Mali is one of those places we’ve all heard of but, without Google, can’t actually find on a map. (I tried and only got close.) In fact, it’s not exactly a country so much as an ill-defined area with poor people in it. Most Westerners’ knowledge of Mali starts-and-stops with Timbuktu, the proverbial name for nowhere from our childhood. At one time, it was the centre of a great trading empire (built on slaves and ivory) but by the time the French marched their Foreign Legion there at the end of the 19th century, all they found was a mud and waddle village. According to all reports, they were deeply disappointed.
For the last half century, since independence from France in 1960, Mali has been kept in permanent poverty by UNICEF and a number of other well-meaning humanitarian agencies. Unfortunately, since the Malians as just soul-suckingly poor, and not actually starving, people like Bono and Geldof give them a miss, and Oprah hasn’t built them any schools. The only real distinction Mali has in the family of nations is it’s generally listed as the poorest place on the planet. Mostly it flies under the radar — at least until now. You can read about it here.
Mali is rapidly becoming a future destination for Western military might, and, like Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq before it, many of our young people won’t be making the return journey vertically. This deadly adventure is going to be brought to you by the dithering diplomats of the United Nations who are practically digging the graves even as we speak. If it sounds as though I’ve lost my girlish laughter over these relentless debacles, it’s because I have. I’m fed up to the eyeballs with career politicos weeping crocodile tears over the honoured dead, when they are the ones doing their incompetent best to stretch the casualty lists to the breaking point. Let me explain.
Recently, a Moslem fundamentalist group (read Al Qaeda) has taken control of northern Mali. That’s the deserty bit that runs from Timbuktu to the Algerian border. They now control a patch of real estate that’s roughly the size of Afghanistan. Hmmm? These boys (No Girls Allowed) are working flat out, to establish a safe haven for anybody with a homicidal grudge against the 21st century. To that end, they’re collecting tons of Libyan weapons that NATO neglected to inventory after they bombed Gaddafi out of business. They’re loading up on food, vehicles, oil, etc., creating safe routes in and out of Algeria, and generally digging in for the duration. Basically, because nobody’s asked them to leave (the Mali military isn’t up to the task) they’re going full throttle Taliban and telling the legitimate Mali government to take a hike.
Cut to the chase: our world doesn’t exactly need yet another band of frontline fanatics hell-bent on destroying anything that doesn’t happen to fit their 7th century view of reality. Nor, having seen the results in Somalia and Sudan, do we need another pack of heavily armed jihadists spreading their mutant Arab Spring across the lower Sahara. Why? Because recent history has shown us that, once these folks get established they tend to branch out. Argue black is white all you want, but this Mali crew (actually, many of them aren’t locals) are eventually going follow the trail of their older brothers to London, Madrid and New York and bring the battle to us. Why? They don’t like us. They think we’re evil. Everything we do sets their teeth on edge. They don’t like our consumer society, our liberal education, our divorce rate, our homosexuals or our half-naked women. They don’t like our social structure or our crazy adherence to the notion of democracy. Plus, and most importantly, they don’t like our live-and-let-live brand of tolerance. In the jihadist world, it’s their way or the highway. No amount of reasonable discussion is going to change that. These are facts, and anybody who hasn’t come to terms with them by now is either an abject apologist or a complete dolt.
The bottom line is at some point we’re going to have to fight these people. Our only choice is where and when. We can dick around like we did (and are still doing) in Afghanistan. That’s basically waiting until all hell breaks loose and then getting tangled up in an Orwellian series of never-ending counterattacks with the resulting continuum of casualties. Or we can exercise some political will and decide to commit our military and economic resources to the novel notion of victory — minimize the casualties (on both sides) and then go back to real life.
Unfortunately, it looks like the United Nations and the Western world are, once again, going to stick with Plan A. So, I suggest you get out the Google Maps, folks — because Bamako, Kidal and Gao are going to be as familiar to our children as Darfur, Kabul and Mogadishu are to us. And they are going to be there for a long time.