Published : 2013-02-01 20:44
Updated : 2013-02-01 20:44
Over the last weekend came welcome news that Obama administration officials had stopped dithering and moved to provide help urgently sought by the French in their battle against al-Qaida terrorists in Mali: U.S. officials dispatched air tankers to refuel French warplanes.
We hope that ends weeks of Hamlet-like indecision at the White House over how much logistical aid to provide in the battle to keep Mali from becoming a safe haven for al-Qaida. The U.S. should provide all the support the French reasonably request, immediately. No more foot-dragging or hand-wringing. Doing so is in Americans’ best interest.
Washington has been reluctant to get more involved in Mali out of fear that doing so would draw America into an open-ended conflict. Some U.S. officials hoped to look the other way, let the French do the hard work, and keep America’s footprint as dainty as possible in that troubled African country.
To those of the timid persuasion, we recommend Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s congressional testimony last week. The outgoing secretary couldn’t have been clearer about the threat posed by al-Qaida to American and Western security everywhere: “When America is absent, especially from unstable environments, there are consequences,” she said. “Extremism takes root, our interests suffer and our security at home is threatened.”
When America is absent, there are consequences.
Clinton also couldn’t have been clearer that Mali demands a muscular American strategy that hasn’t been in evidence: “People say to me all the time, well, (al-Qaida in Mali) hasn’t attacked the United States. Well, before 9/11, 2001, we hadn’t been attacked on our homeland since, I guess, the War of 1812 and Pearl Harbor. So you can’t say, well, because they haven’t done something they are not going to do it. This is not only a terrorist syndicate, it is a criminal enterprise. So make no mistake about it, we’ve got to have a better strategy.”
We hope the administration’s new national security team heeds her warning. Yes, al-Qaida cells in Yemen and elsewhere may pose a greater threat to America right now. But a senior U.S. defense official tells The Wall Street Journal the Mali terrorists are a “direct threat to France, Spain, Western Europe, the U.K. It doesn’t take long for them to be a threat beyond that. There is going to be a fight that goes on. We have to win.”
In other words, Washington downplays or ignores the threat of al-Qaida to the U.S. or its allies anywhere at America’s peril.
U.S. officials are said to be debating whether to take the next step, providing sophisticated data to the French so their warplanes can better target terrorists and their hideouts. “Caution is the word right now,” an administration official tells the Journal. “There are bad things happening all over the world, and we want to figure out how to do it in a smart way.”
Yes, there are bad things happening all over the world. But al-Qaida is making its move in Mali, a country almost the size of California, Texas and Illinois combined. We’d like to hear U.S. officials explain why helping French troops kill the terrorists is a not part of “a smart way.”
Over the years, the U.S. has spent millions in a counterterrorism program to train and equip Mali’s military. But that training and equipment didn’t keep pace with the growing threat. An influx of heavily armed fighters returning to Mali after the fall of Libya’s unlamented Moammar Gadhafi revived a long-simmering insurgency in northern Mali.
Western officials were surprised at how swiftly the terrorists wrested control of that area. What followed is appallingly predictable: In Timbuktu, recently freed by French troops, militants reportedly imposed brutal Shariah law, punishing violators with whippings, beatings and amputations. Priceless ancient manuscripts were torched. Bars and restaurants that served alcohol were smashed. Smoking, dancing, music and soccer were outlawed.
Without the French intervention, al-Qaida could now be poised to control the entire country.
That would be a 478,000-square-mile terror haven.
What part of that sounds tolerable to the president and members of Congress?