Bombing to Lose in Mali


The title “bombing to lose” cannot be claimed to be original. It is rather a parody of Robert Pape’s Bombing to Win (1996) where he discusses America’s use of “air power and coercion” wherever it has made war and started an occupation, Germany, Korea, Iraq and so on. A decade later in 2006 Pape authored another book by the title Dying to Win, which explores the world of suicide terrorists and their strategies–most of which, Pape argues, is the direct result of western belligerence and occupation (See here). In this vein one need not discuss the callous destruction behind US foreign policies (with minor support from western allies) that have given us corrupt governments and impoverished people in Iraq after two gulf wars (1991, 2003) and Afghanistan after 2001, as well as Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the continued practice of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. All these nations remain worse off than before western intervention, leaving militant jihadists to spread their apocalyptic, anti-western Salafist worldview. As citizens, however, after decades of covert, illegal or unilateral military action taken by the US and its allies against volatile countries in the greater Middle East/North Africa, there is little appetite for yet more “war on terror.”

This is precisely what makes the French bombardment of militant jihadists (a term more precise than ‘terrorists’ or ‘Islamists’) in Mali beginning January 11 of this year most striking and bodes ill for us all. Not many people know much about Mali, but it has made its way on to the world stage since May of 2012 or so in the form of yet another African country plagued by militant jihadist (or Islamist as would call it) insurrection. The ensuing chaos amid popular revolutions and civil wars that have gripped the Arab world (and arms from Libya!) from the end of 2010 until today have only emboldened militant jihadists in the region, including Mali. France, of course, has a stake in the politics of its former North African and Saharan colonies (ca. 1830-1960). However, to make a long story short, history has taught us that aerial strikes will only further turn the people in Mali–and the region–against their former ‘colonial and crusading usurpers’ and strengthen the jihadist cause. All the web forums, videos and religious sermons I have heard coming out of the region (eg. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Ben Salim al-‘Umar; Wagdi Ghoneim) frame the French intervention this way (see further here). Like the US, the French will throw away the money of its tax payers on bombing campaigns, infuriate the increasingly lawless Sahara and lose the peace in the long run.

Of course militant jihadism is a horrific problem in the region, one that must and can only be eliminated through long-term, systemic, socio-economic reform from within the plagued society itself, both respecting the traditions of the local people and without foreign intervention. The fact that nations like France, the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others are today arming militant jihadists in some places (Syria) and trying to cut them off in others (Mali) is evidence that the goal of foreign intervention is to “control” rather than “eliminate” their activity. Readers would do well to know that the destruction and violence wrought on many societies where militant jihadism is a problem that would be seriously mitigated and that European and American taxpayers would stave of bankruptcy if they prevent their governments from making war outside its borders. If we’re not talking to one another, there’s certainly no reason to bomb one another. Consider, in closing, the words of Lyndon B. Johnson (another head of state who bombed to lose),

“The guns and the bombs, the rockets and the warships, are all symbols of human failure.”

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