Thursday, January 31

Mali: The French go to the desert.




   It's always time to break out the popcorn when the French go to war.


  The French intervention in Mali, Operation Serval, isn't exactly a shocker since the French can be pretty touchy when it comes to what goes down in their former colonies. True, the French can be pretty touchy about just about everything but foreign deserts they used to own get them extra twitchy. Especially since their former Saharan colony in Mali is engaged in one of those shitty Islamic civil wars where the bad guys are threatening the official French friendly government. It's one of those typical post colonial African wars we've been seeing a lot of lately. As usual, the bad guys want to turn the country into some shitty Sharia theocracy  and re enact that monkey bar training video Western media roll out every time they want to remind you how easily you could die on the bus to work if the designated scary people get their hands on some ungoverned desert real estate.

   The new French President, Francois Hollande, decided to intervene militarily which is seen as a ballsy move for a liberal and buys him street cred with a French population feeling decidedly small on a world that has become decidedly large since the heady days of Napoleon's 'whiff of grapeshot'. Sure, the French bombed Gadaffi with British and American help but Mali is their baby and a war they can  win all by themselves. Yes, Obama will probably throw some drones into the mix to help things along but the French winning a war will be a self esteem boost and help with the new American strategy of letting their allies clean up their own messes for a change.

   In truth, Afghanistan has taught the US the lessons of imperial over reach and how protracted campaigns, even against goat herders, have a tendency to bankrupt your treasury. So it's time to put on the training wheels and see if the French can deal with the crazies in the desert all by themselves. There are good reasons the French are touchy about Mali. The one thing about civil wars in Africa is that they have this nasty habit of spreading into neighboring countries due to the arbitrary lines the Euros drew on Africa when they were chopping it up for fun and profit. One neighboring country is Niger, and that's currently number one on the French list of favorite former colonies.

    Why?

  Because Niger is France's main supplier of uranium, that pesky yellow cake the Bush Administration lied about when they needed access to Iraq's oilfields. Uranium is basically what keeps the lights on in France and nuke reactors provide 75% of Gallic electricity generation; electricity they also export to neighboring countries for serious bank. Any disruption in supply and the French get further exposed to the big fear of every developed economy in the 21st Century; buying energy on world markets that are sure to get increasingly pricey as we strip mine the planet frantically in search of more juice.

   Right now, the French have retaken all the key objectives in northern Mali but that's the easy part. Warfare these days is boring as hell because the results are so predictable. How can a bunch of guys in pick up trucks with AKs possibly go up against Mirage jets, attack choppers and trained troops? They'll just run away even if it means postponing the rendezvous with the 72 virgins in the after life. The ability of these people to hold ground is non existent and with all that empty space out there, it's just as easy to run away for a while and see how much money the "invaders" want to burn holding on to their newly acquired desert. The current plan includes a UN and African force (ECOWAS) coming in after the French scatter the bad guys so everyone can share the price tag.



   One of the main rebel groupings fall under the banner of the Ansar Dine. They're just another bunch of wannabe al-Qaeda's who drive around in Toyota pick up trucks sporting slightly rusty Warsaw Pact surplus small arms (RPGs, DShK 12.7mm and the usual plethora of AK variants) and want to impose strict Sharia law on every poor fuck with a camel. This means chopping off kids hands for stealing an apple, stoning women who flash their ankle and getting rich off unsecured mineral wealth if given a chance. If you're a poor guy in Africa who can handle himself in a scrap it's not a bad career choice considering the alternatives are tending goats, tending camels or hitting up Bono for a handout.

   By far my favorite outfit in the Mali desert are the Tuareg warriors.

    They are pretty badass fighters. They're one of those old nomadic Saharan tribes who never had much use for civilization and preferred wandering the desert and discovering cool new interesting stuff like water. Then, when African nations gained independence from the colonials in the 1960s, the Tuareg found their open ranges suddenly chopped up into nation states; nation states that didn't fancy free peoples wandering across their bit of desert. The Tuareg are indigenous to Mali, Niger, bits of Algeria, Burkina Faso and even African behemoth Nigeria. They fought the French with swords v machine guns in the early 1900s and that didn't work out well so the Tuaregs were forced into treaties that chopped up their roaming grounds. Most recently, Gaddafi hired them as mercenaries (or private contractors if you prefer contemporary nomenclature) for $1000 per day which approaches Blackwater or Halliburton payscales. One side effect of their involvement in Libya was that they got to loot Gaddafi's armories when the smoke cleared and sailed through Niger and Algeria's porous borders to Northern Mali in 4x4s flush with some nice Warsaw Pact weaponry. They've been selling this to the Islamic sky god believers and making some nice bank on the spoils of Gaddafi's defeat.

