Often, Marines like those under Donovan's command have more frontline access to these fighters than CIA operators or diplomats, Pham says. He predicted Mali or Mauritania would collapse almost exactly a year before the Mali coup, based off of what was coming out of Libya. U.S. intelligence and diplomacy could have been better prepared following the resources dedicated to Mali in the last decade, he says.
"It's a broad brush to say the aid went down the drain. No it didn't," he says. "By in large, it was directed to a specific goal the U.S. was interested in and still is interested in: To prevent terrorists."
Tuareg clans in northern Mali started the most recent rebellion after the government repeatedly breached peace contracts it created. Yet Mali had been considered a poster child for American efforts to strengthen African democracies, says Pham, even as its government's transparency is in severe need of an upgrade. A Post study rates Mali's government 105th out of 174.
"It's never going to be a success if you engage in wishful thinking and political correctness," he adds. "We have to define our objectives. They haven't ever really been defined, nor have the French defined their objectives now."
"Just because you held elections doesn't mean you have a working constitutional democracy," he says.