There’s a new sheriff in town

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.

via Anne Applebaum: The E.U. fills a void – The Washington Post.

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?

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  • fjsteve

    Perhaps the United States is losing its leadership position in the world but I certainly don’t get that from this article. France seems the obvious choice, to me, for providing support in Mali considering much of the area was known as French Sudan for half of the last century. It’s not just about fighting an international enemy. It’s primarily about fighting on Malian soil in collaboration with the Malian government, political insiders, and tribal and religious leadership. What major world power has the most experience doing that?

  • SKPeterson

    The primary take away I get from this article is that the United States may (I doubt it though) finally be growing up and realizing that its primary foreign policy interest should not be maintaining the sanctity of the former British and French Empires which is what we have been attempting to do since about 1917.

    I also have to say that I’m somewhat appalled at the notion that we share “economic and political values” with the Europeans. Sure, cultural values are there, but economically and politically we have been distinct and emulating Europe is not something we should be cheering or supporting.

  • Cincinnatus

    When did the United States give up the role of world’s policeman? I must have missed that rather important and hoped-for resignation.

    No, I think the EU has long been envious of American hegemony and just wants to play too.

  • Here reading the tag line I was thinking the article might be about China. France? yeah France isn’t doing anything different than it has always done. It has intervened there forty times since 1960, remember? Libya is no different. And they are still relying on the U.S. Even if the U.S isn’t as eager to get involved.

  • MarkB

    Any interest that France and the EU have for this type of action will dwindle quickly, they do not have the money, the manpower nor the will to keep it up for very long. Along with that most of Europe is in the process of being Islamasized and that will soon present localized problems in France and any other country that dares to go against Islamic terror.

  • kerner

    France will “go against Islamic terror” for eactly as long as they think they can make (or save) money by doing so. France is defending the natural gas mines that French companies have built. Doing business is always easier in stable democracies, so I guess there is some incentive to want a stable democratic government in former French colonies. But I see no reason why the USA should be the “policeman” protecting French interests in Africa. Let them do that themselves.

  • DonS

    I don’t mind when we decline, for once, to put our troops and our resources in harm’s way to fight battles that don’t involve U.S. interests. We didn’t belong in Bosnia, and we didn’t belong in Libya. Europe should fight its own battles when they involve European interests, and Mali is a former French possession.

  • Cincinnatus


    Hear, hear.

    Perhaps we should establish a reverse Monroe Doctrine? America shouldn’t and won’t interfere in foreign affairs outside its geographical sphere of influence.

  • tODD

    DonS (@7) said:

    We didn’t belong in Bosnia, and we didn’t belong in Libya.

    Huh, that’s odd. You skipped a few wars there, Don. So it’s just the wars the Democrats start that get your hackles up?

  • tODD

    Also, there’s nothing I trust more than a journalist who explicitly relies on “unverified reports” that she can’t apparently bother to fact-check:

    Unverified reports at the time alleged that the French ran out of bombs and were dropping lumps of concrete.

    Let’s see, it took me, what, less than a minute to find this DefenseTech post that explains the use of concrete bombs.

    Anyhow, of course I’m sad that my children might not get to die in quite the wide array of wars that young adults today have had as options. I mean, sure, I love my children and all, but officially being the world’s policeman is pretty important to me, too.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 9: I mentioned the wars where I could discern absolutely no direct U.S. interest at stake.

  • kerner

    DonS @11:

    Which, we may have to admit, has been most of them. Most of our wars have been based on indirect U.S. interests, which made the alleged interest a lot more speculative.

  • DonS

    Kerner @ 12: Well, perhaps that’s true. It depends upon how U.S. interests are defined, of course. I’m not arguing for U.S. interests to be defined as narrowly as Cincinnatus proposes @ 8, but the two examples I cited were examples where no real effort was made to even begin to justify a U.S. interest of any real impact, as I recall. On the other hand, Afghanistan clearly involved a U.S. interest. Iraq was more iffy, but certainly was launched on the basis of a much more tangible and arguable U.S. interest than either Bosnia or Libya, particularly given the history between Saddam and the U.S. dating back to the Gulf War, Saddam’s flagrant violation of UN resolutions instituted at the behest of the U.S., and the believed stockpiling of WMD. I don’t want to re-hash Iraq, but suffice it to say that if you think that Bosnia and Libya were proper U.S. interventions, it’s really hard to argue that Iraq and Afghanistan were not.