They say history repeats itself if its lessons are not learned. The truth of this saying is entirely apparent when one looks at the current events being played out in the arid deserts of northern Mali, an impoverished North African country and former French colony. It is fitting then that the bombs now raining down on north Malian towns are being dropped from French Air Force planes, and the troops now landing on the ground in the country bear the French flag on their sleeves, the flag that only a few decades ago dominated this region of Africa.
The narrative in the western media is the usual nauseating one: the French troops are intervening in Mali’s ongoing civil conflict to defeat yet another spectre of Islamist terrorism and oppression, and bring democracy and freedom to its long suffering people. One instantly recalls shades of the Afghanistan campaign that began in 2001 – and the parallels are not accidental. The current conflict in Mali, and the recent French intervention, has its roots relatively far back in the history of imperialism’s power games in the world’s poorest regions.
The ‘War on Terror’ declared by the United States and its allies at the start of the millennium has followed the same basic pattern since its inception: a country displeases the US imperialists, or refuses to submit to their will, or has one or other natural resource required for their plans. The populations of the west are then treated to long-running news stories, documentaries, and newspaper editorials extolling the evils of said country / regime / stereotyped dictator; a sort of ‘softening up period’, mentally preparing the people of the imperialist countries for the coming war to be waged on the ‘enemies of freedom’. Then, the imperialist militaries have been shown to take two main courses of action, depending on the strategic position of their targets: they either obliterate them with brute force (Afghanistan, Iraq) or they foment internal unrest, arm domestic opposition militants and extremist groups (usually Islamist in nature, given the current main theatre of operations), and attempt by subversion and subterfuge to destroy their target from within, using local proxies to do their bidding. This latter method has in fact proven to be the more effective, both for preserving imperialist military strength and for making such interventions acceptable to the population at home. Let us look at some examples.