Beware Those Wicked Malians
By Eric Margolis
October 15, 2012 "Information
Mali, our newest crisis! Open your maps.
Mali is a huge, arid nation extending from the Sahara Desert and
Algeria’s border in the north to the steamy south along the
Niger River. Most of Mali’s 14.5 million people eke out an
existence farming and fishing.
France used to rule Mali as part of its West African Empire, and
still has deep financial, military, commercial and intelligence
interests in the region.
Not so long ago, France installed West African leaders, financed
them, and kept them in power using small garrisons of tough
Foreign Legionnaires. Secret payments continue today. Spooks
from France’s DGSE intelligence agency, and “special advisors”
are active behind the scenes in West Africa as well as North
The US has been rapidly expanding its influence in France’s
former African sphere of influence, both in a drive for
resources and to block China’s growing activity on the
Arid Northern Mali was a backwater in France’s colonial empire.
Last March, Tuareg and militant Islamic militias seized Mali’s
vast north. US-trained army officers then overthrew the elected
civilian government in Bamako of Amadou Touré.
Tuareg are fierce desert nomads often called the “blue men of
the Sahara” because their skins become tinted by the blue veils
they always wear to cover their faces. French colonial troops
and Legionnaires battled the Tuareg throughout the 19th century
and half of the 20th in a romantic little struggle on which the
famed Victorian novel, “Beau Geste” was based.
The Tuareg want their own state, Azawad, carved from northern
Mali, and bits of southern Algeria and Mauritania. Call them the
Kurds of the Sahara.
Militant Islamists, led by Ansar Din, first joined the Tuareg
fighters, but then pushed them out, seizing the fabled city of
Timbuktu. These angry Islamists set about destroying ancient
tombs of assorted local saints, producing huge indignation from
westerners who could not find Timbuktu on a map if their lives
depended on it. Orthodox Muslims denounce worship of saints as
blasphemy and idolatry.
Western media immediately branded Ansar Din “linked to al-Qaida”
without any real proof. These days, anyone we don’t like is
“linked to al-Qaida,” a tiny groups that barely exists any more.
However, lurking behind the next sand dune may be Al-Qaida in
the Islamic Maghreb, a small, violent anti-western movement from
Algeria that has nothing to do with the original al-Qaida but
expropriated its name.
A French-backed UN Security Council vote for military
intervention in Mali to oust the rebels is imminent. France
wants the West African economic group ECOWAS to lead the charge.
But this is merely the kind of “coalition” fig-leaf favored by
the US in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Any real fighting and
transport will be done by French military units from Europe or
bases in central Africa and Chad. And, of course, the Legion.
Washington has a different plan. The US wants to follow the
model it is using to fight Somalia’s Shebab movement. In the
last four years, the US has spent some $600 million to rent an
African proxy force of 20,000 Ugandan, Ethiopian and Kenyan
soldiers to invade Somalia and battle Shebab.
Washington plans a similar strategy in Mali, led by its sexy new
star, Africa Command. Nigeria is expected to play a key role;
Morocco and Algeria may contribute troops.
All this seems like a lot of effort to combat a bunch of Saharan
tribesmen and trouble-makers in pickup trucks in a place whose
main city, Timbuktu, is a synonym for remoteness and obscurity.
No matter. The US and French media are dutifully raising alarms
about the “Islamic threat” from deepest Sahara – in part to
distract from domestic economic woes.
Is the US ready to wage yet another little conflict – on credit?
Doesn’t Washington have enough conflicts? Apparently not.
Mali could get nasty: neighbors Algeria, Mauritania, Burkina
Faso, and Ivory Coast are unstable. The Saharawi of Western
Sahara have fought for decades against Morocco for their own
state. They are backed by Algeria.
Into this potential tinder box France and the US are preparing
to charge. “On to Timbuktu” goes out the battle cry of the
latest obscure crusade.
Eric S. Margolis is an internationally syndicated columnist.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2012
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