Why the U.S. won’t intervene in Mali

Al Qaida–affiliated groups are sowing mayhem all over Africa.

“Al Qaida is back—big time,” said Janet Daley in The Telegraph (U.K.), but the U.S. can’t be bothered to fight it. Al Qaida–affiliated groups are sowing mayhem all over Africa. In Egypt and Libya, they’re working to “exploit the instability created in the wake of pro-democratic uprisings.” Elsewhere, including in Nigeria, Somalia, and now Algeria and Mali, they have actually taken up arms, hoping to rout the governments and ultimately set up Islamist states. Mali, where Islamists have taken over the north and destroyed much of Timbuktu, is currently the front line of their offensive, yet the U.S. is content to let France, Mali’s former colonial ruler, handle the problem. Anyone who pleads that “this ought to be America’s moral business too” is met with “only one stony-faced reply: We killed Osama. We settled the score. We are no longer the world’s bodyguard.”

That’s bad news for Africa, and for the world, said Tim Montgomerie in The Times (U.K.). The U.S. is still the only country with sufficient military reach to police the globe. Nobody wants to return to the Bush era, of course, when “the world’s policeman was a little too like a trigger-happy character from a SWAT movie.” But this “lightly armed, all-smiles policeman of the Obama years” is not going to cut it. Syria, for example, has imploded while President Obama keeps his weapons holstered. In the Mali conflict, the U.S. has pledged only to help France refuel its planes—and at first it actually intended to charge its NATO ally for that piddling assistance.

Yet the U.S. does have good reason to be wary of Mali, said Leela Jacinto in France24.com. Over the past decade, Washington has poured $1 billion in development aid and military training into the country, in an attempt to counter the growing influence of the Islamists known as al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The results have been embarrassing. Some of those U.S.-trained troops deserted to join the Islamists, taking their American weapons with them. In March, the rest of them, under Capt. Amadou Sanogo, ousted the Malian government in a coup. Shortly afterward, “the entire north—a region the size of France—fell into Islamist hands as the army simply melted away.”

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

The U.S. didn’t even want France to go into Mali, said Lorraine Millot in Libération (France). The Americans “were pleading for a much more Africa-centric approach.” After the French ignored that plea and marched in, the Americans felt snubbed—which may explain their unhelpfulness. According to one analyst, the American attitude is, “if you launch yourself into a conflict all alone, you have to deal with it, rather than wait for others to come running to your aid.” Africanizing the conflict is, in fact, the wiser strategy, said Raouf Seddik in La Presse (Tunisia). The “front-line victims of armed Islamism” must be helped to develop their own defense capability. The struggle shouldn’t “evoke the return of colonialism” but rather “the uprising of a people rebelling against those who terrorize in the name of religion.” Africa should be “not invaded, but assisted.”

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.