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President Creosote

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.