Notes From the Margins…

Evan Davis, Mali and the Cock-up Theory

  • January 25, 2013
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The mainstream British media tends to view foreign policy through a very narrow lens at the best of times,   and the BBC’s worldview tends to be more circumscribed than most.     On Monday Evan Davis interviewed William Hague on the Today programme about Britain’s role in Mali.     During his gentle interrogation of the Foreign Secretary, Davis invoked a number of tropes that have become part of the political vocabulary of Western foreign policy in recent decades.

Thus he declared that “the French were trying to prevent the spread of non-government” in Mali and asked Hague to summarize his strategy for dealing with “these ungoverned spaces where extremists roam”.     He then described Mali as the latest addition to the world’s “non-governed rogue states”.

But Mali also belonged to what Davis called “non-governed rogue non-states”.

This transformation was relatively recent, Davis insisted, since eighteen months ago Mali had been a “fragile state, but it was a state.”  Now, this former “secure poor state” had become “a mess.”

How had Mali gone from being fragile, poor but secure,  to a non-governed non-state that was also rogue?     Was it, Davis politely suggested, something of a “cock up”, given the British role in the overthrow of Gaddafi and the subsequent outflow of weapons to Tuareg rebels in northern Mali?

Naturally Hague denied this, and insisted that British involvement in Libya had “saved lives” in Libya and “mitigated” the situation in Mali by preventing its collapse from getting worse.

Davis’s suggestion that the Malian into a “mess” might have been   a “cock up”,   constitutes the outer limits of acceptable criticism for the BBC.

I have lost count of the times in which BBC journalists accept without question the essential view of foreign policy propagated by the government: namely,   that the policies of Britain and its allies are essentially dictated by moral and humanitarian considerations and a common concern for international law and global security and a desire to eliminate ‘terrorism’ or ‘al Qaeda.’

According to this narrative, such imperatives oblige the West to project military force in the world’s ‘ungovernable spaces’ in order to restore order, good governance and security for the good of the countries concerned, and for the world as a whole. This is why Britain and its allies support ‘regime change’ in Iraq and Syria, why sanctions are being imposed on Iran, why France is now in Mali.

When these efforts produce results contrary to these expectations, such as Iraq, the spillover of the Afghan war into Pakistan,  or Mali, they invariably become ‘cock-ups’.     Absent from this ‘cock up’ discourse is any attempt to analyse the strategic,  economic or geopolitical considerations that have shaped the various interventions of the last decade or so, or the history or the internal dynamics of the societies where these interventions take place.

Why was Africom created and why has the Pentagon become so concerned with Africa?     How is that ‘al Qaeda’ is able to reproduce itself so easily in these ‘ungoverned spaces’?     Is ‘al Qaeda in the Maghreb’ really a creation of the Algerian secret services, as some analysts have suggested?   If so, then how is it that Algeria is considered an ally in the global ‘fight against terrorism’?

Are the ‘threats’ depicted by Western governments really as serious as our governments say they are?     Is military intervention the only ‘solution’ to reactionary Islamist formations of the al Qaeda type?   Or do such interventions actually provide such organizations with a raison d’etre?

Is it true, as an interesting article in Ceasefire Magazine suggests, that French intervention in Mali might be driven by a desire to ensure access to uranium for its huge nuclear industry?    Could it be that these governments also find chaotic and fragmented states politically useful and convenient?

Are these ‘rogue’ and ‘failed’ states really a threat to ‘our way of life’, as so many of our leaders insist, or do they provide a pretext for permanent war and militarization?     How is it that the same governments that declare ‘terrorists’  and ‘jihadists’ to be their enemies will also work with them on occasion?

Such questions are rarely answered or even asked in the mainstream media, which prefers to believe, like Davis,  that failure is only due to the folly of good intentions and the occasional cock-up.

2 Comments

  1. Nik H.

    25th Jan 2013 - 5:47 pm

    I have to agree that “such questions are rarely answered or even asked in the mainstream media” however my conclusion is different: The “thinking public” cannot and should not be forgiven. I am obviously not expecting Jack McHardwork who barely earns a living and struggles every day to be competitive with chinese wages in our magnificent globalised world to get home after work and instead of spending the little time he has with his kids to browse the Net for alternative histories of terrorism or figure out which blogs or alternative newsmedia are trustworthy.

    I have the so called intelligentsia in mind, those folks who Chomsky so perfectly describes as the chief propagandists and enablers of (dis)informative triviality terror. Those people have the education, the wits and most of all the luxury to read, discuss, make up their minds and think. It is them who should not and cannot be forgiven for more or less knowingly rejecting their role as a serious, critical and unforgiving media/intellectual whose job it actually is to make politicians, economists and jingoist warmongers twist and turn like a twisty-turny thing, as Captain Blackadder would probably have put it.

    Even those among the “thinking”, who are rather simpleminded should easily be able to realise what a despicable, miserable job they are doing. There are all the ingredients out there, even in the mainstream media, which should lead anyone with a reasonable capacity of thought, reflection and observation to conclude that one isn’t being told the whole story, or that the real questions aren’t asked or answered – but they are knowingly avoided and shunned, since we do not want to raise our voice too much, lest someone heard it and spotted you as a “radical” or “irresponsible” troublemaker.

    Now of course I do not want to sound too pessimistic – there are more and more exceptions; there are people, and I count you among them, who are doing an amazing job, be it in book-form, blogs or alternative news like Democracy Now. Those alternative views however are at best ignored but increasingly also belittled, marginalised and even attacked by the established “media” and so called intellectuals for fear that their submissive coverage of world affairs and criminal western policies becomes too obvious.

    And that is where the real cowardice and duplicity lies in my opinion – 99% of the time the only thing that brings forth vigor, determination and creativity on their part is a direct threat to their “responsible” version of world affairs, instead of investing that energy into serious thought, reflection and courage to ask the tough questions instead of being “responsible” by keyboard and mental copy-pasting.

    • Matt

      29th Jan 2013 - 5:35 pm

      Yes. I agree with that lack of courage is sometimes a factor in the MSM’s unwillingness to confront ‘unpleasant facts’. Careerism is also a factor- you don’t get on in an organization like the BBC if you spend too much time delving into the sewers of foreign policy, and more often than not you don’t even get the opportunity.

      And there is also a certain amount of groupthink that leads journalists to replay government narratives – or at least not to challenge them.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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