|French Freedom Fighter|
Mali is just the latest epicenter for the argument over international humanitarian intervention. But it shouldn't be. Mali is not like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or Syria. In general, I support the theory of humanitarian intervention. I believe that wealthy, powerful nations have some responsibility to the rest of the world, and to sit idly by and watch thousands of innocent civilians be slaughtered by powerful military or para-military forces, as they did in Rwanda and Bosnia, is just as much a war crime as any prosecuted at Nuremburg. The key, however, must be a realistic assessment of the benefits and shortcomings of such an intervention. It is clear, for example, that military action against the regime in Syria would widen the conflict and result in more death and suffering, while making any post-conflict rapprochement more difficult.
Mali is different in a number of ways. By tradition, the Malian people are colorful and inclusive, a community of merchants, farmers and traders who love music, dancing and celebration. While 90% Muslim, Mali was not one of those dark grey nations of fundamentalist brutality and vicious misogyny. The population in the south, outside the harsh environment of the Sahara, is African, largely descended from slaves captured farther south. In the North, the population - about 10% of the country as a whole - is more Arab and Berber, with stronger historical ties to Egypt and Arabia than with Africa. So when the latest in a series of Tuareg separatist revolts was co-opted by Arab Jihadists, primarily funded by Wahabbi fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia, the Malian population had every reason to fear. And sure enough, the foreign occupiers imposed a savage interpretation of Shari'a Law, requiring beards and veils, banning music and dance, destroying ancient Sufi shrines and mutilating those it found to be criminals.
It's an interesting thing about fundamentalist religious law. It is always something that is desired by a minority, and must be imposed on the larger population. People very seldom want their leadership to control their lives at that level, and they aren't typically overjoyed to have such a stringent set of rules enforced in such a violent and uncompromising fashion. So the Malian government asked the world for help. And their former Colonial master, France, had fortunately maintained close economic and diplomatic ties to the government in Bamako.
So keep these distinctions in mind when you read about the conflict in Mali, and think about yet another Western intervention. First, the West isn't acting to topple the existing regime, they are defending it. Sure, the coup makes that somewhat problematic, but certainly not so much as an arbitrary decision to impose "regime change". Second, the government ASKED for help. This isn't an invasion, but welcome assistance to a government and a people who are not powerful enough to protect themselves and their way of life. And this isn't, no matter what they tell you, about "terrorists". Islamic fundamentalists, Jihadis and terrorists are all completely different things. But the foreigners are the ones who invaded Mali, with the intention of imposing an unwanted and primitive theocratic government, one that is the antithesis of democratic governance and human rights. And finally, for once, the US is not taking the lead. The French are perfectly capable of handling this intervention, are better suited to it culturally and linguistically, and they are the ones with all the history in the region. If they want airlift, intelligence or air tanker support from the US, I can't see why that would be a problem. The US should take the support role rather than the lead much more often, and this is a very good opportunity for America and the world to learn that lesson.
But most of all this is a clear-cut case of a weak nation in need of help, and the wealthy and powerful nations recognizing their obligation to provide that assistance. This time it's not about oil, not about terrorism, not even about American Exceptionalism - it's just an opportunity to defend the powerless against the powerful, and the world could use a little more of that these days.