03/19/2013 08:15 am ET Updated May 19, 2013

Of Bread and Games, the War and Mali

In Mali, the French army is winning an exemplary war.

It is saving a friendly country that was about to fall under
the law of those who are expert in stoning and
the amputation of hands.

In so doing, it is smashing the connection they had begun
to establish with their brothers-in-assassination in Nigeria
and the rest of the region.

It is successfully carrying out this exploit not with drones,
but with men.

It has sought contact, if not hand to hand combat, in
the caves of the north of the country, involving its soldiers
in difficult, high-risk operations which have already cost the
lives of five of them.

It is fighting far from its own bases, in unknown territory,
in extreme climatic conditions, against an enemy trained to be
tough, determined, fanatical, that moves elusively through the
desert sand like a fish in water.

This operation, efficiently carried out, one confronting
a multitude of dangers, is all the war in Iraq was not.
This lightning war, conducted and won with the support
of Malian troops, without one sensing even the possibility of
the threat of a quagmire, is the opposite of the war in Afghanistan.

Better still, it is, come to think of it, the first defeat of military
Islamism -- it had already been politically defeated in
Libya, for the French intervention that revealed a fraternal
face of the West had the effect of pulverizing the core
of Al Qaeda's argument, the result of which, a year later,
was the very natural defeat of the forces that called for
Jihad at the ballot box. Well, here is a military defeat,
one that demonstrates for the first time that Jihadism is no
more capable of carrying out a war than it is of governing
a state. This too is essential, and once again, this is a key

Yet the extraordinary thing is that public opinion doesn't
give a damn. The French are more passionately interested
in the election of Miss France than they are in the heroic
deeds of this new army of Africa.

A nice Eurovision contest, if not just a Star Academy (a TV reality
show), is more interesting than the destruction of, to use François
Hollande's term, a potential Sahelistan.

Worse still, the transfer of a British football player or a French
World Cup victory elicits more fervor, more enthusiasm,
more patriotic and national pride, than the soldiers of the
Republic rendering the gangster bands of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid
and Abdelkader Mokhtar Belmokhtar powerless to do any
further harm. Or rather, yes, there were in fact signs of interest here
and there, some stirrings of curiosity or emotion, a few brief,
feverish reactions. But these were the echo of ridiculous objections
--what's this war without any images? Why haven't more
journalists been brought in to cover the operation, embedded, the way
they do in America? Why doesn't your army have anything
to say? Why are they hiding it all from us, and haven't we the
right to the spectacle, in the age of the all-powerful visible, isn't
that taken for granted, a right of man? Or else, in counterpoint,
pathetic suspicions--is it really fitting for an ex-colonial
power to come to the aid of a formerly colonized nation?

What, about this story, is hidden in the shadows, what occult
interests are they serving under the cover of great selflessness?
Niger's uranium... oil, who knows where... control of subterranean
sources of water... interests in Africa... money.... It was disgusting.

And as for Europe, it was, if possible, even more appalling,
because it experienced this war from the balcony, sullen, smugly
sermonizing, using its support as a bargaining chip or flat-out
refusing it, a vague training mission here, two transport
planes there, lent to the Ecowas. You shouldn'ta done it without
us, it's too easy to ask for help afterwards, when one never
asked for permission in the first place. You were showing off?
Going it alone? Singing and dancing, your war brand new and
joyous? Well, time to pay up now! What a shame, what a disaster.

And, for the true Europeans, those who, since Bosnia, are furious
to see Europe without strategy nor courage, what a vow of
impotence, what proof of non-existence.

One perceives, in this situation, the sign of a persistent
ignorance, extending to even the most enlightened, of the
serious geopolitical stakes that decide our future and that,
even when we forget them, never, unfortunately, forget us.

(Geopolitics, said Clausewitz, is destiny, and our destiny
today is playing out against a backdrop of Islamism, which is
progressing, terrorism, which is coming closer, and the fight to the death,
everywhere, between enlightened Islam and its obscure side.)

Either that or the rapidly shrinking reduction of politics to roleplaying,
no longer bothering with any precautions, completely
lacking in grandeur; of History to a show deemed boring without
injecting a few conspiracy theories here and there; and of the tragedy
of our condition to this futile dramatization of which Kojève
remarked that it is the pathetic caricature (and the subsequent
advent, as in all post-historic eras, of a human animal devoted
to bread and games, and to slavery).

In both cases, it is disturbing -- and very sad.