January 04, 2008

The government’s assaults on our common sense, our wallets, and our dignity are becoming so numerous that one is hard pressed to keep up. The media pivot like a herd of wildebeests from one scandal to the other—from illegal wiretapping, to torture, to mercenaries, to saber rattling in the Persian Gulf, to $4 billion lost at Homeland Security, to $9 billion stolen in Iraq.

Amid such a blur of perfidy, major events that portend disaster in the future can slip by with barely a notice by the media, by Congress, or by the public at large. For example, does one voter in a hundred know that the Department of Defense has quietly activated a new regional military command? Just type in the acronym "AFRICOM" into a search box, and the reader will find a DOD website that presents the new United States Africa Command, in the same boosterish manner thatMicrosoft rolls out a new operating platform.

According to the site, "U.S. Africa Command will better enable the Department of Defense and other elements of the U.S. government to work in concert and with partners to achieve a more stable environment in which political and economic growth can take place. U.S. Africa Command is consolidating the efforts of three existing headquarters commands into one that is focused solely on Africa and helping to coordinate US government contributions on the continent."

In other words, more meddling, more fishing in troubled waters, more displacement of traditional diplomacy with militarized "shaping of the environment," more armed, buzz-cut boy scouts playing roughly the same role Graham Greene’s "Quiet American" played in South East Asia. Oh, yes, and oil in the Gulf of Guinea.

The Center for Defense Information has posted a useful primer on AFRICOM, which discusses some of the misgivings that the intended host countries have about Uncle Sam’s gun-toting social work on the Dark Continent. There is no need to recapitulate its information and arguments; the reader should consult it for further enlightenment.

There remain only two issues to mention that the CDI piece does not cover: the domestic institutional angle and the domestic political angle.

All government bureaucracies, if allowed to fester, metastasize like a malignant cancer cell. DOD, having been given extraordinarily indulgent latitude by a somnolent Congress, has metastasized more than the norm. AFRICOM is yet another venue for general officer billets, staff jobs, and proconsular pretensions. Once created, the bureaucratic imperative becomes paramount. The collapse of the Warsaw Pact nearly two decades ago did not lead to the dissolution of NATO. AFRICOM, once created, will be immortal.

AFRICOM also represents a God-sent opportunity for both our major political parties to find new worlds to conquer. The GOP, being a subsidiary of Big Oil, is fairly licking its chops at West African oil, although how a bunch of armed social workers would "stabilize" a basket case like Nigeria is not clear, given the unfortunate precedent of Somalia.

As for the Democrats, this could be their big moment once again to preen as Wilsonian internationalists and hairy-chested liberals. Throughout the 1990s, any discussion about the Balkans was sure to include some cavil from advanced thinkers that we intervene only in white countries because we value their lives more—what about Rwanda?

Should the first Wednesday after the first Monday of November 2008 dawn with a Democratic President-elect, AFRICOM will be a ready-made vehicle for proving he or she is no wimp, and for mollifying important Democratic voting blocs as well. Should the President-elect be a Republican, there is always the oil.

Werther is the pen name of a Northern Virginia-based defense analyst.


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