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Amateur Hour


I thought this Laura Seay piece lambasting English language coverage of Mali pretty outstanding. I know nothing about Mali and thus haven’t commented on it except to express sadness at the loss of cultural heritage (and yay! most of the Timbuktu manuscripts have survived thanks to people taking them into their own homes). But that hasn’t stopped many “experts” from talking on an issue about which they know little. The best part is Seay showing the foolishness of cheap, meaningless comparisons between Mali and Afghanistan.

Of course, it’s not just major publications doing this. It’s also famous critics of American foreign policy.

This also reminds me of an old professor of mine who worked on the Philippines telling me that the large majority of “experts” writing and talking about the Philippines during the Marcos-Aquino years had no knowledge of Tagalog and really didn’t know what they were talking about. I suppose that’s pretty common with countries off the radar of most Americans.

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  • Richard

    The Seay article is protected by a firewall

    • Dunno, I’m certainly not a subscriber and I can access it.

    • OK, I see they did put it behind the firewall. But you can just sign up for a free account and read it, which I just did to make sure.

      • Richard

        Yeah, I’ll sign up for the account.

        • DN

          You can actually just use google reader and the image overlay is ignored.

  • commie atheist

    What’s this about Greenwald taking Koch money? Haven’t heard that before.

    • wengler

      Through the CATO Institute.

      • Leeds man

        The PBS show NOVA gets Koch money. Not necessarily anything insidious about that.

        • wengler

          The CATO Institute is not NOVA.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            On the other hand, the Koch Brothers have since conducted a coup at the Cato Institute, so whatever you may think about Cato, it wasn’t pleasing the Koch’s (despite their having essentially founded it).

          • Richard

            Not that I’m a fan of Greenwald but its somewhat of a stretch to say he takes Koch money. As I understand it, he wrote two articles for the CATO Institute publication and spoke at a CATO Institute event. He got paid for the articles and the speech. The Koch Brothers are a major contributor to CATO, in fact founded it. He’s never been a member of CATO or on its payroll nor ever been on the payroll of the Koch brothers.

            • Anonymous37

              4. Glenn Greenwald claiming he only wrote “2 freelance articles” for the Cato Institute is offensive it’s so utterly absurd. We know it. Glenn knows it. For one thing, one of those “free-lance articles” was nothing resembling a “freelance article”—it was a major policy whitepaper, a one-year massive report that included numerous speaking engagements on behalf of the Koch-founded Cato Institute. And let’s not forget, the Cato Institute was originally founded as The Charles Koch Foundation of Wichita. We merely copied the phrase “Glenn Greenwald of the libertarian Cato Institute” from the description used by numerous mainstream media outlets across the country over the past few years. For example:

              Here: http://www.ohio.com/editorial/commentary/will-republicans-take-lessons-from-british-conservatives-1.169415

              “Glenn Greenwald of the libertarian Cato Institute, endorsing the California measure, notes that…”

              Or here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/8207584/Politicians-should-say-what-they-really-think-about-drugs.html

              “Judged by virtually every available metric,” says Glenn Greenwald of the Cato Institute, a libertarian US think tank, “the Portuguese decriminalisation framework has been a resounding success.”

              Moreover, as Greenwald himself knows better than anyone, his ties to the Cato Institute and the Koch-funded libertarian nomenklatura go deeper than this. For example, Glenn Greenwald was one of the keynote speakers at an elite “Cato Benefit Sponsors” event, featuring Glenn and Cato fellow P.J. O’Rourke and winger Michael Barone. Who among progressives is invited as a top entertainer for the elite Cato Institute Benefit Sponsors event? Glenn Greenwald, that’s who.

              From the eXiled Online.

              • tt

                So what? I don’t get what the gotcha is supposed to be here. Greenwald took money from libertarians…to write a paper about drug decriminalization. What’s wrong with this? This blog regularly links to libertarians on drug policy issues.

