The Hollande Doctrine

America’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were predicated upon the notion that a safe haven for terrorists anywhere threatens America’s national interests. This idea made sense when a mostly Saudi group of terrorists managed to murder nearly 3,000 Americans in the September 11, 2001 attacks. The world has grown only more interconnected since. The U.S. was largely successful in driving Islamic militants out of much of the Middle East, a result of a decade of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a continued use of unmanned drones as far away as Yemen.

Many of the Islamic militants driven from the Middle East moved into Africa, particularly Mali, and managed to take over an area larger than all of mainland France. Allowing any safe haven for terrorists, President George W. Bush would have argued, goes against our national interest, and, as such, we have a right to use military force to stop them. France’s President François G. G. N. Hollande seems to have used this rationale when he decided to send the French military into Mali to combat the militants there.

Bear in mind that the French president that decided to involve the military was not Nicolas Sarkozy, the right-wing leader who further entangled France in Afghanistan, Libya, and the Ivory Coast. No, the President who engaged militarily in Mali is Hollande, the Socialist politician who was widely perceived to be softer than flan and more indecisive than Hamlet. One could conceivably claim that Hollande needed to play the part of a warrior to toughen his image at home, but I have a difficult time believing that a Socialist leader who would cut government spending by €12.5 billion in the interest of fiscal health would engage in a costly military conflict without good cause.

France’s decision to invade Mali in many ways vindicates the Bush Doctrine. France has sent its military into sovereign territory in order to protect itself from perceived threats, emulating one of the hallmarks of our last administration’s foreign policy. The United States, Bush maintained, had the right to use force against countries harboring terrorist groups. At the time, France was one of the most public critics of America’s aggressive foreign policy stance. In a largely unnoticed role-reversal, America has become the tepid partner trying to avoid the costs of war.

Some key differences do persist between the wars of Bush and Hollande. France is doing everything in its power to leave Mali as soon as possible and turn over military control to African forces.  Furthermore, France has limited its actual combat as much as possible rather than take over all of Mali in one fell swoop. These welcome policies do mark a shift from the more troop-heavy, longer-term wars of the Bush Administration. However, the inescapable fact remains that France committed ground troops in order to fight terrorists on another continent in the name of national interest.

President Barack Obama is not an adherent to Bush’s foreign policy. So why is Hollande?  Perhaps the war in Mali was orchestrated as a political move of sorts, in which the primary motive has more to do with perception than the reality on the ground in northern Africa.  More likely, though, is the probability that Hollande simply determined that allowing Islamic militants to control much of Mali posed a national security threat to France. The Bush Doctrine, it seems, is alive and well—in France.

The past four years have seen an eclectic mix of American foreign policy maneuvers.  While Obama has embraced and drastically expanded the use of unmanned drones to target individuals, he has assiduously avoided committing troops to any conflict. He eagerly embraced democratic change in his speeches as the Arab Spring swept the Middle East, but refrained from more actively supporting democratic agents, such as those in Syria. With the exception of Obama’s widely lauded commitment to keeping our troops out of combat, no unified doctrine seems to be guiding his decisions, for better or for worse.

Obama has not quite rejected Bush’s foreign policy, but he certainly hasn’t embraced it, either. François Hollande, on the other hand, has caught critics flat-footed in his seeming emulation of George W. Bush’s foreign strategies. A year ago, few would have guessed that Bush’s legacy would be carried on by a socialist French administration. But Hollande has in large part justified Bush’s foreign policy with his own intervention in Mali. We’ll call it the Hollande Doctrine, because Hollande is probably not the biggest fan of Bush.

Jacob R. Drucker ‘15, a Crimson editorial writer, is an economics concentrator in Mather House.

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