Mali Continues to Pay the Price for the Libyan War (II)
This is the direct consequence of NATO’s intervention in Libya. This shouldn’t an afterthought. This should be the top of the news.
We did this.
Yes, “we” did to the extent that our government did it, and the consequences of a Western war of choice ought to be receiving far more attention than they have to date. Once the initial crisis and conflict were finished, this part of the world ceased to hold much interest for Western audiences and governments. Like other “good” interventions before it, the costs of the Libyan war stopped being tallied when Gaddafi died and NATO “won.” Some reports on Mali’s coup and the ensuing gains by Tuareg rebels avoid mentioning the Libyan connection all together, or they mention it only in passing so that one would not realize that the influx of former Gaddafi mercenaries and their weapons was one of the most important elements that made the rapid success of the rebellion possible.
Unfortunately, as unpopular as the Libyan war was here in the U.S., direct U.S. involvement in the conflict was brief enough that very few Americans are going to keep paying attention to the region to see what happens next. Even though the aftermath of the war has led to the overthrow of a friendly democratic government and the possibly permanent division of a country whose government had cooperated with the U.S. on counter-terrorism, the same reluctance to become involved in Libya’s internal affairs makes it difficult to get very many people to take an interest in the affairs of Mali. This is extremely unfortunate, because there is a growing humanitarian disaster throughout the region because of drought and food shortages that might be mitigated if there were some concerted relief effort on the part of the governments that helped to exacerbate the region’s problems.
The relative lack of attention to Mali is remarkable. One would think that the administration’s foreign policy critics would be having a field day, but many of them were even more enthusiastic for intervention in Libya than was Obama, and their main criticism of his handling of the Libyan war was that it was insufficiently assertive. There is more to be gained politically for the other party by berating Obama for his response to the Syrian civil war than by drawing attention to the harmful consequences of Obama’s intervention in Libya, and liberal interventionists have no incentive to acknowledge the damage to the region that the war has caused and continues to cause.
Update: Simon Tisdall has a relevant quote from Robert Fowler, a former regional envoy for the U.N.:
“Whatever the motivation of the principal Nato belligerents [in ousting Gaddafi], the law of unintended consequences is exacting a heavy toll in Mali today and will continue to do so throughout the Sahel as the vast store of Libyan weapons spreads across this, one of the most unstable regions of the world.”