The United States should, with a focused effort and in partnership with other states, make a significant push to improve security in Africa. No massive deployments of U.S. troops would be needed, and in fact no role for American main combat units is required. But we should step up our game from the current very modest training efforts coordinated through Africa Command (AFRICOM).
FUN FACT: When Michael O’Hanlon was initially (but cautiously, so very cautiously) writing pieces in support of the planned invasion of Iraq, he wrote this: “[n]or would we run the serious risk of a long campaign or military stalemate, as we did in [Korea and Vietnam]. Even if most other countries objected to our decision to target Saddam, few could complain once he was gone, and our reputation in the Arab world might improve once sanctions on the Iraqi people were lifted.” That’s a clutch 0-for-2 right there.
The continent is too big for a comprehensive approach or one-size-fits-all initiative. However, the United States could make a major difference by deploying several thousand Americans to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and several hundred trainers to Libya. In the case of the DRC, by supplementing the U.N. mission that has achieved some recent battlefield successes against rebel forces, Americans could help train and mentor a DRC army so that it can gradually replace the U.N. while establishing control over much of the country’s interior (especially in the east). The Congolese war has probably been Africa’s most lethal over the last 15 years; success here could be game-changing.
You see, by suggesting that we send “thousands” of troops to the Congo and only “hundreds” of troops to Libya, O’Hanlon is clearly attuned to the fact that “[t]he continent is too big for a comprehensive approach or one-size-fits-all initiative.” You have to send, like, different amounts of
toy soldiers to different places, you know? It’s called “flexibility,” probably. And this is barely a drop in the bucket, hardly any involvement at all, and absolutely guaranteed not to escalate and spill out of control on us. Trust the guy who backed the Iraq War on this. He’s an expert on this stuff.
There’s no disputing that the Congolese “war” (you could argue that it’s been one big war or a whole bunch of smaller wars, going all the way back to the Rwandan genocide that really started the destabilization of the region, up to the current civil war in the Central African Republic that threatens to destabilize it all over again) has been awful, but is there any evidence that American troops in the DRC would fix the situation? O’Hanlon is the one proposing the idea, so surely he’ll offer some justific–
Targeted efforts are warranted in specific countries. The case is strongest in the DRC and Libya. In the DRC, despite the creation of a rapid reaction brigade in recent months to strengthen the U.N. presence and take on militias such as the M23 group, Congolese forces remain weak. The general absence of the state will continue to compromise the quality of life and very survivability of vulnerable groups such as the young, women having children, the elderly and the diseased. The best path towards a more hopeful future is a systematic effort by the United States and other outside powers to strengthen and reform Congolese security forces. Given the enormous distances and logistics challenges involved, this requires more than a few dozen trainers in traditional missions, but a deployed force on the ground such as an advise-and-assist brigade or SFAB to complement the nearly 20,000 U.N. forces, mostly from other African states, now in place.
Oh, OK. The DRC’s army is weak, and that’s bad; having an American combat (er, and training, too) brigade on their side would strengthen the DRC’s military, ergo it would fix everything! Sounds like Science Fact to me! After all, our effort to train the Afghan National Army to fight a guerrilla insurgency has been a great success, and Afghanistan is now totally stable and secure and not at all going to implode right after the last American soldier leaves. And it’s not as though these “advise-and-assist” missions ever spin wildly out of control on us, so no worries there.
In Libya, the real strategic loss has been a missed opportunity to help strengthen and stabilize the new Libyan government. The new proposed mission need not be large or costly. But the minimalist approach that the international community has followed to date has left the country worse off than it was under Qaddafi. Militias roam the streets; oil production and national GDP are way down; and institutions, including those providing education and health care, are barely functional. As part of a larger international effort, several hundred American troops in a training role could make a major difference. In so doing, they could also help reduce the spillover risks posed by renegade and extremist groups to neighboring countries like Mali, Tunisia and Algeria.
Good stuff; let’s send soldiers to Libya to train a national army in the middle of virtual anarchy. Just wondering, though, how is American military involvement in these places, even assuming we can train their armies into competence, going to fix the underlying problem, which is that neither Libya nor the DRC has a minimally functioning government? Because that’s kind of the problem with Afghanistan, too, isn’t it? And we don’t seem to be having a lot of luck fixing it there.
Does O’Hanlon ever get around to explaining why American soldiers should be sent into these African trouble spots?
There nevertheless is an opportunity to connect the region’s growing number of positive stories into a broader community of countries moving in the right direction. The continent is not quite ready to become a zone of peace, but it may be on the verge at least of becoming a zone of hope. And a number of countries are helping. Beyond the impressive French role—the French have intervened successfully in Ivory Coast, Mali and Central African Republic—African states are stepping up to the plate, as the efforts by Ugandan and Kenyan forces in Somalia demonstrate.
Oh, I gotcha. Africa’s in bad shape, so…why not jump on in, I guess? What could go wrong? Ugandan and Kenyan soldiers are working to stabilize Somalia, though that’s kind of in their, you know, immediate national interest. France has been
re-colonizing intervening in the cause of Goodness and Justice in Africa for a while now, and they’ve had a lot of success in the Central African Republic, which is totally peaceful now, and Mali, where the threat of Islamic militants is totally over, so why not America? Are we going to let the French take the mantle of international police cops away from us?
This is seriously the closest I can figure to O’Hanlon’s justification: there are many troubled spots in Africa so America should throw troops at some of them, and we’re letting the French beat us to the punch like a bunch of sissies. Oh, wait, there’s more?
There are, of course, risks from any such increased American role in African conflict zones. But this country’s general casualty aversion is not what it was in 1993, when tragedy in Somalia led to the rapid end of a U.S. military role there. Going forward, the political stakes in such a mission would appear to be less—as, admittedly, would the political reward for any successes that U.S. forces helped achieve. But in a broader historic sense, helping make Africa a “zone of hope” could prove a durable and notable accomplishment. And after the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has created advisory capacity of a type it never had before that could make a major contribution elsewhere.
Oh, I see, there’s no real political success to be gained, but making Africa a “zone of hope,” whatever that means, as we obviously will with just the tiniest amount of military involvement, duh, would be a “durable and notable accomplishment.” Well, I don’t know about you folks, but that’s enough for me! I bet we could get into our first choice college with something like that on our record!
Let me also say that it’s refreshing to finally see somebody make the case that our tremendous successes in creating secure nation-states in Afghanistan and Iraq should be paying dividends in other, heretofore-unintervened-in parts of the world.
Here’s my favorite paragraph:
At a time of national war fatigue and fiscal austerity, it may be counterintuitive to propose increasing American involvement, particularly if it involves military commitment, abroad.
Since this advice is coming from Michael O’Hanlon, I don’t see how it could be perceived as counterintuitive, or even mildly surprising, but OK.
But, for a modest investment, the United States and other countries may be able to make major strides towards improving the prospects for peace and stability on the continent. With the number of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan rapidly declining from a peak of 200,000 half a decade ago to 35,000 by early 2014, the American military could undertake a modest engagement in Africa, even as U.S. armed forces and their budgets downsize.
This is right on; I mean, those soldiers aren’t gonna deploy themselves to dangerous and chaotic combat zones, amirite? Use it or lose it, Mr. President!
Anyway, nice job, Michael O’Hanlon! This memo is a Very Serious and Sensible Policy Suggestion and not at all indicative of your bizarre fixation on shipping American servicemembers off to places we don’t know anything about, to get involved in conflicts that we don’t understand.