Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Usual tiresome babble on Mali

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The situation in Mali remains complicated and unclear. In the midst of an attempt by Ansar Dine and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb to take over the country for militant Islam, there is also a historic north-south division and rival Tuareg factions in the north struggling for dominance in their long battle for independence.

The French-led intervention pushed the Islamists away from the major towns, but it is likely to be a long, slow struggle to root them out of the desert.

The Canadian Forces' role has been minor -- a transport aircraft is carrying French soldiers and material to Mali and a special forces team has deployed, apparently to protect the Canadian Embassy and its staff in Bamako. Prime Minister Stephen Harper made it clear there will be no Forces members in combat in Mali.

New Democratic Leader Thomas Mulcair and Bob Rae of the Liberals are supporting the government's actions. The response of the pacifist left, however, usually one that slavishly follows the NDP line, this time spun off on its own.

First, there were complaints the French were up to their old neo-colonialist games in a former colony. That France had few commercial assets in Mali and most French citizens there were dual citizens of Malian origin did not matter. But surely there were Canadian interests there? A few relatively small gold mining operations in Mali were either wholly or partially owned by Canadians, but scarcely enough to explain the Harper government's support for the French.

Then there were the concerns, better founded, that Mali was not really a democracy and thus not worth supporting. A military coup by the Mali army had toppled the country's government in March 2012. Canada cut its aid efforts as a result and pressed the interim government to hold elections and return to the democratic path.

But the major thrust of the opposition to Canadian efforts, led by Stephen Staples of the Rideau Institute and his Ceasefire.ca website, was a concern about "mission creep." We had seen mission creep in Libya in the NATO operation that toppled Moammar Gadhafi, the argument went, and now the same process was underway in Mali.

Staples said Canada was "contributing very large transport planes... (and this) is direct involvement, it is flying into a combat zone, it is transporting light tanks, vehicles, supplies for the French military into Mali, so it is playing a direct role." Canada had deployed one aircraft, and it was flying into Bamako, 700 kilometres from the fighting, but a reliance on facts is not Staples' strong suit.

Then it was the special forces commitment. Given the secrecy of JTF-2 operations, who knew what they were doing? Prime Minister Harper's statement that the Canadian Forces would not see combat in Mali was immediately discounted.

What was missing in the comments from the Staples crowd was the obvious: the Ansar Dine-AQIM attempt to take over Mali had to be resisted in order to prevent the creation of an Islamist stronghold that could shelter terrorists and serve as a base for expansion throughout North Africa.

The draconian brutality and nihilism of the Islamist occupiers of Timbuktu and other towns has been widely reported, and there were likely links between them and the terrorists who had killed so many in the Algerian gas plant attack.

Islamist terrorism is a threat to democracies everywhere. Those who oppose military intervention anywhere, unless it is UN blue helmet peacekeeping, seem blind to the realities of 2013.

Stephen Harper bad, military intervention of any kind bad, mission creep inevitable and bad -- it's a tiresome refrain.

How fortunate the Opposition parties had better sense in this instance than the Rideau Institute and Ceasefire.ca.

 

Jack Granatstein is distinguished research fellow of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2013 J11

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