   All this desert warfare got me thinking of the state of the planet in the 21st Century. It's falling rapidly into three distinct camps. 
  1. The technologically advanced but mature economies of the West lumbered with debt.
  2. The rapidly developing Asian economies armed with cheap labor craving a bigger piece of the pie.
  3. The backward theocracies in the Middle East and Africa who just happen to be sitting on the energy reserves the other two need.    

  Number one is the old school West; modern, advanced tech nations that have grown fat since the industrial revolution delivered the wonders of the light bulb, the flushing toilet and the laptop. They conquered everywhere and have been sitting pretty since the 19th century. True, they raped the earth to do this but there are side benefits like free education, pensions and welfare states. Trouble is, all this stuff costs money and that's getting increasingly hard to generate on a planet getting smaller by the second. There just isn't much real estate left to exploit to fund the relatively easy lives of the population back home.

  The Asian economies, on the other hand, are working with hive like determination to get back into the game. With huge populations that'll work for cheap, the West thought it'd be a good idea to outsource manufacturing so everyone could have a cheap car and a flat screen. It was basically a way of lowering prices for stressed consumers in the West, a sort of cultural welfare program that worked out well in the 1990s and 2000s but now, the beanstalk has grown huge into a proverbial behemoth and China may become the dominant power on the planet by 2030. 

   The third grouping is all that mineral and energy wealth of the Middle East and Africa. The problem is that people happen to live on top of it. Angry people. One of the side benefits of dirt cheap manufacturing is that technology has become so cheap, even poor people can afford it. That means every mud hut in North Africa and the Middle East has a satellite dish where they get to see the fruits of the modern consumer dystopia beamed into their living space. It's a bit of a culture shock for feudal medieval desert dwellers with strict laws on what you can eat and fuck. They get to see what their lands have been raped for and what they're missing out on. This causes some kind of critical self examination where they get to see the emptiness of living under Imams where they have to obey laws written by some Dark Age goat herder who said women have to dress in black tents, nobody can have sex just for the fun of it and you're not allowed to drink either, even if to wash the pain.

   How do you wash away the pain of hundreds of years of oppression and strict theocracy?

   Blow shit up.

   Blowing up the rich assholes in the West with all their fancy tech goods is a fallback remedy when your god says you can't get some love from the woman dressed in a tent living in a tent in the village down the way. The Amenas gas complex hostage crisis in Algeria is just the latest example of this. The 'Islamic extremists' in the desert are liable to strike easy but strategic energy hubs because these are the things the rich fucks in the West need from their desert; things they don't really need since they're never gonna see the profits anyway. Those profits go to the local strongman who rules the country with an iron fist and Western weaponry. Oil and gas fund those Western lifestyles they see on TV, selling stupid shit desert dwellers never even knew they wanted. The answer is Jihad. Jihad in the name of an exploited history. Jihad because my god is better than your god. Jihad because I'm stuck in a desert fapping to reruns of Baywatch on my cheap Chinese made TV.





   You know what the worst thing about these three distinct global camps is?

   None of them are the "good guys".

   That's the thing about the 21st Century.

  Everybody gets to be an asshole.

  It's not like the previous century when the fascist bad guys were so obviously bad and easy to define. These days war is entertainment. The major powers get to fight in foreign places far from their doorsteps and we watch because the explosions make for good TV. But what happens when the desert dust ups draw a major clash and switch from proxy warfare to direct conflict between major powers?  Right now the world is a Real Time Strategy game with three distinct races. The tech advanced West with expensive units but soft populations, the economic East with millions of infantry and hard, hive mind populations and then the fanatical "terrorists" in the desert with asymmetric tactics and vast energy reserves.

   I'd play that RTS game.

   If it were a game.





57 comments:

  1. Great read as always

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  2. Keep Calm and Carry OnJanuary 31, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    Long awaited but never disappointing.

    Thanks WT for placing every war in its wider global context. There's so much going on right now, we're going to need to hear a lot more from you WT.

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  3. I'm going to go out on a limb here and approve this politically incorrect post.

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  4. Post more! No pressure, but I love your stuff and I wish you posted more often.

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  5. Distinct Camp 1 exception - Australia. Shiny goods and energy to burn. Go fuck yourselves world! Great read as always. Very entertaining.

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  6. Larger infographs, please!

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  7. You write brilliant shit and I love you wartard.

