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Mali, a huge and diverse West African country, is a new focal point for terror groups—but the problem has been brewing for years.

Our African Backyard

Former US Ambassador Vicki Huddleston on Mali, terrorism and “the big Satan”

January 29, 2013, 8:00 pm

 Many of us didn’t know much about Mali until a few weeks ago. Some of us still don’t. Hell, my cousin was a Peace Corps volunteer there, and all I really knew was that it was huge and hot, with uncommonly friendly people.

But recently, Mali has exploded into the news cycle. Terror groups have pushed across the country, gaining ground and imposing strict sharia law on Malian citizens.

SFR recently had the privilege of interviewing Vicki Huddleston, the US Ambassador to Mali from 2002-05 and former senior Department of Defense official for Africa. Huddleston is now retired and lives in Santa Fe, but she stays abreast of current affairs in her former stomping ground, and graciously offered a comprehensive explanation of what’s happening in Mali and why it matters to us. 


SFR: How did you end up in Santa Fe?

Vicki Harrison: I’m retired. Once you’re retired, you can say what you want, and you can live in Santa Fe—everything you ever wanted!

I worked for Jeff Bingaman as a fellow when I was with the State Department, so I came with him to Santa Fe, but my parents live over in Arizona, so I’ve been in Santa Fe and coming—and loving—Santa Fe forever. So when I was in Washington—we have the house here, and so when I retired, all I had to do was come back and retire—and buy a dog. You can’t live in Santa Fe unless you have a dog, so now I have an Aussie.

So give us the Cliffs Notes: What’s happening in Mali?

Let’s start with Africa: largest continent in the world, and the poorest continent, and the second most populous continent. Across Africa—right across this big belt here, going up into North Africa, is the Sahara desert. And the Sahara’s getting drier and drier; climate change is pushing people around and causing conflicts such as Darfur. So in this vast area that only the nomads live in, the remnants—the fighters from the Algerian civil war—came down into Mali. And they came into Mali, and there they established themselves. They brought with them 15 European hostages; the Germans paid them $5 million in ransom, and the hostages were released. And after that, the extremists began to expand. We’re talking—that was 2003. In Algeria, it was a 10-year civil war, from ’91 to 2002; this happened in 2003. So they were just, you know, finished with the civil war and these fighters, of course, had knowledge of the Sahara because a good piece of Algeria is the Sahara, and so when the Algerian army came after them to get the hostages back, they went over the border and they stayed. They were about 50, maybe. And from that 50, there’s probably 2,000 today, and they’re experienced fighters from all across Africa—and from outside Africa as well.

So what happened? First of all, they established themselves in the area. Some of them, like the one you’re hearing about lately, [Mokhtar] Belmokhtar, married a 10-year-old girl [laughs]—just to connect up with families in the area and he started getting involved in the cigarette trade. And then it became the cocaine trade because cocaine began to come in from the west coast. So this Al Qaeda franchise which at the time was called the Group for Salafast and Prayer, began to expand into the criminal network. We helped the region defeat them. We gave them intelligence and planning and actually defeated the first head of the Group for Salafast and Prayer—the Chadian army defeated him. but immediately afterward, they named a new group. This one linked directly with Al Qaeda; it’s called Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and that’s what we’re talking about today, AQIM.

This group decided that kidnapping was a very good deal, and over the next five or six years, they made $90 million in kidnapping westerners. So they had this kidnapping westerners, plus the cocaine and weapons and people trade across the ancient trade routes. That’s how they got rich. They bought weapons. They recruited. They sent out links to other extremist groups, like the Boko Haram in northern Nigeria that blew up the UN headquarters and has killed about 800 people. They, in one year, about two years ago, they took about 5 hostages from the yellowcake mines. The yellowcake mines are famous because of another Santa Fe transplant, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame.

