By electing President Obama we got through with race and became post-racial. Now that we have elected Trump we are surely done with “political correctness”, so lets us speak plainly. What is “Africa” as seen from Washington?
Well, surely Africa is a playground for so many characters, but that is nothing new at all, and we don’t really like to focus on that. From Trump children big game hunting to politically engaged ministers and ex-diplomats involved in unusual investment schemes, Africa abides. With election campaigns to run and autocrats to lobby for in Washington. And missions and aid and economic investment programs continuing apace with varying degrees of pep and power in accordance with the visions and priorities of policy makers.
The thing that is new from U.S. vantage in this century is the overriding common legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations: AFRICOM (recognizing that the new command was primarily planned by the Bush Administration but did not “stand up” until Obama was almost in office).
I never had strong opinions about whether having a separate combatant command for Africa would be better or worse than than the status quo under CENTCOM, et al, that existed in my time working in Kenya and Somaliand in 2007-08. It has escaped my attention if there are many Americans who see our policies in Africa during the Cold War as a highlight of our better angels, and I think on balance our aspirations for our relations in Africa in this century are higher than back in the past; nonetheless, largely staying out of Africa directly with our own military during the the Cold War and its initial aftermath may have reduced risks that are now potentially at play.
I think it is fair to say that ten years in the December 2006 Ethiopian operation to remove the ICU in Somalia with our support has not over time convinced all skeptics. In fairness, perhaps, as with the French Revolution, it is still too early to tell.
So did having AFRICOM as a separate combatant command from late 2008 (with a new “whole-of-government” flavor and hardwired entre for USAID and State Department involvement) result in wiser judgment and better execution in terms of US national security and/or related and ancillary command objectives in recent years?
It is hard to judge because it is a big command (aside from the answer being, in substance, classified) but the experience with regard to the Libya intervention in particular is not altogether encouraging.
Would having CENTCOM engaged from Tampa rather than AFRICOM from Stuttgart have made a difference in some way to our consideration of intervention and our planning-perhaps more hard questions initially to Washington from a more “war wary” perspective as opposed to input from an entity with the bureaucratic equivalent of the “new car smell”? [If inexperience was not a factor, what do we need to change to avoid future repetition if we agree that something went wrong on Libya?]
One way or the other, Trump takes office with AFRICOM at his command, a vast range of relatively small training interactions of a primarily “military diplomatic” nature all over, large exercises and larger programs with many militaries, active limited and largely low profile (from outside) “kinetic” operations across a wide “arc of instability” and the war in Somalia with a new legal opinion, for what its worth, tying the fight against al Shabaab more explicitly to 9-11 and al Queda. Along with a real live emergency in South Sudan and several other critical situations from a humanitarian and stability perspective.
I have declined to be persuaded by a dark view of the intentions behind standing up AFRICOM (versus the status quo ante and any realistic alternatives). Perhaps this is merely self protective since I am, after all, American, but also worked for much longer in the defense industry than my brief foray in paid assistance work. But it is my attempt at honest judgment from my own experience. Regardless, we are where we are, and Donald Trump will be giving the orders at the top to AFRICOM and whatever anyone had in mind, the fact that it is a military command rather than a civilian agency makes a great deal of difference in terms of the latitude that he inherited along with possession of the American White House.
Needless to say I hope it turns out that he has a yuge heart and bigly wisdom however fanciful that hope might look from what he has said and done so far.