Sixteen years after the late-Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States, we are being treated in Mali to a rare and explicit glimpse of how deep the arrogance and incompetence of Western leaders are when it comes to the religious war al-Qaeda and its allies are waging on the West.
The worldwide presence of al-Qaeda and other Islamist fighting groups have grown greatly since 2001 for three main reasons: (a) the enduring resonance of al-Qaeda’s message invoking the religious requirement to wage jihad to stop Western intervention in the Muslim world; (b) the West’s continuing intervention in the Muslim world; and (c) the now clear and complete mujaheidin victories over hapless U.S. and Western military forces in Iraq in Afghanistan. As an aside, it is worth asking whether there could be a more powerful galvanizing force toward jihad among today’s young Muslim males than to know that their fathers and brothers defeated the Soviet and U.S. superpowers?
One thing that has become apparent since bin Laden’s 2011 death is that — contrary to the predictions of U.S. and Western leaders and pundits — the momentum of the Islamist movement bin Laden helped give birth to more than 30 years ago has not slowed, let alone withered. There are far more Islamist fighters in the field, and in far more places in 2013, than there were in 20001. And they have been victorious everywhere: America defeated in Afghanistan and Iraq; dictators gone and Islamists in or near power in Yemen, Libya, and Egypt; mujahedin pressing Syria’s al-Asaad toward the abyss; a resurgent al-Qaeda-in-Iraq striking, with its allies, when and where it wants to across Iraq, often simultaneously in several cities on the same day; and a dozen Islamist fighting groups — including al-Qaeda-in-the Islamic-Mahgreb (AQIM) — expanding across North Africa and into the Sahel and West Africa. This situation is what President Obama often describes as the receding Islamist threat, although he usually terms the fighters who are defeating us at every turn a limited number of “Violent Extremists.”
With al-Qaeda and like-minded Islamist fighters on a roll in Africa and the Middle East — an aggressiveness mainly motivated by U.S. and Western interventionism in the Islamic world — the French come up with the same old answer to the Islamist problem: more Western intervention. In mid-January, French President Hollande took the world by surprise and announced that France will respond positively to a request for help from its “Malian bothers” and deploy troops and other military assets to clear northern Mali of the mujahedin. Thundering martial vigor as if Napoleon reborn, Hollande than announced that France may send as many as 2,500 troops to assist the singularly incompetent and corrupt Malian government and military win the inevitable victory over the evil Islamists.
2,500 troops. Really? Do you think that Mr. Hollande or anyone in Paris knows that Mali is twice the size of France? Or that Mali does not control its borders and so additional mujahedin will flow in to support the already multi-national, Mali-based Islamist forces from all points of the compass? And even if each French soldier is a superman, are French leaders arrogant enough think that 2,500 of their troops and 10,000 or so African troops of dubious quality can do in Mali what 100,000-plus U.S. and NATO troops failed to do in Afghanistan? And, finally, do they recall that France has not won a major battle when fighting alone in almost two centuries?
And what was the response of France’s Western allies to President Hollande’s ill-considered and neocolonial-in-appearance adventure? Were they wise enough to stay clear and not make France’s intervention anymore of a unifying force among Mali’s disparate Islamist groups than it is already? Nope, they checked their brains at the door, got in line, and said “me too.” The Americans, British, Danes, Canadians, Belgians, and the European Union immediately signed up to help the coming French-made Malian disaster, and deployed — at least — transport and refueling aircraft and “support personnel” to assist the French military effort. In other words, Mali’s former and much-hated colonizer has returned in force and brought along its intervention-loving Western and war-approving UN friends, a reality that will move the Islamist fighters toward unity and will dismay those who support the Mali regime but hate the French for what they did when ruling Mali.
For Washington, the French intervention opens the door to U.S. military intervention in Africa unexpectedly early. The Pentagon’s African Command has been arming and training Malian and other African troops for several years in the hope that their counter-Islamist capabilities could be sharply improved so they could fight the Islamists with U.S. support but without U.S. troops. The U.S.- and Western-trained Malian army, however, has failed miserably against the Islamists during the past year, and with the French intervention there is little time left for training.
And, sadly, President Obama and Defense Secretary Panetta did not hesitate for a second before offering U.S. military assistance to France. They thereby intervened in yet another war where America has no interests, but one which will harden and make more skillful the mujahedin that U.S. ground forces will have to fight when our soldiers and Marines eventually are deployed to West Africa to protect such life-and-death U.S. national interests as access to oil, sea lanes, uranium, and other strategic minerals. Our assistance for the French is thus another useless and wasteful intervention. It seeks to protect no recognizable U.S. national interest and will recall to Muslim minds bin Laden’s warning that the U.S. and its allies will intervene to kill Muslims anywhere they seek to establish God‘s law on earth.
If we want to keep Islamist victories coming, all we need to do is keep intervening in the Muslim world. Syria anyone?