So here’s the situation with AQIM: We’re talking about terrorists growing stronger. Now they’re probably up to 500; they’ve got weapons; they’ve got money; they’ve got new recruits; and they’ve got their links out to extremists in neighboring countries. You might think of it: The head was in Algeria giving orders; the body was in Mali, growing; and the arms stretching out into the south, to Boko Haram; to Libya, in the north.

And then we had Libya and the war against Qaddafi. It was a great war, a humanitarian war. We were extremely successful. We led a coalition for two weeks, put in a no-fly zone—and then, in almost six months, Qaddafi was dead, Libya was free.

But like the other states that have experienced the Arab Spring, what is the outcome of these revolutions? Well, the outcome is one good thing: People are not oppressed; there’s more freedom. The other things are: The governments are weak; they’re shattered. In some cases, they’re considerably more extreme, like Egypt. And they can’t effectively control their own territory.

So in the case of Libya, two things happened: Qaddafi had enormous armories, and those weapons flowed right out and to the south—much easier than across the Mediterranean, and more in demand, because there’s a lot of conflicts in Africa. And AQIM had money to buy the arms, and they also then linked up with the extremists in Libya who could supply them with the arms. So they linked up with Ansar Al-Sharia, [the group] that probably killed our ambassador Chris Stevens.

The second thing that happened was Qaddafi had helped the Malian government keep the peace in the north by integrating into his army a dissident clan of Tuaregs. They all came back experienced fighters with weapons. So Libya essentially was this—like a match, this was the fuse, wsssshhh, and the powder was there—boom!

So the AQIM then linked with the separatist movement in Mali. So take a minute and let’s talk about the separatist movement. Because Mali gained its independence 60 years ago, the nomads, who are North African—they are not sub-Saharan Africans; they don’t like the sub-Saharan Africans because they were their slaves in old times; because they’re nomads and sub-Saharan Africans are sedentary and traders and agriculturalists. So they never wanted to be part of Mali—or, in the case of Niger, Niger—because that meant they were ruled by sub-Saharan Africans. Also, it meant that borders were established. These people travel vast distances; they don’t respect any borders. So the nomadic populations in the north repeatedly rebelled in Mali. This was the fourth rebellion that was brewing when Libya fell apart. And this one—there was the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (that’s what they call northern Mali, which they believe should be independent)—and another one which was religious and led by a former independence rebel, Iyad Ag Ghaly. And he decided, opportunistically, to become an extremist too, and he went to Pakistan.

So they united with the AQIM and they moved down and took over all the big towns of the north. They took over the Tuareg capital of Kidal, they took over Timbuktu; they even moved south down to Duenza, which is pretty far down.

So the west looked at that and said, ‘Well, this is a pretty big mess; we’ve got these two linked together.’ And then we saw AQIM pushing out the secular independence movement of Azawad, and even Ansar Dine actually pushed out for a while, but it’s complicated to get into.

And so the United Nations authorized a peace-making mission, essentially, of African troops—of West African troops that was to be led by Nigeria, which has the most powerful army in the area. But it wasn’t to deploy until it had trained its troops and was ready, which would have been sometime late in the fall of this year.

But before anybody could even imagine it—because they only took over the north, you know less than a year ago—they just started moving south. And they moved down and were about to take over a major airport, a major port; some of the fighters were outside of Bamako, the capital. And had the French not intervened, they would’ve taken over a country of 12 million people.

That’s hard to imagine.

It’s hard to imagine. It is hard to imagine. And what happens when they have a country of 12 million people? Then you have enormous refugee flows, you know. You have 3, maybe 5 million refugees pouring out of Mali. That destabilizes the rest of West Africa. Plus, they gain in power and begin to undermine the governments of Niger, Libya, Algeria, Mauritania, Nigeria—all the surrounding governments would become infected.

So the French intervened—thank God—stopped the advance and pushed them up above the Niger River. It looks like they retook the major cities along the river.

