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The Dogs of War Sniff Out Mission in Central Africa

As if the United States wasn’t already pursuing enough murky and dubious military missions in such places as Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen, a push appears to be underway to expand Washington’s involvement in Sub-Saharan Africa.

U.S. troops are more deeply engaged in “anti-terror” in Niger, Somalia, and other countries than most Americans realize. When four American Special Forces personnel died in Niger in 2017, even members of Congress were surprised [1].

A lobbying effort now seems to be taking place for U.S. intervention to alleviate suffering in the Central African Republic (CAR), because of that country’s ongoing civil war. NBC News took the lead with a story on the March 6 Today show and followed it up with a more detailed segment on the Nightly News [2] that same evening. Cynthia McFadden was the lead journalist for the report that included searing footage of suffering in one UN-run refugee camp.

The media treatment would be familiar to anyone who recalls the preludes to U.S. military interventions in such places as Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, and Syria. There is extensive video of starving, disease-afflicted children and their anguished parents. International aid workers emphasize that the suffering was certain to get worse unless the “international community” (led, of course, by the United States) took immediate action. A U.S. diplomat on the scene or in Washington proceeds to echo that argument. The armed conflict causing the suffering is mentioned, but the treatment is brief and superficial, or it becomes a simplistic melodrama in which a designated villain is causing all the trouble: Think Slobodan Milosevic, Muammar Qaddafi, and Bashar al-Assad.

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The NBC report followed that template to perfection—including the focus on child victims. In an on-camera interview, Caryl Stern, the CEO of UNICEF USA, stated flatly: “This is the most dangerous place in the world for children.” As with earlier media accounts that sought to generate public support for U.S. intervention in the Balkans, Libya, and other chaotic arenas, the report also highlighted the sense of urgency and the assertion that the United States has both a moral obligation and a strategic interest in taking action. One passage asserted that the situation already in the CAR was dire and becoming more so:

The Central African Republic has descended into chaos in recent years. A sectarian civil war pitting Muslim rebels against Christian militias has ravaged large swaths of the country, displaced more than 1 million people and claimed the lives of tens of thousands.

Adding to its woes, this landlocked nation of 4.6 million people is now teetering on the brink of famine. An estimated 1.5 million children are at risk of starvation, aid groups say. And the lack of government institutions coupled with the tangled mass of warring factions have prompted fears that extremist organizations aligned with the Islamic State group could gain a foothold.

The last point aimed at making the case that the situation in the CAR was not just a humanitarian crisis but also a matter of U.S. national security. David Brownstein, the U.S. chargé d’affairs in the Central African Republic, did not hesitate to invoke the specter of ISIS. He stated that “the United States is particularly concerned about the potential of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, capitalizing on the instability to establish a presence in the region.” Brownstein emphasized that “ISIS takes advantage of vacuums. Literal vacuums, security vacuums, governance vacuums, perceived moral vacuums.”

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If the ISIS menace was not enough to alarm viewers, NBC cited two other bogeymen: the Russians and the Chinese. “Other nations have developed an interest in the resource-rich African country, including Russia and China. The soil underneath the razed villages and scorched fields holds a wealth of gold, diamonds, uranium and oil. Close observers of the region say Russia in particular has gained a stunning level of clout inside the former French colony in just the past 13 months—supplying arms and soldiers, and seeing one of its own nationals installed as a special security adviser to President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.” Other media outlets have warned about Russian arms sales [3] as well.

Habitual hawks likewise are stressing that the Kremlin is exploiting the situation in the CAR for geopolitical advantage. Heritage Foundation senior fellow and former deputy secretary of defense Peter Brookes argues that Moscow is forging worrisome security ties [4] with numerous African countries, including possibly seeking bases in both Sudan and Eritrea. The CAR is definitely on that list as well, Brookes contends. “Russia has sold arms to, and trained, the security services of African states for many years, perhaps most notably of late in the Central African Republic.”