                • Anonymous37

                  The gotcha — in this part alone — is that Glenn Greenwald is purposely obscuring the truth when he minimizes his involvement with CATO. And as the eXiled points out, here’s why this matters:

                  But even if Greenwald’s ties to the Cato Institute didn’t go deeper, the idea that taking money from the Koch brothers for a one-year drug-decriminalization project shouldn’t be disclosed each time Greenwald attacks progressives while defending the Kochs’/libertarians’ pet projects—as when Greenwald defended Citizens United, much to progressives’ confusion, or when Greenwald attacked our article in The Nation about the Koch-funded libertarians leading the anti-TSA union campaign—is plain wrong and ridiculous. Payoffs and influence-peddling usually come in more subtle forms than payments marked “BRIBE.” In Russia, bankers would pay off government ministers not by giving them money earmarked “Vzyatka” but rather by giving them a “book advance” on a completely unrelated, intellectual endeavor. But even in Russia, bribery schemes like that, which clearly tie the recipient of that money to the donor of that money, led to ministers being fired. So when the Koch brothers pay for Greenwald to spend a year on a policy whitepaper, even on something as “benign” as a drug policy whitepaper, we don’t see it as benign when Greenwald simultaneously protects libertarians, defends Citizens United, and attacks journalism critical of Koch-funded libertarians.

                  We find it disturbing that Greenwald never said a single critical word about his benefactors the Koch brothers until a Weekly Standard interview with Charles Koch in March 2011, which finally elicited a mildly critical column (by Greenwald’s standards) of his Koch benefactors.

                  We believe that when you take money from the Koch brothers and a notorious corporate-rightwing libertarian outfit like the Cato Institute, that you should disclose your conflict-of-interest when you attack the credibility of journalists who expose Koch-linked libertarians running the TSA media hype, as we did at The Nation, or when Greenwald defends the Citizens United decision against progressives, as Greenwald did in 2010, much to progressives’ confusion.

                • tt

                  OK. So Greenwald has slightly stronger ties to the CATO institute than implied by “two freelance articles” (although that is a technically correct description). What exactly are we supposed to make of this? The Kochs are bribing Greenwald to keep writing about the issues he’s always written about? He would be taking the side of the TSA like good progressives should, if CATO hadn’t given him money to write about decriminalization in Portugal?

                • Anonymous37

                  (although that is a technically correct description)

                  No, it’s not even correct on that level. A major policy whitepaper isn’t “an article”.

                • Richard

                  Plus it’s the two articles that say “Greenwald of the Cato Institue”. It doesn’t appear that Greenwald has identified himself as being from the Cato Institute. Much ado about nothing. He took money from an Institue partially funded by the Kochs on three occasions. That doesn’t legitimately translate as taking money from the Kochs.

                • tt

                  A major policy whitepaper isn’t “an article”.

                  Yes it is.

                • drkrick

                  Add me to the so what? column. If Greenwald’s work makes sense, as it often does, great. If it doesn’t, as is also often the case, discount it. If the Glenn Greenwald imprimatur is so important to you that you can be swayed to support things you don’t believe in when he asserts them, the fact that the Koches may have influenced his position to some extent is not your biggest problem.

                • Anonymous37

                  Really? A 39 page report which was published on its own and not, as far as I can tell, as part of any other publication is an “article”?

                  No, it’s not. I look forward to your explanation of why it is or a straightforward admission that your parenthetical is bullshit, because then we can move on to discussing the rest of your comment.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  I said this when it first came up, but I don’t agree with this criticism of Greenwald at all. As long as what he said on the merits is right — and on the drug war, I assume it is — I don’t see the problem.

            • Marc

              A smaller stretch than the bad-faith way that GG routinely treats people who disagree with him.

              • IM

                Two wrongs don’t make a right.

                Moreover there is simply no Koch brothers connection: CATO did finance his paper on drug decriminalisation when the Kochs were feuding with CATO and didn’t give them any money.

            • David Nieporent

              (1) Cato is not an acronym. It’s the Cato Institute, not the CATO Institute.

              (2) The Kochs did found Cato, and were key donors at one point, but they are not “major contributors” anymore. Cato hasn’t gotten any money from the Kochs in years.