That’s essentially where we are today, except the situation is just as bad as it was—almost as bad; it’s not just as bad, and they didn’t get a country. They still have their half of a country, which is about the size of New Mexico or bigger.

But what you have now, what we just saw with the hostage-taking at the BP plant in In Amenas is that they can reach from Mali, 1,000 miles away, up into Algeria—and of course the guy who organized it, Belmokhtar, is an Algerian—and take over that plant and take hostages.

And now the Algerians say they have talked to some of the terrorists and they say there were Egyptians with them who had attacked our embassy. So now we’re seeing Belmokhtar, the organizer, has terrorists connected to the embassy takeover, connected to BP—and all across Algeria and Libya you have these gas and oil plants. They’re going to look north. The French have stopped them at the border of Mali. But now they’ve got their weapons stockpiled in underground safe havens, and so they’ll go north. These are North Africans anyway.

So, in a sense, the damage has been done.

The damage has been done, and now it’s going to be worse. Because you have a weak North Africa. The only strong state in North Africa is Algeria, which we keep criticizing because it’s semi-authoritarian. But Egypt’s weak. Libya doesn’t control any of its territory in the south. And so we now have this perfect storm in which North Africa has kind of crumbled. The governments cannot control the territories. The terrorists have become very strong and can benefit from the weakness of the government to take over the oil plants, the gas plants, to take more hostages, to move across over to Niger (yellowcake) to move down to Nigeria—although that’s more of a stretch because the French now have pushed them out—and move to the Atlantic coast.

So what happens is, when you allow—and I think we all allowed—terrorists to exploit these ungoverned or only partially governed areas, you allow them to metastasize, to grow. And they don’t stop until they’re defeated.

So we can sit here and say, ‘Oh, there’s no United States interest’—well, eventually, when they gobble up enough territory, there is certainly going to be a United States interest. Had they taken over Mali, we had about 1,000 people there—aid workers, businessmen, diplomats. If they got into Nigeria, that’s where 12 percent of our oil comes from.

Right, I was going to say that even North Africa alone could alter the world’s energy supply.

Yeah—with Algeria. Because Libya provided about 2 percent to us, but Algeria is one of the major suppliers in the world, mostly to Europe, but to us as well. Well, what about the sea lanes? We’re talking about the Mediterranean, connecting the Atlantic and the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Once you get this ferment of terrorism going back into North Africa, then you have a huge problem that has direct interest for the United States.

We actually fought in North Africa. Most people will recall a campaign to cross Libya and Tunisia; there are famous battlegrounds across there. I mean, all of North Africa throughout history has been sort of the crossroads of great empires. You know part of the Roman Empire was in Libya and Algeria. The French, of course, moved into that area, then the Italians into Libya. So we’re talking about a very strategic area in the world, which is already weak, and these extremists will contribute to making it weaker and also making it much more difficult for these governments to govern.

I read a quote today that seemed sort of threatening to the US—like, ‘Look, this is what the Arab Spring wrought.’

That was an Algerian official in the New York Times. The Algerians were furious! I was at that time the senior official for Defense on Africa, and the Algerians were absolutely furious. They wouldn’t support us; they wouldn’t give us oversight rights or anything on Libya, and very few people understood why. I understood because I’m an Africanist, a sub-Saharan Africanist, and I knew they were worried about the extremists that they had defeated and expelled from Algeria becoming strong with the access to Qaddafi’s armies and extremists in Libya. That’s exactly what they were worried about. What they were worried about was that this would reignite the civil war.

And they’re absolutely right. Because what happened is, the Algerian civil war ended. It restarted in Mali, in northern Mali, but it was just kind of smoke and embers. Now, it’s broken out into some flames, and it can push back into both Algeria and Libya if the extremists become strong enough and make enough alliances with Salafasts and extremists.

You mentioned earlier that the Arab Spring had positives and negatives. Should we have done anything differently? Should we have stayed? Did we make a mistake here, as a country?

