With the French already sending drones to the region, it’s possible—likely even if all goes well—that Western involvement will remain limited to air support and intelligence gathering, while foreign (but African) troops provide security and police forces. With any luck the jihadi groups will shatter and disperse on first contact and their local allies will turn on them.

Something must be done in Mali. Open sanctuaries for aggressive jihadis cannot be tolerated. But what’s the strategy? In Libya there’s an argument to be made that even though the United States ‘led from behind’ we were nevertheless used by French oil interests among others to increase French prestige and power in the neighborhood. The French are very good at getting other people to do their dirty jobs for them. Mali is part of France’s ghost empire in Africa; there’s a case to be made for remaining well in the rear and not even leading.