Andrew Bacevich writes: On the list of U.S. military priorities, Africa has always ranked right smack at the bottom. Now that appears to be changing. As Eric Schmitt recently reported in the New York Times, “thousands of soldiers once bound for Iraq or Afghanistan are now gearing up for missions in Africa.” Before the gearing up proceeds much further, Americans might want to ask a few questions. Chief among them are these: Why the sudden shift in priorities? What’s the aim? Who stands to benefit? What risks does the militarization of U.S. policy in Africa entail?
Among the various services, the U.S. Army in particular finds the prospect of an expanded Africa presence appealing. As Schmitt observed, with U.S. forces out of Iraq and soon scheduled to leave Afghanistan, “the Army is looking for new missions around the world.” For Army leaders, Africa spells opportunity, a chance to demonstrate continuing relevance at a time when the nation’s appetite for sending U.S. troops to invade and occupy countries has pretty much evaporated.
Thus, we have U.S. Army Africa, or USARAF, the latest in the Pentagon’s ever-growing roster of military headquarters. The mission of this command, which describes itself as “America’s premier Army team dedicated to positive change in Africa,” manages to be at once reassuringly bland and ominously ambitious. On the one hand, USARAF “strengthens the land force capabilities of African states and regional organizations.” On the other, it “conducts decisive action in order to establish a secure environment and protect the national security interests of the United States.”
One might hope that successfully accomplishing the first half of that mission — U.S. troops training and equipping African counterparts — will preclude the second. More likely, however, such efforts will pave the way for “decisive action,” a euphemism for war.
Let’s discard the euphemisms. Here is a classic example of bureaucratic interests displacing strategic calculation, not to mention common sense, as a basis for policy. For the Navy and Air Force, the Obama administration’s much-ballyhooed “pivot” toward East Asia has come as something of a godsend. Addressing the putative threat posed by a rising China promises to keep those services busy (and flush with cash) for decades to come. Yet apart from a possible resumption of the long-dormant Korean War, Asian scenarios involving a large-scale commitment of Army forces are difficult to conjure up. So expanding the “global war on terrorism” into the heart of Africa allows the Army to make its own pivot. [Continue reading…]