AFRICOM. I can't find myself nearlyas agitated at the prospect of AFRICOM as Brad Plumer appears to be. I guess that the first and most important caveat that I'd offer is that AFRICOM does not represent a sudden expansion of U.S. military influence into the continent of Africa; Africa had previously been divided between three combatant commands, each with their own authority for conducting military diplomacy, managing military relations, and planning potential operations. Thus, it's really difficult for me to sympathize with this...

Anyway, there's a serious debate about U.S. hegemony to be had here. Is there a chance that this military presence in Africa could be a force for good--one that could stabilize the continent and help governments build up their security forces and maintain order? Or is this neo-colonialism just going to wreak havoc, as we arm and equip nasty regimes that violate human rights; strong-arm poor countries into adopting economic policies favorable to U.S. corporations--as has been done in Latin America for the past fifty years; and end up getting the U.S. military involved in an endless series of conflicts and quagmires?

...since the U.S. already does all of these things, only under the aegis of CENTCOM, EUCOM, and PACOM instead of a unified African Command. Now, given that Africa is a large and diverse continent, it could plausibly be argued that lumping it all together is kind of stupid, but then lumping parts of it together with Iceland (EUCOM), Kazahkstan (CENTCOM), and Alaska (PACCOM) is probably even worse.

I'm also a bit puzzled by this:

Barnett tells the story of how Africa Command got sucked into Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia last December. The U.S. signed on mainly because we were jazzed about killing some unspecified number of fighters in Somalia. (Says one official: "Honestly, nobody had any idea just how many there really were. But we wanted to get them all.") As far as anyone can tell, nothing positive has come from our involvement in--and support for--that war.

While that's fair enough on the big picture, Barnett doesn't actually say anything about AFRICOM's interference in the war, for very good reason; AFRICOM wasn't authorized until after the war was started, and won't be up and running for another year, at least. CENTCOM participated in the war, because that part of Africa comes under CENTCOM's purview. The existence of AFRICOM might not have changed the situation, but then again it might, given the fact that we have different commands in order to focus on and develop plans and expertise for different parts of the world. That CENTCOM understood the Ethiopia-Somalia dispute as an extension of Iraq is unsurprising, but that's more of a reason to create AFRICOM than to assail its existence.

What Brad really wants to argue against, I presume, is the institution of geography based combatant commands (privileged by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986), and the increasing importance of these commands in diplomatic and political issues in their areas of responsibility. See Dana Priest's The Mission for more details on what these organizations do, especially in the context of Africa, where the U.S. military has been conducting training, relief, and diplomatic missions for some time. That's fine, but within that structure the creation of AFRICOM doesn't exactly represent a profound shift towards neocolonialism, or herald plentiful military interventions on the African continent. While it's possible that this re-organization of institutional responsibility will have all kinds of negative effects, I'm far from convinced.

--Robert Farley

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