Foreseen unconsequences

One of the most interesting things about international politics is how events turn out differently from how decision-makers expect, both for good and for bad. The usual argument for intervention, from Vietnam to Mali, is that disaster will follow if we don’t intervene. In practice, though, this almost never happens. Withdrawal from Vietnam did not lead to Chinese forces wading ashore in California, nor does anyone really think that withdrawal from Afghanistan will mean the Taliban advancing militarily into Greece and Italy. These were never more than ghost stories to frighten children. On the other hand, the destruction of much of Indo-China, the undermining of the stability of Pakistan, and the destabilisation of the Maghreb after the Libyan war, although all widely predicted, were ignored in policy-making in each case.

This kind of thinking muddies cause and effect. For example, the coming to power of a Communist regime in Cambodia was not something that the US actions could reasonably hope have prevented: it was a direct consequences of them. The attacks of September 2001 were not an unprovoked attack which could happen again unless desperate measures were taken, but a response to US policies in the region, whose originators themselves had never even thought about the deadly consequences of them.  Anti-western sentiment in Afghanistan was not a problem in 2002, but became one subsequently because of western behaviour there. And so on.

So, Mali. Here, the action is more defensible than those listed above, not least because most Malians seem to be in favour of it. It’s being sold, however, as another urgent intervention to protect Europeans. Here, the assumption seems to be that France will provide military help to the government, because otherwise Islamist militants (though the word is carefully not used) will attack France at some stage in the future, in retaliation for the attacks on them that France is making now. I don’t understand that either. By contrast, the likely consequences of the action have, honestly, not even really been thought about. Foreseen unconsequences, I call it, and it’s dangerous.

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