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Archive for February, 2013

There’s a Reason the Bad Guys Go to Those Places

Sunday, February 24th, 2013


To those 60+ poorest and most weakly-governed countries.  They face little opposition or interference, and the characteristics common to most all of the countries mean the circumstances are not likely to change soon. 

First, there are no central institutions, like law enforcement or military, of any consequence.  Why?
Because at their heart these countries are arbitrary collections of independent families and tribes.  Colonials arbitrarily created these nations with little knowledge of what they were combining.  And the geography for the families and tribes may bear no relationship to arbitrary borders.  There is no basic unifying nature to these countries.
 The country’s rulers are from one family or tribe, and had to defeat the others to gain power.  So, why would they do anything that would help their rivals……those families and tribes in other parts of the country?
In places where there is too little of most everything….water, food, power, money, resources…, too, would take more than your share if you had the power.  We call it central government corruption.  It’s really power over rivals.
We work hard with the nation to build central government and institutions that have the ability deliver the most basic security, necessities and services to the population.  But there may not be a minimum critical mass of skilled people to even staff these institutions, so they don’t become real.  Education is the answer, but it will take decades and generations to produce enough qualified civil servants.
We have realized the local nature of these family- or tribal-based nations, and we also work hard at the local level to help enable governance and availability of basic needs and services, believing this scale may be more doable and happen more quickly.  But we have the same skills situation, and often find ourselves getting no cooperation from the central government.  Well, why would they want to help us help their rivals?
A very complex and difficult puzzle, unique to each country and each locality.
I don’t know the solutions…….other than some combination of counterterrorism for the bad guys who threaten our nation, and very long-term programs and all-of-our-government investments in expertise, education, money to support their economies, and security/safety……….or maybe regional coalitions that take shape when neighboring countries determine to work together for common benefit.

But I would love to hear your ideas, and to share them with our readers.  Send me a note at, and I’ll share your thinking with our readers.


Mali as the Latest Example: You Can Get In, But You Can’t Get Out

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

It ought to be instructive to watch what other countries do when they engage with threats similar to the Afghanistan and Iraq engagements the US has dealt with over the past ten years. But we all seem to take the same approaches…….drive the bad guys out of the big cities, train and support the country’s military, provide economic and other assistance.

These 60 or so very poor, very weakly-governed, artificially-created “nations” are really a problem not solvable in this way. First of all there is no “nation”, as the peoples’ loyalties are to families, tribes, cultures, religions, etc.. It’s no surprise the country militaries don’t or won’t address the threat……what are they fighting for? And the threat is not of their nation anyway. It’s a threat network that does not recognize borders. These become regional threats.

It seems to me that the globabl community has to make a choice that the cost to all of us is great enough that it is worth it for the richest and most powerful countires to provide long term security, economic and other supplements to the 60 poorest nations. That’s a much more complicated solution than the world is prepared to take on.

So, a short article from The Economist, January 19, 2013 issue, follows, with some thoughts on how France should handle the Mali situation in which they have decided to intercede:

France, Mali and Algeria

Get stuck in but don’t get stuck

President François Hollande has made the right call. But he must not get bogged down

“MALI is one of those barely governable countries which almost nobody except its hapless inhabitants much worries about, until disaster suddenly looms, threatening to spread poison beyond its borders. On January 16th it did just that, when jihadists acting in sympathy for their Malian brethren stormed a gasfield facility in remotest southern Algeria, which abuts Mali, and took hostage scores of Algerians and as many as 40 foreign workers from countries including America, Britain, France and Japan. This has concentrated minds on the Saharan region, where a jihadist menace has been growing.

The attack in Algeria is actually a response to bold action by France. In Mali bad blood has been curdling since al-Qaeda-linked insurgents took over the northern half of the country nearly a year ago. Then, earlier this month, jihadists moved farther south, imperilling the capital, Bamako. That prompted France’s Socialist president, François Hollande, who has been wary of throwing his weight around in his country’s former colonial domains, to send troops to bolster Mali’s feeble and fractious administration (see article and article). On January 14th French troops went into action alongside Malian soldiers to recapture the town of Diabaly, the closest the rebels had come to Bamako.

Mr Hollande’s action is decisive, vigorous and entirely justifiable. An initial deployment of 650 soldiers is to be followed by the dispatch of another 2,000 or so. They will need to drive the jihadists out of cities farther north, such as Timbuktu. The jihadists must not be allowed to move to the south, where 90% of Malians reside, or to set up a base for Islamist attacks across north Africa and into Europe.

The United States and Britain are rightly giving the French logistical and intelligence support. Once the jihadist advance has been reversed, the baton should pass to pan-African diplomacy and military reinforcements from across the continent, especially from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a 15-country club led by Nigeria.

Even before the latest hostage-taking outrage, the co-operation of Algeria, Mali’s strongest neighbour to the north, which has had much bloody experience of beating back its own variant of al-Qaeda, had become vital. In the past Algeria has been loth to be on the same side as France and has opposed Western intervention in such places as Libya. But the taking of Western and other hostages on its soil underlines the importance to Mali’s neighbour of working with its old colonial master to try to halt the jihadists’ advance.

Hand over to the Africans, then leave

Getting into a war is always easier than getting out. France therefore needs to limit its ambitions. It should concentrate on driving the rebels out of the north’s three main cities and keeping the urban areas safe. Once the jihadists have been chased into the surrounding wastelands, it may prove impossible, at least in the short run, to rout them there. Rebellious tribes such as the Tuareg, whose desire for autonomy the jihadists have exploited, may never be entirely pacified.

Diplomacy must thus be applied in an effort to prise the Tuareg away from their alliance with the jihadists. ECOWAS and the African Union could provide mediation, though the UN Security Council may also have to weigh in. Provided the south is reasonably safe, Europeans and others should help with economic development and military training. But for the country to have a hope of working properly, Malians must also sort out their chaotic politics. A year ago, soldiers at the head of Mali’s ragged army overthrew an elected government. On paper, civilians are back in charge, but no one is sure who really pulls the strings. Outsiders can clear the way, but in the end it is the Malians who must mend Mali.”

What are your views? Let us know and we’ll share them with our readers. Send me a note at, will you.


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