Monthly Archives: August 2012

Peter Tinti @ The Devils Without Details

Mr. Tinti has written an erudite piece for that not only goes out of its way to describe the very complicated dynamics that make up the political violence happening in northern Mali, but takes a shot at the many analysts (myself included) that are speaking “out of turn” when it comes to Mali. 

Mali is now viewed largely through the lens of counter-terrorism and to date few policy proposals account for the complex and interrelated local structures that will shape the security outcomes in northern Mali. This is a problem. Any intervention not delicately calibrated to local socio-political dynamics risks exacerbating the crisis, undermining the very goals policymakers aim to achieve.

Linking external intervention to local realities in Mali will be no small undertaking. As Islamist groups consolidate control in the north, there is a growing misconception that the situation may have finished shifting, with clear-cut interests and alliances beginning to take shape. But reports on the ground suggest otherwise. Political posturing in northern Mali is as volatile and fluid as ever, with a panoply of actors – internal and external – acting on behalf of a mix of ideological affiliations, economic interests, pre-existing grievances, ethnic identities, tribal networks and even personal animosities.


His observations with regard to the many analysts of the Malian situation are sound. In fact, they hit as close to home as this blog, whose author knows about as much about Mali as any beltway bandit. 

Tinti was perhaps too polite in his piece, saying that there were obvious dangers to oversimplifying the Malian conflict, while avoiding the very disturbing fact that Counter Terrorism Analysis is a big budget industry. I am absolutely positive that he is aware of the problems Greenwald pointed out in his last column at Salon, and it lurks around his piece like an elephant (or a donkey, as the case may be) in the very same room. 

The shoddy terrorism analysis that Tinti criticizes should not be thought of as analysis in good faith. A good portion of the analysts calling for war in Mali because of ill informed views are not doing so out of professionalism and lack thereof, but out of a desire to see Western intervention in the country. There is much at stake here, such as, for instance, the minerals sitting pretty in Northern Mali. There is the ever present military industrial complex, which needs to replace any toys detonated on Malian land. And, if you are not conspiracy minded, there is always the possibility that terrorism could strike out hard from Mali, making those that did not see the clear threat the losers.

Either way, this is an excellent article for anyone interested in the Malian crisis.


Negotiations Underway in Mali

Negotiations are underway in Mali, and hopefully hostilities can be averted for as long as possible. Gao is not happy about the occupation by MUJAO, hinting that the hardline groups may not be as powerful as the media portrayed them to be:

MUJAO pushed out the National Movement for Independence and Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a grouping of Tuareg separatist rebels, in late June. Since then, some local youths in Gao have reportedly joined the MUJAO cause as paid mercenaries, but most residents are in stiff opposition to the rigid Sharia law the group has imposed. On 5 August, people in Gao protested in the streets at the planned amputation of the hand of an alleged thief.

It is interesting that ECOWAS and others are calling for Ansar Dine to move away from MUJAO and the other hardline groups. Previously the media had portrayed Ansar Dine as the big bad Islamist in town, though there seem to be more subtleties worth pointing out in this conflict. 

The International Crisis Group has criticized the ECOWAS negotiation tactics as “aggravating existing fault lines in Malian society.”

The now weakened MNLA has indicated that it is open to negotiations with the interim government in Bamako, which took over from the military junta, and has toned down its separatist demands.

It’s my hope (and I’m sure the hope of the ICG) that the MNLA can come to some agreement with Bamako before foreign intervention occurs. Otherwise, all Tuareg will be in the crosshairs of peacekeepers. 

The Libyan invasion by NATO forces last year resulted in a stable government for Libya, but has destabilized Mali in a time of critical environmental crisis. Rising temperatures and drought have caused mass migrations of Malians and terrible hunger for everyone in the country. Ban Ki Moon has called for sanctions against groups he deems extremist, and while I’m sure he thinks that this would be a positive development in Mali’s situation, I don’t see how that helps the hungry, many of whom are supported by the same insurgents that would be sanctioned. 

This seems to be a period of calm for Mali, and it needs to last if the people of Mali are to get any respite from the environmental catastrophe already present in this war torn country. 

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Prime Time Police/Authority Dramas

Let’s take a roster:


  • Monday at 10: Hawaii Five O
  • Tuesday from 8-10:30PM: NCIS, NCIS Los Angeles, Person of Interest
  • Wednesday from 9-1030PM: Criminal Minds, CSI
  • Thursday at 10: Criminal Minds
  • Friday 9-1030: CSI NY, Blue Bloods
  • Saturday: NYC22, back to back 48 Hours Mystery


  • Friday for 2 hours, Bones
  • Saturday, back to back Cops


  • Thursday is the big night for the authorities. First it’s Wipeout, the military-themed reality show, and then Rookie Blue

Let’s look beyond the big ones:


  • Tuesday most of the afternoon and evening, Franklin and Bash, Rizzoli and Isles
  • Wendesday and Thursday, it’s The Mentalist
  • Saturday, the movie A Time to Kill

you get the idea.

