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Is This The Behavior Of A Power In Decline?

Little by little, American military engagement in Africa is deepening. Diplomacy, investment in infrastructure and energy, action in that thing we’re not supposed to call the war on terror anymore: these are all driving a greater US presence in and around Africa. If anything, this is likely to increase.

The Washington Post reports:

…[T]he number of recruits graduating from this boot camp [near Kakola, Uganda] — built with U.S. taxpayer money and staffed by State Department contractors — has increased in recent months. The current class of 3,500 Ugandan soldiers, the biggest since the camp opened five years ago, is preparing to deploy to Somalia to join a growing international force composed entirely of African troops but largely financed by Washington.

American advisors are also conducting the hunt for Joseph Kony, who is believed to be hiding somewhere in the Central African Republic or South Sudan. Like the instructors in Uganda, the Americans are combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. They play a purely advisory role and are not involved in any fighting. Kenya, Uganda, and other African countries provide the soldiers but Washington is the organizer, conductor, and primary funder of the project.

“This is strictly an advise and assist role,” Captain [Ken] Wright, [a Navy SEAL captain and the commander of American forces assisting in the Kony hunt] said, meant to strengthen the capabilities of African troops. Their deployment is emblematic of the Pentagon’s new military strategy for Africa, unfurled earlier this year, in which Pentagon officials say they will develop “innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives on the African continent.”

This doesn’t sound like the activities normally undertaken by a declining world power. The US is able to project power even in the depths of African jungles and deserts. Washington is helping in the hunt for one of the world’s most despicable nutcases and training the troops that fight a gang of pirates and Islamist militants in the most ungovernable country in the world. These are long-term projects and could take years of hard work before “success” — Kony killed, Somalia governs itself — is achieved. But it is telling that it is the United States — not Brazil, not China, not South Sudan or Ethiopia — that has the resources, organization, and desire to conduct these kinds of battles.

The expansion of American influence and the projection of American power in Africa looks to be one of the major trends of our times. This isn’t old style colonialism or neo-colonial resource hunting. (These days, the resource hunt seems to be more China’s style than ours.) But it is state building and order building in the hopes of facilitating Africa’s economic and political development — and, incidentally, of keeping terror groups from establishing themselves in a part of the world where governing structures can be weak and ineffective.

This task is probably going to be harder, and the consequences more mixed than the bright eyed liberal internationalists pushing Africa engagement realize. But the national interests involved in this work are significant enough, and the support from both evangelical Christians and humanitarian modernists is strong enough, that the Africa focus is likely to continue.

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  • Mrs. Davis

    You must be mistaken. The Chinese are the ones with the long planning horizon and we are the ones who just get in to make a quick buck. /sarc Ultimately these actions are a reflection of our recognition that in the long run people relationships are more important; they highlight the differences in our values.

  • john haskell

    Hmmm…. which is the action of a rising world power?

    1. Financing the reconstruction of the Benguela Railway, which might bring millions of tons of copper to the world market

    2. Hunting for some criminal in the jungle

    3. Trying for the nth time to glue together the shattered pieces of a geographic notion called “Somalia”

  • Luke Lea

    “This doesn’t sound like the activities normally undertaken by a declining world power. The US is able to project power even in the depths of African jungles and deserts.”

    We will see. To be honest, it could turn out to be an exercise in futility.

  • John Barker

    Sounds like something very Roman or British to me. Might you call it (forbid the thought) an empire?

  • gracepmc

    Yes, the continent of Africa has always shown the most growth and improvement as a result of the decades of aid provided by the US. For further information on the Obama foreign policy watch Army Wives where the story line has moved from Afghanistan to Africa and I believe, one orphanage in particular. Forgive me if I do not see this projection of “power even in the depths of African jungles and deserts” as a net positive, let alone any indication of US strength.

  • David

    “built with U.S. taxpayer money and staffed by State Department contractors…” But I thought Dick Cheney wasn’t pulling strings for Halliburton and Blackwater anymore!

  • bill phelps

    Next on the list of countries where we will have a military advisory presence: Niger.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Most cultures around the world recognize and respect the deadly nature of the US military culture, and would like to adopt it as their own if they could just figure out how. If we can instill even a small amount of the Honor, esprit de corps, and discipline of the US military culture into these very backward cultures of Africa, it will help them advance in a lot more ways than just militarily. We will have to see how well these new African units assimilate the US military culture, or if they just revert to the raping, looting, and murdering scum so common in Africa.

    A lot will depend on their leadership, as African culture seems to just produce greedy and power hungry Kleptocrats, without an Honorable and Honest George Washington to be seen anywhere. On second thought, I doubt less than a handful of cultures in world history have ever spawned a character of George Washington level quality that would refuse a crown if it was potentially attainable. So, perhaps that’s too high a standard to expect, but the leadership does need to obey their sworn oath to uphold the laws, and not use the forces under their command for personal gain.

  • Corlyss

    If Africa hadn’t lately discovered oil, China wouldn’t be there. If China weren’t there, we wouldn’t be there.

    Without oil, the whole hellish continent is Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, and Ivory Coast: a sink hole to be avoided.

  • Kris

    “it is the United States … that has the resources, organization, and desire to conduct these kinds of battles.”

    All that’s needed for this to continue is one small thing: for the US to gather enough desire to get its economic house in order.

  • Jim Blaisdell

    Africa after our gross failures elsewhere is an insane undertaking. They’re going to have to resolve there own problems. To the extent we involve ourselves we are despite what Via Meadia may think establishing a colonial relationship.

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