Saturday, February 2, 2013

"The Hero of 'Liberated' Timbuktu"

Who would have thought back in May that the victory of the left in the French elections would be consecrated on Feb. 2 by a victory parade in Mali in which François Hollande was hailed as the liberator of Timbuktu? To an American who watched the joyous street demonstrations in Baghdad back in 2001, followed by George Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech aboard an aircraft carrier, in which he complimented his troops, as Hollande did, on completing "a splendid operation," there is an eerie sense of history caught in an endless treadmill.

Which is not to say that I expect the Islamist rebels in Mali to make a comeback. They may, or they may decide that the game is not worth the candle, that the profits of smuggling and the occasional kidnapping are still there for the taking with far less risk than imposing sharia law and thus risking (mis?)identification by skittish Western powers with Islamist rebels elsewhere. The whole thing is at once comical and tragic, but one thing is certain: the boost to Hollande's reputation as a leader will be short-lived. The reality of a deteriorating economy awaits, and this momentary diversion in Mali has not changed a thing back home.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

To be fair, I do not remember Bush walking in the streets of Baghdad surrounded by a cheering crowd (were the hungry and poor denizens of Timbuctu plied with the equivalents of chewing gum and nylons to put them in the required mood for the cameras?).

Mélanie

Anonymous said...

Yes, seconding Mélanie, Bush did not venture into Baghdad for a victory parade in 2003 - nor anytime after - and the crowds at Firdos Square on April 9th, the day the US entered the city, were but a few hundred in number and were not there primarily to cheer the American soldiers. The comparison of Hollande in Mali with the US and Iraq is misplaced.

Arun

Massilian said...

Comparison misplaced. I heard François Hollande's words in Mali with respect and pride. They were the right words. I am even moved when I read his words : «Je viens de vivre la journée la plus importante de ma vie politique». Whatever my frustrations on such or such matters, I want to remain able to be positive and even suportive, this hasn't happened to me for a very long time. I want to enjoy the moment.

Anonymous said...

I too had a reminiscence of 2003 (not 2001) but it looked like the people in TImbuktu were genuinely relieved to see the French troops. I guess if you could be whipped at will, were forbidden to sing, and had to witness someone get their hand chopped off, all because of drug lords in fanatics costume, you'd be happy too. While the mafia/gangs/fanatics may hide in plain sight, fact is, Hollande managed to walk through the town. Fact is, if France hadn't acted, we'd be up a creek without a paddle at this moment, with an entire region taken over or about to fall. So far, Mali does not look like Afghanistan or Iraq. I don't think Hollande is responsible for the victory (the army is) but he's responsible for making the right decision at the right time and I think that we should be grateful, because I can think of quite a few European leaders who've been known for not making decisions or making decisions too late to do any good.
Myos

Anonymous said...

ps: and six months ago, I wouldn't have thought I'd be praising Hollande's decision making :p so I doubt this will be totally short lived. :) Sure nothing has changed in France but Hollande is getting some respect, which had been damaged after the sorry "tweetgate" affair. Power also is a matter of image and respect so who knows? But even if this does nothing for Hollande in the long run, it DID do something good for Mali and Subsahara Africa.

Anonymous said...

Excellent comments, Massilian and Myos. I entirely agree.

Arun

bernard said...

Anyone reading your blog has by now realised that you really, really do not like Francois Hollande. What I had not realised,was that you would not hesitate with comparing him with GW Bush, the guy who instituted torture and Guantanamo. You are sounding very much like Melenchon, another guy you don't like.

To set the record straight, Hollande and the French armies have put into clear practice the three things that France should always be about: liberté, égalité, fraternité, and they have done so both in Mali and in the Centralafrican Republic. No torture, no Guantanamo. And Mali and the whole of Western and Central Africa are grateful and will not forget.



Art Goldhammer said...

