France in Mali: a military success and a strategic dead end
Usually I am a great fan of O. Kempf, the author of Egea, the must among the blogs dedicated to strategic studies, at least in French language. However, some days ago I was surprised by one of his articles, titled: "Mali, les permanences géopolitiques s'imposent...", that could be translated as: Mali, the standing geopolitical rules still prevail...".
What does then O. Kempf deal with?
Obviously upset by the absence of most of the European allies, or their scarce support, admiring the commitment of some African countries, the US and British support, O. Kempf stands by his country, which is indeed a rightful and admirable expression of national pride, but might, in some cases blur the quality of analysis. I would even believe that O. Kempf is not cynical enough. Indeed being honest and being impregnated of Christian values is a great advantage as for human behavior refers. Nevertheless, it does not fit that much with foreign policy, except may be the French one, which still finds a large part of its legitimacy in the struggle against barbary.
All right. Why should we then criticize a bold decision which has stopped hordes of cruel and fanatic Islamists?
France should not forget how it lately behaved with its allies: unilaterally, it decided to withdraw from Afghanistan, while its allies, among them the Germans and many others, still conduct full scale operations, involving fighters, combat and transport aircraft, tanks, and so on and so forth. Just think about a friend of yours, with whom you have been committed in a joint-venture for many years. All of a sudden, he decides to withdraw and leaves you alone fighting to keep the business alive. While you are still involved in a hell of a fight, this very friend comes back smiling, and tells you that he has launched a new business, which is not running so well. And he would urgently need your support, your massive support. How would you react? Usually, the answer sounds like 'F.... off', unless you may guess an objective and strong interest in going into this business. I mean that despite the selfish behavior of your friend, the expected pay-offs would deserve forgiveness.
Then, what are the payoffs in the case of Mali? The expressed French strategic goals seem to be eradication of terrorism in Sahel, promotion of the rule of law and development of the economy in a country torn by civil war, twice the size of France and among the poorest in the world. I guess that some US president already said something like this some ten years ago... However the US war effort in Iraq and in Afghanistan reached a much larger result with an efficiency still being a subject of controversy.
Furthermore, France strangled by its debts could possibly meet some problems to finance both a major military operation on the long run and the stabilization of Mali. Even more doubtful are the concepts (even if the noblest) of war on terrorism and promotion of rule of law in Sahel with is several million square kilometers wide and covers more than the half of Western Africa.
My perception is rather that France felt as a historic duty to protect Bamako, the capital, from the islamists on their way to seize the whole country. As well, France may have feared a domino effect on the neighboring countries. However, despite the brilliant military success, several questions remain:
-What next? In the follow up of the initial military success, who will take care of Mali? Nobody has been tasked yet, and nobody is rushing to Western Africa to support France, but Middle East monarchies which interests usually do not meet ours, at least regarding Islamism. Let us be incorrect and disgraceful: do you really believe that African Union or ECOWAS own the requested military, financial, and above all political capabilities to stabilize and rebuild a country?
-Who will finance? For how long and for what purpose? Can we even hope reach some consistent results within a reasonable timeframe? Middle East countries seem ready to give some support to this muslim country. Are we ready to open up Mali and Western Africa to Wahhabism?
-Has been the enemy so crashed that he will never come back? He rather seems to have vanished in the endless wilderness of Sahara.
Moreover the French Minister for Foreign Affairs has already claim that French withdrawal would start very soon, leaving the African alone, supported by the EU operation and, I suppose, some French troops. Therefore with a reduced footprint. Does it mean that we already renounce to exert the control over some of the areas of the country?
Let us talk about the EU training mission. Western countries have been training African armed forces for scores. What for? Do they own yet a relevant expeditionary capability (sending troops to another country for several months or years is expeditionary warfare).
Any training effort would need years before allowing African armies to be autonomous and strong enough to fight successfully flourishing armed group, financed by traffic of drug, cigarettes and human beings. Just have a look at all those South American countries victims of all the political and social diseases provoked by this curse that is narco-business. African countries will need years and years of military, political and financial backing to overwhelm current difficulties, in addition to their remarkable growth rate as mentioned by O. Kempf in another post.
To sum up, this is the difference between strategy and tactics. A tactical victory never leads to a strategic success. It only contributes.