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.