We seem to be getting more involved in Mali these days. We figured we would invite the geopolitical theorists for a discussion on the situation and what each of them believes should be done or not done in the west African country. Why have this discussion now? Because Africa is once again being played by the world's dominant economic powers.
Realist: Let us begin by providing some objective background.
Idealist: As objective as we can be.
Constructivist: I will start. Mali's capital is in the southern part of the country. The country is kind of shaped like an hourglass with a thin middle. There was a Tuareg rebellion in the northern part of the country in early 2012.
Realist: The rebellion was somewhat aided by fighters from Libya.
Constructivist: True. So a bunch of military men staged a coup as they were not happy with the Malian government's response to the Tuareg rebellion. After the coup, the Tuareg declared independence for northern Mali or Azawad.
Idealist: However, Islamists took over various cities in Azawad and started setting up a rudimentary Islamic state.
Constructivist: Let us point out the players for our audience in a way that they can understand where everyone stands. I think the best analogy for the three groups is that the Tuareg are the equivalent of the Occupy protesters, the Islamists are the equivalent of Tea Party protesters, and the Malian government can be represented by the United States government.
Realist: Yes, I think we can safely say that in general terms we can probably identify the three major stakeholders in the Malian conflict with the three groups, so long as we understand that there are considerable differences between their analogous cohorts.
Idealist: I am fine with this, so long as we identify some of the major differences. The Tuareg are an ethnic group, whereas Occupy is an amalgamation of ethnicities. But I will agree that the Tuareg were the secular more left leaning of the three groups, but I do not know if we can say that they necessarily shared the same political views as a typical Occupy protester.
Idealist: The Islamists tend to be more heavily armed than the Tuareg, so in that sense, in general terms we can say that they resemble an individual in the United States that tends to come from the right wing. They also espouse a heavy role of religion as you are more likely to find in the right than the left wing here in America.
Neocon: You can find militant people on the left.
Idealist: Yes, you can, as you can find militant Tuaregs. Remember this is an analogy and does not mean that we are equating Occupy with Tuareg and the Tea Party with Islamists, we are simply trying to assist people in identifying the general characteristics of each group.
Neocon: I still have serious issues with this analogy.
Marxist: We all do, but let us continue.
Constructivist: So the revolution in Libya takes place, and many fighters in Libya came to help the Tuareg.
Realist: We should mention how we played a role in this. We also are fighting a proxy war in Somalia which has serious repercussions for its neighbors Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Neocon: Are you suggesting we let Islamists run wild.
Realist: No. The Islamists are there because of our actions. The same goes for Somalia.
Neocon: Would you not agree that we need to contain China's involvement in Africa?
Realist: There are more rational ways to do that. Our current course is one that is very poorly thought out.
Marxist: Everything comes down to robbing the continent of its resources.
Idealist: We need to empower the people in these countries to create institutions that would prevent corruption and foreign influence.
Realist: The irony of your statement is lost on you.
Idealist: What do you mean?
Realist: We need to influence institutions that will limit foreign influence?
Idealist: Yes. There is nothing ironic in that. If people do not have the institutions to compete against their governments' willingness to sell their nations resources to whoever comes knocking it is perfectly acceptable to help them create those institutions.
Constructivist: Then why not allow the people to organize themselves and do something about their corrupt government.
Realist: I have a serious issue with this whole institution business. Non-profits or non-government organizations (NGOs), whatever you want to call them, are undemocratic.
Idealist: What do you mean?
Realist: Government, well, democratic government is accountable to the governed. Who are NGOs accountable to? Their next donor?
Idealist: NGOs are accountable to their mission statement.
Realist: Mission statements change as frequently as donors do. I am not discarding the fact that there are NGOs that are run by people that really believe in their cause, but you can also not discard that there are NGOs out there that serve to feed their boards.
Idealist: But if these people's governments' are not accountable who can they turn to?
Constructivist: Themselves and their communities.
Realist: We have really gone astray here, and I am about to send us out even further, but bear with me. What communities would the people of Peshawar turn to? Misogynistic ones?
Constructivist: That is your interpretation of their culture.
Realist: No. Are you fine with half the population being denied education simply because of the gender they were born into?
Constructivist: There are people in Peshawar that believe in gender equality.
Realist: Beliefs are beautiful, what about practice?
Constructivist: There are people there that are working towards that goal.
Realist: Yes but the reality for many women is that they are second class citizens.
Constructivist: What do you propose we do?
Realist: Really, I do not have the answer but I do not think it is the institution building one that the idealists propose. Take Skateistan for instance. We all look at that and think it is great because skateboarding is so harmless. Who would attack these kids or this program? But let us deconstruct the program, shall we? If Afghans came to the US and started a program on riding horses which also incorporated education that was not in our traditional form, would we be happy?
Idealist: I do not see a problem with that.
Realist: Even if part of the curriculum stated that one gender has to partake in certain activities while the other cannot?
Idealist: Human rights are universal.