Well, I don’t think we made the mistake so much on the Arab Spring as we did in Mali. I think what we did in Mali is initially, we really, really helped the governments to confront the extremists. And over time, as 9.11 grew more distant in our memory, we continued to provide military training and assistance, but we didn’t really sit down, mentor them, show them how to plan, give them the intelligence to go up into the Sahara and to attack the extremists.

But it wasn’t just us—I mean, you had the French and Europeans paying them millions in ransom and consuming cocaine, which helped a little. You had a Malian state that had been undermined by all this corruption, and the West kept putting aid into it because it was democratic without realizing—well, some of us realized—but basically saying, ‘Well, it’s a democratic country; we’ll help it.’ But helping it wasn’t really helping it because the government had been hollowed out.

And so what you’re seeing in the world—we first saw it in southern Somalia.

You know, we had Black Hawk Down; we left; we ignored Somalia for over a decade—and suddenly there are Salafasts there, and they’re about to defeat the troops of African Union. What happened? We ignored it. So then we had to get involved: mentor the African troops, train the African troops, equip the African troops, provide intelligence to the African troops so they would have the capacity to defeat. This is the same problem in Mali. We didn’t quite ignore it—we were aware of it; we were providing some assistance—but $500 million over four years is not very much money; it’s a pittance. It’s less than—we provide southern Sudan $100 million a year, so it’s not much.

We did not do enough to stop it when it was preventable.

But you could argue that we’re stretched too thin. Look how long we’ve been in Iraq, and we’re still not having success. So how can we use our resources appropriately?

And that’s a good point, except it doesn’t take that much. We’re talking about a regional strategy with boots on the ground in which we work with all the countries, North and West Africa, to confront and defeat these terrorists.

That means we don’t just send 100 trainers to train this West African force that is supposed to go in and defeat the terrorists. No, you provide, actually, special forces that have the expertise in urban and guerrilla warfare—expertise from Iraq and Afghanistan; in other words, they know how to fight in the desert and in the urban areas. And then you provide the equipment, and that’s going to cost $100 million, $200, $500 million—that’s not a lot of money. People can make it sound big, but it’s not a lot of money. And then you provide the intelligence. So we’re not talking about Americans going in and fighting a war, but we are talking about American combat boots on the ground in that we would mentor them, we would go out on patrol with them and we really would make sure that this African force is going to succeed.

Because my fear right now—what we have as an African force is a pretty sad situation. Nigeria—which has a strong military, but ill-disciplined—[has] never fought in the desert, has done a terrible job with its own terrorist movement, and hasn’t done very well as the leading peacekeeping nation in Darfur. And they don’t know—most of all, they don’t know the area. Combined with Christian African countries (which only adds another element that’s not good) combined with the other countries that really do know how to fight—that’s Chad and Niger—but [have] very small weak armies.

Where we started the story was, this thing came from North Africa. This thing’s going to return to North Africa. The North Africans should be leading this, and they should be confronting this. Because it really is going to be on their doorstep; it already is on their doorstep. And they have—the Algerians have the command and control; they have the sophisticated weapons; they have knowledge of the area; they’re Arab speakers; Mali is their backyard. They should be doing this…You know, I don’t care if a country is democratic or not, if it’s fighting terrorists. I mean, I’d love to see every country be democratic, but you know, if a country will fight terrorists—no matter what kind of government.

I remember hearing stories from my cousin, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, about it being so friendly, so culturally rich—and feeling surprised that things could get this bad. Is Mali just collateral damage here?

Mali is two countries. The country she knew—and, for the most part, I knew—is sub-Saharan Africa. And it is all sorts of different ethnic groups, different languages, and they’ve learned to get along. And they get along peacefully and beautifully, and it’s extremely rich in culture. I mean, just about any African museum is about one-third or sometimes one-half Malian things—statues, pottery, textiles, carvings. It’s just a hugely rich, diverse country in the south, and it’s just lovely. As your cousin says, everybody’s friendly—except it became very, very corrupt. And that brings us to the north, because the north helped make it corrupt.