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  8. Command & Conquer Generals is about the closest contemporary RTS.......while a bot old (2005), there are some great mods out for it, including Cold War Crisis and Shockwave...

    BTW, loved the Bono jibe as well :-)

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  9. Aussies love you WT. It's summer down here and I'm absorbing your "shitty future" on the beach. Go fuck youself in the nicest possible way.

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  10. Well done sir... although that map needs updating. With tar sands, US and Canada should be a lot bigger.

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  11. they made it into a RTS like 10 years ago dude!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Command_%26_Conquer_factions#Generals_series

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    1. I think he was making that point tongue in cheek

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  12. Haha Stefan is spot on!

    Great post WT.

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  13. Another great read sir...you should write a book!

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  14. you nailed it on the french/mali deal. but you missed the mark on the reasons for jihad.

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  15. And yet, you can't place South America in any of the camps.

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  16. Another great article. Informative and humorous as always. Keep em coming!

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  17. "It's not like the previous century when the fascist bad guys were so obviously bad and easy to define."

    Maybe for you... I don't see how Stalin's Russia or nuclear-genocide-in-japan-for-the-lulz America, or Drezda-bombing Britain were any better than the official "bad guys"...

    World politics has always been a game of who can be the biggest asshole... and the biggest asshole usually had the money and weaponry to "persuade" world opinion to think of them as the "good guys", whereas the enemy became the "bad guys", regardless of who they are at the moment.

    US policy towards the Soviet Union is a perfect example of this phenomenon. In the early '40s Stalin was the "righteous hero" who fought the nazis for us... a few years later he became the dictator of the "empire of evil". Same guy, same country.

    Let's not paint the past pink... the game of thrones is always played by assholes.

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    1. And we Americans have always been pretty large a-holes... mostly one of the biggest. But that's nothing to be ashamed of, this is how the game is played. Self-delusion however is not.

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    2. Victor writes the history books and all that,

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    3. Stalin and Hitler exterminated millions of their own citizens. The US, Uk or French did nothing like that. Hell Germany's plan was to systematically exterminate every Slav, every Jew, every Gypsy, every homosexual, every catholic, every socialist, every Negro. You can't compare the western allies to that.


      -The Panther

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    4. Pretty sure dropping a-bombs counts as extermination. The us rounded up its own citizens just because they looked like the enemy and had contingency plans which included mass murder of Americans who looked Japanese. Not sure how that is much different from murdering people who looked Jewish.

      Israel has been caught undertaking covert eugenics policies against Arabs and Africans (sterilising them without their knowledge or consent), and has been engaged in a protracted genocide and apartheid against Arabs. As America and the UK support Israel's crimes unflinchingly, I argue that supporting them makes them equally culpable.

      America, the UK, France and other allies are equally guilty of their own genocide and oppression of Africans and Arabs in the resource wars of the last few decades.

      "You can't compare the western allies to that" - pretty sure I just did.

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    5. "You can't compare the western allies to that" all the colonial power like UK, French, Spain Has commit the same crime. albeit its not toward their own but instead to the local population under their colony.

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  18. great post wartard!

    one criticism, you sweep though the history a little too quickly and then swirl around in the present (which I love by the way, you are great at pulling things out), some of your best stuff is where you start projecting and extrapolating into the future.

    Love your work

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  19. Always a treat to open this page and find a new blog posting. I have been reading for what must be close to a year now, please try and post more regularly. It seemed you would write more often back in the day. You should be getting paid for this...at least enough to give us a weekly read.

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    1. War Tard should add a donate button or something. I'd be willing to toss him a few bucks if it meant he'd write more often.

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  20. Please War Tard, add a Donate button!

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  21. Yeah it was good what else should I say? Maybe if you see more comments you will write more. Write more.

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  22. Good post Wartard, but your wrong on a lot of the oil supply stuff. The data you have is all from 2005 and 2006, during the last few years the oil business has gone through a revolution in exploration and drilling technology. The US now ranks number 2 in oil production in the world, and will take the number one spot in a year or so. Our reserves are also much more vast then originally thought, if you count unconventionals (like Shale oil) we rank 4th in reserves. US is actually sitting pretty when it comes to petroleum at the moment.

