Western intervention in Mali is the right move—for nowby Robert Bates / January 22, 2013 / Leave a comment
Mere hours after the French intervention in Mali began, the international commentariat sprang into action. Their responses have ranged from principled opposition to unqualified support, while journalists in Mali and academics based there and elsewhere have tended to provide more expository analysis.
The situation is confusing and complex. However, a few things can be said with some measure of certainty: the western powers are in Mali with the support of most Malians; they are acting under the legal aegis of UN Resolution 2085 and will soon be working alongside Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) forces. This is not naked imperialism on the part of the French. The intervention that began on 11th January was the right move.
To understand it, one must look back over the events of the past year. On 17th January 2012, a largely secular, Tuareg-dominated group called the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) attacked the town Menaka in the north east of Mali. Attempts to win greater autonomy for northern Mali (Azawad) have been ongoing for decades, and many northerners saw diplomatic efforts as failures. They were supported (at least initially) by a number of Islamist groups, including Ansar Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Fighting continued throughout early 2012, and by April the anti-government forces could claim to exercise control over northern Mali. Meanwhile, Ansar Dine had been imposing strict Sharia law in the newly seized areas. While all this was happening, several commanders in the Malian army decided that President Amadou Toumani Touré had handled the crisis poorly, and deposed him in a coup on 22nd March. In the resulting confusion, the now fragile anti-government coalition took Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu over just three days.
Now that the Malian government ceased to control the northern territories, fighting began between the MNLA and their erstwhile allies. By July, the MNLA had lost control of the major northern cities to the Islamists. Ansar Dine, AQIM and MOJWA made steady progress south for the rest of 2012, prompting the UN Resolutions that authorised future outside interference. But after Islamist forces seized Konna on 10th January 2013, the French were forced to act. Had the Islamists gained control of Sévaré airport,…