Tag Archives: insurgency

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

http://www.npr.org/2012/08/02/157713415/a-diplomats-extended-visit-with-al-qaida-in-mali

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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MNLA Activists Petition French Parliament, Lessons from Ho Chi Minh

http://allafrica.com/stories/201206250246.html

Mali’s stormy politics spilled onto the streets of Paris on Saturday when supporters and opponents of a breakaway Tuareg state in the north tried, calling itself Azawad, to win the newly elected French government’s ear.

Supporters of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) gathered outside the French National Assembly in Paris on Saturday.

After the Socialist victory in this month’s parliamentary election, they were calling for the new French government to talk to the breakaway leaders.

In April the MNLA declared northern Mali an independent state, which they call Azawad, after a coup by a faction of the military destabilised the central government.

Both ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy and current President François Hollande have said they want the country whole.

Members and supporters of The Association of North Malians turned up to oppose the MNLA’s attempt to divide Mali

The MNLA, while undertaking politics by other means to the south, is undertaking politics as usual in France.

I can’t help but remember that Ho Chi Minh’s appeal to the western powers at Versailles to consider the rights of the people of Indochina as they carved up the world. Ho was, of course, completely ignored, and it’s not difficult to surmise that it affected his political philosophy for the rest of his days. You know the rest of that story.

I foresee a similar response to the MNLA supporters from France and its leadership. Insurgencies such as the movement to free the Azawad are created through a lack of political representation. France will more than likely regret its decision to ignore the Tuareg. 

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Economic Theory Applied to Warfare: Adam Curtis on Counterinsurgency

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2012/06/how_to_kill_a_rational_peasant.html

Adam Curtis always has penetrating insights and excellent research pieces on thoughtful topics. His latest piece on the history of counterinsurgency is superb, threading together American counterinsurgency in the war on terror with the French theorist that created it.

I wanted to draw attention to one aspect of the piece that I would have loved to see drawn out.

Curtis explains how traditional economic theories of rational actors began to be applied to the public at large in war torn countries as a method of understanding informants and non-traditional insurgent hierarchies. 

The new theory was called:

The Cost/Benefit-Coercion theory of Counterinsurgency

It still believed in Galula’s theory of putting the local population into protected villages and making them feel safe. But it gave up on worrying about what was in the villagers heads and treated them instead as self-interested “rational actors” who would respond in more or less predictable ways to incentives – and to disincentives.

The theory was picked up by the Executive branch and put into practice. Curtis goes on to explain that this method of counterinsurgency is often seen by proponents as war by another means: people are dying already, so does it really matter if there are fewer battles and more targeted assassinations? Vietnam became the proving ground for this American counterinsurgency theory, a discipline still in its infancy. This was the Phoenix Programme:

The aim of the protected villages and all the incentives was to separate the population from the insurgents. The next objective was to destroy the insurgents – and to do this the CIA set up what they called The Phoenix Programme.

But the documentary goes on to show how the Phoenix programme created something much worse – which it was powerless both to understand or to stop.

The Rational Peasant approach looked at Vietnam as a society of millions of self-seeking rational individuals. In reality, Vietnamese society was far more complicated. Extended families had tangled and intricate histories of relationships – some were friendly but many were driven by rivalries and hatreds.

As the film makes clear this had created a powerful tradition of violent retribution in Vietnamese society – and it goes on to show how some of the militias that the Americans had created used the free rein their masters gave them, to kill and torture not communists, but other, innocent civilians against whom they had long-standing grudges or hatreds.

After such experiences in Vietnam the whole idea of Counterinsurgency in the American military was discredited. It was buried away and forgotten.

Vietnam today is a different place, emerging from a war that plunged the entire region into darkness. What interests me are the cultural artifacts of such a conflict: what remains after an imperial presence that fosters a culture of assassination leaves? I suppose I need to brush up on my Vietnamese to answer that question. 

The most troubling aspect of his Curtis’ piece is that we are ready to repeat the same mistakes. 

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