Saturday, January 26, 2013

They've Named It - "Afrighanistan"

The Domino Theory is back.   It played a fundamental role in drawing America into a hopeless, protracted war in Viet Nam.  If the Communists weren't repulsed from South Vietnam, all of Southeast Asia would fall to the Red horde and so America wasn't fighting for Viet Nam but for the future of an entire region.

Now The Economist is playing the same refrain only this time for North Africa.

...all wars are different. The lessons from one campaign need not map neatly onto the next. Looking at the arc of instability, stretching from Somalia and Sudan in the east through Chad to Mali in the west, as if it were just another Iraq or Afghanistan, is misleading. It is also, if it discourages outsiders from helping defuse dangerous conflicts, harmful. Though intervention always holds dangers, in Africa it need be neither so long-drawn-out as in Baghdad and Kabul nor so hopeless.

...Since time immemorial, lawlessness and violence have had a toehold in and around the vast Sahara desert and the terrain that stretches eastward across to Somalia in the Horn of Africa. But in the past few years the anarchy has worsened—especially since the fall of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi in late 2011, when arms flooded across the region’s porous borders. Hostage-taking, cash from ransoms, smuggling, drug-trafficking and brigandage have bolstered an array of gang leaders. Some of them, waving the banner of Islam, have seized on legitimate local grievances fuelled by poverty, discrimination and the mismanagement of corrupt governments.

The jihadists who attacked the Algerian gas plant came from such places as Tunisia, Mali and Niger—the Algerian authorities say they even included at least one Canadian. North African Islamists look for inspiration, if not direction, to global jihadists like al-Qaeda. Some get extra money from sponsors in Saudi Arabia and other sources in the oil-rich Gulf. A loose fraternity echoes the message of hostility toward the West and its friends in Africa and beyond. As al-Qaeda comes under pressure in the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan and in parts of Yemen and Somalia, some of its people, seeking new refuge, may fetch up in the region.

Despite these links, though, the direct threat is overwhelmingly local. Ask the townspeople of Timbuktu, who suddenly fell under the hand-chopping puritanism of strict sharia law, or the victims of a foreign-trained bomb-maker in Nigeria, or the people of Somalia, only now, with the Shabab militia in retreat, beginning to put their lives back together. But global jihad radicalises young Muslims, lending their local grievances a dangerous new edge. Poorly trained security services feed the insurgency with their brutality. As in Kenya, where Somali refugees have fed tensions between Muslims and Christians, the conflict in one country tends to spill over next door. Over the years a radicalised, armed and trained Islamist insurgency could do immense damage in a fragile part of the world.

...For those who have learned to doubt the wisdom of most intervention, this argument points to a simple conclusion: keep out. Yet for a host of reasons what happens in the Sahara is also the world’s business. The region is a big producer of oil and gas. Shutting foreign businesses out of large parts of north Africa would be a real loss—one reason why Fran├žois Hollande sent troops into Mali was to protect at least 6,000 French citizens living there. Somalia’s lawlessness led to piracy across the Indian Ocean. North African jihadists would struggle to mount a campaign of terror in Europe or America just now, but that might change one day if they controlled the resources of an entire country. Better to keep them stuck in the desert.

Unfortunately the article glosses over some critical points.   Yes we can play whack-a-mole with desert Jidhadists, just as we did with the Taliban, but then what?   We never seem to have a viable, second act.   Look at the Shiite-dominated, pro-Iran, Maliki government that Washington left behind in Baghdad.   Look at the hopelessly corrupt and inefficient government we're leaving behind in Kabul.

Yes, they're right.  We probably can "keep them stuck in the desert" but for how long and to what good end?   And while we're maintaining a front line somewhere out in the desert what sort of inept corruption will we be spawning in the rear echelons?

Yes, North Africa has oil and gas, we get it.  Let the oil and gas companies hire contractors, mercenaries, to defend their interests.  And what about the Chinese?   They're the bunch moving into the neighbourhood.   Should we really be playing the tough for them?  We did just that in Afghanistan and, now that we're poised to leave there, the Chinese have neatly sewn up a good chunk of that country's mineral wealth without so much as a "thank you" to us.

But, most critically, is the inability of our leaders to come up with a convincing narrative of just what we would accomplish in the Sahara, for whom and against whom, how and by when.  Afghanistan has turned into a mess because it was a war waged without much coherence.  Our generals weren't obliged to win.  It was enough that they did not lose and that they held out to fight another season.   Set the bar that low and they'll keep that going forever.  So why should we do that again, why should we ignore that freshly-taught lesson?

We've had enough with waging wars that we have no ability or even intention of winning.   In some wars there is a winner.   In the wars our generals wage there are only losers.

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