The Libyan boomerang in Mali

posted at 2:31 pm on January 19, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

The history of the last thirty years of American policy in the Middle East and North Africa can be summed up in two words: unintended consequences.  The US has found itself pressured by outside events into interventions that have ended up backfiring in substantial ways.

In most cases, one can argue with good reason that the US advanced other policies that more than compensated for the complications.  In Afghanistan, we armed the rebels in order to help bring down the Soviet Union.  We initially invaded Iraq to repel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and to protect Saudi Arabian oil fields, which led to the necessity of doing it all over again twelve years later when Hussein refused to abide by the terms of the cease-fire.  We invaded Afghanistan ourselves to deprive al-Qaeda of a safe haven and to find and punish the people responsible for 9/11 and the attacks on the USS Cole, Khobar Towers, and two embassies in Africa during the 1990s.  All of those decisions produced serious negative consequences for the US, but we could argue that we at least gainedsomething through them.

The blowback from our decision to intervene in Libya and in Mali (and not just recently either) don’t have any silver linings apparent at the moment, though.  The Financial Times calls this one of our “most embarrassing boomerangs,” and it’s almost impossible to refute that conclusion:

Events this week in Algeria, where Islamic militants took dozens of western hostages at a gas plant, and last week in Mali where France was forced to step in to prevent an Islamist takeover of the capital, Bamako, have underlined how right Washington was to be concerned and just how ineffectual subsequent strategies to contain the problem were.

To the dismay of the US, junior Malian officers trained as part of $620m pan-Sahelian counter-terrorism initiative launched in 2002 to help four semi-desert states resist Islamic militancy took part in a coup in March last year. Others among them defected to the Tuareg revolt that eventually led to a coalition of Islamist militias, allied with Algerian militants from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, capturing the northern two-thirds of Mali.

Potentially, these US-trained officers are now using US counter-insurgency knowhow against France’s intervention force.

One can still argue that the attempt to bolster anti-Islamist governments in the region was a calculated risk, and that the failure of the earlier initiatives didn’t make matters much worse.  After all, the reason why we started sinking money into Mali was to prevent what was seen as a reasonably likely Islamist overthrow, or perhaps worse, the kind of destabilization by Islamist forces that turned Somalia into a failed state for a generation.  We didn’t put combat troops on the ground, so at worst we spent $620 million in postponing the near-inevitable.

However, that’s not the limit of American intervention.  Our actions in the Arab Spring by dumping our ally in Egypt and in launching a war against Libya radically changed the calculus in the Sahel.  Ten months ago, the consequences of decapitating the Qaddafi regime for Mali and the rest of the Sahel was obvious, as Daniel Larison warned:

But the Libyan war’s worst impact may have occurred outside of Libya. The neighboring country of Mali, which also happens to support U.S. counter-terrorist efforts in western Africa, has been roiled by a new Tuareg insurgency fueled by the influx of men and weapons after Gadhafi’s defeat, providing the Tuareg rebels with much more sophisticated weaponry than they had before. This new upheaval benefits al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), and the Tuareg uprising threatens the territorial integrity of Mali. The rebellion has also displaced nearly 200,000 civilians in a region that is already at risk of famine, and refugees from Mali are beginning to strain local resources in Niger, where most of them have fled. “Success” in Libya is creating a political and humanitarian disaster in Mali and Niger.

The actual boomerang didn’t come from the military training the US provided in the Sahel, which was always going to be a calculated risk against a variety of poor outcomes.  The boomerang in this case came from our extremely ill-advised and reckless intervention in Libya, which turned that nation into a failed state and sent tentacles of radicalism throughout the Sahel.  And what did we gain from the Libyan adventure and the revolution we blessed in Egypt by tossing a 30-year ally to the wolves?  In the latter, we now have leadership that feels entirely comfortable using eliminationist rhetoric against Israel; in the former, we have a burned-out consulate, four dead Americans, and a central government whose writ won’t run in half the country.  Our policies in the last two years in this region have emboldened our enemies and disillusioned our allies, and in this case we didn’t get anything at all in trade for the unintended consequences we have reaped.

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Our policies in the last two years in this region have emboldened our enemies and disillusioned our allies, and in this case we didn’t get anything at all in trade for the unintended consequences we have reaped.

