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Al-Qaida in the heart of Africa

| Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 9:14 p.m.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” That's Newton's third law of physics.

Its counterpart in geopolitics is “blowback,” when military action in one sphere produces an unintended and undesirable consequence in another.

Sept. 11, 2001, was blowback.

George H.W. Bush had sent an army of half a million to hurl Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, a triumph. Bush proceeded to impose severe sanctions on the Iraqis and to build U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia.

“Infidel” soldiers on sacred Islamic soil and the suffering of the Iraqi people under American sanctions were two of the causes Osama bin Laden listed in his declaration of war on the United States.

In the African nation of Mali today, where al-Qaida and allies have seized the northern half of the country, Azawad, as large as Texas, we are witnessing blowback for President Obama's intervention in Libya.

How so? Due almost entirely to U.S.-backed NATO bombing, which prevented Moammar Gadhafi from crushing the uprising of 2011, the colonel was overthrown and murdered by rebels.

Tuaregs from Mali, whom Gadhafi had brought into his army, fled or were expelled from Libya. Taking their heavy weapons, they returned to a country where their people had been mistreated and seized its northern half, to secede and create their own nation.

But the jihadists who fought alongside them to capture the north turned on them and drove them from power. Ansar Dine and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb then blew up all non-Islamic shrines and imposed a brutal form of Shariah law.

The U.S.-trained Malian army collapsed in the face of the rebellion. Malian troops defected to the jihadists.

This situation festered for 10 months. The whole of Mali seemed about to fall to al-Qaida.

France, whose colony Mali was, reacted. Prime Minister Francois Hollande sent planes to bomb the Islamists and 2,500 French soldiers. That battle is now underway.

French bombing already is causing civilian casualties. This could produce blowback in France, where thousands of Malians have emigrated. Many French yet remember the homeland terrorism as they fought their eight-year war from 1954 to 1962 to hold Algeria.

This week's seizure of Western hostages in Algeria is Islamist retaliation for Algeria allowing France to use its airspace in the attacks in Mali.

And how would Muslims of an inflamed Middle East accept another Western war against soldiers of the Prophet?

While Mali is of little geostrategic value, a huge and secure base camp for al-Qaida in northern Mali presents serious problems for the United States.

What should be done?

The United States cannot fight Mali's war. No vital interest is imperiled there, and this could lead to an Afghanistan in the heart of Africa. But if America is not going to take the lead in recapturing the Azawad for Mali, who is? France? NATO? Algeria?

Without America, the will is not there, the weapons are not there, the troops are not there.

As we consider our options, however, let us hear no more from President Obama about al-Qaida being “on the run” and “on the path to defeat.”

Pat Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”

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