How did we get to Mali? Blowback and unintended consequences played key roles. When the president decided to use the US military to attack Libya in 2011, Congress was not consulted. The president claimed that UN and NATO authority for the use of US military force were sufficient and even superior to any kind of Congressional declaration. Congress once again relinquished its authority, but also its oversight power, by remaining silent.
President Obama last week began his second term by promising that “a decade of war is now ending.” As he spoke, the US military was rapidly working its way into another war, this time in the impoverished African country of Mali. As far as we know, the US is only providing transport and intelligence assistance to France, which initiated the intervention then immediately called Washington for back-up and funding. However, even if US involvement is limited, and, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, US boots on the ground are not being considered “at this time,” this clearly is developing into another war. As usual, the mission is creeping.
Within the first week of French military action in Mali, the promise that it would be a quick operation to put down an Islamic rebel advance toward the capitol was broken. France announced that it would be forced to send in thousands of troops and would need to remain far longer than the few weeks it initially claimed would be necessary.
Media questions as to whether the US has Special Operations forces, drones, or CIA paramilitary units active in Mali are unanswered by the Administration. Congress has asked few questions and demanded few answers from the president. As usual, it was not even consulted. But where does the president get the authority to become a co-combatant in French operations in Mali, even if US troops are not yet overtly involved in the attack?