Obama is Failing our Military

Amid jumbled half-hearted pledges to recast the way America is perceived in the world and fiery speeches that proclaim the limits of American power while cutting the defense budget, Obama is failing our military and is endangering our national security. And nothing illustrates this schizophrenic agenda better than the U.S. military’s silent deployment across the entire African continent without any sort of public debate about our role there and the costs associated with it.

On the face of it, the U.S. military maintains only one military facility, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, which also serves as the headquarters of the Combined Joint Task Force -- Horn of Africa (CJTF). Behind this dry acronym, one can find some 4,000 troops and the launching pad for all Predator drone strikesagainstn Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and al Shabab targets in Yemen and a handful of African countries. For its part, Djibouti has made some headlines recently, after several reports exposed the double-dealing game played by its strongman Ismail Omar Guelleh, who despite strongarming the U.S. into paying more for the military facility, has struck a series of controversial security partnerships with the Chinese and Iranians. Although Guelleh is supposed to be America’s main partner in Africa, what kind of ally cozies up with our main antagonists on the international scene?

In reality, the U.S. military is now involved in more than 90% of Africa’s 54 nations. As Tom Dispatch's Nick Turse showed in a report published earlier this year, the Pentagon has seized on Obama’s Benghazi debacle to justify its mission creep and tiptoe its way onto the continent. The U.S. now trains local security forces to battle regional warlords, builds military facilities for its allies, expands its network of surveillance activities, and beefs up the presence of American forces based south of the Sahara. From the outpost in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, to the airbase at Entebbe, Uganda, and the operating post in Nzara, South Sudan, the U.S. military has become a ubiquitous force in Africa. In addition, three new rapid reaction forces along with other shadowy quick-response units deployed in Africa, such as Naval Special Warfare Unit 10, show that the Pentagon is there for the long haul.

And our troops are also keeping busy. In 2013, Africa Command carried out 546 military activities in Africa, an increase of over 200% since the command was established in 2008. According to tersely worded reports, our soldiers have taken a more active role in supporting weak African militaries and police forces in their internecine fights with local militias, drug lords, and terrorists. But what is truly surprising is that this unprecedented expansion into Africa has gone undetected and unreported by most media outlets.

In a strong rebuttal to Obama’s fluff talk of pivoting to Asia while reducing the scale of military involvement elsewhere in the world, the Pentagon’s strategy in Africa has relied on the military’s brute force to export what amounts in reality to nation-building exercises. Yet Democrats still point the finger at the GOP and its “hawks” and “interventionists”.

As laudable as that might seem at first, what this means is that the U.S. has taken to new heights its fallacious strategy of micromanaging every corner of the world instead of simply minding its own business. Washington is not fighting just one protracted sectarian war in the Middle East, but actually dozens of small wars and skirmishes all across Africa, most of them involving inter- or intra-faith violence. Just like in Iraq, Washington has no exit strategy for its involvement in these sectarian conflicts, other than pouring billions of taxpayer dollars in propping up corrupt governments and supporting wars that are not even ours to win in the first place.

At a time when Obama is slashing the defense budget, this increase in the funds sent to Africa can only mean that the U.S. will be less prepared for the threats that actually impact our national security directly in the near future. Waging endless wars in far-flung corners of the world only amounts to military grandstanding rather than a coherent national security strategy.

This does not mean that America should fall back and isolate itself from the world. But an effective national security strategy has to start from a clear understanding of who the enemy is, both now and in the future, what the responses should be, and the varying risks they entail. The first lesson is that because of limited resources, a country can never be fully prepared for all potential risks -- a national security strategy is nothing but the result of a complex game of probabilities, given a fixed set of policy priorities.

While the deployment in Djibouti is fully warranted for the purpose of waging the war on terror,  rapid expansion in other countries demands a closer look at this development and comprehensive public debate. With each new mission, Washington creates new enemies, and as Djibouti has proven, even allies cannot always be entirely trusted.

Today, the U.S. military is overstretched – it covers more ground, tackles more issues and is involved (actively or passively) in more combat areas than at any point since the Cold War. It’s time someone underlined this reality to Obama.