When I was a kid, Timbuktu was a metaphor for the farthest reaches of the world. Within the last few days, it's been the middle of a fight against Islamic militant crazies. What we're finally discovering, though, is that it is a center of Sufi learning, and what might be the best of Islamic culture. We still don't know how much damage the Salafi assholes did to the Timbuktu libraries and cultural sites, but there is one thing that is certain — for whatever remains, we have to thank the French.
When the French refused to join the USofA in the invasion of Iraq, and asshole Republicans started talking about "freedom fries," the French were a lot smarter than the Bush administration. Okay, Parisians are no more tolerant of redneck tourists than, say, New Yorkers, but how can you fault them for that? When Francois Hollande — self-confessed Socialist — sent a limited number of French troops into Mali, his decision made a lot more sense than when Bush sent a hell of a lot more Americans into Iraq. In the Maghreb, there is a real threat. Saddam Hussein was a very bad guy, but never a threat to American interests. More than anything, he was a counterbalance to the Iranians. Well, that's gone.
Vive la France.