Does the United States have a strategic interest in the stability of Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo? If so, is our national security interest in this region compelling enough to justify U.S. military intervention to eliminate the Lord’s Resistance Army? Are the American people committed enough to the outcome of this conflict to justify the deployment of an already-overstretched military, the allocation of scarce resources in a time of budget austerity, and potential American casualties?
One would hope so, because the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) is now committed to a new campaign to aid the governments of Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in their long, painful effort to eliminate the Lord’s Resistance Army which has terrorized their countryside, killed at least 12,000, abducted as many as 75,000 and displaced up to 2 million civilians. President Obama justified this operation in an October 14th letter to the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
On October 12, the initial team of U.S. military personnel with appropriate combat equipment deployed to Uganda. During the next month, additional forces will deploy, including a second combat-equipped team and associated headquarters, communications, and logistics personnel. The total number of U.S. military personnel deploying for this mission is approximately 100. These forces will act as advisors to partner forces that have the goal of removing from the battlefield Joseph Kony and other senior leadership of the LRA. Our forces will provide information, advice, and assistance to select partner nation forces. Subject to the approval of each respective host nation, elements of these U.S. forces will deploy into Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The support provided by U.S. forces will enhance regional efforts against the LRA. However, although the U.S. forces are combat equipped, they will only be providing information, advice, and assistance to partner nation forces, and they will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self defense. All appropriate precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of U.S. military personnel during their deployment.
One can almost imagine that on the morning of October 15th, staffers at every single one of our nation’s Congressional offices and news outlets crashed the server of Wikipedia when they entered the same search terms in unison: “What is the Lord's Resistance Army?” …
Unlike Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya, the political discourse has seen no constitutionalist argument against Obama administration’s deployment of military advisers to Uganda because, well, there really is none. Yes, you read that correctly – the military intervention against the more obscure warlord in Central Africa whom no one has ever talked about, which Congress did not debate, is perfectly constitutionally fine. You see, back in May of 2010, Congress passed the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009; this law declared as official Congressional policy:
“To support stabilization and lasting peace in northern Uganda and areas affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army through development of a regional strategy to support multilateral efforts to successfully protect civilians and eliminate the threat posed by the Lord's Resistance Army and to authorize funds for humanitarian relief and reconstruction, reconciliation, and transitional justice, and for other purposes.”Buried somewhere in this tangle of euphemism and understatement was the by-the-way authorization for the President to use military means to achieve this grand objective, so subtle that even the most discerning reader of Congressional resolutions might not have caught it. The prime mover behind the LRA Disarmament Act, the Senate’s erstwhile progressive icon Russell Feingold, was quite explicit in his intent; “supporting viable and legitimate efforts to disarm and demobilize the LRA is exactly the kind of thing in which AFRICOM should be engaged.”
If you might be scratching your head in puzzlement, don’t feel alone. This matter of war and peace, the weightiest of subjects that a democratic government might address, was simply slipped under the rug. On May 10, 2010, the Senate passed Feingold’s resolution with unanimous consent, and two days later the House of Representatives passed it by a voice vote – a procedural measure by which representatives’ positions are not even tabulated. At a time when the world was fixated on the heroic efforts needed to address the oil spill in the Gulf Coast and the earthquake in Haiti, apparently the most liberal of bleeding hearts in journalism did not consider as newsworthy the fact that Congress authorized the President to engage in military action against the Lord’s Resistance Army. At most it was buried in a one paragraph blurb on page A24
There never was an earnest debate on this issue at all. Congress treated a resolution authorizing the use of military force as essentially just another symbolic resolution to rename a post office or congratulate the St. Louis Cardinals on their World Series championship. The Beltway media followed suite.
This blogger remains undecided as to whether or not President Obama did the right thing by sending 100 military advisers to Uganda. I am ashamed to admit that I do not know as much as I should know about a security issue facing four of Africa’s 55 countries in which I have never lived, which I have only read about, and on which I know nothing more than anyone else who follows BBC Africa.
However, I do have a very strong opinion on the fact that President Obama’s recent decision to send troops to Uganda has demonstrated the American people’s and the American political class’ complete and utter disregard for anything happening in Africa. Not only are we as a nation ignorant about African affairs, but we are not very interested in educating ourselves about them. The now patently-offensive term – “The Dark Continent” – unfortunately remains an apt moniker for how a continent home to 1 billion of the world’s population remains a black hole to which American thought rarely penetrates and from which some of the world’s greatest tragedies and triumphs of the human spirit never escape to see the light of day. One could retort that maybe it takes a military intervention to stimulate demand for journalistic assignments, research grants and course enrollment. After all, it was not until we invaded Afghanistan that most Americans could be bothered to care about the plight of women in Kandahar, it wasn’t until American boys were stationed in Iraq that any noticeable iota of Americans cared to learn the difference between Sunnis and Shi’ites. Maybe, one argues, now that we have troops in Uganda, Congressmen and military academicians might finally take note of this long-ignored part of the world.
The obligatory Congressional hearing on the U.S. deployment to Uganda demonstrated no such thing.
“What is the strategic interest of the United States in doing this?” asked Gerry Connolly (D-Virg.), “I mean, there are lots of unpleasant people in the world. There are lots of insurgencies and terrorist movements in the world. The United States obviously cannot try to dethrone every one of them.”
