Writing about French intervention in Mali and connected events (as he sees them) in Algeria, Patrick Cockburn expresses his concern that the former could be destabilizing. He says:
This was one of the many lessons of the US takeover of Iraq and Afghanistan. Most Iraqis and Afghans were glad to see the departure of the previous regimes. Iraqis wanted an end to Saddam Hussein's rule, but this did not mean that they welcomed foreign occupation. Similarly, in Afghanistan, foreign forces were initially popular and the Taliban discredited. But in both cases foreign forces soon behaved like colonial occupiers, and were resented as such.
Will this now happen in Mali? There is plenty of evidence that the jihadi fighters of AQIM, Ansar al-Din, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa are feared and hated in south Mali where most of the 14.5 million population live. They are not much more popular in the north where they have imposed sharia.
The Americans might well have got away with military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan if they had then got out quickly. The same is true of the French in Mali. The danger for them is that they will stay too long, become entangled in ethnic rivalries, and keep in power a dysfunctional and corrupt Malian government.
I offer no comment on the prospects for Mali, post-intervention; I don't know enough about it. But I'm struck by one thing in Cockburn's allowing - as he has done before and many opponents of the Iraq war did not - that there were serious reasons in its favour. I don't know what he means by the Americans getting away with military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, but his suggestion of how they might have done so - namely, by leaving those countries quickly once they'd intervened - doesn't strike me as at all plausible. Having just defeated and overturned the regimes of, respectively, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, they should simply have left? I can think of two problems with this.
One is that it's hardly a responsible thing for an external power to do, seeing off a brutal regime and then standing back to watch what happens, without making any effort to influence the outcome in a democratic direction. The other is the presumption that the consequence of this course of inaction in Iraq or Afghanistan might have been anything other than disastrous in its own way. Even assuming there had been no early restoration of the regimes overthrown (and there might well have been), it's hard to imagine any very benign outcome; civil war perhaps. The Syrian situation, though it doesn't follow an external military intervention, is suggestive in this regard.