Mali used to be part of France's West African Empire. France has still financial, military, and commercial interests in the area. France sponsored the recent UN resolution that requests plans for a foreign millitary mission to retake the northern half of Mali from Islamist rebels.
During the colonial period, France would install West African leaders, finance them, and ensure they were kept in power by force if necesssary, using small garrisons of French Legionnaires. Margolis maintains that spies from the French DGSE intellingence agency, and special advisers, still operate in former French colonies in West and North Africa.
However, in recent times, since former Frecnh colonies have become independent, the U.S. has been extending its influence. Although U.S. intervention is often justified in terms of fighting terrorism, there is also a battle for resources, and an attempt to counter China's growing commercial interests in Africa. I would note that intervention and military support also provide new business for the U.S. military-industrial complex.
Last March, Tuareg
together with militant Islamic militias seized the vast northern area called Azawad
by the Tuareg after a coup led by U.S.-trained Captain Sanogo. The Tuareg might be called the Kurds of the Sahara since they inhabit areas in several different countries and want to form an independent country from parts of northern Mali, Algeria and Mauritania. At first, the Islamic militants and Tuareg cooperated in Azawad. However, the differences between the groups were considerable. The Tuareg, some of whom fought for Gadaffi, wanted a secular state. The Islamists, who call themselves Ansar Dine,
wanted a theocracy ruled by strict Sharia law. The Islamists were able to force out the Tuareg.
The Islamists have destroyed ancient tombs of saints much to the indignation of westerners, who Margolis notes, could not find Timbuktu on a map if theiir lives depended upon it. Worship of saints is regarded by strict Islamists as a form of idolatry and even blasphemy.
Margolis, remarks as well, that western media immediately reported that Ansar Dine was "linked to Al Qaeda", without any real proof. As a matter of fact, some authorities claim that the group is not associated with Al Qaeda. In April 2012, Salma Belaala,
a professor at Warwick University who does research on jihadism in North Africa said that Ansar Dine is opposed to Al Qaeda.
Howver, often these groups themselves help to establish linkages to Al Qaeda by adopting the connection on their own. For example, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb had absolutely nothing to do with Al Qaeda originally but adopted the name as a way to ensure that it is taken as a serious miiltant group!
Although the military intervention in Mali is to be led by ECOWAS, a regional West Aftrican economic group, Margolis thinks that this is just a fig leaf and that the real fighitng will be done by French military units from Europe or central African bases. In contrast, the U.S. would prefer to use the model it has been using in Somalia, proxy fighters.
The U.S, for the last four years, has spent about $600 million to hire a proxy force of 20,000 Ugandan, Ethiopian, and Kenyan soldiers to invade Somalia and try to oust the militant Shebab movement. According to Margolis, in Mali the U.S. wants Nigeria, Morocco, and Algeria to contribute troops. The U.S. African command will provide plans and leadership.
Margolis claims U.S. and French media are raising alarms about the Islamic threat from deep in the Sahara. He thinks that in part this is designed to distract attention from domestic problems. I doubt that it distracts attention from domestic problems. Indeed, French and American taxpayers may be miffed that their tax money is to be used to fight battles in areas far remote from the U.S. and France by groups that are concerned with local battles, not attacks on France or the U.S.
Margolis questions why the U.S. and France want to wage war on credit when they are already deep in debt and facing problems domestically. The U.S. is pursuing extension of its global power and perhaps France is seeking to retain some imperial power that has mostly slipped away over time.