France starts its own Iraq

Back when the U.S.A. invaded Iraq, the French refused to join the “coalition of the willing” and opposed our efforts, leading to Americans making fun of French military prowess and making anti-French gestures such as re-labeling a favorite food indulgence as “freedom fries.”  But now the French–not us–have embarked on a military invasion of a Muslim country, the West African nation of Mali (a former French colony)  in order to quell al Qaeda terrorism and the establishment of an Islamist state.  Not only that, this is the work of the left-wing socialist government of President Francois Hollande, who is as far from a George W. Bush figure as one could imagine.  Evidently, the war on terrorism and fighting back against Islamic jihad is not necessarily a right/left, conservative/liberal issue.

From the L.A. Times:

France boosted its troops in Mali on Tuesday as armored vehicles arrived in the capital, Bamako, as part of a planned 2,500-strong deployment to battle Al Qaeda-linked militants.

France now has about 750 troops in Mali, said President Francois Hollande, who outlined plans to more than triple the French force to help destroy Al Qaeda-linked groups in northern Mali and restore the West African nation’s territorial integrity and political stability.

“We have one goal,” Hollande said at a news conference in the United Arab Emirates. “To ensure that when we leave, when we end our intervention, Mali is safe, has legitimate authorities, an electoral process and there are no more terrorists threatening its territory.”

France, the former colonial power in Mali and other parts of West Africa, fears that Al Qaeda has been building a haven from which to unleash devastating terrorist strikes on Europe, particularly the French.

via France boosts military presence in Mali –

UPDATE:  The United States is considering helping out, not with troops but with transport, refueling planes, and intelligence.

The Mali insurgents trying to take over the country are a particularly nasty and barbaric group of Islamists.  From the Washington Post:

SEGOU, Mali — On a sweltering afternoon, Islamist police officers dragged Fatima Al Hassan out of her house in the fabled city of Timbuktu. They beat her up, shoved her into a white pickup truck and drove her to their headquarters. She was locked up in a jail as she awaited her sentence: 100 lashes with an electrical cord.

“Why are you doing this?” she recalled asking.

Hassan was being punished for giving water to a male visitor.

… [R]efugees say the Islamists are raping and forcibly marrying women, and recruiting children for armed conflict. Social interaction deemed an affront to their interpretation of Islam is zealously punished through Islamic courts and a police force that has become more systematic and inflexible, human rights activists and local officials say.

We already blogged about how the Islamists  in Mali have banned music, forcing some of the best musicians in Africa to flee.  See the post “In a struggle against all the musicians of the world.”

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  • tODD

    There does seem to be one key difference between France’s military action and our erstwhile (?) adventure in Iraq:

    France launched airstrikes Friday and sent in special forces to support Mali’s ill-equipped and poorly trained army, after a request for help from Malian authorities battling rebel advances.

  • tODD

    Also, this is not exactly a similar reason to why we invaded Iraq:

    [Hollande] said the French operation would secure the capital, where thousands of French citizens reside…

    Finally, I find it interesting that you frame this as solely a religious thing. Are you not aware of the tribalism underlying the Tuareg rebellion? It’s a not-insignificant part of this story — which, yes, also includes Islamism. But the Islamist party here, Ansar Dine, does not share the same goals as the Tuaregs (who mainly want independence of the Azawad region from Mali). Indeed, the two had announced a pact, but (according to some) later withdrew from it, and, indeed, Ansar Dine later rejected the notion of Azawad independence.

    I just think it’s interesting how Americans especially tend to see things in that part of the world solely in terms of religion. Maybe we just don’t get tribalism?

  • SKPeterson

    Only Christians are tribalists tODD. Besides do you really want to read an essay on Tuareg approaches to Islam?

  • Kirk

    The French also got UN approval for the intervention before starting a major offensive. That seems to be the big difference between The Iraq War and the Mali War.

  • The French were doing similar things in West Africa even as they were trying to get us not to invade the country of Iraq with whom they had been dealing under the table for the better part of a decade despite UN resolutions to the contrary.
    I don’t know that I particularly care if they invade former colonies, or send troops to help out ill equipped countries. But that is more or less how Vietnam started so there is reason to be a bit leery.

  • Joe

    Krik (@ 8:51am) Oh well if the UN says its okay then it must be good right and salutary.

  • SKPeterson

    The French effort also seems to be a holding operation until some of the ECOWAS governments from the neighboring countries can get their forces into Mali. Sort of like how we have encouraged Syria, Iran and Kuwait to help in Iraq.

  • Kirk

    Not necessarily, but at least France gets to maintain its diplomatic standing among its allies.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    This is more akin to Afghanistan than to Iraq. Iraq was an ill-conceived venture, based on faulty intelligence. Mali is clear-cut: These hooligans have been killing people, instituting oppressive laws, destroying priceless cultural heritage (like the Taliban in Afghanistan did too), with region-destabilizing potential.

    Remember too, the French where the main leaders against Qaddafi too. Plus, the French have a very long history of this kind of action in their former colonies.

  • The French have an army that can fight?

  • SKPeterson

    There’s also the whole blowback concept from misguided policy ventures (but that couldn’t possible be, could it?) Remember our Arab Spring conversations?

  • SKPeterson

    Daily dose of humor.

    The link I provided above is rather interesting. For some even more interesting post-post commentary, I refer you to the comments on this post here: .

    I happen to be one of the more skeptical science types who thinks the solar interaction angle is quite compelling. However, the comments after the post make even Carl V. appear to be a paragon of understatement and quiet thoughtfulness.

  • Cincinnatus

    Well, it looks like everything that needed to be said has been said by tODD, SKP, KK, and others. And don’t forget: just because France refused to participate in one invasion doesn’t mean that the French people/nation/government are a bunch of lily-livered, weak-kneed, pacifist pansies as they were commonly characterized in American populist media.