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) dismissed the LRA – which has killed at least 12,000, abducted as many as 75,000 and displaced in the environs of 2 million people – as “not a sophisticated insurgency” because they have not used high-tech weaponry.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Cali.) and Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) utilized the hearings as a soapbox to decry government spending and the federal deficit.
Representatives Connolly, Duncan, Rohrabacher and Schmidt should receive steak knives for at least bothering to show up to the discussion. Most Republican candidates running to be the Leader of the Free World have not even issued press releases on the subject.
Stunningly, the most prominent voice in American politics to give U.S. intervention in Uganda anything resembling due air time was Rush Limbaugh. In a radio segment titled “Obama Invades Uganda, Targets Christians”, Limbaugh somehow managed to take the side of the Lord’s Resistance Army as a proxy in the Global War between Christian Civilization and Islamic Barbarism.
[The] Lord’s Resistance Army are Christians. It means God… They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan. And Obama has sent troops, United States troops, to remove them from the battlefield, which means kill them. So that’s a new war, a hundred troops to wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda.One of the most powerful mouthpieces on the Right demonstrated that he was willing to opine and bloviate on an issue as seminal as war and peace without having even taken the time to so much as Google: “Lord’s Resistance Army” or leaf through the World Almanac. And think about how many countless Republican voters and legislators take their cues from Limbaugh. This is how the American political class formulates its Africa policies.
I would hope that the American people, media and political class take this issue a bit more seriously. Sure, there are now only 100 military advisers in Uganda – just few dozen less than there will be in Iraq by New Year’s Day. Sure, they constitute a relative few, and they are only serving in an advisory role – for now. But the American tradition of intervention in faraway lands has proven time and time again to be particularly susceptible to a thing called “mission creep”; we are a people who generally prefer escalating our mission to accepting defeat.
As much as Obama, Feingold, et al. are right to acknowledge the importance of African stability to global security and the potential of AFRICOM, I am concerned that the generally dovish Democrats so blithely justified this mission on security grounds. This mission in Central Africa does not appear to have much if anything to do with the vital interests of the United States or our allies. It is unclear whether this mission has clearly defined political and military objectives, or whether the U.S. military even has the capacity to defeat a guerrilla insurgency in the midst of the remote jungles and savannas of the Ugandan, South Sudanese, Congolese and Central African Republican interior. It remains hazy just how committed the U.S. military establishment is to defeating the Lord’s Resistance Army. Most importantly, there does not appear to be that much wholehearted support of U.S. public opinion. If U.S. military intervention in Central Africa were to escalate to a combat role, it wouldn’t pass the requirements of the Weinberger Doctrine.
I am concerned that the general ignorance of all things African is not limited to Republican isolationists. But for a few policy analysts in the State Department, the vast majority of the most genuinely-committed, TOMS Shoes-wearing do-gooders must concede general ignorance of the politics of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Yes, I’m sure you’ve read plenty of newsletters from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – I get those emails too. Nevertheless, I would beg the “Save the World” camp to maintain a healthy level of skepticism before marching to the trumpets of the just war. It was only months ago that the outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told a class of West Point cadets, “any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined.’”
Does the U.S. misson to defeat the Lord's Resistance Army fulfill the rigors of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine? Is the humanitarian crisis in Uganda as imminently catastrophic as the situation in Benghazi might have been had NATO not enforced a no-fly zone? Why is the humananitarian crisis in Uganda worthy of U.S. intervention when the humanitarian crises in Darfur, Abyei, Côte d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe, et al., are not? President Obama has not adequately explained to the American people why this mission is necessary and consistent with U.S. foreign policy. An open letter to the Speaker of the House and the Presiden Pro Tempore of the Senate hardly suffices.
Just because a certain faction in an African conflict is systematically violating the human rights of civilians does not meant that the opposing faction in that conflict is genuinely interested in upholding those civilians’ human rights. Just because the Ugandan government is fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army does not mean that the Ugandan government is worthy of U.S. military aid. Strongman Yoweri Musevini, who has ensconced himself in power for 25 years, has within the past months rigged his “re-election” and clamped down on pro-democracy demonstrators with teargas and water cannons. There is a strong human rights-based argument that the U.S. should curtail military aid to the Ugandan government – not increase it. Don't even get me started on the “Democratic Republic” of the Congo…
Moreover, just because the Lord’s Resistance Army might be one of the most evil, despicable terrorist groups in the modern world does not mean that deploying U.S. commandos to Uganda is necessarily going to make things any better. Fair arbiters of U.S. foreign policy should remain wary of military intervention even when it is done for purely humanitarian reasons – or rather, especially when it is done for purely humanitarian reasons.
For now I’m willing to give President Obama the benefit of a doubt, there is still a chance that this mission might just save a whole lot of people from a brutal warlord and his minions. But it remains the duty all Americans to take this opportunity to study more about the reasons why our troops are now in Uganda, ostensibly South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. The new U.S. military mission might do a lot of good for people in Africa, God willing it should be a great success. But when we are willing to send troops to far-flung corners of the world in complete ignorance, without earnest inquiry and debate, there is only reason to be concerned about the state of democracy in America.