May 21, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Canada is providing the appropriate level of support for the counter-insurgency in Mali and there is no obvious need to be drawn further into the conflict, which is primarily a French and European concern.
Canada was originally asked to provide training for Mali's soldiers, but a single C-17 cargo jet was deployed instead for a limited period of time.
French warplanes and soldiers are now fully engaged in trying to defeat the insurgency, which includes a motley group of jihadists, including an African version of al-Qaida, the terrorist group whose attacks on the United States in 2001 sparked the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the proliferation of American assassin drones across the Middle East.
It's remarkable that the troubles in Mali, which were barely a blip on the international radar screen a few months ago, have escalated so quickly in the past few weeks; more evidence of the problems posed by weak and failed states.
Mali was a semi-functioning democracy until last March, when a military coup toppled the unpopular government. The instability created an opening for separatists and radicals in the northern part of the country, who also benefited from the civil war in Libya in 2011 when weapons were provided to the rebels, demonstrating once again the cascade effect of strife and war.
Canada has told Mali's military dictators their country will be better served if they restore democratic rule, but for now the democracies are supporting the tin-pot despots because they are the least offensive alternative. A rebel victory would create a haven for terrorists and other outlaws in the region, while threatening neighbouring countries.
The French -- derided as "surrender monkeys" for opposing the American war in Iraq -- are leading the campaign because they have multiple interests in Mali and the region. Mali is a former French colony where some 3,000 French citizens live, while thousands of Malians live in France. The country also relies on Mali's uranium resources to fuel its large civilian nuclear program.
Critics have already labelled the conflict as a war over uranium, but it's a simplistic view that ignores the other global-strategic considerations in the region.
The British, Germans, Americans and others are providing critical support to the French, and it's not because they want to protect France's access to Mali's uranium.
The French had wanted the African Union to manage the problem, but the affiliation of African states has been slow in responding, although African troops are being deployed.
It is tempting to compare the Mali campaign with some of the other recent wars that were fought to build a nation, impose democracy and neutralize an enemy outpost. The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts dragged on for too long with limited results at the cost of much treasure and thousands of lives, but it's too early to say whether France is charging into another long, bloody affair it cannot win.
Some critics say Canada should be doing more, while others believe the war is none of our business, but these are extreme positions and not unlike the attitudes that prevailed during the debates on Iraq and Afghanistan. Canada is not only supporting its allies, but also the people of Mali, a friendly country that Canadian governments have helped since it obtained its independence in 1960. The Canadian military is capable of doing more, but there is no demand or need for additional muscle at this point.
For now, the future of Mali depends on the French, who are responding to what they perceive as a direct threat to their many interests in the region. The French were equally bold in their support of the Libyan rebels who toppled Moammar Gadhafi.
Depending on your point of view, it might be safe to eat french fries again.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2013 A12
Updated on Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 2:51 PM CST:
Corrects date from 2011 to 2001 in third paragraph