France intervenes in Mali; media stays at home (UPDATED)

France, under its Socialist President Francois Hollande, has dispatched 400 troops backed by helicopter gunships and fighter aircraft to stop the advance of al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels in Mali. As Max Boot summarizes the situation: “While the United Nations passed toothless resolutions and the U.S. expressed concern but did nothing, France’s President, Francois Hollande, acted.”

As part of its campaign, France has bombarded Gao, a major city controlled by the rebels, targeting the airport, training camps, and depots used by the al-Qaida-linked group. According to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the military effort succeeded in blocking the advance that had prompted the intervention.

The U.S. is said to be providing “non-lethal assistance” to France. Apparently, the Obama administration would have been content to see al-Qaeda linked rebels prevail in Mali. Fortunately, Hollande provided leadership. Obama is following from so far behind as to be almost invisible.

Note that the AP story about France’s intervention is attributed to “Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbet in Paris; Ahmed Mohamed in Nouakchott, Mauritania; Robbie Corey-Boulet in Ivory Coast and Cassandra Vinograd and Raphael Satter in London.” In other words, no one in Mali.

That’s because the French government told the press not to come. Obviously, this represents a very different approach than the one the U.S. adopts.

In my view, there is much to be said for France’s approach. If the mission flops or in the unlikely event that French troops commit atrocities, word will almost surely get out and the media will pounce. But I consider it a plus, on balance, that the French military can, in the first instance, go about its job without journalists in the way and commenting selectively on its actions.

UPDATE: According to Fox News, the al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels are advancing notwithstanding France’s efforts against them. The U.S. reportedly is considering stepping up its level of support for France, but not supplying armed forces.