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.