Well, that’s one person opinion…Hillary thinks different, as does Obama and Biden…the terrorists, and dictators to harbor hate are decimated. The Middle East has never been more stable, and except for a couple of small “events” like a few hostages killed, couple of military, an Ambassador, everything is running like clock work, exactly how they had it planned, in fact, it is better than anyone ever anticipated…so there…you have your opinion, they have theirs…and btw, “I won”…

right2bright on January 19, 2013 at 2:39 PM

Great piece Ed. I still think O’s Smart Power and Leading From Behind has harmed the U.S. a lot. And with all these boomerangs……we do look like a Superpower in decline.

Added to our domestic financial position……OI

CoffeeLover on January 19, 2013 at 2:44 PM

right2bright…………well said!

CoffeeLover on January 19, 2013 at 2:45 PM

Guess someones dreams of his daddy has made a mess of everyting he has done? Or is it just as the daddy wanted bho to getter done?

You can not make these rop type devil’s spawn do anything they don’t want to do, they just keep killing till all those who don’t come around to their way of thinking is gone! They just want money and will lie almost as bad as bho to see to it they get a few months to re-group killing again.

letget on January 19, 2013 at 2:49 PM

OurObama’s policies in the last two years in this region have emboldened our enemies and disillusioned our allies, and in this case we didn’t get anything at all in trade for the unintended consequences we have reaped.

Not certain the WH has the same definition of who is an enemy, and who is a friend. Not certain the consequences were unintended. Not certain the WH considers the consequences to be a negative

Fairly certain the WH is not clever, but it is pretty high on self esteem.

If the hostages are all dead, story over, on to the inauguration. If a few remain alive, it would be an opening to hand back the blind sheik. In their world-politik, no problemo.

entagor on January 19, 2013 at 2:51 PM

Most of us other than doddering McCain knew that intervening in Libya on behalf — of our enemy — was fully certifiably insane. Unless you are Obama, who seems to want to given the radical Muslims a “fair shot” … at shooting us.

anotherJoe on January 19, 2013 at 2:51 PM

One of the biggest problems is that we are not fighting individual nations in the Middle East and Asia, but one large mass of Islamic Supremecists. The military fight is whack-a-mole style treading water while they gain ground. The more important fight is the hearts and minds of the populations who must be convinced that freedom is better than submission.

Our biggest obstacle is that our Leader doesn’t belive in freedom, or the Ideals of the American Republic, but in the Marxist collectivism we thought we had defeated. How can he tell people in the Middle East not to submit, when he insists that it would be best for his own fellow citizens to submit to the government? How can you tell Egyptians that Islamists are bad, but the government knows best, when the government IS the Islamists?

Obama offers no alternative but submission to an even more fickle God.

trubble on January 19, 2013 at 2:55 PM

Smart Power! ™.

AZfederalist on January 19, 2013 at 2:59 PM

Our actions in the Arab Spring by dumping our ally in Egypt and in launching a war against Libya radically changed the calculus in the Sahel.

What Barky did in Egypt was the big game-changer. Not only did Barky stab an American ally in the back (and a guy who was no different than Sadat, who the lefties always loved and idolized) but he sent his useful idiots to Congress and the press to prostrate the US to the muslim brotherhood and spew their propaganda for them. It was at this point that the muzzie world understood that the ineligible Indonesian in the White House who was raised as a muslim in the largest muslim nation in the world was truly a muslim ally and an American enemy and would stop at nothing to help his America-hating brethren out around the world.

The idiocy in Libya was significant domestically because Barky thoroughly ignored the Constitution and Congress to put the US military at the becka nd call of France and NATO. Barky should have been impeached for this (only one of tens of clearly impeachable acts the Indonesian Dog-Eating Imbecile has committed during his illegal tenure) but the fact that the GOP cowards couldn’t even make a peep about this crime showed the world that Barky was now an American Sukarno who could treat the US and our military as his personal playtoy.

None of these developments is a surprise, as this was Barky’s intention from before he illegally slimed into office, to begin with. Churchill described the situation perfectly over a hundred years ago (The River War, 1899 – about the Brits in Sudan):

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries.

Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity.

The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die; but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.

No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science‹the science against which it had vainly struggled‹the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.