    • Icarus Wright

      Also didn’t know about the Koch money. Nor did I know GG’s been actively trying to suppress evidence of his initial support for Bush’s Iraq invasion.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        Can someone maybe link to the “active suppression” of evidence of his support for the Iraq War that Brecher claims? In the book in question (How Would a Patriot Act?), Greenwald already writes about his initial support for the war in the past tense (Brecher makes it sound as if the book itself supported the war, which it most certainly did not). Greenwald certainly doesn’t now talk much about the fact that he initially supported the Iraq War. But avoiding a topic and suppressing it are two rather different things.

        • Icarus Wright

          Yeah but Greenwald’s How Would a Patriot Act? is only a book; this Brecher fellow is posting stuff on the internet.

      • Leeds man

        Well, Brecher says GG tried to “squash” his best-selling book. How does one do that? Is there evidence of the squashing? You can read the preface here, BTW.

        • Decrease Mather

          I think he means “quash,” but even then.

          • Leeds man

            I assumed that, and was not picturing GG feeding volumes into a cider press :)

            • elm

              I thought that’s what pulping books meant.

  • Craigo

    “Africa is a country that most Americans can’t find on a map.”

    • Hanspeter

      I think that was part of the joke.

      Also, http://cheezburger.com/6994029824

      • Craigo

        I’m not actually quoting anyone. The marks are so nobody is stupid enough to believe that I actually think that.

  • Jaycubed

    Al Jazeera English has been pretty good for information about the Mali insurgency (and African news in general).

    I don’t bother with any U.S. news source if I want world news in English. BBC is OK and Al Jazeera is best on reliability especially for Asian & African issues.

    • Jaycubed
    • Charlie Sweatpants

      I suppose for historical reasons one should be at least a little skeptical of the British take on Africa, but BBC World Service has a daily Africa Today podcast that’s pretty good:


      It’s short (usually ~15 min), but it’s actual reporting from the places involved.

    • Woodrowfan

      I agree. Too bad most US cable systems don;t carry Al Jazeera.

      • ironic irony

        There are Al Jazeera apps for smart phones. Al Jazeera English is also available via the internet.

        Why anyone uses cable anymore, I don’t know. ;)

        • Cody

          Did Al Jazeera just buy Current, and thus will be on their channels?

  • I’ve had it up to my eyebrows with people, whether neocons or so-called-anti-imperialists, who think that their unchanging narrative about military intervention is the only thing they need to know to have a worthwhile opinion.

    “This whole “Mali” thing is Just Like Vietnam, Man. Did I ever tell you kids about the Sixties?”

    “Naw, it’s Just Like Munich. You want to surrender to Hitler!”

  • G. Angeletti

    Erik, are you really taking Gary Brecher’s critique of GG at anything close to face value? And if you are, if you do take Brecher to be credible on this or any other matter, is this based on your reading of Steve Sailer’s interview of him (about all that’s known of Brecher is presented there)?

    For those who know nothing about Gary Brecher, the Mali expert on who Erik seems (playfully?) to be relying, there’s a Wikipedia article on him that collects most of the needed references.

    • G. Angeletti

      “on whom,” of course.

    • Craigo

      Why are you judging information by its source rather than its content?

      For that matter, why are you claiming that Erik is relying on this source – mentioned only in a throwaway line – and not the actual expert he linked to in the first sentence?

    • wengler

      It was better before Dolan came out as Brecher.

      Dolan’s writing about working for Bush’s Republican Jobs Program in Kurdistan is a worthwhile read.

    • Brecher I am unconcerned with. But his critique of that exchange with Greenwald is pretty damning.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Yeah, GG seems to be coming pretty close to saying that if it’s a military intervention of any kind by a western nation that it’s ipso facto bad, and he requires no further facts.

        • wengler

          I wouldn’t support the US going in there, but if the French want to do it, no problem. Someone has to clean up the unintended effects of the Libyan intervention.

          • Someone has to clean up the unintended effects of the Libyan intervention Gadhaffi arming foreign mercenaries.


            • wengler

              I seriously considered putting -not intended as joe from Lowell bait- at the end of that comment.

