The fashionable left-wing view of former president George W. Bush is he invaded Muslim lands and instituted draconian national security legislation – the embodiment of which is the Guantanamo Bay military prison. According to the leftist line, all this was a manifestation of a world view labelled neo-conservatism.
Of course, al-Qaeda’s attacks in the US – which culminated in the events of September 11, 2001 – took place before the ”coalition of the willing” (US, Britain, Australia and Poland) invaded Iraq. Also, Bush was never a neo-conservative since he has been a political conservative all his adult life. But facts rarely suffice to diminish a convenient theory. And Bush – war monger overseas and human rights oppressor at home – is a phenomenon widely referred to at universities and within sections of the media.
For anyone in need of a dose of reality in what, before the advent of the administration of President Barack Obama, used to be called the ”war on terror”, I would recommend a visit to France. A week ago, Francois Hollande, the Socialist president, committed military forces to Mali to assist the government there to resist an insurgency from rebels in the north.
The Prime Minister of Britain’s Conservative/Liberal Democratic coalition government, David Cameron, immediately offered to assist France’s operation by providing military transport planes to lift military kit to Bamako, the capital of Mali. Some other European Union nations have also provided assistance. But this is essentially France’s mission. A commitment that could last for some years was entered into by a Socialist government with military support by some west African nations including Chad and Nigeria along with co-operation from Algeria.
Why? Well, France is concerned Mali could become a base for the organisation called Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to launch attacks on Europe. France has a real national security concern here due to its physical and historical closeness to Africa.
In short, Hollande is worried Mali could become what Afghanistan was before the Allied invasion and the overthrow of the Taliban regime. In recent days, Hollande, who was widely regarded as an inconsequential leader before the Mali intervention, has experienced an increase in popularity. The cover of the Courier International depicts the feeling. Translated, its message is ”Hollande is a war leader”.
At the weekend, heavily armed members of the French army were patrolling the streets of Paris. There was also a strong police
presence. France has experienced terrorist attacks in recent memory and its intelligence service has thwarted others. Only last year, Mohamed Merah, who claimed to be an al-Qaeda operative, murdered three French paratroopers of Muslim north African background before attacking a Jewish school in Toulouse and murdering a teacher and three young children.
France’s intervention in Mali in support of the government in Bamako, and in opposition to the Tuareg rebels, who include Islamists who enjoy the support of al-Qaeda in the AQIM, carries some risk. Yet the French president enjoys widespread bipartisan support in his aim of stopping Mali from becoming another Afghanistan. Even though, before narrowly defeating the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy in last year’s presidential election, Hollande promised the French people a Socialist administration would be less interventionist in Africa.
A majority of the French population appears to be under no illusion France, as part of the West, is regarded as an enemy of al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Osama bin Laden and the various al-Qaeda franchises never regarded Bush as its only enemy. That’s why the political retirement of Bush has not led to any significant lessening in the intention of Islamic jihadists to attack what it regards as a contemporary crusade.
Obama may regard the term ”war on terror” as redundant. Yet his administration has substantially increased the number of drone strikes against Islamic jihadists in foreign lands. Obama’s successful ”kills” include one jihadist of American citizenship who was specifically targeted. The US is now providing logistical support to the French intervention in Mali.
The recent terrorist attack on the BP gas plant in western Algeria underlines the fact jihadism remains a very real threat. According to the testimony of some survivors of the attack, the terrorists specifically targeted Westerners and Christians before being killed by Algerian special forces.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, awaiting trial in Guantanamo Bay, made clear what this conflict is all about when he boasted, at a hearing in March 2007: ”I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl … there are pictures of me on the internet holding his head.”
Hollande wants to prevent the likes of him prevailing in France from a base such as Mali. So far he has received unanimous support from members of the UN Security Council, including Australia.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute.