The French rightly pride themselves on having inspired American remakes like “the Dinner for Schmucks” and “True Lies.” They also rightfully complain that Americans always spoiled the artistic touch in the original movies. For once the roles are reversed in real life and not on cinema reels. The French remake being shot now in Mali of the 2003 ‘Mission Accomplished” flick starring George W. Bush does not, thus far, show any promise of improving on the American original action drama.
Credit should be given when due, Mr Hollande’s decision to put boots on the ground is a responsible choice– better late than never. However, the real question today is: does France have a credible exit strategy that does not result in another botched war in Northern Mali? President Hollande’s PR-minded visit to Mali’s liberated north along with the nation’s interim President Dioncounda Traoré felt like a an eery replay of George W. Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” moment aboard a US aircraft carrier. While Mr Hollande and his host were prudent not to declare the fight against Jihadis over, they had more rhetoric than concretes to offer as an assessment of the current situation. Most media stories reported the event without really questioning the next phases in the conflict.
Just as in 2003, Hollande echoed Bush’s pledges of grandiose plans for rebuilding Iraq. Like the images of Iraqis tearing down Saddam’s statue in 2003, footage of effusive and jubilant locals praising Mr Hollande and their liberators has been rolling on cable news channels around globe. A weak and temporary fill-in until Mali resumes its democratic regime interrupted by military coups, Mr Taroré did not have much to say about reconciliation with the North other than a vague willingness to negotiate with the MNLA. Behind the smiles, and the photos ops, no concrete plan seems to exist to fix Mali’s multidimensional failures.
On the security front, the draw down of France’s 3000 troops has already been decided. the official line is that ECOWAS troops will support Malian troops hereon forward. The United States has pledged $10 Million Dollars to help train Mali’s army. this being the same army that melted in battle last winter when Jihadis took it head on, one cannot help but wonder whether this check is a buy-out option from a hopeless task? Whatever the answer is, it is imperative that the Malian army be continuously supervised lest its undisciplined troops engage in yet another round of vigilante retribution against civilians they deem to be in cahoots with the enemy.
As of January 20, only 450 out of the 4500 ECOWAS troops pledged were already on Malian soil. Almost half are from Chad, the rest are spread between Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo. Of course, the devil is in the details; Benin sent policemen, and Ghana sent combat engineers — neither are exactly frontline combat troops. Of course, these numbers increased in the last 10 days but the questions remain valid: other than Nigeria’s and Chad’s troops, how soon can we expect that this mishmash can be forged into a credible fighting force?
Speaking of mishmash and cultural references, experience in Iraq and Afghanistan show that any foreign troops have a very short time window to adapt to local cultures and traditions. Sub-saharan troops are not an exception to this rule. Just as their Western counterparts in the past decade, they are entering into an alien culture whose intricacies and codes they must quickly grasp or risk being seen by locals as a serious nuisance in their lives. After all, who could forget how quickly Iraqis’ shouts of “Thank you America” turned into “down down America”?
Conspicuously absent when the going got rough, Europe’s leaders seem all too content to have dodged another war they could avoid. Of course, they pledged 50 Million Euros to fund the African contingent being deployed in Mali and to send trainers. Decidedly, the European Union is a coalition of the amnesiacs. over a decade, Western European nations diligently filled terrorist coffers with ransom money to free EU hostages. Way above the $100 Million mark, that money went a long way in helping Jihadis buy arms and train future terrorists. Consequently, the onus of showing responsible leadership remains on EU member countries. They should, at least, triple their financial and military assistance to France. if not for their own security, it is a step on the way to repair the damage their policies caused to Mali and the region’s security. Their credibility and commitment to combat international terrorism depends on it.
With Jihadis melting in nature, and quickly disappearing in the depth of the Sahara, France, African nations, and the world at large are better served by some candor: there are not enough troops on the ground. Mr Hollande does not yet have an exit strategy, Mali’s military and governance require years to rebuild. After the joy recedes, the people freshly liberated in northern Mali will be expecting all the rosy promises made to them to be fulfilled. For that to happen, the international community should follow France’s lead and shoulder its part of the responsibility. Anything short of a full Bosnia-style UN mission in northern Mali can not be a serious response to a an equally serious problem. For the sake of peace, we can only hope that today l’impossible n’est pas Français!