              • That’s nice. It’s always good to make an impression.

                I also have to question the use of “unintended.” The crushing of indigenous, western-aligned democracy was precisely Gadhaffi’s intention when he armed them.

        • Corey

          Has there been a good one in recent memory that I’ve missed, or something?

        • rea

          Sometimes GG’s ties to libertarianism show. “All interventions are bad” is just another interation of “everything the government does is bad.” The notion that some problems are solvable by careful collective action is heresy, I guess.

          • “All interventions are bad” is just another interation of “everything the government does is bad.”

            Similarly, “If we can find any history of foreign intervention, then that foreign intervention is the cause of all the problems” is just another iteration of “If we can find any history of government involvement, then that is the cause of all the problems.”

      • Relying on that poorly written Dolan article (or “Gary Brecher” if you prefer) is equally damning. Greenwald mad have said silly things about Mali; Brecher doesn’t mention these, however, and goes on to say silly things himself. Hint: if you want to criticize “experts” for talking about something they know little about, don’t do the exact same thing.

        • djw

          He gives a direct quote of Greenwald doing something very silly on Twitter: using they claim that the Kurds may have wanted the US to invade as an analogy to the Malian situation, in which Mali’s democratically elected government asked for assistance from France, and 96% of the population supports that assistance. That’s either very silly or very ignorant, and quite possibly both.

          • elm

            That 96% number is not from a random-sample poll, but from a “please text us your opinion” ‘poll.’ I believe that a majority of Malians want French intervention and the elected government asking for it clearly weighs strongly in its favor, but the Al Jazeera stat is essentially meaningless.

            • djw

              Fair enough, I posted the poll after I’d just noticed it; didn’t investigate.

          • No, it’s not 96% of the population that supports the intervention; it’s 96% of the people that Al Jazeera talked to in Bamako. Democratically elected – I guess it depends on your definition. The former parliament speaker is serving as an interim president following the coup.

            I’m not sure why Kurdish analogy is seen as so silly, other than the reversal of the majority and minority parties. It’d be more akin to Iraqi Arabs asking for the US to help invade Kurdish territory, and pointing to high levels of support in Arab towns as signs that it’s what the Iraqis want. Not sure why people think that analogy is “very silly or very ignorant.”

          • Incontinentia Buttocks


            Mali, like the rest of the world, doesn’t consist of bullshit Constitutional voters but blocs of people; in this case, two big blocs, the 10% Tuareg/Arab population of the Northern triangle, and the 90% black/African/French-speaking people around and south of the Niger River. People don’t make individual decisions on wars; that’s part of GG’s typically American crap perspective on the world. We live in groups and we decide in groups; how else do you explain how cleanly the US split up, in a few months, in 1861?


            Mali is not Afghanistan because there are no Pashtuns. While the MNLA separatists are comprised of some members of the Tuareg ethic group, outside of that dynamic, ethnicity in Mali is much less a basis of contention than it is in Afghanistan. Indeed, the most interesting social dynamic in Mali may be the relationship between competing forms of Islamic devotion, not ethnic groups. Likewise, Mali lacks an equivalent to Pakistan — there is no neighboring state or individuals in that state who share militants’ ethnicity and have the backing of elements of a hostile spy agency. The Islamists who do operate in northern Mali are a disparate group with diffuse goals, as this series of posts by Sahel expert Andrew Lebovich make clear. Ansar Dine just split, and it is likely that the group dynamics of the Islamists will continue to evolve in the near future. This is not to say that ethnicity and other social cleavages do not matter in Mali; they do. But unlike in Afghanistan, they are not directly tied up in the dynamics of northern Mali’s Islamists. Many Islamist leaders in northern Mali aren’t even Malians.

            If Seay is to be believed, Brecher doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to Mali. That doesn’t, of course, make Greenwald look any better. But, especially given Brecher’s self-serving bluster, the two of them end up looking a bit like two bald men fighting over a comb.

            • Robert Farley

              Brecher doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he talks about most things. Greenwald is being a bit silly here (as is often the case with Glenn), but Brecher is not a reputable source for… well, much of anything.

