Monday, January 21, 2013

Arab Dominoes?

When the French were defeated at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, they asked President Dwight Eisenhower to help them re-establish their hold in Vietnam. Eisenhower -- who was  a dark realist when it came to sizing up battles  -- refused their invitation.

But his successor, John Kennedy -- humiliated by Nikita Khrushchev early in his administration -- decided to draw a line in Southeast Asia. Some historians claim that he quickly saw the folly of his decision and that he planned to remove American troops from the rice paddies by the end of his first term. Unfortunately,  Kennedy was assassinated; and his successor, Lyndon Johnson, bought the line that Vietnam was a domino. Once it fell, the other countries in the region would fall.

Thomas Walkom writes that Western governments seem to be buying the same theory today. This time the battlefields are the sands of the Middle East. The invasion of Afghanistan spawned rebellion in Pakistan. The invasion of Iraq emboldened Iran to seek protection in its nuclear program. The international intervention in Libya led to an insurrection in Mali -- which, last week, led to the hostage taking and consequent carnage in Algeria.

All of the military muscle flexing, however, has left the United States and Canada weary:

For practical politicians, all of this is a nightmare. After Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public is loath to involve itself in another war. As a result, Washington speaks softly and carefully.

Canadians too have been made weary by the Afghan experience. Prime Minister Stephen Harper knows that. That’s why his office has been so reluctant to admit that Canada’s very, very limited commitment to the war in Mali is gradually expanding.

Both the U.S. and Canada have sent logistical support in the form of air cargo planes to ferry French troops and equipment into what used to be French West Africa. President Eisenhower knew how easy it was to get into a war. It would appear that we're getting into another one.

Unfortunately, our leaders -- particularly Mr. Harper -- do not possess Eisenhower's experience or wisdom.


Edstock said...

Um, you're entitled to your opinion. Mine is that as a good Marxist would say, the objective conditions are different between the French effort in Indo-China in the late 40's and early 50's, and the effort in Mali.

For example, unlike the Viet Nam debacle, this has domestic aspects, because of the Islamic immigration into metropolitan France, and the ghastly ghettos outside of Paris.

Mali is part of the Francophonie, the French-speaking world, and given that language is not an American specialty, and with budget/manpower limitations, the US has left that part of the world to the Quai d'Orsai (French Foreign Office) and the Deuxieme Bureau, or whatever CIA-type bureau is charged with running intelligence in that part of the 'phonie. The lack of noise from the US State Department is curious, in that if this were American-quarterbacked, State would have wanted to get involved demonstrably for credit.

This has a French subtlety, IMHO. Getting the African Union to pull the pickle out. Getting a C-17 from French-speaking Canada (I don't know if France has anything as good as the C-17).

Now, if the French didn't move, and these people get a firm base of operations in Mali, there could be problems sooner or later with the Islamic ghettos outside Paris and elsewhere.

I'm just a schmoe in Oakville, but from what I've read and seen, if I ran French security, I'd rate that area probably Job 1 because of potential domestic effects.

The Algerian assault just over will only add to the "black" African nervousness about fundie Islam and the arms flood from the north as the tyrants' armories got "liberated" in the Arab Spring.
It's the new, improved version of the advent of "The Kalashnikov Scourge" of the 1980's, when our freedom-loving Warsaw Pact Socialists and China shipped millions and millions, freighter-loads even, of AK-47's and RPG's to various disgruntled folks.

Owen Gray said...

I agree, Ed, that the French have a demonstrable interest in what happens in Mali. And, if they get other African nations to join in their operations, one can argue that the Africans are looking after their own neighbourhood.

What bothers me is how easily we seem to enter conflicts these days.

If Afghanistan taught us anything, it is that it's easy to get into a war. It's much harder to get out.

Danneau said...

Country Joe McDonald in 2003:
Easy to cakewalk in, not so easy to cakewalk out.


Owen Gray said...

Thanks for the link, Danneau. It's always for a short stay; and it will be -- like the song says -- "a cakewalk."

Those who have been there know that's a lie.

kirbycairo said...

Regardless of what Edstock says, it seems to me that the central problem is the same, to wit; what large colonial powers continually fail to learn is that positive investments into peoples' futures is a much more effective way to build allegiances and support that guns and invasions. If the Us, for example, had invested one tenth of the money spent in Iraq and Afghanistan on a viable prosperous state for the Palistinian people they would have done a great deal more for peace in the Middle East than all their military efforts have done. Such efforts would also have helped to rob radical Islamic groups of their constituency. It is the same kind of thing that the rich and powerful have so often forgotten - they treat the masses badly and eventually face revolution. Instead they should make all people stake-holders in a generally prosperous future which is much more likely to bring about some degree of social harmony. In this sense your comparison is entirely cogent.

Owen Gray said...

Perhaps I've drawn too tight a parallel, Kirby. It's not that history is repeating itself. It's more the case that, as Twain wrote, "sometimes it rhymes."

The point is that soft power almost always accomplishes more and better outcomes than hard power.

Violence sets off a chain reaction.