President Obama said Friday he would send armed advisers – about 100 – to central Africa to help hunt down one of the world’s genuine bad guys – Joseph Kony, head of a murdering, kidnapping, torturing and raping group of thugs who call themselves the Lord’s Resistance Army. Obama seems to have a thing for hunting down bad guys: first Osama bin Laden, then Anwar al-Awlaki, with a host of less infamous enemies in between. But a question now presents itself: Will Obama involve Americans in more conflicts in more countries and than his predecessor, renowned interventionist George W. Bush?
As the Washington Post reported today:
With limited U.S. assistance, Obama wrote [in a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner], “regional military efforts have thus far been unsuccessful in removing LRA leader Joseph Kony or his top commanders from the battlefield.” Therefore, he said, “I have authorized a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa” to help regional forces achieve that goal.
An “initial team of U.S. military personnel with appropriate combat equipment deployed to Uganda” on Wednesday, and additional forces are to be sent during the next month, Obama said. Those forces will include “a second combat-equipped team and associated headquarters, communications and logistics personnel,” he said.
George W. Bush might have begun lengthy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but Obama has put American troops in Libya’s airspace and now on the ground in central Africa, not to mention escalating drone warfare against targets in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. This is something of an about-face for Obama, who as a senator and presidential candidate signaled an intention to divert America from its past interventionist policies.
This is, however, more than a story about the increasingly close strategies Presidents Bush and Obama have used in the Lord Voldemort War (formerly the global war on terror, now the group of kinetic military actions against Those Who Cannot Be Named).
It is a story about the rise of US involvement in Africa. Whether from humanitarian motives (and there are some terrible things happening in Africa), US racial politics (why should we pay less attention to genocides and conflicts involving blacks rather than whites), or economic ones (Africa has a lot of raw materials), US interest in and commitment to Africa is on the rise.
This is yet another point of similarity between the Bush and Obama administrations. Both presidents have steadily been raising America’s Africa involvement in a variety of fields. The establishment of a Pentagon command for Africa (Africom) will make missions like this one easier to organize and represents a significant upgrade in terms of US focus on the continent.
The rise of US interest in Africa is a big and important story which I hope to follow on the blog; in the meantime, let’s hope the LRA is killed, captured or scattered ASAP. These are seriously bad actors, and the sooner they are out of business, the better for all concerned.