News is moving quickly in West Africa, making it increasingly difficult to get one's head around what's going on in Mali and the greater region.
This much appears to be true: Paris, sensing that its own military and civilian assets were at risk of becoming targets in both Mali and the surrounding region -- not to mention the potential for a terrorist attack on its own soil in Europe -- opted to forgo the multilateral case being built against the various Islamist insurgents in Northern Mali, and to instead act unilaterally. "We must stop the rebels' offensive, otherwise the whole of Mali will fall into their hands -- creating a threat for Africa and even for Europe," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius recently told reporters.
In short, France decided to take the fight to the enemy before that enemy could bring the fight to France. Sound familiar?
So it would appear that we're witnessing two competing counterterrorism doctrines at work in West and North Africa. While France has adopted some components of President George W. Bush's strategy in Iraq, we also know that there is now debate inside the Obama administration over whether or not its own reserved policy of Islamist containment in Mali -- call it "leading from behind," if you will -- was perhaps too reserved and poorly resourced.
Proponents of the Obama Doctrine both inside and outside the administration argue that the threat from Malian Islamists may well be overstated, and were the U.S. to get involved it might only agitate the situation, turning a once regional and territorial civil war into a more international conflict.
Judging from today's events in Algeria, they just might have a point.