Americans need to resist the siren call for U.S. intervention in the CAR or any other country where vital American interests are not at stake. Financial aid to help alleviate human suffering is appropriate, and the U.S. government already is the largest donor for that cause in the CAR, sending $120 million in 2018. If reports like the NBC story generate a surge in private donations, that outcome is even better. No one denies that there is great humanitarian suffering in the CAR, but America cannot take action in every arena where such a tragedy occurs.

Moreover, previous U.S.-led humanitarian interventions have not turned out well. Especially where there are complex, multi-sided civil wars, Washington’s meddling typically makes matters worse. The Obama administration’s campaign to overthrow Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi to prevent a supposed impending genocide instead brought unprecedented chaos [5] to that country. The suffering in Syria today was exacerbated by the agenda that the United States and its allies pursued to unseat Bashar al-Assad. Even in cases where Washington’s motive seemed genuinely humanitarian and not just a façade for geopolitical advantage, as in Somalia during George H.W. Bush’s administration, the outcome was bruising. American troops arrived to distribute aid and restore some semblance of order. They ended up battling one of the Somali armed factions, culminating in the Black Hawk down fiasco.

In light of that dismal track record, the United States should stay aloof from the tragic situation in the Central African Republic. U.S. foreign policy over the past several decades has confirmed the point that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions [6]. Hyped, simplistic, and one-sided media accounts have helped push America into unwise interventions [7], and a similar campaign may be underway regarding the CAR. We must not let that siren call succeed again.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in security studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor to The American Conservative, is the author of 12 books and more than 750 articles on international affairs. His latest book is Gullible Superpower: U.S. Support for Bogus Foreign Democratic Movements [8] (2019).

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "The Dogs of War Sniff Out Mission in Central Africa"

#1 Comment By Whine Merchant On March 12, 2019 @ 12:08 am

I have an idea on which I would appreciate feedback. Why not go back to what the USA used to do so successfully? Economic investment to bring at least a little prosperity to impoverished nations, maybe a clean water system or a few bridges, like we did in the Cold War? Why let Xi Jinping have all the glory with One Belt – One Road? The Chinese are making friends in Africa, building railways and roads and hospitals. All the neo-con GOP has to offer is weapons and training to prop-up despots.

#2 Comment By Johann On March 12, 2019 @ 8:00 am

Hellhole countries abound in the third world. The foreign policy establishmentarians in the state department, think tanks, and their media love it. No really. It gives them endless feel goody interventions to pursue. They are constantly going about the world in search of monsters to destroy.
And pay no attention to the masses of third worlders entering out country they say.

Unfortunately, a country is its people and we are headed for hellholedness ourselves because the immigrants are no longer assimilating.

#3 Comment By Jerome Barry On March 12, 2019 @ 11:27 am

No other nation has any interest in CAR except for the abundant mineral resources there. There is no reason for the U.S. to get involved unless we do so to seize and exploit all the mineral resources. The labor for that, of course, would be African, local, and politically unacceptable, so let’s just not and say we wish them well.

#4 Comment By furbo On March 12, 2019 @ 12:32 pm

The CAR is a mess. Even on it’s best day it is an ungovernable society – a false nation. We’ve so far limited our support to moving other African militaries to the CAR to participate in UN missions and supporting French forces. I don’t think it will ever go beyond that.

#5 Comment By Dan Green On March 12, 2019 @ 12:51 pm

Kind of common knowledge, we have been educated to get involved wherever, under the pretense, ” protecting our interest.” Venezuela is next, and will be marketed as a humanitarian invasion, masking our getting control of Venezuela’s oil reserves. Reality is, it is either the US, or China.

#6 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On March 12, 2019 @ 2:10 pm

The usual sane stuff from Ted Galen Carpenter. As Donald Trump’s poll numbers crater in the next eight weeks, I can easily imagine Mr. Carpenter as President Tucker Carlson’s chief military advisor a couple of years from now.