You know, so much goes back to the old colonial boundaries. First of all, it was how much territory you could get. Second was the idea that you put different races or ethnic groups together so that they can keep each other in check. So if you look at the 50th parallel, it actually divides the Arabs—the nomadic north—from sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, [in] Mali, Niger and Chad, the power’s in the south, and the northern part is all North African and Arab. And just because of context and because it’s interesting to talk about, the reverse is true in Sudan: The Arabs are in the north, but they have all the power—and that’s why we saw a 50-year civil war that resulted in South Sudan.

So [sub-Saharan Africans are] 90 percent of the population, and they control Mali. And they don’t like the nomads. They don’t understand them: They’re a different race, they’re warlike, they speak a different language and they don’t respect borders.

It’s just a completely different world up there. The first time I went up, I took my driver—who was too scared to get out of the car, so then I got myself a new driver.

And then, because the GSPC [Salafast group] was operating when I was there, I decided that we really should focus on the north. So I got our aid people to begin to push more aid up, because there’s not as much aid up there. There’s fewer people there, so you get less bang for your buck—it takes two days to get up there over land. And then, when you get into the desert, it’s difficult, it’s isolated, there’s no roads.

So I would take an interagency embassy team with me that had [Department of] Defense, aid, [Department of] State, and we’d go up and we’d sit with the chiefs and the men and would talk about, you know, ‘Are there terrorists around here?’ And they’d say, ‘No, no, we haven’t seen them.’ ‘Well, we have these eyes in the sky,’ we’d say to them. [They’d reply,] ‘Well, you may have eyes in the sky, but you’ll never control this area unless you work with us, because we’ve controlled it for thousands of years.’

And then we’d go outside and sit down with the women (because they couldn’t come in[side]) and give them boxes of medicine—basically over-the-counter aspirin, eye drops,  bandages—and then we’d know what they wanted. And then, instead of just having some firm from Bamako come build it—which they wouldn’t, because they’d just eat the money—we would find the local chiefs who lived in big cities—big cities being Timbuktu—and contract with firms they knew, because they were part of the clan and had an obligation to put in the wells and the schools. So we did about $500 million worth of work up there, just putting in these wells and things with the nomads, because nobody’s out there.

In fact, in one of these little towns that we helped a lot, they named two streets for us, one for me and one for the aid [officer].


Yeah, because they just so much appreciated the fact that we really were interested in trying to help. Because it is completely a forgotten area, and they’ve rebelled numerous times—and the solution to that problem is, in a way, much simpler; it just hasn’t been done. There has to be some kind of semi-autonomy for that region.

Like Somaliland.

Yeah, exactly. And you know, I think it might include all three states of Mali, Niger and Chad. If they weren’t semi-autonomous in Niger and Chad, they could be so in Mali, at least—have that at the center. And then you could have a police force that could have a radius controlling those empty spaces. It would have to begin with a lot of African mentoring and monitoring, but I don’t think it’s any longer realistic to think that the fiction that Mali can control its north. It never did.

How likely is it that such a semi-autonomous region would ever happen there? And would the US have to have some role in making it a reality?

You know, it’s hard to say this, but the United States has not wanted to really engage in Africa, it seems to me. You know, President Obama has only been to one African country in his first term. One African country? I mean, George Bush was there all the time! Bill Clinton was there all the time! What is going on here? Africa just ends up at the bottom of the priority list.

But we’re highly regarded by the Africans, because weren’t colonial powers—we didn’t draw those terrible borders. And they like Americans. It’s one place in the world where they still like us, and they want us to engage, and really we need to engage. I mean, it’s very evident in what has happened, with France’s intervention—you know, they need our help. France needs our help. We’re thousands of miles from France, and they need our help for transport. They need either our help or other European powers for refueling on the way. So we are really needed in Africa—especially to help Africa confront transnational threats. The transnational threats are not of Africa’s making, and these weak states have no capacity to confront them, and so it will just grow and expand—metastasize like this AQIM did. So if we want it to stop, then we’d better get engaged. Because it will take American resources and human and financial capital to stop it. Because, look: extremism came from the Middle East, then to North Africa, now down into these weak states. And that’s the thing: extremism finds whatever is weak and goes in and with it goes the corruption and the terror.