    - The Panther

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  23. hi WT
    thanks for the new blog.
    i just wrote a university / intl politics piece about this subject.
    i concluded that France in Mali was part of US Africom drive to get the EU to block the rise of China in Africa so that the US could focus its resources on Pacific theatre (& possibly Iran).
    you have not mentioned US Africom in this piece and now i am worried i have made an incorrect analysis.
    its not too late for me to change my dissertation

    any advice?

    thanks in advance
    Ian

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  24. Damn. Just when I (foolishly) thought you'd peaked at your game, you top it again. Dude? When is that book coming? <:/ If you need someone to help proofread or compile, whatever, I'll do it for free.

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  25. Thanks for your grateful informations,
    I am working in, asian affairs news magazine. Try to post best informations like this always
    War on terror: West must beware of Afghanistan part deux

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  26. "And yet, you can't place South America in any of the camps."
    - Unknown

    Yes you totally can. Not "South America", but rather countries of South America. Let's stop making countries into genericans, we leave that for the politically correct media.

    Let's see:

    West:
    Brazil: Wants to become super-power. Flirts a lot with the Asians but at the end of day shares more cultural baggage and proximity with the West. If Bolivarianism becomes strong enough to start really threatening Brazil, they will side with the West.
    Colombia: Always been frindly to USA, which helped them fight the FARCs, that is, unless Santos and his wacky antics don't end up with FARC's victory.
    Chile
    Paraguay

    Asians:
    Venezuela (until Chavez's regime lasts, then its going to make a full 180 to the West)
    Argentina
    Bolivia
    Equador


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  27. Wartard, great read. This RTS sounds like Europa Universalis 3 with the Steppe Wolf mod.

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  28. Great article, as always ;)

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  29. Wartard - N.Korea just voided the non-aggression pact with the South..
    ..aaaad go.

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  30. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Why would he have anything new to say? North Korea pulls this bullshit like every six months, everyone knows nothing will happen.

      - The Panther.

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  31. As depressing as some of these reads are, I'm always left wanting more....MORE ..... MMOOOOORRRRRREEEEEEEE!
    I think you get my point, WT at least tweet more often.
    How about an update on an old story even, how things are 2 or 3 years down the track?

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  32. I am guessing WT is sorta over this whole blogging thing.

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  33. Nah, it's just the interval between articles gets longer and longer. When he started it seemed like there was an article every 2 weeks, now it's every few months or so. I don't blame him, he's not getting paid and I'm sure it's pretty time consuming to write these articles.

    - The Panther

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  34. I would just like to say I love your writing and I look forward to more, WT!

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  35. Wartard, write something. Anything. Please! Tell us you retired and it's OK. We're all getting OCD here

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  36. Desperately seeking a Wartard North Korea commentary!

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  37. RIP WARTARD'S BLOG 2010-2013

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  38. From bits we came and to bits we shall return.

    RIP WARTARD

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  39. Just wanted to pay my respects

    RIP Wartard

    - The Panther

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  40. This was the best political blog that I ever had the pleasure of reading. Thank you Wartard. You are a gifted writer and always manage to cut through the bullshit. Hopefully you put your talent to use again someday.

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  41. A requiem I have composed for Wartard, sung to the tune of Kansas' Dust in the Wind.

    Bits in the Wind

    "close, my, browser, only for a moment, but now Wartard's gone.
    All, his, posts, pass before my eyes now they are so old...
    Bits in the wind all we are are bits in the wiiiiindddd

    Same, old, Post, just another drop in the Blogger's sea
    All, we, upload, crumbles to an archive they we refuse to see
    Bits in the wind all we are are bits in the wiiiindddd


    Don't, hang, on, no one can blog forever but the weirdest guys
    It, all, slips, away, all your money won't another update buy.
    Bits in the wind all we are are bits in the wiiinddddd"

    -ThePanther (with accompaniment by Will Ferrell)

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    1. Relax dude. I'm scribbling up something on North Korea today.

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    2. If relax means screaming like giddy schoolgirl, that's what I'm doing.

      - ThePanther

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  42. OMG, just in time, I'll take my head out of that noose and get off the chair now ;) glad your still around War Tard.

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  43. I enjoyed the article, but your world reserves of oil infographic is way dated / way off: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_proven_oil_reserves

    I wonder how the game changes if North America no longer requires the resources that the fanatical "terrorists" are sitting on. By 2030, a major part of the technologically advanced west will probably be happy to wash its hands of the issue, and let China go have fun securing that energy, and those fanatical "terrorists" are going to have a different target.

    http://energycommerce.house.gov/blog/path-north-american-energy-independence-us-oil-output-highest-two-decades

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/100450133

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  44. Missed opportunity to point out that VW named the Touareg 4x4 after the Tuareg people. :)

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  45. how did you get into this genre of writing lol?

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