Saturday, March 24, 2012



One of the most interesting (Remember the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”) stories on the foreign policy front this week concerned the coup and brewing civil war in Mali. This is a complicated story, but it seems that a group of Malian rebels from the Tuareg tribe (Yes, by the way, that is how Volkswagen got the name of its mid-sized SUV, with just slightly different spelling, but I digress.), after having been inspired, and heavily armed, from helping in the overthrow of Colonel Gadhafi in Libya, returned to Mali seemingly intent on carrying out their version of the much lauded Arab Spring (call it, perhaps, the Saharan and sub-Saharan African Spring, 2012) in their home country. Elements of the Malian military, tired of being outgunned by what CNN and other naïve Western media would doubtless insist on calling the “idealistic young people who had tasted the excitement of freedom in Libya,” or some such drivel, overthrew the democratically elected government of President Amadou Toumani Toure in an effort to wrest more money from the Malian treasury for arms. The Tuareg insurgents, known as National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, took advantage of the unsettled situation in the capital of Barnako to take several major Malian cities, including that most famous of Malian cities, Timbuktu.

Loyal readers might suspect that I would use this story to further bash our naïve, shortsighted, and ultimately dangerous role in helping to overthrow Colonel Gadhafi, a well intentioned move that will nonetheless ultimately destabilize much of Africa and, along with our other excellent adventures in ingenuous manifest destiny disguised as do-goodism, much of the Middle East. (See my 1/15/12 post, DON’T BOTHER TO WAKE ME WHEN THE REVOLUTION’S OVER, which will in turn direct you to my other posts on the “Arab Spring.”) While loyal readers have already been proven correct, I’ve said, for now, as much as I’m going to say about that. Instead, I want to focus on something buried in reports of the troubles in Mali.

In response to the coup by Captain Amadou Sanogo (doubtless the spiritual heir of Staff Sergeant Jerry Rawlings, who staged a coup on Ghana in the early ‘80s; apparently, one does not have to be a high ranking officer, or even an officer, to lead a coup in Africa, that most democratic of continents, at least as far as military overthrows go. But I digress.), the United States government has canceled the $461mm in aid that it had earmarked for Mali. This immediately caught my eye…$461 mm in aid…to Mali?! Admittedly, Mali is a big gold producer and therefore has a smidgeon of strategic importance, has been democratic, at least by African standards, for twenty years, and has been an “enemy of Al Qaeda,” the 21st century equivalent of being “anti-Communist” as far as unlocking U.S. aid. But $461mm, for a landlocked country with only about 14 million people?

Fifty years after the late, great Senator Everett Dirksen threw out his best, and most sarcastic line, “A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking real money,” $461 mm might not seem like much. And, yes, we could eliminate all foreign aid and would make nary a dent in our deficit. But just because savings are small doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth saving.

Do we really have so much money that we can afford to give $416 million to Mali, a country that, despite its gold, is as obscure as it sounds and is of little strategic interest to the United States, and certainly of less strategic interest to us than to its former colonial master, France?

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