In a segment on Monday night, Fox host Sean Hannity expressed supreme surprise and concern that the United States has not taken on a leading role in the rolling back of rebels in Northern Mali, instead leaving it to France. The situation hit the mainstream media following a hostage crisis in neighboring Algeria linked to Mali, that left at least thirty-seven foreign workers dead — including three Americans — and Fox looking for someone to blame.
In finding Obama’s choice to militarily intervene in Libya in 2011 at fault, contributor Andrew McCarthy argued that leaving Libyan strongman Moamar Qaddafi in place would have prevented such a tragedy from occurring:
MCCARTHY: Well, the French think they have a better idea what their national interest is. That’s for certain. But I think what’s really interesting, Sean, if you remember — you’ll remember this, Judy, you will, too, 2004, 2005, 2006 we were arguing whether George Bush had brought al Qaeda to Iraq.
Now we have a situation where al Qaeda has been basically given the northern portion of a continent and they’ve been armed, because this ridiculous thing we did in Libya where we took out someone who was at the time was deemed to be an American ally, didn’t worry about who was going to come behind him and what ended up happening? His arsenal is now in the hands of terrorists.
The parallel McCarthy draws between Iraq and Libya manages to be wrong — or at best inconclusive — on several points. In comparing the presence of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to the emergence of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2004, McCarthy misidentifies the link between the two groups and the core Al Qaeda leadership based in Pakistan. The latter came into existence only after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, taking advantage of the security vacuum provided by the Bush administration. AQI reported directly to AQ’s core leadership and their rise led to the death of thousands of U.S. soldiers.
AQIM, on the contrary, has existed since 1998 and only in the past decade did it change its name from the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC) as a re-branding effort. Even since then, they’ve primarily focused on local, regional issues, all from the West African locations they still operate from. While ties exist between AQIM and core Al Qaeda, the link between the two is not firmly established.
McCarthy also indicates that leaving Qaddafi in place would have prevented Mali from being a harbor for AQIM. Leaving aside the moral questions in allowing Qaddafi in power after his threatening to massacre his people, the idea that the intervention in Libya led directly to the current state of play in Mali has yet to be conclusively proven. The quick spread of AQIM in Mali was sped along by two factors: a new wave of rebellion by the Taureg ethnic group in the North and a coup by low-level officers in April 2012. That neither one of those events would have happened without the Libyan intervention is uncertain, given the weakness of the Malian government, shifting explanations the coup leaders gave for their takeover and that the rebellion appears to have been previously planned. None of which backs McCarthy’s claim that Obama is to blame for Mali’s current troubles as Bush was for Iraq’s.