          • IM

            Mali’s democratically elected government a

            Not anymore. it is a military juntas nowadays.

            That said the government did ask and if the there hadn’t been the coup it is possible the elected government would have asked too.

            • elm

              I thought the military stepped down (as did the former President) to allow the demcratically elected parliamentary leader to rule until the next elections. Certainly the secession was, shall we say, irregular, but I’m OK saying the current government is democratically elected, assuming my facts are correct.

    • If you saw anything in Brecher’s piece that was false, or illogical, or wrong, feel free to throw it out there.

      • I figure that 9 out of 10 western military interventions since the end of WWII have been a bad thing. Am I wrong?

        • wengler

          Pretty much. And the right ones have been terribly unpopular and easy for rightwingers to attack. See Somalia, Haiti.

        • Yes, you are wrong about that.

          But that’s not your biggest problem. Your biggest problem is thinking that such a statistic can take the place of actually knowing WTF you’re talking about when it comes to formulating a meaningful opinion about the French intervention in Mali.

          A good start, for instance, would be knowing that this is a French military intervention.

          • No I’m not wrong about that. I was being sarcastic when I suggested I might be. I also said western intervention and last I checked France was a western nation. Finally, its a good position to take until one gets all the facts.

            Just assuming that former colonial powers are being well former colonial powers does seem like a reasonable fall back position.

            • No I’m not wrong about that. I was being sarcastic when I suggested I might be.

              Humble, aren’t we?

              I’m not interested in indulging your irrelevant dodge any further. Bye.

          • Corey

            Speaking seriously, not trying to troll you at all. Which Western interventions (broadly defined as Western/developed nation military actions in the territory of or on behalf of a less-developed state) would you consider to be “successes”, as in they’ve arrived at some kind of resolution where the benefits outweigh the costs?

            • Corey

              Ah, forgot to add a time frame. Say, the last 50 years.

              • This one, off the top of my head.

                • Corey

                  You believe the Libyan intervention has arrived at some sort of resolution where we can begin to weigh the costs and the benefits?

                • I’m a big supporter of liberal democracy, so yes.

                  It is extremely implausible that anything bad enough to outweigh the liberation of the Libyan people from a psychotic dictator, the installation of a legitimate, indigenous democracy, and the end of Gadhaffi’s trouble-making in sub-Saharan African, will come to pass.

              • The UN also saved half a million lives protecting food convoys in Somalia.

                I guess it comes down to how you define “successes,” and how you value costs and benefits.

                I’d add in stopping the Serbian militias during the break-up of Yugoslavia.

                Restoring elected democracy in Haiti.

                Going after the Lord’s Resistance Army.

                The ongoing keeping of the peace in Korea.

                Peace-keeping in the Sinai.

                • Corey

                  I’d add in stopping the Serbian militias during the break-up of Yugoslavia.

                  The ongoing keeping of the peace in Korea.

                  Peace-keeping in the Sinai.

                  Off the top of my head, aren’t these three problems actually symptoms of previous interventions? (Yugoslavia, the two Koreas, and Israel being the creations of interventionist Western governments, of course)

                  I mean look, I hear what you’re saying. It is possible for any given intervention to be the best possible option at hand. But you can’t blast people for being skeptical that military intervention by a foreign ex-colonial power at the behest of an undemocratic dictatorship in an effort to deny an ethno-religious group sovereignty is a good idea.

                • I’d have trouble going back more than 20 years, because almost all of our late-Cold-War interventions were absolutely terrible.

                  They tended to be like the UN mission over Libya in reverse. “Oh my goodness, a popular democratic movement threatening a thug! We can’t have that!”

                • Wait wait wait – North Korea’s invasion of the South was “the creations of interventionist Western governments?”

                  You sure about that?

                  The Sinai War was the creation of Western governments?

                  You know, other parts of the world have their own histories.

                • But you can’t blast people for being skeptical that military intervention by a foreign ex-colonial power at the behest of an undemocratic dictatorship in an effort to deny an ethno-religious group sovereignty is a good idea.

