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 used a number of concepts 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 it also belonged to a category of ‘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, 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 itself. In addition it had ‘mitigated’ the situation in Mali and prevented its collapse from getting worse.
Davis’ suggestion that the transformation of Mali into a ‘mess’ and a ‘global threat’ 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 seemingly combative interviews by BBC journalists with government ministers in fact accept without question the essential view of foreign policy propagated by the government itself; 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 deploy military force in the world’s ‘ungovernable spaces’ in order to restore order, good government and security for the good of the countries concerned, and 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.
Unfortunately, from time to time, these well-meaning efforts produce the occasional ‘cock up’ like Iraq, or the spillover of the Afghan war into Pakistan, and now Mali. Absent from this ‘cock up’ discourse is any attempt to analyse the strategic, economic or the broader geopolitical considerations that have shaped the various interventions of the last decade or so, or the general policy of militarization that has underpinned them, or any attempt to understand 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 these 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 militarization and neo-colonial interventions? 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. And the result is that the public could be forgiven for believing that foreign policy is conducted by a well-meaning gaggle of jolly good chaps, fighting the forces of darkness in the world’s peripheral places, prone only to the folly of good intentions and the occasional cock-up.