The importance of Mali

October 22, 2012

Mali! It’s a testament to the emphasis on terrorism in the foreign policy debate -- and the larger U.S. foreign policy conversation -- that Mitt Romney name-checked this land-locked West African state in his first answer. He cited the rise of “al-Qaeda types” in the country as part of a warning that Islamist terrorists are, he says, on the rise. Ansar Dine, a violent extremist group, has taken over parts of Mali’s north as a consequence of the country’s larger political crisis.

Romney referenced Mali again a few minutes later, which has got to be a world record. Al-Qaeda and extremists are rising, he said, "with North Mali having been taken over by al-Qaeda," also citing other examples. If Obama engaged Romney on Mali, I missed it.

Neither candidate addressed the potential links between Mali’s crisis and the civil war last year in Libya, which saw guns proliferate from Libya into neighboring Mali and bolstered long-running Tuareg rebel groups, some of whom had fought for Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. That’s too bad, as it would have been a great opportunity to discuss the merits and pitfalls of foreign military interventions, post-conflict reconstruction, and small arms proliferation.

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Karen Tumulty · October 22, 2012