French President Francois Hollande has effectively tied Barack Obama's hands by going into Mali. That's only fair because Obama's actions in Libya precipitated the crisis in the Sahara to a great extent. Now, with its key interests threatened, France is committed to a campaign of vast proportions. Glenn Reynolds has a roundup of misgivings about the French involement:
January 16, 2013
WELL, THAT’S COMFORTING: Walter Russell Mead: Mali — Dien Bien Phu All Over Again? “It’s too early to tell whether Mali will really become a quagmire; insurgents always make grand claims about their power, but only some are able to make good on it. Even so, France clearly underestimated the initial jihadist military strength in Mali, and the country is already turning to the US for logistical support.” Remember when the press mocked Mitt Romney for bringing up Mali in a debate? Because, you know, they had no idea anything was brewing there. I keep saying that we have the worst political class in our history, and we do, but today’s press is the very worst part of the worst political class in our history. Related: Belgians and Danes Join French-Led Mali Intervention With American Goodies. UPDATE: Prof. Stephen Clark writes: “WRM’s invocation of Dien Bien Phu is amusing. More annoying however is the failure of the media to connect the Islamist takeover of northern Mali with the NATO-led overthrow of the Gaddafi. Mali is a knock-on consequence of a failed north-African policy. Just such consequences were the fear expressed by some with US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those failed to materialize. Now that they have materialized as a consequence of Obama’s policies the grand-high poobahs and their courtiers are as silent as church mice.”
Throw one other item into the strategic mix: Syria. Foreign Policy claims that President Obama has been told the Syrians have employed chemical weapons on civilians in Homs.
A secret State Department cable has concluded that the Syrian military likely used chemical weapons against its own people in a deadly attack last month, The Cable has learned.
United States diplomats in Turkey conducted a previously undisclosed, intensive investigation into claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, and made what an Obama administration official who reviewed the cable called a "compelling case" that Assad's military forces had used a deadly form of poison gas.
The cable, signed by the U.S. consul general in Istanbul, Scott Frederic Kilner, and sent to State Department headquarters in Washington last week, outlined the results of the consulate's investigation into reports from inside Syria that chemical weapons had been used in the city of Homs on Dec. 23.
Whether or not the report is actually true, the administration would be hard-pressed to react to it or any similar crisis. Normally "crossing a red line" would precipitate dire warnings that America would act in concert with France, Germany, or Britain to punish Assad. But Hollande has engaged the reserves and simultaneously sucked the air out of Obama's strategic choices.
After "pivoting to the Pacific" and putting major U.S. forces in landlocked Afghanistan, there are no significant reserves left. Nor is the alliance command structure in much better shape. By acting outside the customary American-led consensus, the French president has short-circuited a system which has operated for decades. The lead-up to Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom were, by contrast, massive exercises in consultation. The Bushes consulted the allies, the UN, the Congress. They consulted just about everyone.
Now the diplomatic paper is being backdated. In fairness to the French, Obama has been building up a concealed crisis in Africa and the Middle East since he pulled out of Iraq. The final straw was probably the Libya action. Now the French, in order to protect their national interests from the unraveling situation, have decided to bolt.
The situation now somewhat resembles the Suez Crisis of 1956, in which colonial powers Britain and France acted independently to seize the canal and precipitated a superpower crisis. The difference is that Obama is not Eisenhower and it is no longer a bipolar world. The current world is increasingly one in which it is every man for himself. Therefore, it is doubtful whether Obama can strongarm Hollande back into line. He must either support the French or watch their underpowered forces grind to a halt in the vast Sahara.
Meanwhile, the president is currently engaged in fixing the greatest problem of the age: the Second Amendment. The Washington Post reports:"Children across US ask Obama for changes in gun laws following Connecticut school shooting." But in grabbing power, power, and more power -- the power to borrow, make laws, make treaties, conduct secret foreign policy without reference to anybody -- Obama has failed to realize that in reality he is getting smaller every day.
His power relative to American institutions has, indeed, increased. But that has been achieved at the cost of weakening America itself. Power viewed through the relevant prism may mean that assault rifles in American hands are bad while the same weapons in Jihadi hands are simultaneously good. It is all a question of context; according to whether it serves the increase of domestic political power or not. In consequence the president has made himself a big fish but in a shrinking pond.
Mali shows how short his arm has really become. And his reach will continue to recede. Actors like Syria are bound to see Mali as a strategic opportunity. The alliance is split. It has limited ability to respond to any new crisis. And therefore they will provoke it. For the first time since 2001, Washington is on the global strategic defensive.
American enemies realize, even if the media won't say it, that Western policies since the Arab Spring have painted it into a corner. It was never Leading from Behind. It was always being Led by the Blind. And that won't change until Western politics realizes the same thing. Until then, more of the same.