Just as the big annual African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Conference is kicking off in Washington, and USAIDs Frontiers in Development conference has ended, the Washington Post has run a large story, “U.S. expands secret intelligence in Africa” which will continue to draw attention, discussing military operations as opposed to anything involving the traditional intelligence agencies.
Briefly, my “macro” level observation is that this is an example of the choices confronting Americans in simply deciding who we want to be in Africa.
There is perhaps a certain irony that in 2012, all these years after the Cold War, the Chinese Communist Party government leads an expansive, rapidly growing commercial presence across Africa, while the U.S. does seem to be specializing more in the military/security area. “Comparative advantage”? Bureaucratic momentum and politics in Washington? Sound policy making reflecting that the U.S. sees itself as quite rich already and has a main priority of preventing future tragic “embassy bombings” and “9-11s”; whereas the Chinese government is relatively speaking “young and hungry”, and needs to build its economic power to hold power at home against any possible future “regime change” from democratization or other domestic pressures?
AFRICOM is an experiment of sorts and it is evolving. The Post story points out that AFRICOM is still doing “aid” projects–by which I assume they mean things like the traditional humanitarian and medical missions carried out by troops, and things like the fish farming program for the DRC military in Eastern Congo I noted some time back along with the military-focused democracy and governance and rule of law training, aside from the more usual military and security training assistance. At the same time, the budgetary pressure in Washington is hugely increased from anything that people would have had in mind back during the finance bubble when the decision to roll out AFRICOM as a “new kind” of combatant command was made. Spending on “development” and “diplomacy” are lowercase priorities when the budget axe swings, verses “the big D” on the traditional military side of a “three Ds” national security strategy.
On one hand, AFRICOM could provide a bureaucratic umbrella of sorts to help shelter some “development and diplomacy” efforts from the budget storm. On the other, it could suck up dollars to pay for programs that are neither efficient nor well coordinated, nor carried out by people who have development or diplomacy as their primary mission. Regardless, I think it is fair and appropriate to say that at least some people on both the civilian and military side of the effort, who believe in the concept of a “new kind” of command, are concerned about the staying power of the model as conceived and approved against the bureaucratic pressure for military homogenization in the context of the global war on terrorism formerly known as “the Global War on Terrorism”.
Yesterday at the Frontiers in Development program Jim Kolbe, former Republican Congressman and longtime IRI board member, emphasized the importance of development for U.S. national security. I agree. Having worked in the defense industry myself for 12.5 years, including the time of the USS Cole bombing (the ship was repaired at my workplace), 9-11 (I was in Washington), 7-7 (got the news of the London bombings as an election observer in Osh, Kyrgyzstan) I do not downplay terrorism or undervalue U.S. security–I just want very much for all of us as citizens to take responsibility for making good and deliberative decisions about our long term interests and ultimately the broader role we want to play in the world.