Lawmakers Take a Stand: We Don’t Want Out of Africa!
There is nothing like a good old fashioned rallying of the legislative branch around the power of its constitutional authority…to keep U.S. troops in harm’s way.
A number of members of Congress—including reliable military handmaidens Lindsey Graham and Jim Inhofe on the Senate side, and a bipartisan effort led by Leon Panetta’s son, Rep. Jimmy Panetta, in the House—want to keep U.S. forces stationed in Africa.
The twist: the leading proponent of drawing down the approximately 5,200 troops now stationed there is none other than Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. He’s no dove, and certainly no adversary of the defense industry, but this is one “footprint” he has claimed the U.S. can shift away from (towards a more deliberate posture against Russia and China, no doubt, but that’s another story).
Unfortunately, in this case, the politicians sense they know better, and Panetta (D-Calif.) has proposed a bill that would use the power of the purse to stop the Trump Administration from withdrawing the troops. According to Defense One, the bill prevents any funding for the drawdown effort from AFRICOM (Africa Command) until the Pentagon declassifies a series of reports on “everything from the impact of the withdrawal on efforts to combat violent extremist groups on the continent to its effects on growing Russian and Chinese influence there.”
It’s funny that the Congress is deploying the usual tactics to stay, while the Pentagon, which wrote the book on mission justification, is saying, no, really, we don’t want to. Here’s Gil Barndollar in TAC after Esper made his announcement in late December:
…Esper’s team is rightly asking what threat, if any, do African bush wars pose to Americans on U.S. soil. This question is long overdue—and it could also be asked of the Taliban, Somalia’s al Shabaab, and the ISIS remnants in the Levant.
…Esper is laser-focused on great power competition, and especially on China. Unlike many with a 202 phone number, he seems to grasp that American power is not unlimited. The United States needs to prioritize and divest its military of non-essential (to say nothing of unachievable) missions. One suspects that Esper can also distinguish an asset from a liability and grasps that Russian or Chinese influence in Syria or Sierra Leone needn’t keep anyone up at night.
But an even better question might be: What can we realistically accomplish with 5,200 American forces there anyway? As I wrote in January, our troops are operating in increasingly vulnerable conditions. They are spread out thin, often using third party contractors as security, and there aren’t enough forces nearby when a real crisis breaks out. We saw this in the Niger ambush in 2017, and more recently in Kenya, when our forces were actually overrun by militants, leaving four Americans dead on a dusty, remote tarmac, and many others huddling together, waiting for rescue.
It is no surprise that politicians are using the most recent development in Kenya to say Esper is wrong, that we actually need a bigger American footprint there. But missing is a conversation about whether our small presence (in addition to airstrikes over the last 10 years) has actually been the catalyst for more violence. Like the Blob-brained pols they are, members of Congress are probably being lobbied by someone in the military who doesn’t like Esper’s tone, and are threatened by his talk of withdrawal. It would be nice if members would instead focus their Constitutional ire on getting out of wars like Yemen and Afghanistan, and not into more regional hotbeds where we do not belong.