As French troops prepare for ground offensive in Mali (multiple reports now say French SOF are engaged in combat in the town of Diabaly), it is interesting to see how much French foreign policy has shifted over the past 10 years. France’s staunch opposition to the US-led involvement in Iraq immediately comes to mind which led to all things remotely tied to France (save Chevrolet and buffet) were considered un-patriotic. France today could be viewed as more hawkish than it was in 2003, but a deeper examination must be conducted.
Although France wanted no part with the US/UK operation in Iraq, France has been a steady contributor to the NATO effort in Afghanistan. That mission has now ended, so it would appear that France, like the US, is limiting their overseas involvement to focus on domestic issues.
One look at Africa would show that is not the case. France was one of the leaders for intervention in Libya, and the French are acting, from a European combat role, unilaterally in Mali. There is logistic, intelligence, and other support being provided by other countries, but the major powers seem content with allowing France to take the lead in this.
You could say that Mali and Libya are in France’s backyard so let the French deal with it, but I don’t see it that way. France’s continued involvement in their former African colonies should at least draw questions and at brief hesitation from Russia and China the same way the Russians and Chinese oppose most US courses of action involving Iran that are put in front of the UN security council.
France has a long history of continued military intervention in its former colonies post-liberation. Vietnam, Algeria, previous operations in Mali, and Chad quickly come to mind.
If it were strictly the US in Mali, the mission would be limited in scope utilizing a mix of FID and CT. Kill the bad guys, train the host nation forces, and enable operational success. Intelligence would be gained by US assets and then shared to the Malian government in a releasable format. Combine this with some air strikes, probably drone based, and it would accomplish the military objective of defeating the Islamists and build the space needed to bring the Tuareg rebels to the table for good faith negotiations. Other than combatting AQIM and developing a stable country in western Africa, there is no need for a long-term US presence in Mali.
I am not suggesting that France is intervening in Mali to rebuild its late 19th-early 20th century empire in Africa, but it is worth questioning why such large numbers of conventional troops are being committed to aid Bamako. UN Resolution 2085 authorized an African led force, but if that force has not been effective enough to prevent a large number of European troops from being committed to the fight. Why not give the African troops more time to figure it out? Even if all of Mali were to become an Islamic state over night – a west Africa Somalia – it would not threaten any French assets outside of the country.
With the worldwide economic conditions, I would look for new exploitation of the 3rd world. Instead of doing it commercially, France may be going back to its former colonies to reap more of what it already has. The world should remain cautious on any former colonial power revisiting their old lands under the auspices of counter-terrorism. US involvement in OEF-P couldn’t be done any better in a very potentially politically sensitive situation considering the US was assisting a former colony. Anything more than an OEF-P level of involvement by a former parent country could have questionable motives, regardless of UN Security Council approval.