Hollande in Mali

PARIS – While hundreds of thousands demonstrated in Paris against the right of homosexual couples to marry and adopt children, French troops were arriving in Mali to stop a coalition of Islamist and rebel forces from taking control of its capital, Bamako, and creating in the Sahel a sanctuary for terrorists.

These are trying times for French President François Hollande. Besieged economically at home, where his popularity is at its lowest since his election last year, can he regain credibility, if not support, as supreme commander of French forces?

Once upon a time, “I intervene, therefore I am” might as well have been a French motto, particularly in Africa. But, while French national identity is intimately bound up with France’s international standing – how it is perceived in the world – enthusiasm for intervention has receded. The benefits have become more dubious, while the costs and risks have grown increasingly evident.

If France has again become a regional gendarme by default, it is largely for three reasons. American enthusiasm for intervention in Africa has greatly diminished since the operation in Somalia in 1992-1993 – and more globally following the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. European interest in military intervention in Africa is as low as ever. And, as for the region’s governments, it would be an understatement to say that they are not yet ready militarily to take their fate into their own hands.