Barky is just doing what husseins do.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on January 19, 2013 at 3:06 PM

Jeez Ed, you sound like a crazy Ron Paul supporter.

rndmusrnm on January 19, 2013 at 3:17 PM

The Libyan boomerang has been far more consequential. The truth us there is no such thing as a Muslim friend, much less ally. They are all parasitical vermin.

pat on January 19, 2013 at 3:18 PM

Don’t you know, Libya and Mali (including Benghazi) is still all Bush’s fault.

Unless the media can spin a Glorious Victory for Dear Leader, of course.

Sir Napsalot on January 19, 2013 at 3:22 PM

The truth us there is no such thing as a Muslim friend, much less ally.

pat on January 19, 2013 at 3:18 PM

That’s true. There’s no such thing as “goodwill” in the muslim world, a concept that many Westerners can’t seem to wrap their minds around. A muslim can be your closest ally for 50 years and then turn around and stab you in the back one day out of nowhere. The best you can do is have a temporary ally who is interested in his own power and has major problems with islamists, as with Mubarak, and even then all alliances in the arab/muslim world are, at best, temporary.

Barky has brought this muslim concept of destroying alliances on a whim to America (as one would expect from a hussein) and signaled to the arab/persian/muslim world that the US is now pursuing pro-muslim/anti-American policies everywhere and that they have a free hand to do whatever they want.

Barky and his gang have been helping to push along the takeover of pan-islamism from pan-arabism in the arab world and the rest of the muzzie world has taken notice and, having their appetite for destruction whetted by this development, reacted as muslims are wont to do in such a case. barky understood this full well (one of the few things the 84 IQ imbecile does understand) since he grew up as a muslim in muslim culture.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on January 19, 2013 at 3:32 PM

but we could argue that we at least gained something through them.

Fear and respect for Islam based on ignorance and subversion?

[email protected] on January 19, 2013 at 3:51 PM

Let’s add McCain’s Mideast blunders to the idiotic foreign policy (?!?) of Obysmal’s.

onlineanalyst on January 19, 2013 at 3:53 PM

Arab’Spring’ in full bloom.

Obama owns it.

Schadenfreude on January 19, 2013 at 3:59 PM

Boy, it sure is good that we get all this free oil from all these wars. Oh, that’s right. We don’t. We get nothing from these wars but more debt and 50,000 seriously wounded Americans, not counting those killed.

HopeHeFails on January 19, 2013 at 4:01 PM

actual good reporting from CNN on the Libyan connection…thanks Obama again!

sadsushi on January 19, 2013 at 4:09 PM

It isn’t as if this was unpredictable or anything… this does follow the al Qaeda playbook.

Now if only the ever so moral, ever so high horse Left will criticize Obama about that ever so special word that they always deploy against anything done by a Republican President: blowback.

Of course there is no intellectual, moral or ethical integrity on behalf of the Left to actually apply the same standards to Obama that they apply to those they oppose… oh, no, can’t have that.

ajacksonian on January 19, 2013 at 4:15 PM

One of your best, Ed. Nice work.

petefrt on January 19, 2013 at 4:17 PM

The Arab Spring turning into the Sahara Summer.

Nice foreign policy, Obama.

MichaelGabriel on January 19, 2013 at 4:19 PM

And what did we gain from the Libyan adventure and the revolution we blessed in Egypt by tossing a 30-year ally to the wolves?

So far, Benghazi, Algeria, Mali and the good fortune to give 1.5 billion to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Still early to tell what else is in the pipeline. President Do Something is half white, half black and half fast so I suppose it’s appropriate if he’s half cocked as well. Now that Al Qaida is “on it’s heels” and the previously outraged Muslims are all Hopey Changey I feel a lot better.

ghostwalker1 on January 19, 2013 at 4:19 PM

Boy, it sure is good that we get all this free oil from all these wars. Oh, that’s right. We don’t. We get nothing from these wars but more debt and 50,000 seriously wounded Americans, not counting those killed.

HopeHeFails on January 19, 2013 at 4:01 PM

More members of the US military died in peacetime in the 8 years Bill Clinton was Commander in Chief than have died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. What’s your point?

Or would you rather have us fighting them here in the streets of the US?

And remember, these are folks who even want to outlaw music.

WE ALL have a favourite album. Mine is Talking Timbuktu, the collaboration between the great Malian musician Ali Farka Tourι and Ry Cooder. Arguably it’s some of the best guitar playing you’ll ever hear. Ali died in 2006 but his son Vieux carries the sound onward, that curious mix of African soul and heart with a blues base.