    On the other hand, France and its repeated historical crusades should remind us that the United States has never been the only nation afflicted by narratives (or delusions?) of exceptionalist grandeur and historical “mission.” Remember who preceded us in Vietnam, after all, and who precipitated the recent conflict in Libya.

  • J. Dean,
    France has a Foreign Legion, and they can fight. At least, they are able to fight ill equipped and trained tribal militias in former colonies.

  • DonS

    There is absolutely no reason for the U.S. to be involved in this. Let the French fight their own battles, for once.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Otherwise known as the nightmare of conventional armies. Meddling in African conflicts, especially in a Third World setting, is perilous for any major power. Historically, the Brits, French and SA’cans were somewhat successful. But it ain’t no walk in the park. There is an old saying that Africa ain’t for sissies.

  • tODD

    Bror (@12:35 pm), according to the many citations in the article SK linked to (@10:36 am), the Malian rebels aren’t really “ill equipped”. That’s kind of the problem.

    Also, people who bash France’s military strike me as ignorant of history. Usually including that of their own country.

  • Joe

    tODD (@ 1:30) but how long can France trade on its past? Sure, Charlemagne was the man. And, their navy was critical to our ultimate victory in the Revolutionary War, but in modern times they have not displayed much by way of military prowess. 🙂

    Kirk (@9:46) except those allies who disagree with France or the UN giving France the go ahead? Right? I mean you don’t actually think anyone really cares what the UN says, do you? The UN is useful when it agrees with your predetermined course of conduct and it is to be ignored when it doesn’t. That is way it has been and always will be.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 1:30 — I understand that America received some help from the French in the Revolutionary War. And you could argue that we got indirect assistance from the French during the War of 1812, because the British were tied down fighting in the Napoleonic wars at the same time. But I think the U.S. has more than repaid that debt since, and it is certainly the case that our military and treasure enabled the disarmament of western Europe during the Cold War. It is now past time for us to let Europe fight its own battles — we didn’t belong in Libya and we don’t belong in Mali. Our military efforts, particularly given the weakening of the U.S. military under Obama, should be confined to defending U.S. interests.

  • SKPeterson

    DonS – I think one of the takeaways from Todd’s comment is that France is not some version of “Mali: When cheese eating surrender monkeys attack!” but rather recognition that France already has a fairly capable military and can take care of itself and reap their own blowback benefits. Which is precisely to your point.

  • Bror,
    Several years ago I did a bit of research on Cinco de Mayo, and I found out that the French Foreign Legion was involved in that conflict. Interesting tidbit: from what was gathered, it appears they were essentially the elite of the 19th century; nobody had beaten them for fifty years prior to CdM.

  • Cincinnatus

    To be fair, tODD, the French military has an almost unblemished record of failure in the past century: Algeria, Indochina, Libya, Tunisia, not to mention both world wars (I refuse to consider WWI a success for anyone)–and now maybe Mali? Which also goes to show that the French are plenty bellicose.

    And while, as I said above, I agree that this situation isn’t immediately analogous to the American quagmire in Iraq, France has always been bitten by the nation-building bug. Recall that America did not invent the agenda of liberty, equality, and fraternity for all. Mali could very well become the French Iraq if it decides a regime change is necessary.

  • tODD

    Cincinnatus (@6:48 pm), if you insist on using the Reply button, odds are pretty good your reply will be missed by me. It’s annoying to have to scroll back through all the comments to see that you’ve appended one to mine.

    Anyhow, I find it a little odd that you’ve already chalked up Mali in the Recent Losses for France category, yet you don’t seem to have taken notice of France’s role in Libya in 2011.

    But this statement of yours doesn’t make sense:

    Mali could very well become the French Iraq if it decides a regime change is necessary.

    “Regime change”? They’re opposing a rebel force (or forces) that are either attempting to gain independence for the northern half of the state, or to overthrow the current national government and replace it with a theocracy.

    This isn’t Iraq, Libya, Egypt, etc. The closest recent analogy here would be our war in Afghanistan.

  • Tom Hering

    Yes, the Reply button is proving to be a real pain in the ass – requiring us to search up and down, every time in every thread, to see the latest comments. Dump it already, Dr. Veith!

  • Gene Veith

    The notion that the French lack military prowess is disproven by one rather major example: Napoleon Bonaparte! He defeated virtually everyone and conquered pretty much all of continental Europe. Yes, he had his Russian winter and his Waterloo and was sent into exile (twice), but the guy was a military genius and his armies were among the most formidable ever.

  • Gene Veith

    Tom, I don’t know how! But we’re investigating.

  • Tom Hering

    Yay, Dr. Veith (@ 7:39 pm)! But I’m a little surprised the tech folks at Patheos can’t quickly change the format of new threads, starting tomorrow or the day after. They’ve obviously provided a variety of formats for a number of other blogs on their site.

  • kerner

    The French have the Foreign Legion. A romanticized, but real mercenary force, that fights its battles abroad.

  • kerner

    Can we agree on one thhing at least. The French did not oppose our invasion of Iraq on any principled grounds. They opposed it because they were making a lot of money selling there products, including arms, to Saddam Hussein

    They are invading Mali now to “protect French citizens”, but that really means “protect French business interests”, because making money is the only reason there are any French citizens in Mali. Iit is the very same reason the French have any interest in any of their former colonies. They may not have their colonial empire anymore, but they still have their economic interests out in the former colonies that support their socialist system at home.

    And I see that my use of the reply button caused me to not notice that Bror had already cited the existence of the French Foreign Legion. My bad. Get rid of it Dr. Veith. Save us from ourselves!