instead in the West African country of Mali.

The United States and France are concerned that Islamists have taken over northern Mali, and the two countries are heavily leaning on Abdelaziz Bouteflika, president of the neighboring regional power Algeria, to support an international invasion of Mali.

Mali, in red. (Graphic credit: Vardion)

The American and French implication is that, if left unmolested, the Islamists in control of this territory will create a base for international Islamist terrorist operations. They back an invasion because they believe the government of Mali is incapable of retaking its own territory.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently met with and tried to browbeat a reluctant President Bouteflika, who believes such an invasion would create more problems than it would solve. The U.S. superpower, with many carrots and sticks, can probably eventually “persuade” Bouteflika to get on board. Such a proxy invasion of Mali would fit with a recent pattern used by the United States, a nation with a domestic population, after direct interventions of Afghanistan and Iraq, which is fatigued with war.

Instead, in Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, the United States has supported proxy armies. In Libya and Yemen, the U.S. has supported indigenous forces from the air. In Somalia, it has supported a nominal government from the air and also recruited Ethiopia and Kenya to invade and fight the al-Shabab Islamist fighters. In Mali, any invasion would probably mirror that in Somalia by the recruitment of regional powers to do the dirty work.

As it did in Afghanistan and Iraq, however, the U.S. often bulls ahead without listening to those who know best, people who actually live in the particular region involved. Bouteflika’s reluctance should be a big red flag to U.S. pressure for proxy military action. Bouteflika’s country has experienced Islamist militancy firsthand, and the capture by Islamists of neighboring northern Mali should worry Algeria far more than it does the faraway United States.

But as during the Cold War, the U.S. superpower regularly worries more about regional threats to friendly countries than the countries do themselves. And as during the Cold War, the distant superpower fails to distinguish among potential adversaries. For much of the Cold War, until Richard Nixon recognized that the Chinese and Soviet Communists hated each other and that such divisions could be exploited, all Communists were regarded as alike.

Nowadays, the United States makes a similar error by regarding all Islamist radicals as fellow travelers with al-Qaeda. Yet most of the groups in Yemen, Somalia, and Mali are Islamists with mainly local concerns. Meddling in their business only creates more enemies of the U.S. Instead of dividing (and even cultivating) potential opponents, as Nixon did to U.S. advantage, indiscriminate American hostility usually drives locally oriented Islamists to support al-Qaeda.

Making further unnecessary enemies undoubtedly has entered Bouteflika’s mind and helps explain his reluctance to endorse an invasion of Mali. After all, Bouteflika has to live in the same neighborhood with these people.

Instead of being the usual “bull in a china shop,” the U.S. should learn from Bouteflika’s lack of enthusiasm. Why create more anti-U.S. terrorists in a part of the world that is hardly strategic to U.S. vital interests? France, with Mali being somewhat close to the Mediterranean, may have some interest in what happens there, but the distant U.S. should have much less.

If, in the worst case, somehow local Islamists in Mali allow anti-U.S. terror groups to train in any of their camps established there,at much risk to their own cause,the United States could easily take out such facilities with drone attacks or airstrikes in the open desert environment. But at a time of war weariness and budget and economic crises at home, the U.S. cannot afford to keep making new and unnecessary enemies by promoting an invasion of Mali.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland has spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His books include Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.

3 comments for “The ‘War on Terror’ Comes to Mali

  1. Igor Slamoff
    November 16, 2012 at 15:56

    Rehmat, you are a priceless source of disinfotainment, you lying Gangstapimp bastard!
    Get a load of this:
    I’ve been reading the Moroccan and French media and there can be no doubt not only that islamist scum demolished the revered marabout tombs in Tomboctou, but that the local Touareg are resisting the islamist invaders, their erstwhile allies, who drove in from Libya armed with the surplus weapons the stupid Americans left after they gave Muammar the bum’s rush. The Touareg don’t want any of you murderous fanatics around barking orders at them and feeling up their women folk.
    I think it would be a marvelous idea if the US provided weapons and training to the Touareg, so they can get you Islamist parasites off their backs!
    To be persuasive, liars must be simpatico, unlike you, a typical Mohammedan fanatic with all the subtlety of a bulldozer.
    I can just smell the Gangstapimp hatred oozing out of you like rotten pus.
    كيس أمك
    Igor Slamoff

  2. Vivek Jain
    November 14, 2012 at 14:34

    Phil Wilayto and Ana Edwards of the Virginia Defenders wrote this excellent analysis earlier this year of the situation in Mali:

    “U.S. Hands Off Mali! An Analysis of the Recent Events in the Republic of Mali”

  3. Hillay
    November 14, 2012 at 08:27

    ” Zionist-controlled mainstream media always sees “Islamists” and “Al-Qaeda” in every Muslim country whose people try to challenge Zionist occupied western governments (ZOGs).”

    Yes and these ““Islamists” and “Al-Qaeda” may well be “ours”.

    There are millions of displaced and rightfully angry Muslims everywhere.

    There are US,UK,French and Israeli “Agencies” trained to recruit and hoodwink these hopeless Muslims into unknowingly carrying out whatever “false flag”type exercise required.

    These “Agencies” will surely pose as Alkieda or CIA and the “destitute”not too clever Muslims will believe them.
    “Israeli agents posed as CIA to recruit terrorists”

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