This morning I listened to all sorts of estimates of how many soldiers we have in Africa. We’ll never know: It’s classified. But I would be surprised if there were fewer than 50,000 soldiers, private contractors, and even National Guard troops. This is a lot more than being reported in conjunction with the current tragedy in Niger.
Two weeks ago four American soldiers were killed in Niger. The delay in the discussion was not a machination of the Pentagon, which made the announcement the day after it happened. But no one wanted to talk about it until the president didn’t.
There are two important issues here. The first is the incident and what it tells us about American military presence in Africa. The second is …who cares? and what that tells us about ourselves.
When the president was asked about the soldiers killed, he stumbled as usual. He made the situation worse by defiling the death of the black soldier. Through his callous incompetence Trump brought the whole incident into the American consciousness.
I and many others have been writing for years about the growing American military in Africa. It began with Obama’s early acceptance of his generals’ assessment that the war in Afghanistan could be toned down, because the most radical of the jihadists were fleeing to Africa.
That was true. The many unstable, vast and underpopulated lands particularly of Africa’s deserts and near deserts were and remain ripe for control by insurgents. Bush created “Africom” but it was Obama who really beefed it up.
We’ve learned again and again and again that the military is like a ball of sour dough in the bayous in July. Once put somewhere unattended, it grows and grows. We now have soldiers in virtually every one of the 52 countries of Africa. This summer the group I was guiding in Madagascar had dinner with 40 young American soldiers who were lodging in the same safari lodging we were in, because they hadn’t yet built their base.
One couple from Cleveland found a soldier from Cleveland who probably spoke to us more than he should have, finally saying he shouldn’t say more. They weren’t hiding. They weren’t supposed to hide. They’re just supposed to be “low key.”
As I’ve often written, I’m not sure this is the right way to defeat jihadists. From my point of view jihadists will only be defeated when what they’re offering the local population they’re bedding down with, is less than what is offered from us and the good guys.
It couldn’t be simpler. Security, yes; but also food and organization. Most jihadists manage this through religious vectors. But the bottom line is that despite their barbarous cruelty to those who defy them, the populations under their control feel good enough to accept their control.
Until that acceptance is reversed, the jihadists won’t be defeated. And miracles of miracles, it costs less to build schools, give away food and medicine, than it does to build tanks and supply ammunition.
Second. We really need to think about why America prefers the stick to the carrot. This is serious, and it’s an issue that you need to think about. But for some reason the media – which is our brain trigger – only has time for crisis.
So we don’t think about these things – even the announcement on October 4 of the incident – until there’s some gossipy misstep by someone like Trump. So this incredibly complex issue of America’s predisposition to war comes as second fiddle to some celebrity screw-up.
I’m glad something brought the matter to the forefront of our interest. But do you realize how that belittles us?
I can care less about Trump’s demeanor as a psychic infringement of the proprieties of dealing with killed soldiers. How’d he do in Charlottesville? Do you have any idea how many Africans are killed by American drones every week?