                  The bolded sections are false.

                • What I’m absolutely comfortable blasting people for, Corey, is noting that the subject is military action by a western power, and inventing a story line out of whole cloth.

                • rea

                  I’m a lttle unclear about the western military intervention that created Yugoslavia. You mean WWI? And the Austro-Hungarian Empire that was broken up to form Yugoslavia and other countries didn’t count as western? And didn’t the Yugoslavs themselves have something to do with it?

        • Oh, and lawguy? If you saw anything false, illogical, or wrong in Brecher’s piece, feel free to throw it out there.

          Hint: “9 out of 10 things written by Brecher are wrong” would not suffice.

          • Corey

            The personal attacks on Greenwald are wildly misleading, for one.

            • Marc

              Greenwald did a knee-jerk opposition piece on something he knew nothing about.

              Par for the course, really. But his fans hate to see him criticized. When they’re not calling people who disagree with Greenwald mindless cult followers, of course.

              • Corey

                I don’t know anything about Mali besides Amadou and Miriam, so I can’t really judge the actual relevant content of Brecher and Greenwald’s arguments.

                I do know that attacking someone in an absurdly misleading way is a decent way to get me to disregard anything else you have to say.

                • brewmn

                  I do know that attacking someone in an absurdly misleading way is a decent way to get me to disregard anything else you have to say.

                  Agreed. Which is why Glenn Greenwald is, at best, useless to anyone seeking more light then heat on any given issue.

                • drkrick

                  You should check out Ali Farka Touré.

            • I should have been more specific: If you saw anything false, illogical, or wrong about Mali and the French intervention in Brecher’s piece, feel free to throw it out there.

              I don’t really care very much about what Internet Guy said about Other Internet Guy, and hope that the discussion about this actual, real-world situation in Mali doesn’t end up getting subsumed into yet another round of Internet Grudge Match, any more than My Eternal Narrative Is Always Right, Don’t Bother Me With Facts.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    The Brecher piece seems to offer a pretty fundamentally different view of Mali from the Seay piece. Most notably, Brecher seems to think that Mali is all about a regional / ethnic division, which Seay presents as one of the essential American misunderstandings of the Mali situation.

    • elm

      Yeah, the “people think in blocs” stuff was pretty asinine. As was his evidence for it: that the U.S. split up so quickly at the start of the Civil War. Sure, you want to believe everyone in the South was in favor of secession? That’s problematic even if you ignore the slaves themselves. And it’s not any better to assume that all Northerners opposed secession.

      I’m also willing to go out on a limb and say not all of the Arabs want war with the French-speaking Malinese and that not all of the French-speaking Malinese want French intervention. But what do I know? Maybe Brecher is right and all Africans of the same ethnic group think the same.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        I don’t know much about Mali, but from reading the two linked pieces, I’m prone to listen to Seay while mutually wishing on Greenwald and Brecher the dubious benefit of each other’s company.

        • elm

          Ditto. Brecher’s argument reads as if he’s one of those ‘experts’ Seay bemoans. Greenwald at least has the honesty to admit he knows nothing about the particular situation and is using a simple heuristic (intervention is bad) to arrive at his conclusion.

          • Richard

            I agree. Greenwald comes off better in the exchange than Brecher (who seems to be an obnoxious self-appointed expert).

      • When a democratically-elected government that was voted into power while having a long-standing policy of doing X does X, I’m inclined to grant that action the assumption of democratic legitimacy.

        • elm

          I’m not saying Mali’s government asking for intervention is democratically illegitimate (as I say above, that the elected government wanted French intervention inclines me to support the intervention.)

          I’m saying Brecher’s argument that 90% of the Mali population supports intervention because 90% is ‘black Mali’ is incredibly simplistic.

          • As a stand-alone argument, that would be dumb.

            As a rebuttal to Greenwald’s depiction of the situation as “Western power invading Mali,” it does its job.

          • rea

            And you know, a big part of the intervention seems to be getting the Tuaregs out of Timbuktu, where they were bothering the locals, so I’m not sure that support for seperatism works as an argument against intervention.

