Sunday, November 1, 2009
While Lil has spent some time on the continent recently (here and here), this excellent report from Lauren Ploch at CRS has my mind on U.S. involvement in Africa. This is one of the best and concise distillations of all things AFRICOM that I've seen. Ms. Ploch does a great job talking about what they've done well, what they haven't, and what their challenges are ahead.
Having spent some of my working (read: paid for) time looking into AFRICOM with my previous employer, I still get a lot of heartburn about what they're doing there in Stuttgart. Mainly with the self-branding of the command as a "combatant command plus." Now I'm all for Africa having its own geographic command. Africa is huge (land- and people-wise), has a never ending supply of conflicts, and is falls increasingly within the strategic interests of the U.S. Why wouldn't the U.S. have a command, and associated staff, that could focus exclusively on the unique and many issues facing the continent?
But it's the "plus" that gets me. In light of the relatively recent DoS OIG report that tore the Bureau of African Affairs (AF) a new hole, AFRICOM had been set up to be able to facilitate all sorts of non-military operations in Africa. Granted, AFRICOM's mission was set prior to this report, but the shortcomings of DoS were well known and much bemoaned by DoD. So to fill that void, DoD saw fit to empower a uniformed command, usually responsible for the conduct of wars and military cooperation, with the mandate to conduct or assist in other operations. So much so that of the two deputy commanders, one is military and the other is an ambassadorial position, the latter formerly filled by the extremely competent AMB Mary Yates.
Having been in Iraq and dealing with a limited DoS capacity, I know it's infuriating. It would be awesome if DoS was able to do all that it was supposed to or a fraction of what DoD wants it to. But putting the responsibility, even if it is merely a coordination role, of diplomacy and development into the hands of the military is just wrong. Africa, a place in which I have zero experience, is obviously wary of foreign military interventions no matter what the reason. And American philanthropy, no matter how flawed, has been well intended to a highly inflicted region. But it's different to the recipient when the philanthropist is wearing a uniform - it just reeks of imperial designs. For a military that seems to have finally understood the power of perspective, we're failing when we talk about AFRICOM doing diplomacy and development. To say nothing of the legal and constitutional issues involved.
The very nature, and even existence, of the command may change over the coming years. I'm all for keeping it. But for God's sake, please, please drop the "plus" - let the combatant command do what it's supposed to do. And let the diplomats and aid professionals do what they're supposed to do. Or we're going to end up with the better part of a continent who doesn't want our help - just when we start caring about them and the things they have that we want.