#7 Comment By WRW On March 12, 2019 @ 2:51 pm

Carpenter has no analysis of why Russia and China ARE intervening in these African countries. What national interests do they see that cause them to intervene? Given that TAC commentators seem to unanimously accept that Russia and China only act on the calculus of national interest, rather than ideology or humanitarian sentiment, why are they intervening? And if they judge their national interests require intervention in these countries, why is our national interest not furthered by intervention? I’d like to hear Carpenter, Bandow, Larison, etc. actually address those questions rather than rehashing failed interventions of the past (when, notably, Russia and China were not intervening in countries like this.)

#8 Comment By Chris Mallory On March 12, 2019 @ 3:25 pm

“Financial aid to help alleviate human suffering is appropriate, and the U.S. government already is the largest donor for that cause in the CAR, sending $120 million in 2018.”

No, no it isn’t. That is $120 million dollars taken from Americans under the threat of force or money that our kids and grandkids will have to repay. Not one dime of tax money should be sent overseas for any reason.
Africa now has the fastest growing population in the world. This on a continent that is unable to feed itself. End all aid to Africa and let the population settle to a level that can support itself without Western aid.

#9 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 12, 2019 @ 4:23 pm

“Moreover, previous U.S.-led humanitarian interventions have not turned out well. Especially where there are complex, multi-sided civil wars, Washington’s meddling typically makes matters worse. The Obama administration’s campaign to overthrow Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi to prevent a supposed impending genocide instead brought unprecedented chaos to that country. The suffering in Syria today was exacerbated by the agenda that the United States and its allies pursued to unseat Bashar al-Assad. Even in cases where Washington’s motive seemed genuinely humanitarian and not just a façade for geopolitical advantage, as in Somalia during George H.W. Bush’s administration, the outcome was bruising. American troops arrived to distribute aid and restore some semblance of order. They ended up battling one of the Somali armed factions, culminating in the Black Hawk down fiasco.”

The Libya fiasco had nothing to do with humanitarian aide. It was to remove the duly elected president. It is by now clear that we were not then and are not now the least bit invested in improving humanitarian conditions. In complete contrast to the Somalia mission which was a legitimate concern for human life. Libya was another regime change that resulted in predictable consequences.

Somalia was a real crisis of human trial. Our mistake was not in providing care. It was deciding to to determine which group should be the political force in power. Not only did we bungle the aide, we meddled into the internal affairs of another country alone having no idea what the politics or social configurations were. The end result is that we proved vulnerable tripling the mistake by cutting our losses and hiding our tails and running home.

Childishly fearing all things African — there’s a shock – not. Apparently not afraid enough to engage in Syria. Yemen, Libya, Iraq and elsewhere. Humanitarian interventions are not the same as those we engage to reroute the political directions and fortunes of other states. Take for example, Niger. It actually makes some sense to intervene in Niger in order to assist in securing the Uranian mines. And Niger should not be embarrassed to charge us an arm and a leg for said product. They gold the cards, they can give us the boot anytime they so desire.

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Here’s the larger problem for US foreign policy. The intel, FBI and the WH have stated that Russian actively attempted to sabotage the US election. They have also according to the WH engaged in murder and attempted murder in the sovereign territory of our allies, that makes them enemies of the US and us may require countering every strategic move they make around the globe. That should sound familiar — cold war.

#10 Comment By Patrick On March 13, 2019 @ 8:51 am

Typical America, invading another distraught nation that can not deter the US military from slithering in and ransacking, pillaging, plundering and raping all in sight, as they have many other nations from Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq to Syria.

America should wait to finally win a war (a legal war, and not one they claim to be legal) before creating genocide.

#11 Comment By peter mcloughlin On March 13, 2019 @ 9:58 am

The US government should stay out of conflicts ‘where vital American interests are not at stake’. Sensible advice from Ted Galen Carpenter. Peripheral interests can have the commercial allure of being important: ‘… A wealth of gold, diamonds, uranium and oil.’ What is important today is that nuclear powers avoid the scenario where vital interests clash, where it becomes impossible for either side to back down. A vital interest protects a nation from existential threat. An existential threat is where nuclear weapons might be used – the fall-back position of nuclear Deterrence Doctrine. During confrontations in the Cold War one of the superpowers was able step back from the brink, as in the Cuban missile crisis or the Euro missile crisis. When two cannot step back there is war. It is becoming increasingly difficult to prevent the scenarios where Mutual Assured Destruction will be resorted to. We will soon face the scenario where one protagonist will not be able to back down, blindly stumbling into a situation it cannot de-escalate. That is the warning of history.
[9]

#12 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 13, 2019 @ 6:11 pm

“Vietnam”

I beg your pardon, I would like to what we plundered in from Vietnam, do tell.