    • One problem with the Seay article is that it’s not clear what it’s trying to say about the degree to which ethnicity is related to the current (or past) turmoil. Surely if you look at previous Tuareg rebellions you can see that it’s an important issue, but she even agrees that these issues are importnat, she just says that they aren’t as important as in Afghanistan (without giving much evidence).

      Saying things like “Many Islamist leaders in northern Mali aren’t even Malians,” is likewise problematic. What does many mean? Who does she group into the leadership category? The leader of Ansar Dine (which seems to be the major fundamentalist group in the fight) is a Malian Tuareg, and it looks like the military commander of MOJWA is also a Malian (and Arab).

    • tt

      I’m not sure how to reconcile what she says in the article with the bloggingheads video Farley posted yesterday, in which she did seem to characterize the conflict as primarily an ethnic/cultural one (at least at the beginning).

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Brecher’s also pretty dishonest about what Greenwald says about the Iraq war in How Would A Patriot Act?. Brecher writes as if Greenwald supports the war in the book. In fact, he writes in the book about having at first supported the war, but then turning against it. The book certainly doesn’t make Greenwald’s past support for the war look good (he essentially says that he believed that Bush, as President, deserved the benefit of the doubt). But far from presenting a different Greenwald from the Greenwald of today, the book’s description of his erstwhile support for the war is offered by way of explaining his later distrust of governmental explanations for intervention. (Here, incidentally, are some extended excerpts from that part of the book, offered, again, by way of attacking Greenwald…but at least they make more clear what he wrote in this book). Not sure why Brecher brought this up in the first place, as it has little to do with the Mali Twitter War.

    • G. Angeletti

      I. B., your last sentence: Right, it has almost nothing to do with Mali. It does make sense, however, if his principal aim is to go after Greenwald.

      The Mali part of Brecher’s case rests mainly on a recent twitter exchange he had with GG. Yet his account of this exchange makes it very difficult to assess its accuracy or adequacy. Has anyone here managed to check it out? Erik? Scott?

  • Karen

    I learned to read Spanish pretty well in the last year and have started reading Latin American and Spanish newspapers and websites. I have learned from this experience not to trust ANYTHING in the English-language press about the Spanish-speaking parts of the world unless the article was written by someone that I can confirm speaks Spanish. Any journalist who relies on a translator is getting the opinion of the translator and not necessarily the opinion of the original speaker, and that’s even assuming the journalist has any contact with people who speak the language. All too often, American journalists use only English-speakers as sources, which means in Spain and Latin America, their sources are far more conservative, generally, than is typical for the country. Nowhere is this more obvious that articles discussing the Spanish economic catastrophe and that country’s ever-more-fraught relationship with Germany.

    Spanish is an easy language, and Spain is a developed country. I imagine that the problem of relying on English-speaking sources, and their biases, is very much worse in Third World countries — where English speakers are almost all from the educated upper classes — or places where the dominant language is really hard to learn, like Greece or Russia.

    • Leeds man

      “I imagine that the problem of relying on English-speaking sources, and their biases, is very much worse in Third World countries”

      Strongly agree.

    • Dave

      Yeah, ‘cos translators, they’re a well-known global conspiracy with their own right-wing agendas. Fascist bastards, how dare they know more than one language!

      Meanwhile, what’s there to say about Spain? Nobody put a gun to their head and forced them to piss their economy up a wall on houses nobody can buy and airports nobody flies to. They can claim somebody did if they like, but it won’t make any difference. And a glorious socialist revolution, should one perchance to happen, is still going to find a country of 47 million people who expect a consumerist lifestyle, and can’t afford one.

      • Walt

        Christ this comment is stupid. If you’re going to post something stupid, could you go do it on a newspaper comment site or something?

      • Leeds man

        “they’re a well-known global conspiracy”

        With journalists under deadlines, foreign elites educated at Oxbridge, and inexperienced (and possibly intimidated) translators, you hardly need a conspiracy for messages to get horribly mangled, often in predictable ways.

