I’ve just come back from a trip to France last week, where French officials told me that come 2014, they expect there will still be a significant number of French forces in the north of Mali.
That, however, does not make Mali “Afrighanistan,” no matter what The Economist might say. Unlike the American invasion of Afghanistan, the French military operation is a small intervention ‑ France says it has 4,000 troops in Mali ‑ by a country that has no appetite to do any more. There will be no state-building by the French; there will be no great mission to democratize its people and its values (partly because democracy already has a hold in Mali). There are few densely packed urban areas for rebels to stage hard-to-detect insurgent attacks.
In recent days, French officials have been trying to make this as clear as possible. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius pledged, “France has no intention of remaining in Mali,” explaining it’s up to “the Africans and the Malians themselves to guarantee security.” The number of troops in Mali should begin to fall in March, he added.
So, if the French coming to Mali’s aid isn’t Afghanistan Redux, what is it? Proof that in a G-Zero world, when there is no all-powerful world policeman, military intervention is going to be vastly different, and much rarer. And it will often fall to the major power of last resort with the most at stake.
Note who authorized the military aid: Francois Hollande, a leader who was considered squishy pudding until a few weeks ago. But then there he was, suddenly leading the French into battle, and then just a couple of days later he said, “We are winning in Mali.” Last week he went to Timbuktu — which I’m told is pretty far away — and received a hero’s welcome. Thus far the French have reported only one fatality.