In 2012, “drama” programming is primarily made up of police procedurals,

In 1980, the lineup was a little different. For instance, on Sunday night, the only police-related programming on the big three was CHiPS, which is not exactly your normal police procedural. CBS was playing police dramas during the week, but it would be, at most, one per prime time slot.

However, it should be noted that there were still plenty of military related programs, like MASH and Private Benjamin. In any case, it’s food for thought.

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Discussion of Mali Intervention Hits Mainstream While President of Niger Declares Libya Intervention to be a Catalyst

Renee Montagne covered the Mali rebellions on NPR’s Morning Edition a few days back. She interviewed a Canadian Diplomat who had been captive of AQIM for several months. Judging by his tone of voice and very bleak outlook on the situation, his experience deeply affected him.

However when listening to the interview, one gets the feeling that Montagne was leading him with questions about American interventions. She specifically mentions drone strikes by the American military as an option for the Mali situation, piggybacking on his assertion that AQIM is not able to be negotiated with.

It’s no surprise to hear war mongering from NPR. Montagne is part of a DC media establishment that actively supports American imperialism. I won’t go through Glenn Greenwald’s arguments on this, because he does it much better than I could ever hope to. However Montagne’s credentials speak volumes (from Wikipedia):

Montagne was among the news anchors who attended the traditional off-the-record luncheon held with the U.S. president in advance of Barack Obama‘s 2011 State of the Union Address.

Attendance at an ‘off the record luncheon’ is usually a sign that you are held in high regard by the administration. Responsible reporters like Michael Hastings or even Helen Thomas, would never be invited to such an event. Montagne simply isn’t the type to say, “Malian affairs should be left to the Malians and their immediate neighbors”. Her solution to problems of international scale is to advocate for intervention.

Her guest, Robert Fowler, was simultaneously calling for some kind of Western intervention (though he was very pessemistic about its outcome), but said that the Libyan invasion had created a major heavy weapons problem in the Sahel region. Montagne, who presumably wrote the summary, parses it this way:

Fowler, a career diplomat, says the U.S. and its allies have “massively failed” in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Over the past decade, authoritarian leaders have been ousted in all three countries, but the transitions that have followed have been messy.

“We have caused one of the most unstable regions in the world to become awash in weapons,” he says.

However if you listen to the interview, it’s very clear that the specific place awash with weapons is Libya:

 I believe that what we did in Libya proves the imperative of the law of unintended consequences, and by overthrowing Gadhafi in the way we did – by the way I was perfectly happy to see him overthrown – we have caused one of the most unstable regions in the world to become awash in masses of weaponry.

Montagne glossed over this statement in favor of focusing on AQIM’s variety of extremism that, according to Fowler, renders them unable to be negotiated with.

It’s not wise to gloss over this statement, however. In this interview with Al-Jazeera, Niger’s president, Mahmadou Issoufou, goes on the record as saying that the death of Gaddafi was a huge catalyst in causing the vicious new uprisings in Mali.

“I have to say that what is happening in Mali is the result of the Libyan crisis – that’s what caused a military coup which made things even worse,”
“I don’t believe it was necessary to kill Gaddafi, especially the way he was killed.”

It’s interesting to see Mali’s close neighbor, Niger, publicly express dissatisfaction not only with the method with which Gaddafi was killed, but the fact that he was killed at all. On the other hand, we see Western diplomats thousands of miles away going out of their way to make sure that they are on the record saying that they are glad Gaddafi is dead, but similarly explaining that they think the consequences are very real.

This distinction isn’t picked up by the media at all. NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been reporting on the people of Mali, which is a much needed facet of this story, and has made mention of factions that are controlling the northern territories in Mali. She’s probably the only responsible reporter the NPR employs when it comes to African affairs. Hell, I’d have her interviewing Fowler over Montagne, who sounds downright eager to hear about the prospect of intervention.

Jeremy Keenan has said that the MNLA is militarily superior to the forces of Ansar Dine. Western media reports that Ansar Dine and the MUJAO forces have “taken over” the territory, but they should be more specific in saying that MUJAO has taken some major urban centers and forced the MNLA out. The MNLA maintains that it still controls 90% of the Azawad proper.

Ansar Dine has said that they do not see their struggle as being part of the independent Azawad. Their struggle is for sharia law implementation. Their exact words were:

“We have handed (regional mediator) Blaise Compaore a letter by Iyad Ag Ghaly,” said a source close to the Ansar Dine delegation which has been holding talks with the Burkina Faso president in Ouagadougou.

“All we want is the implementation of sharia” in Mali, he said. “We are against independence.

I still hold out hope that the powers that be will see the internal rifts between the Tuareg and will use that to make sure that sharia is not implemented.

The western media needs to be more responsible in its reporting on this conflict. The issues are far deeper than NPR has generally made them out to be in its prime time reporting. It scares the hell out of me, because the last thing anyone in Mali needs is robot bombers flying around their skies.

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