Look what’s happening to the last big herds of elephant and rhino on the plains of Kenya and Tanzania. They’re being wiped out. That’s international crime. Cocaine’s an international crime. You know the looting of the riches of Congo—probably the richest place in the world, has every mineral imaginable—that’s international crime. The cocaine trade across the Saharan routes which turned Guinea Bissau into a narcostate, that’s international crime. So here are these transnational threats that are far beyond the capacity of this continent—that has the weakest militaries, the youngest institutions—to deal with. And we are sort of sitting on the sides saying, ‘Well, French, you fix this please; this was your former colony. We’ll help you a little on the side, but really we don’t want to get too involved.’ And then suddenly—just like Somalia—20 years later, we say, ‘Oh, if we don’t get involved, we’re going to have another area where terrorists can send terrorists to blow up an interest of ours in the united states and elsewhere.’

So how do you sell this to voters and politicians? I’ve done a lot of political interviews recently about how Congress is broken and so on, and many people say, ‘Well, look at the voters—if they really wanted us to get things done, they wouldn’t vote for these polarizing views.’ And so I’m sure the argument is also made that voters aren’t interested in Africa—and that’s probably partly true. We’re in a recession, we want jobs, etc.

Well, that’s why the president should lead on Africa, and he hasn’t’ led on Africa. And that’s why he should go in the first six months. Secondly, voters care about terrorism.

I was kind of getting to that: Does this have to be a fear argument?

Yeah, probably. I mean, we’ve lost three diplomatic institutions in Africa. Have we lost that many diplomatic institutions anyplace else in the world? No. I mean, this should tell us something is going wrong. There’s a terrorism problem, and it does affect us.

That’s a good segue to the ongoing hearings about Benghazi, and the politicization of this: Were you trying to deceive the American people, or were you trying to respond to a crisis? I don’t know if you saw Secretary Clinton’s testimony today—

No, I didn’t. I saw some of the quotes from it, and I was kind of chuckling. I like Secretary Clinton, but she was pointing at northern Mali—she said something like, ‘It came from northern Mali.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, really? We’re finally thinking about northern Mali?’

I guess that’s good, in one sense.

I mean, really, you read all these articles and the congressional research that says, ‘Oh well, we decided our interests weren’t at stake in that area.’ And I thought, all that time I was [working on] this issue, I said [that] our interests are at stake and we need to help these countries confront and defeat. We can help them contain. It is our fight, and it’s the West’s fight, because whenever terrorists get into these ungoverned areas, then they use them to expand out of, and if they’re not stopped then they will impact our interests—just as they have already.

I did have a question for you about whether this all started in the Middle East, but I think you’ve already answered that.

It started in North Africa, but where did the extremism in North Africa come from? It came from the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, and it came from the madrassas in Pakistan, who trained Salafasts.

I heard a quote about Mali that mentioned Zionism, and I was like, Wow, that really gives it a different context, going directly back to Israel.

Yeah, you know, that’s true too. I think the West is naïve when they say we can’t keep get involved because they might go after US interests. I’m sorry; the whole interest of these jihadists is to destroy the West. Their fear is about Israel and Israel’s place in the Middle East and the United States’ support to the Middle East and to Israel. You know, we are the big Satan. And so for these Salafasts, we are always the target—but there are easier targets, which are the Europeans and the Africans themselves. One of the saddest stories of this whole thing we’re talking about, is what they did to the people of northern Mali. The people in Timbuktu are a combination of nomads and Sufis and secular, and they just imposed this harsh sharia law in the worst possible way. So in the end they hurt the local people more—just like when we lost embassy in Nairobi, and far more Kenyans died than Americans.