So it was with utter horror that I heard Lucy Duran, who hosts the BBC programme World Routes and teaches the anthropology of world music at SOAS, say in an emotional comment this week that one of the terrible side effects of the extreme Islamic fundamentalism now invading northern Mali is the silencing of music. Outlawed under Sharia law, all instruments, radio, CD players have been destroyed, and as Lucy chillingly said, those seen playing guitars were threatened with having their fingers cut off.


Africa is music to me, and perhaps no band embodies the spirit of this more than Tinariwen, the Berber – Toureg group who were formed in a refugee camp on the borders of Mali before they were able to return home and have now fled for their lives again. Of course, one can understand why the militant extremists are suspicious of music: it is subversive, it does cross borders, it does unite peoples, and most importantly, in a continent dependent oral tradition, it tells the tales that might be forgotten.

Music is dangerous. Of course, hard-line Islamists believe it corrupts, perhaps, Westerners who made it to the Festival in the Desert did bring their drink and drugs, or inappropriate dress codes, fundamentalism is always about control. But the music of Africa’s peoples existed long before the religion.

Rest of story…

Del Dolemonte on January 19, 2013 at 4:47 PM

…and now for the opposing viewpoint, let’s go over to Dante.

Dante? Dante? Ok, how about rainsford? Anybody?

Vince on January 19, 2013 at 4:59 PM

The compound in Benghazi was neither an embassy nor a consulate. Please don’t perpetuate that lie. When you define the debate on their terms, you have already pretty much lost the argument.

tballard on January 19, 2013 at 5:05 PM

(SIGH) There’s is a myth going around that there was only one American site in Benghazi. The one Amb. Stevens had his meeting at, had status. The other, well it had lots of guns.(lots and LOTS of guns.)

flackcatcher on January 19, 2013 at 5:31 PM

…just wait…till the sh!t really hits the fan!

KOOLAID2 on January 19, 2013 at 6:04 PM

And will any of this information shape the Sunday squawk shows… or will the topic be the excitement of the Obysmal second inauguration and Michell’es new wig?

onlineanalyst on January 19, 2013 at 6:14 PM

All of those decisions produced serious negative consequences for the US, but we could argue that we at least gainedsomething through them.

I disagree. Taxing the USSR was in our interest. It was however very poorly done: the weapons tended to go to radical islamists rather than the Northern Aliance. The worst part was that we gave them SAMs which had not been fixed to become inert or to explode after a limited amount of time. Some got into the black market and were used against friendly forces. Attacking Iraq was not in our interest. We have no business protecting Kuwait and Saudi Arabia or of producing a no fly zone. We ended up sending Delta Force to attack Bin Laden in Tora Bora. The Delta Force comander knew that the chances of success were limited because he wasn’t allowed by the rules of engagement to put containment troops on the border to prevent Bin Laden from fleeing into Iraq, which he did. The rules of engagement were set to avoid offending the Iraqies. Subsequently, we sent drones and special forces into Iraq without permission.

The only engagement in that area which was in the US interest was the one to ware doown the Soviets.

burt on January 19, 2013 at 10:03 PM

We had a President running for re-election He had to look like he knew what he was doing. He agreed to the raid to take down Osama. It was done deal. He decided to go to Libya to take Gaddafi. Although when he campaigned the first time he was against Bush taking Hussein out. It was a wrong war. He basically allowed for he same thing to be done in Libya. The difference is that Hussein was tried and hung by his people. Gaddafi was murdered in the street. Hussein death was more civilized.

Libya was unstable and Al Quiada is still alive and raising the devil. The hit on Benghazi with a vengeance and took our diplomat out. There was great injustice done here by our government. They still have not done anything about the killers.

As an American, I was very disappointed with the voters that re-elected a do nothing but blame other President. I was hoping that reason would prevail. It did not.

Portia on January 19, 2013 at 10:14 PM

I pick this tidbit up this morning re: the terrorist attack on the gas plant in Algeria.

AP Press: The militants, who came from a Mali-based al-Qaida splinter group

So, I see that Gov, Romney was proven right once again When is some/anyone going to call the beltway or the MSM on ther laughter and ridicule of his debate point. Every day we learn more and more that Mali is indeed a place to weep over. Every day we learn more and more about the prostitution ring run by the MSM for their pimp Obama.

conservative educator on January 20, 2013 at 8:30 AM