Globe editorial

Canada right to offer support to Mali – but should have consulted

The Globe and Mail

French soldiers stand next to a tank at a Malian air base in Bamako, January 15, 2013. (JOE PENNEY/REUTERS)

The federal government could have done a better job in preparing the country for news of Canada’s involvement in Mali. However, it is hard to imagine reasonable objections to its loan of a C-17 Globemaster aircraft to aid a close ally with closely allied interests in preventing the spread of a virulent and cruel strain of Islamism.

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Without France’s intervention in Mali, a former French colony, Islamist forces appeared poised to overthrow the government in Bamako, and destabilize a region of Africa.

The existing government of Mali is not worthy, in itself, of such support. Despite recent claims by Canada and others that Mali is a successful democracy, it can only be deemed so by comparison with Zimbabwe and Congo. Even before a coup last year, it was a dysfunctional state tainted by corruption, and the current transitional government has done little to improve the situation.

Nor are the humanitarian benefits of the intervention – there will be a lot of people in northern Mali who get to keep their hands and other appendages as a result – likely to be enough to justify the use of fighter aircraft. The responsibility-to-protect doctrine does not cover run-of-the-mill barbarism.

Nor is the protection of global cultural treasures at storied places like Timbuktu and Djenné, threatened with destruction by the Islamists, reason enough.

At the foundation of the French mission is self-interest, and that is also the reason why Britain, the United States, Denmark and Canada are providing logistical or intelligence support to France. This is not a neo-colonial adventure or “crusader” intervention against a faith movement. It is a lucid and necessary response to the threat posed by al-Qaeda-linked Islamists who threaten to turn Mali into a base for jihadist attacks on Western countries and interests.

When Canadian troops or assets are to be deployed in conflict zones, Ottawa should consult the parliamentary opposition and brief all Canadians about its involvement. Abetting an aggression is not a matter that should be taken lightly, and the government should reflect on how its decision to intervene in Mali could have been more transparent and consultative. Only after some confusion and many questions did Prime Minister Stephen Harper eventually publicly define Canada’s role, and say Canadians would be kept away from the fighting.

It is hard to imagine why Canada would not help France, and Mali, within the parameters Mr. Harper outlined.

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