Thursday, January 31, 2013

Is this why we are in Mali?

I spent a good part of yesterday at a conference on what can be done about Iran and, as ever, some of the more interesting discussions happened during lunch or coffee breaks. A conversation with a leading analyst of the international scene turned to Mali and our ridiculous involvement. He summed the situation up rather well:

"It seems that the policy is to become involved in a third country only if we have absolutely no economic or defence interest in doing so. Anything else appears dirty to this government."

This, I presume, is what they mean by ethical foreign policy: never look to your own interests. Of course, first we might have to sort out what those interests are and that would involve strategic thinking and some notion of what our foreign policy is or ought to be.

France, one may add, does not share that attitude, no matter how much they harrump about American imperialism. Any French government over the years would consider that former French colonies (even if they were that for a short period only) remain in the French sphere of interest and, therefore, French bombs (well, American bombs all too often) can fall on them and French troops of various description can invade them. It might be for reasons of human rights or to salvage priceless manuscripts in Timbuktu or it may be simply because the situation is messy enough for people to ignore French involvement as is the case in Côte d’Ivoire.


  1. Or it could be that the French see the chance of actually winning a battle. I do not know but I would not be surprised if the ground troops are not French at all but French foreign legionnaires.

  2. Could be. But if the Cote d'Ivoire experience is anything to go by, winning is not really the important part of it all. Why the British are there is a more important question.

  3. "Why the British are there is a more important question."

    We're there in order to put another couple of bricks into the wall of EU defense cooperation and a single EU foreign policy. Any opportunity to get us used to the idea of our military fighting alongside the French rather than the US. But I suspect you knew that...

  4. Well I don't believe it's in anyone's interest to see the creeping Islamisation of North Africa. That way leads to thousands of boat people crossing the Mediterranean, and inevitably many of them will end up in this country. Amongst them will be people determined to destroy us. We have enough of those already (insert your Tory party jokes here). The Malians themselves seem to be glad we're there, which is more than can be said for the populations of Afghanistan and Iraq. So you can make a case for us being there I believe. What grates though is that this is obviously policy made on the hoof, with no strategic thought put behind it, and is arguably the result of earlier knee jack support of rebels in earlier conflicts in the region.

    You might also enjoy this article on how drug prohibition is contributing to the mess in this part of the World.

    P.S. While I'm on one, nice to see the French needed our C-17s to get there. Lucky they didn't have to wait for that great European triumph that is the A-400M

  5. The Iraqis and Afghanistani were pleased to see us at first as well. Not sure that means anything. My problem is not with fighting the Islamicists but with the "something must be done" way of doing policy. Or on the hoof, as you say. The French consider Mali to be in their sphere of influence and they are worried about their supply of uranium. So they go in, without the slightest attention being paid to the UN. So far so good. But they can't do it by themselves so they drag others, namely Britain and American in. Then what? Do we have an exit plan? Do we have the slightest idea what we want to achieve there? Do we even get anything out of it, setting aside the endless chatter about boat people?