What an outpouring of cocoricos! Bernard, you are quite wrong. I don't dislike Hollande. I think he's a run-of-the-mill politician, and I neither like nor dislike him. MYOS, I don't disapprove of his decision to intervene in Mali. I think he had no choice. But his statement that this "was the greatest day of my political life" is quite eloquent, in its way. With the weapons of modernity he defeated, for the time being, a ragtag army equipped with a few pickup trucks and some rocket grenades. People who were oppressed greet him with joy; similar scenes could be seen in Baghdad in 2003, not with Bush but with his surrogates. Anyone who equates photo ops with measures of true popular sentiment is in for some rude awakenings. Enjoy your victory while you can. In the larger scheme of French politics and of global politics it amounts to nothing. What I hadn't quite realized is how starved France was for la gloire. Enough to mistake the ersatz for the real thing. And liberty, equality, fraternity: give me a break. This was a military police action, necessary in a dire extremity precisely because liberty, equality, and fraternity have been neglected in Françafrique for far too long.

Anonymous said...

Art, not to nitpick or anything but Ansar Eddine et al are a little more than a ragtag army. They are seasoned fighters, according to all reports, and have more sophisticated weaponry (taken from Qadhafi's arsenal) than your garden variety terrorist gang. On the Iraq comparison, it is true that many Iraqis - even the majority - welcomed the US invasion to varying degrees and there were indeed 'scènes de liesse' in certain places when the American soldiers arrived (mainly in the south) but these were relatively small and there was not the warmth exhibited such as that in Bamako and Timbuktu yesterday. There is no comparison. And I will contest your assertion that the intervention amounts to nothing in the larger scheme of things. I think it does. And only France could have done it.

IMO you are also being uncharitable in thinking that Frenchmen are starved for glory. I think the sentiment expressed in the comments here is a genuine satisfaction that France has done the right thing in embarking on this military intervention. This is an intervention one can entirely support, unlike so many in the past, guided as they were by raisons d'Etat and supporting some FrançAfrique despot.

Arun

Anonymous said...

No torture, no Guantanamo, but plenty of ethnic cleansing!

What exactly is there to celebrate? The victory of one ethnic group over another? The fact that this ethnic group is now grateful for the help it has received from France? Perhaps if we dress up this sectarian conflict in the language of liberté, égalité, fraternité we can make a sordid intervention look grand. And from the comments it looks like it has worked. France have been Americanized in the worse possible sense.

Louis said...

Hollande has plenty on his plate once back in Paris, so surely the awakening will be rude. But, as you said, he had no choice. And, as a politician, he juiced as much he could from it: a rather clean operation, militarily - note: militarily... - successful; a nice photo-op; an occasion to remind everybody who has the stick in Europe - not that it matters much, but given the chance, which French president would hesitate? And he even shoehorned a one-liner on France's debt to Black African troops for fighting in France between both world wars. Not bad.
Now there are things awaiting in Paris that cannot be so neatly packaged, or where even the French president is much more constrained - but given the occasion and forced to do something, Hollande did in Mali what was excpected. And it doesn't seem to me that the French press, or the radio, or people I talked to, are particularly beating their chest and bathing in national pride.

Anonymous said...

As Arun and Louis said, people here aren't into "glory", they don't seem to see the operation as "glory" per se but just doing the right thing. Just a week ago you were mocking Hollande for not realizing how well trained and well armed the drug lords/fanatics were...
Can these scenes have been staged? Absolutely. But were they? It doesn't look as staged as some of these Bush-era photo-ops. Of course the visit was a photo-op but nothing allows to believe people weren't fenuinely greeting Hollande with joy.
Also,keep in mind that many Malians have relatives in France - some of whom support Hollande and voted for him (in much larger numbers than for Sarkozy, that's for sure.) That's a situation you can't really find in Iraq or Afghanistan and which may explain the welcome.
Further, for the way things were broadcast, giving another spin:
http://www.arretsurimages.net/vite-dit.php#15096

DavidinParis said...

Outpouring of cocoricos indeed! LOL. Beware all who dare trespass on la gloire de France. Even those that are constant critics will bite you back, much like a poodle. Art, I could not agree more with your analysis. I had the same sense of (dare I say?) déjà vu. I am sure that Mali is momentarily a better place and perhaps the involvement of African solidarity in the form of other African militaries will work better than the coalition that Bush put in place assuming that we somehow believe Africa to be united in any sense, either culturally or economically. This stated, while France bequeathed her former colonies with French, I am not too sure they really ever took to heart 'liberté, égalité and fraternité'. It mixes poorly with tribal warfare.