January 19, 2013
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” is Newton’s third law of physics.
Its counterpart in geopolitics is “blowback,” when military action in one sphere produces an unintended and undesirable consequence in another.
September 11, 2001, was blowback.
George H.W. Bush had sent an army of half a million to hurl Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, a triumph. He proceeded to impose severe sanctions on the Iraqis and to build U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia.
“Infidel” soldiers on sacred Islamic soil and the suffering of the Iraqi people under American sanctions were two of the causes Osama bin Laden listed in his declaration of war on the United States.
Our 3,000 dead on 9/11 were blowback for having established a neo-imperial presence in the Arabian Peninsula after Desert Storm.
In the African nation of Mali today, where al-Qaida and allies have seized the northern half of the country, Azawad, as large as Texas, we are witnessing blowback for President Obama’s intervention in Libya.
How so? Due almost entirely to U.S.-backed NATO bombing, which prevented Moammar Gadhafi from crushing the uprising of 2011, the colonel was overthrown and murdered by rebels.
Tauregs from Mali, whom Gadhafi had brought into his army, fled or were expelled from Libya. Taking their heavy weapons, they returned to a country where their people had been mistreated and seized its northern half, to secede and create their own nation.
But the jihadists who fought alongside them to capture the north turned on them and drove them from power. Ansar Dine and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb—like the Taliban in Afghanistan who blew up the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas—then blew up all non-Islamic shrines and imposed a brutal form of Sharia law. Adulterers are subject to stonings. Thieves have their hands amputated.
This is but part of the strategic disaster, however. The U.S.-trained Malian army collapsed in the face of the rebellion. U.S.-trained Malian troops defected to the jihadists. A Malian captain trained at Ft. Benning overthrew the democratic government in Bamako and seized power.
This situation had festered for 10 months. Then, this month, the jihadists occupied Konna and threatened Mopti, south of the dividing line, and Islamists entering Mali from Mauritania seized Diabaly, only 250 miles from Bamako. The whole of Mali seemed about to fall to al-Qaida.