October 13, 2012

Welcome 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 Africa.

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 continent.

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.

Copyright  Eric S. Margolis 2012

For German translation of this article please go to: http://antikrieg.com/aktuell/2012_10_13_huetet.htm







This post is in: Africa, Algeria, Egypt, History, Mali, North Africa, USA


  1. From Reuters today, “BAMAKO – Heavily armed Islamists bulldozed the tombs of three local Sufi saints near Mali’s desert city of Timbuktu on Thursday, residents said, the latest in a series of attacks in the rebel-held north that critics say threaten its cultural heritage.”

  2. The Tuareg are a very fiercely proud bunch. I’ve been to Timbuktu twice in my life and the Tuareg were housed separate from other ethnic groups in Timbuktu because they quarrelled and argued too frequently with the other ethnic groups, Bozos, Bambara and Fulani/Puel not amongst themselves. The Tuareg carry around traditional swords that too often were unsheathed in the course of an argument. So Malian authorities housed them separately. Most Tuareg were there living off of international aid because of the extreme drought in the Sahel.
    I had a few conversations with some Tuareg men that i encountered. They were fiercely proud of their ability to eke out an existence in the Sahara in conditions that would kill you and I in a few hours. For example, they’d sneer at the street lights and declare that the Tuareg can get by with the light of the moon.
    then I told them about the Innu and other Aboriginals of northern Canada and how they live in a frozen land that would freeze a Tuareg to death in about 15 minutes. Such was their pride that they’d quickly return the conversation to their abilities to find water in the desert where I’d find only sand.

  3. What benefits does the average American citizen derive from all this meddling and spending all that borrowed money, that the taxpayers are on the hook for? Surely, if the US is as democratic, as they want us all to believe, then most of the over 300 million citizens must be voting for it. Which means, they vote to either have their tax-dollars wasted this way, or they are not on the moral high ground, they seem to think to occupy. There is another slight possibility and that is a collective mass delusion of grandeur and that I doubt. Somehow it feels, as if their democracy is just a nice word to throw around, but otherwise is just a mirage.
    And the French do not have any kind of economy to get involved there, or anywhere else for that matter,just like the position of the Americans.

    • solum temptare possumus says:

      I see it differently. The Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw wrote about in his book of the same name, are all 85 years of age or older. This generation formed by the Great Depression and veterans of WWII and Korea had this “can do” attitude infused with a genuine Christian belief in helping to free oppressed people and inparting a democracy like their own. They truly believed they would be helping other cultures onto a road leading to more prosperity and individual freedoms.
      Naive about the complexity of the world? Certainly.
      But they were supporting this effort, “with their Tax Dollars”. It was the right thing to do. This generation new the hell of war and had no desire to send their sons into future conflicts, yet they did so by imparting those values onto their children.
      This second generation served whether they wanted to or not through a national draft. Many saw the quagmire of Vietnam and still they believed and passed on these values to the third generation.
      Well the grandchildren are the voters of today. More savvy for sure, but the old values passed down still have resonance.
      The Morality of External conflicts may be eroding this core belief, but many still believe, perhaps with blinders on.
      The youngest generation to vote have not been forced to fight. Many choose to, carrying on familial traditions; others for economic opportunity.
      Yet it is still the highest calling, and every grieving family gets an honor guard at the grave site with a three volley salute and a folded flag presented to the mother “from a grateful nation”.
      These people cannot believe that their sons died in vain. It would mean that the past four generations meant nothing.
      Ad iudicium

      • I think you give the Americans far too much credit for their interest in democracy… most of their actions have not been for the betterment of the country they are occupying, but for their own financial betterment.

