Former PM Villepin warns of 'blind' Mali intervention
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Ten years ago, former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin argued France’s opposition to the Iraq at the United Nations. He is now worried about France’s military mission to Mali, saying Paris has failed to heed the lessons of history.
Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin has warned that military intervention in Mali risked dragging the country into an interminable conflict in the former French colony, was ill thought-out, and “not the French way”.
In an editorial for the Sunday newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche, Villepin compared France’s mission to stem Islamist advances into southern Mali to “a decade of lost wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya”.
Villepin is one of France’s most venerable diplomats, famous for his speech to the United Nations in 2003 that passionately outlined France’s case against the US invasion of Iraq.
In this Sunday's editorial, the former prime minister, who attracted the scorn of the US leadership for his country’s firm “Non” to the Iraq War, demanded: “How has the neo-conservative virus been able to infect our outlook?
“This unanimous enthusiasm for war, the haste with which we’re doing it, and the déjà-vu of ‘war on terror’, worries me.
“We will be fighting blind without any reason for actually going to war. Stopping the jihadists from moving south, reconquering the north of the country and eradicating AQIM [Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] are all completely separate war aims.”
Villepin went on to decry the weakness of the Bamako-based Malian government, which was the victim of a military coup in March 2012 that precipitated the Islamist conquest of the vast northern half of the country.
“We will be fighting alone without a reliable Malian partner,” he said. “With the removal of the Malian president in March and its prime minister in December, with the collapse of the deeply divided Malian army, and amid the wholesale failure of the Malian state, who can we rely on for backup?”
France was wholly lacking in regional partners, he added, citing reticence from Algeria, another former French colony that shares a huge desert border with northern Mali, as well as the failure of the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) to respond to the crisis.
Only politics and dialogue could save Mali from its woes, he argued, saying the only viable solution was to rebuild the country while encouraging regional partners – notably ECOWAS and Algeria – to step up efforts to restore order to the lawless Sahel region.
“What is needed is a political effort to negotiate with the various parties while isolating the Islamists and bringing the Touareg [nomadic tribes of the Sahel] together towards a reasonable solution,” Villepin wrote.
He concluded that since the Iraq War, he had “not stopped arguing for political resolution of crises away from the vicious cycle of armed force”.
“Today, our country can open a way to get us out of the warlike impasse we find ourselves in, if we can come up with a new model of engagement based on the realities of history, on peoples’ aspirations and with respect for their identities,” he wrote.
“This is France’s responsibility to history.”
Villepin’s was the only strong voice of opposition against France’s intervention in Mali until Monday, when far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon complained that France was acting unilaterally and beyond a UN-mandated plan for ECOWAS to deploy troops to retake northern Mali from the rebels in the coming months.
“The UN mandate stipulated that this was an African problem to be resolved by Africans,” he told reporters. “Doesn’t Algeria, which shares a border with Mali, have an extremely advanced army?
“Resolving this situation is a job for Africans. They’re grown-ups, they have real countries, but yet again we find ourselves going back to our old bad habits of intervening here and there on the continent. We haven’t learned a single lesson.”