So what’s the endgame? Where do you see us going from here?

Well, I’m really worried, because I don’t think we’re sufficiently engaged. That’s the problem. Because if we were really engaged, we wouldn’t be talking about Nigeria leading this West African force to round up Salafasts in the Sahara Desert. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense. That West African force would be very good to stabilize southern Mali—to protect the towns; the river; Timbuktu, which the French have retaken—but to send them up to the desert, I just dread to think about it. Because we’re going to see a defeat of these troops who are trying to do the right thing, but they don’t have enough training, and they don’t have the right equipment. They’re up against an experienced enemy.

I mean, Belmokhtar has been fighting for 20 years. They’re extremely mobile. We’ve seen them move over thousands of miles. If we’re going to send a force into the desert, I say we—because it’s UN-authorized, and the French are there, and we’re providing them with trainers—then we’d better think about the composition of a force that can do a good job. And that means bringing in the North Africans. And if the North Africans aren’t going to come in, then we’d better bring in another country that has a military capable of fighting in the desert—and there’s not a lot of them. Morocco might be able to do it, but the Algerians and Moroccans hate each other. It really is an Algerian, Libyan issue, and now I think Algeria must come in, because they have to realize that they aren’t keeping the problems out in Mali.

They must know that it’s going to affect them too, right? Like, they must see that at some point.

Yeah. They actually formed a cell in Tamanrasset, which is southern Algeria…and never did anything, but you know they did pay lip service to this, and the Moroccans fought. The French and the Mauritanians had two battles against the AQIM up in the desert—which we disapproved of, actually.


Yeah, we said, ‘Oh, but you should just be containing, you shouldn’t be fighting those guys,’ and the French stopped because their hostages kept getting killed with this effort. But the Algerians know how to take care of it. The issue is, are they now sufficiently concerned that they will do it?

It sort of feels like whack-a-mole: We get rid of one terror cell, then another one pops up.

I think that’s what we have to think of as the future.


First it was Somalia. In a way, you might say first it was Sudan, because to some degree Sudan was involved at the bombing of the embassies as was—because before going to Afghanistan, bin Laden was in Sudan. Then he went to Afghanistan. And Somalia was always sort of this breeding ground for blowing up the embassy. So you had Somalia, big no-government place, and then you have Mali—and you know, there are plenty of other places out there too. There’s Niger and Chad and Sudan that they can go into. There are other parts of the world, like Yemen—that’s another one, clearly—Afghanistan, Pakistan are others. So I think you’re facing a global problem that you have to have a global response to. And if the states are incapable of confronting what is, on a whole, not of their creation, but of jihadists taking over their territory, then you have to have help them and their neighbors confront it. 

What about China?

What about China? They don’t do anything on the military side.

How long can they get away with that?

I don’t know. I mean, it is such a good question, because they really are heavily engaged in Africa.

From an economic development perspective.

Yeah, and from trade and investment. And like in Sudan, their interests are directly impacted. And they’ve lost people—in Ethiopia, they’ve lost about 30 auto workers. Why doesn’t China get involved? I think…because they’re not targeted. 

They’re not, are they? But how long until terrorists start realizing there’s not one great world power; there are two?

Until they start taking over more of China’s interests, which happened in Ethiopia. But China’s answer is usually to just give them weapons and money.

What can regular people do about this?

I’m tempted to say, write a letter to your congressman. The United States has to engage Africa. They have to be involved. We’re not talking about an invasion or a military operation like Afghanistan or Pakistan, we’re talking about helping the Africans defend themselves so that we, in the end, are protected. Because it is a threat to all of us. Tell the president to go to Africa, [to] stop putting it at the bottom of the priority list. Some of the countries that are growing the most now are in Africa. So Africa has enormous potential.


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