#13 Comment By Richard Vajs On March 13, 2019 @ 7:06 pm

America is no longer a Christian nation – and I mean Christian in the New Testament sense -open in the sense that it wants to alleviate suffering and do good. Now, it is a totally “badass state”. “Do as we say, or you will pay a price!” Maybe it is our fear that is getting to us. When you are always afraid, you are always ready to shoot first and ask questions later.
I just had an incident which was very telling. I got pulled over by the police for not wearing my seat belt. As my shoestring was caught in the car door – I noticed it while waiting for the police to come to my car after I pulled over. I opened my car door to release it – the policeman behind me yelled, “If you get out of that car, I will shoot you”. A young passenger in my car screamed, “Don’t you know better than open your door!”. I yelled at the cop, “I’m not going to attack you, be respectful to me and I’ll be respectful to you!” The Policeman walked up to my car window, and started yelling at me, “You better get your attitude adjusted or you’re going to go downtown in handcuffs”. My young passenger was astounded to hear someone talk back to the police.
After the incident, I told the young passenger, “In the America that I was born in, the police were always respectful to the citizens, and it was good to be respectful back, but not necessary. It was places like Nazi Germany where the citizens had to be always respectful to the police whether the police were respectful in return or not.” My young passenger looked at me like I was a passenger pigeon or some other soon-to-be extinct animal. Her advice to me was of course, he was out of line but shut your mouth, if you don’t want trouble.
I had always heard that America was great because it was good and when America was no longer good it will no longer be great. To me, America is no longer great – and Trump with his Pompeo, Bolton and Abrams will not and cannot make it great again. Too “badass” to be Christian.

#14 Comment By Monkhouse On March 13, 2019 @ 7:59 pm

Let’s get one thing straight. Any US interventions in CAR or elsewhere in Africa are absolutely NOT about ISIS or Al Qaeda or any other “terrorists.” That was the message of Pentagon ex-Supremo James Mad-Dog Mattis, over a year ago now, when he told the whole world that the GWOT is over and that the present US military mission is back to the Cold War scenario, against Russia and China. Full stop.

And how should we understand US “national interests” in Africa or anywhere else, if what’s up is Cold War Re-dux? In real estate, the game is all about location, location, location, and it’s no different here, even with the additional of all those mineral resources that all parties covet. Yes, we are after those resources, but what we really want as well, is to keep Russia and China out. Call it a policy of “strategic denial?” That’s a game with a very long history.

How long has it been now since Barack Obama sent an expeditionary force out to capture or kill that arch-bad-guy Joseph Kony – that “terrorist” running the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army)? That intervention landed in Uganda at first, but it spread out to include CAR, DRC, and South Sudan. How did that end? Oh, it never did end, did it? And did they succeed in capturing Kony? No, of course not, because that was only the pretext, not the mission.

The mission was and is primarily about oil (especially around Lake Albert) and oil pipelines (especially those that transit South Sudan and Uganda and Kenya, and terminate in places like Mombasa – where the Russians and Chinese have no great presence, yet.

It’s the same deal everywhere else the US has troops on the ground in Africa. Boko Haram? Utter bunkum. The Chad-Cameroon Pipeline? Now we’re getting warmer. The AQIM in Mali and Niger? Bunkum. The mission is focused on the uranium in northern Niger, in the Air Mountains, where the French AREVA has been mining now for decades. Oh, what about Djibouti (and Somalia and Yemen and Eritrea)? That one is about control of the Bab el Mandeb chokepoint and nearby shipping lanes. The list is extensive. AFRICOM has troops all across the continent now. The mission? Keep the Russians and Chinese out. Forever.