Even though we owe them our independence, the Frenchies have always been our bêtes noires. The same unwritten but strictly observed law that forbids Americans from faulting Israel also bans any flattering of France. Still, our two countries have usually found ourselves on the same side in our recent wars. Indeed, we went so far as to pay for their colonial conflict in Indochina and then keep it going after they took a shellacking at Dien Bien Phu. Except for our invasion of Morocco early in World War II, where U.S troops overwhelmed French forces uncertain in their loyalty to the fascist Vichy regime, the two nations have never really fought.
Well, there’s a first for everything. Right now, French troops are in combat not with Americans per se, but with renegade Malian forces equipped, trained and advised until recently by the Pentagon. Here's how a revealing NY Times dispatch puts it:
“For years, the United States tried to stem the spread of Islamic militancy in the region by conducting its most ambitious counterterrorism program ever across these vast, turbulent stretches of the Sahara.
"But as insurgents swept through the desert last year, commanders of this nation’s elite army units, the fruit of years of careful American training, defected when they were needed most — taking troops, guns, trucks and their newfound skills to the enemy in the heat of battle, according to senior Malian military officials.
"It was a disaster," said one of several senior Malian officers to confirm the defections. Then an American-trained officer overthrew Mali’s elected government, setting the stage for more than half of the country to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. American spy planes and surveillance drones have tried to make sense of the mess, but American officials and their allies are still scrambling even to get a detailed picture of who they are up against."
Right there, you have a $500 million screw-up. Not that anyone in charge will make a stink about it: the only thing as sacrosanct as the Pentagon is Wall Street.
More interesting will be how the U.S.-trained rebels fare against the Frenchies. Which side will the Pentagon generals be rooting for down in their guts? An army that they proudly created, even if it did surprisingly switch sides (as is typical in the region), or the forces of the mission civilisatrice who are on our side but whom we really can’t countenance?
To My Reader: Taking a break.
Back in two weeks