The administration will not avoid further involvement in an African tribal war.
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Kelvin Anderson was experienced enough to know that with the present political climate, a war-weary nation, and an election year, a decision to intervene in the interminable on-off Tuareg wars was likely to be examined with great prudence. The colonel, a laconic Texan with a wry sense of humor and an easygoing manner who commands without raising his voice, understood that if intervention was not already on the options list, well, sorry about that.
Instead, the mission, dubbed Atlas Accord 2012, was to teach the Malian forces how to deliver men and supplies through drops or landings on improvised fields.
If you are going to fight Tuareg and al Qaeda terrorists in the Sahara, which is the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi, air drops are crucial. And not just to supply guns and ammo to kill the armed bandits (as everyone calls them in Bamako—when they’re being polite), but also to deliver food and water to the populations those bandits are turning into desperate refugees.
That last part is not unimportant. The Americans hoped to show that these same skills and equipment can be used to undertake the kinds of humanitarian missions in which our services, particularly the National Guard, have long experience. In a region like the Sahel, where disaster is hardly uncommon, you can’t rely only on the United Nations or the Red Cross. This is a component of what we call soft power.
The 369th Sustainment Brigade, New York National Guard, ran the show on the ground, and Col. Reginald (Reggie) Sanders was delighted to have been placed in command. After serving in the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, New York, he had a second career, while staying in the Reserves, as an executive with the Chrysler Corporation. Now he was on his third career as the C.O. of the legendary 369th, famous for never giving an inch, for always getting the task done.
As a sustainment brigade, the 3-6-9 is the backbone we often hear about but rarely see in action, the force that makes everything else possible. They deliver transportation, supplies, food, medicine, and every conceivable item to the front line, with the same promptness and care as UPS brings your wife the present for your anniversary.
The 3-6-9 helped destroy the color line in the American military. During World War I, the 369th Infantry, unpopular with commanders still committed to the idea that white men fight America’s wars, was loaned to the French. They proved their worth, and earned the nickname Harlem Hellfighters.
A century and several wars later, the 3-6-9 is as integrated—diverse, in current jargon—as the city and state that continue to furnish its ranks. Here in Mali, they were ready to do the job—and to help the Malians see that they were on the right path, and that there was always a way to get from A to B, even if your political leaders are a gang of thieves and your superior officers bought their commissions.
As Justin Lenz, the regimental command sergeant major (the highest non-commissioned rank in the Army), pointed out, “There’s no such thing as can’t. If you say you can’t, I say it means you won’t.”
MALI IS POPULAR with soft power advocates because it’s democratic. The State Department, and the other free-and-fair types who get their money from State, seldom mention the vote stealing, the massive abstention, and the vanishing polling boxes that have come to characterize Mali’s elections. Cynicism? Maybe not—consider how New York worked in Boss Tweed’s democracy. The real problem was that our policy bigs believed their own wishful thinking, and—as in some other places where we have been rather heavily engaged of late—pretended not to see the signs of disaffection and misery.
Malians chose the path of liberal democratic development following the overthrow of the military dictator Moussa Traoré in 1990. Mali quickly became Americans’ favorite West African country, a model. (We didn’t do everything we could have, like letting Malian cotton into the U.S., but in a contest between free trade and the farm lobby, the outcome was predictable.) At the same time, it was curious that given our official aim of protecting black Africa from the jihadists we gave so little thought to the Tuareg Question.
It would have helped if we’d learned a little history.
During the first months of World War I, Italy tried to impose order on Libya. It had taken over this backwater of the Ottoman Empire in 1912, but the local Arab and Berber tribes resisted their new masters. As Douglas Porch relates in The Conquest of the Sahara, “[The Italians] abandoned 5,000 rifles and ammunition by the cratefuls. For the first time in their history, the desert tribes were extremely well armed.”
Porch, who wrote his fine history in 1984, could not know how important this abandonment would become 90 years later in the global war on terror. But he would have known that given the chance, something like it would happen again.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?