Remember when the United States used to be “the world’s policeman”? We don’t do that anymore, for some arguably good reasons. But the USA used to be the go-to world power, the defender of freedom, a force to counter tyranny and social disorder. But we’ve declined from that role. The world’s policeman is now France. And the European Union in general. And not just in Mali. Europe is doing what the United States used to do.
From foreign affairs columnist Anne Applebaum:
“A decade of war is now ending,” President Obama declared Monday. Maybe that’s true in America, but it isn’t true anywhere else. Extremists are still plotting acts of terror. Authoritarian and autocratic regimes are still using violence to preserve their power. The United States can step back from international conflicts, but that won’t make them disappear.
Fortunately, there is another power that shares our economic and political values, that possesses sophisticated military technology and is also very interested in stopping the progress of fanatical movements, especially in North Africa and the Middle East. That power is Europe.
Don’t laugh! I realize that even a year ago, that statement would have seemed absurd. I certainly couldn’t have written it in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 Libya operation, during which France, Britain and a dozen other nations were barely able to sustain a brief war, involving no ground troops, against a poorly armed and unpopular regime. Unverified reports at the time alleged that the French ran out of bombs and were dropping lumps of concrete. Without the intelligence and coordination provided by American warships and airplanes and the CIA, the French planes wouldn’t even have known where to drop them.
Yet here we are in 2013, watching the French air force and troops come to the aid of the formerly democratic government of Mali, which is fighting for its life against a fanatical Islamist insurgency. Furthermore, this French intervention has (so far) broad national support. Although there have been public criticisms of the operation’s logistics, preparation and ultimate goals, almost no one in France questions the need for intervention. Hardly anyone is even asking “Why France?”
The French have a special, post-colonial sentiment for Francophone Africa (and, according to a French friend, for Malian music) and have intervened there militarily more than 40 times since 1960. But the context of this intervention is different from many previous ones. The aim is not (or not entirely) to prop up a pro-French puppet regime but to block the progress of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the brutal organization that fuels the Malian insurgency and took hostages at an Algerian gas complex last week.
In other words, the French are in Mali fighting an international terrorist organization with the potential to inflict damage across North Africa and perhaps beyond. Not long ago, this sort of international terrorist organization used to inspire emergency planning sessions at the Pentagon. Now the French have had trouble getting Washington to pay attention at all. Some U.S. transport planes recently helped ferry French soldiers to the region but, according to Le Figaro, the Americans at first asked the French to pay for the service — “a demand without precedent” — before wearily agreeing to help.
But other Europeans are offering money and soldiers.
Are you glad because these other countries are finally stepping up without always making America do it? Or are you sad at America losing its leadership position in the world?