Top HASC Democrat Backs Military-Centric U.S. Foreign Policy in Africa
By Sandra I. Erwin
Nobody in war-fatigued Washington these days wants to hear this, but the United States needs to step up its military presence in Sub-Saharan Africa, said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking minority member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Having recently returned from his second congressional oversight trip to Africa, Smith is convinced that the U.S. military is needed in that region, not to fight wars, but to train local forces and to help create conditions for economic development, he told an audience of foreign policy experts July 12 at theAmerican Security Project, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
In the aftermath of financially and humanly draining wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public has no appetite for massive military deployments, polls have consistently confirmed. But the United States still has to find a way to tackle national security threats such as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Al-Shabaab, an affiliate based in Somalia, Smith said. In Africa, the United States has an opportunity to design a new national security model based on local alliances between small groups of U.S. military representatives and the host nation’s forces, which would do the heavy lifting and the shooting. Such partnerships can become “force multipliers for U.S. interests,” he said. Smith praised U.S. efforts in the Horn of Africa, where local African forces received training and intelligence from U.S. advisors and were able to push back Al-Shabaab insurgents in Mogadishu.
Africa should be a “model for how we need to engage in foreign policy and national security broadly,” Smith said.
The decade-long nation-building and fighting campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan are lessons of what not to do in the future, he said. “We are past the point in history where a foreign military force can simply impose its will on a country and fix everything.” The U.S. military’s can-do attitude sometimes can work against national interests, he added. Sometimes, “you just can’t do it,” Smith said.
The more limited operations in the Horn of Africa fundamentally are what counterinsurgency is about, he said. “One of the things I’m deeply concerned about as a result of Iraq and Afghanistan is that counterinsurgency has become greatly misunderstood and given a bad name.”
Smith pushed back on the conventional wisdom that the military should not be involved in international development. In an utopian world, only civilians would handle diplomacy and development. But Africa today is plagued by huge security problems, such as the spread of terrorist networks and sea piracy, that have ramifications for the United States and require military help, he said.
Smith said he supports giving more funding to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, but he still wants the Defense Department involved. “Security and development go hand in hand,” he said. “Is the Defense Department doing too much? Probably. But we should break out of the old rule that the military should not be involved.”
Mark R. Jacobson, a former NATO civilian representative in Afghanistan, told Smith during a question-and-answer session that the gap between Title 10 (code that outlines the role of the U.S. military) and Title 22 (code that governs international development) has never been narrower. In Afghanistan, however, it was clear that military commanders, no matter how knowledgeable and skilled, cannot manage development programs as effectively as USAID, Jacobson argued.
Smith said the problem is not military participation, but the dysfunctional organization of U.S. international development efforts. ”This has been one of my greatest disappointments,” he said. Although the State Department is in charge, its priority is diplomacy, so development takes a back seat. Smith said he would favor the U.K. “Partnership for International Development” model, which is a coalition of physicians, nurses, scholars and researchers.
Again, Smith emphasized that development cannot succeed without security. Only the military can provide that, he added.
Improved security also breeds private-sector involvement, he added. With a burgeoning middle class and vast supplies of natural resources, Africa presents a huge opportunity for American investors and corporations, Smith said.
Nelson W. Cunningham, managing partner of McLarty Associates and board member of the American Security Project, said many of his corporate clients are becoming increasingly interested in Africa. “We are focusing commercially across Africa, not just for energy and mining, but also for companies like Wal-Mart, Google and MetLife.”
The business community worries about security and infrastructure, said Smith. Based on the recent success in the Horn of Africa, he said, "they have to take a leap of faith and start doing business there.”
During the Q&A session, Smith was challenged by privacy think tank representatives who regard U.S. involvement in Africa as potentially questionable use of taxpayer dollars, with little accountability.
Smith said HASC is responsible for the oversight of these activities, and suggested that, although transparency is important, U.S. intelligence operations, if they are to achieve their goals, are not for public consumption on the nightly news.
Current U.S. military presence in Africa is relatively small. The military base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, houses about 2,000 U.S. troops, according to Army Gen. Carter Ham, head of U.S. Africa Command. During a presentation last month at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Ham said there are small, short-term deployments in Liberia, Morocco and Cameroon, which focus on training and joint exercises with local forces. Ham said the United States has trained about 200,000 peacekeeping and security personnel from 25 African nations.
The U.S. Army recently announced that an infantry brigade has been assigned to Africa Command. The 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division will deploy to AFRICOM in March, said Col. Andrew Dennis, the division chief of Army security cooperation policy and concepts. "This does not mean the 2/1 BCT is going to deploy en masse to Africa,” he told reporters during a Pentagon news conference. “What it does mean is the 2/1 BCT is going to be a sourcing solution to provide troops for AFRICOM."
AFRICOM is one of six of the Defense Department’s geographic combatant commands and is responsible for military relations with African nations, the African Union, and African regional security organizations. It began operations in Oct. 2007.