Realist: I agree, but not everyone does, and you do not need to look outside of our own borders to find people that do not.
Idealist: That does not matter. What is right is what people would believe if they used John Rawls's Veil of ignorance.
Neocon: Okay, can we get back to Mali? Are you suggesting that we do nothing.
Realist: You cannot make a mess in the place with your poorly thought out interventions and then ask me if I do not want to clean your mess. Actually, I do not want to clean your mess. But this is the mess I have. We can argue that the interests in Africa are two and everything else flows from there. The Sino-Russian interests and the EU-US interests. At this moment the Islamists are being used by both sides to further their interests. We have no qualms fighting with Islamists and we obviously have no problem fighting against them. So this war of civilizations nonsense is something we can put to rest.
Neocon: Where do we fight with Islamists?
Realist: We are currently on the same side in Syria. And to be perfectly honest, it seems like we have been doing their dirty work since the fall of the Soviet Union. We brought them to Somalia, we brought them to Iraq, we brought them to Syria, hell we even brought them to Afghanistan way back in the 1980s. If you want to find an Islamist just follow the American.
Marxist: I agree that this is about the resources of Africa. But where I disagree is that the solution needs to come from the working people in both the West, the East, and the southern hemisphere.
Realist: What kind of solution would they find. Would not each group of workers try to seek out their own interests at the expense of the others?
Marxist: Their interests are the same.
Realist: Really? A television watching spreadsheet pushing American has the same interests as a factory worker in China and an oil rig employee in Nigeria?
Marxist: Fundamentally, yes.
Constructivist: And how would you define worker? That is a wide variety of workers you listed there, and are you suggesting that there are no spreadsheet pushers in Bamako or Shanghai?
Realist: Not at all. If you want I can limit my types of workers to one country, to show that different workers have different interests.
Idealist: Getting back to Mali. Should we not work with the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to help find a solution?
Realist: I suppose the French are but the results have been abysmal. And you make those two organizations sound like they are without any ills. Some people in southern Mali have accused ECOWAS of foreign intervention.
Marxist: Both of those organizations represent vested interests.
Constructivist: Exactly. That is why we need to allow the people of Mali to seek their own future. It was mentioned earlier that our intervention in Libya helped spark this crisis.
Neocon: I would argue not, as al Qaeda leaked in from Algeria.
Realist: There is that. But their activities increased dramatically ever since the coup.
Neocon: And you still have not told us your solution.
Realist: All I can say is that what we want is to do whatever will be in our interest. And in Mali, right now it is to play the limited role we are playing, because it is reasserting our relationship with France.
Idealist: But it is alienating us from the rest of Europe that wants no involvement in this.
Realist: That is true. And it is alienating us from Russia and China. But we need to understand Russia and China from a contemporary geopolitical perspective.
Idealist: How so?
Realist: Look, China and Russia have plenty of hard power. They are both major nuclear powers, they have ascending economies of varying degrees, and are both seeking client states with which to work with or exploit, depending on your perspective. What they lack is soft power. And amazingly that is what is causing them to lose the geopolitical game. Look at Syria and Bahrain. We stand on opposite sides in both conflicts. Yet we have managed to make the world ignore Bahrain and they have not succeeded in bringing any light to the atrocities there. The opposite is true in Syria. We have pointed out atrocities, real or manufactured, only from one side, and the Russians and Chinese have not had any reasonable argument to counter us with. They are not even trying. Russia was relegated to begging Turkey to leave its plane alone.
Idealist: So we have nothing to worry about then?
Realist: Quite the contrary. When nations as powerful as Russia and China get backed into a corner, there will be hell to pay. But we have this cowboy streak in us that has gotten out of control.
Constructivist: You know you are a realist right?
Realist: Yes. Ever since the Soviets fell, our foreign policy has been one in which we do whatever we want because we can. That is not sane nor sustainable.
Idealist: This is why we need to work with ECOWAS, the AU, and France to help establish order in Mali.
Constructivist: And what of Azawad?
Idealist: They will have to settle for autonomy at best.
Constructivist: Is that not what they wanted to begin with?
Marxist: Yes, but our intervention in Libya changed that, and here we are.
Neocon: We need to go in there and assert ourselves as the dominant power and let France know that her colonial days are over.
Constructivist: And ours have just begun?
Neocon: Look, France is trying to extend its circle of influence in northern Africa all the way down to the west African coast.
Idealist: But we are allies with the French and tend to share the same values.
Idealist: Call it what you will, but it is we that can help the people of Mali partake in free trade and the sharing of ideas with the rest of the world.
Constructivist: And what of the Tuareg?
Realist: Our current role there is fine, if a bit much. We should assist the French to deal with this. It is in our interest that the French fight this war. It gives the French a sense of pride, and it reasserts our relationship with them. The Tuareg will get some sort of semi-autonomy and ECOWAS can pretend to be a meaningful economic union.
Constructivist: That sells the region's resources to the West and the Chinese at the expense of the local population.
Image courtesy of Magharebia.