        This example is amusing, but do you see possible problems?:

        “One of my best Pashto translators once quoted a poor Afghan as saying, ‘It’s like Hotel California, man!’”

  • Brandon

    Greenwald acting like a pompous ass? I’m shocked!

  • Ronan

    Haven’t read all of the comments but this article is far from ‘great’. Ironically when complaining about people lacking expertise on Mali, and trading in simplisitic caricatures(fair enough) Seay repeats a number of cliches about Afghan (graveyard of empires, Pashtuns etc)
    The US FP establishment are an incredibly obnoxious bunch, unwilling to ever call out eachothers bullshit. Seay and the rest of the Mali expert community have either caricatured(conspiracy theorists etc) or told to shut up (b/c they dont know the region) anyone who might have some reservations about how this is going to turn out, what the l/t consequences of drone bases in Niger might be, so on and so forth.
    This is just another example of US academics rallying around their own to shut down any debate

    • Ronan

      Also, if you actually read the economist piece Seay links to, it makes the same Goddamn point she does. The cover was a parody

      • shah8

        I read blogs like dekhnstan, Sahel Blog, Letters from Bamako to understand what’s going on in Mali.

        • Ronan

          I hadn’t heard of dekhnstan (thanks!) but I agree the other two seem good (Sahel blog in particular appears to be dealing with it reasonably)

        • thalarctos

          I googled those blogs, and found the first 2, but can’t find Letters from Bamako. Do you have the URL to point me to? Thanks.

  • Yosemite Semite

    War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.

  • The long term history of French military intervention in its former African colonies has generally not been one of benefiting Africans. There are exceptions such as Operation Barracuda in 1979 to overthrow their former client Bokassa. But, over all their intervention has protected a rather blatant system of neo-colonialism. This has been especially true in Gabon, Ivory Coast, and Chad. In Chad the French also fought against Muslim rebels, for decades, and the solidification of a neo-colonial dictatorship around Idris Deby has been the result. The fact that France has never given real independence to most of ex-colonies in Africa and has maintained puppet and even dynastic dictatorships in places like Togo and Gabon should give one pause. Putting and keeping people like Deby and Bongo in power has been a far more common feature of French policy than removing people like Bokassa. Although I would argue that the Islamists in Mali were not nearly as bad as Bokassa.

  • Paul

    I have to say the FP article looks like pompous hour…

    So far all the French have done is in fact more or less what the US did back in the in A stan, I Suppose the French can walk out but for a people wallowing in supposed Mali experts where is the plan for that – the high level meeting in Paris between the Government in the South and MNLA. Where is the supposed African force, and how effective and non-corrupt will it be its not like Nigeria (is France wallowing in experts on that country too?)as been all that impressive or non brutal in its anti Jihadist effort.

    The army of Mali did not suddenly become competent and so sans France it hard to see it hold the North, and than explain to me this time how the MNLA does once again get shoved aside after to the heavy lifting.

    Overall Mali remain a barely working state and so far France has done nothing to alter the equation of a weak, corrupt, inept central government, really significant ethnic divides, line on maps that mean little to a lot of people and networks of smuggling that fund all kinds of people be that corrupt offices in Bamako or the AQIM or the MNLA

    • Ronan

      It’s a classic of the genre, but also deeply flawed in its own right and not particularly interesting. These things tend to become a ‘moment of interest’ depending on where the writer fits in the academpundocracy network (ie their relationship to the central node, Dan Drezner)
      It signals the further decline of humanity, whereas quoting Gary Brecher is our rock bottom

    • A lot of the African force, almost all of it outside Nigeria, are by states that are essentially French neo-colonies. The most notable being Chad which is not part of ECOWAS, but has the third largest foreign contingent in Mali after Nigeria and France. Then there are contingents from Togo, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Niger, and Ivory Coast. States like Chad and Togo besides being dictatorships are not effectively independent from France.

  • scott

    What I got out of reading all these articles is that no one seems to have a clear understanding of the situation and what’s driving it or not driving it. My response to that would be caution and hope that my government would be cautious as well.

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