        Even Pearl Harbour was precipitated by their trade embargo on Japan prior to Dec 7…

        • solum temptare possumus says:

          I am surprised you would use the superative “most”. I have lived among the lower and middle class. “most” are not thinking foreign policy towards their future financial benefit. They are living day to day trying to make ends meet.
          A “few” of the elite, I have no doubt are manipulating behind the scenes. The educated within this inner circle, pundits included, are not always thinking for the betterment of the country; only being part of the agenda to help those in control, so that they might hold onto the latter’s coattails. Power and vanity are strong mistreses.
          Yes there was a trade embargo on Japan. It did help bring about the tipping point towards Pearl Harbour.
          Putting it in historical context, Japan was brutalizing the Chinese in Manchuria and the Koreans in Korea.
          Madame Chiang Kai-shek was in Washington DC acting as diplomat for the Nationalist Government of her husband. Being an eloquent speaker, fluent in English and a toast to the Diplomatic corps; she had the ear of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt!
          There is your reason for the Trade Embargo.
          ad iudicium

      • solum temptare possumus:
        As a young boy I lived through the second worldwar in occupied Europe. I was witness to some of the atrocities committed on both sides of the divide and it has made me realize, that all this patriotism is a tool of the manipulators of wars to get the poor working man willing to sacrifice his sons and daughters for a cause, he also has to pay for afterwards with his hard-earned money in the form of taxes. Many members of my family paid dearly for all that idiocy. We like to use the word democracy, as if we have a monopoly on it, but do we live in a true democracy?
        Compare the definitions of both democracy and fascism and apply, what you find to any country and see, which one is most applicable. Just because we are indoctrinated by the msm into believing, that we live in a democracy, that does not necessarily make it so. Even our electoral system is skewed against the concept of a true democracy. How then can we have a democratically elected government? And we in Canada are still ahead in that respect of the US. The fact, that the questions directed at politicians running for top office, have to be approved beforehand by a moderator, already makes the whole exercise suspect and a charade to fool the ignorant masses. All this electioneering is a silly stage-play with poor actors at that. I will stand up for my country, providing it calls on my services for a moral cause, but I have not seen one of them lately.

        • solum temptare possumus says:

          I defer to your experience; starting your life in an era of madness in Western Europe. In hindsight, the loss of family and friends and cities destroyed, led to an emigration of Europe’s displaced to Canada and the United States. Not the way you would have chosen to emigrate, I’m sure. Your freedom from deprivation helped you raise a family and now can enjoy your grandchildren.
          Patriotism as a tool? I agree and have previously quoted Albert Einstein on the subject. He saw this evil first hand also.
          I think the pull of past conflicts is lessening within the psyche of the American people. But as long as the Military-Industrial Complex under the current definition of a corporation, can influence elections, and egos and the lust for power of little Napoleons to be are in the political wings, there will always be a way to get the unemployed and disenfranchised to sign on to operate the produce of these corporate weapons mongers. You might be lied to about where you will serve and become fodder for another foreign conflict; yet all these young people may see, is a chance to get a free education after service of four years; something out of their reach depending on the socio-economic strata they come from.
          ad iudicium

      • “They truly believed they would be helping other cultures onto a road leading to more prosperity and individual freedoms.”

        Terrorists also believe they’re ‘freeing’ other societies from bondage, hence sincerity of intention is hardly a justification to invade other peoples’ countries, nor is dying to force your beliefs onto others an emblem of honor. And given the motives behind wars today, intentions are tied into corporate profits, economic expansion (not theirs, only ours) and geopolitical strategies to create the stage for tomorrows wars. There is absolutely no intention anywhere to ‘help’ people.
        I can go on endlessly by giving one example after another, where we’ve installed dictators in other peoples countries for decades and then rush in to ‘promote democracy’ when their nationals rise up against their tyrannical governments; democracy when it suits us, dictatorship when it suits us.

        The Romans were known for extolling the highest standards of justice and fairness; but ONLY as it applied to Romans.

  4. Awesome. I googled Timbuktu, then revisited Hassi Messaoud in central Algeria where I worked in the mid seventies, and the smoke plumes from the refineries to the SW still show clear as a bell. Refineries lit up the night sky all around us. There were also skirmishes on the Moroccan border of Algeria at that time

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