The American Military Moves Into Africa

Will AFRICOM help or hurt Africa's progress toward stability and development?

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush Administration’s Defense Secretary forced to resign for his failed policies in Iraq, left a parting gift to the people of Africa, a unified U.S. military command in Africa, also known as AFRICOM.

AFRICOM, which is being run from an outpost in Stuttgart, Germany, is the embodiment of the militarized U.S. foreign policy in Africa which began in the early years of the Bush administration.

It is meant to unify control of all military operations in Africa by merging the three separate commands– European, Central, and Pacific — currently engaged in Africa, into a single overarching command structure for the continent. AFRICOM extends the power and authority of the Department of Defense into development and diplomacy functions, traditionally the domain of the State Department. Just as in Iraq, the DOD under AFRICOM would coordinate development and humanitarian assistance work and have overarching responsibility for programs previously administered by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Not everyone thinks this is a good idea, and many worry that AFRICOM less a force for good a more of an occupation army that may lead to even more conflict. The Bush administration has been trying to convince skeptical audiences in Africa and elsewhere that AFRICOM is ultimately driven by altruistic motives. Altruism, however, has never had any place in US foreign policy towards post-liberation Africa.

Since 1960, the prevailing US foreign policy towards Africa has always been consistent with the Sharon Statement, the conservative principles set down that year by William F. Buckley and other young conservatives, and named after the town in Connecticut where it was drafted. It states, in part, that: ‘All foreign policy should be based upon defending America’s interests.’ That is, every foreign action taken by the US must serve its interests first and only secondarily, that of any abstract values like democracy, human rights and international goodwill.

This is why, despite much rhetoric to the contrary, most American foreign assistance to Africa during the Cold War went to the governments that did little or nothing to promote any of these ideals. Following the end of the Cold War, the United States lacked any clear national interests in sub-Saharan Africa, and the continent fell to the bottom of the list of American foreign policy concerns.

That all changed in October 2003 when the Heritage Foundation’s James Jay Carafano and Nile Gardiner, proposed the creation of a centralized Africa command for the U.S. military with the clear objective to preserve U.S. access to African oil and other natural resources on the continent. The authors also referenced the strategic importance of Africa in the global “war on terror” and the growing influence of China in Africa.

Rumsfeld was intrigued.

The Bush Administration views the Middle East as far too volatile for the U.S. to bank its future energy needs on. Africa’s resources remain the most valued in the world, yet the continent is still the weakest and most impoverished. The U.S. can easily use its guns to retain its access to Africa’s resources. As our conservative foreign policy would argue, as long as we can force the African people to forgo their interests in favor of ours, it is rational to make such action a priority, regardless of ideals like sovereignty, democracy and human rights.