Two reports came out this morning about the White House’s new initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa. One, from the Washington Post, reads:
The U.S. military is expanding its secret intelligence operations across Africa, establishing a network of small air bases to spy on terrorist hideouts from the fringes of the Sahara to jungle terrain along the equator.
The other, from the White House, reads:
Today, President Obama took another step in deepening our partnerships with the nations and peoples of sub-Saharan Africa. …The United States to a forward-looking strategy in which we will work closely with our African partners to advance the prosperity, security, and dignity that citizens deserve.
See what they did there?
The White House brief continues to outline a 4-tiered strategy that basically boils down to a 2-tiered strategy for America’s involvement in Africa: “(1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade, and investment.”
It all boils down to the Obama administration’s “friendly” approach to national security. Having clearly learned the lessons of backlash from Iraq and Afghanistan years, the administration’s approach to weeding out the next generation of potential terrorists and hostiles is to kill them with kindness. There’s a long precedent for the CIA trying to remake hostile environments in our own likeness to transform them into allies. But today’s press announcement represents a shift from covert operations to overt.
Washington Post points out we’ve had a dozen secret bases in Africa since 2007. And the Atlantic notes that “the ability to quietly influence events on the ground becomes remarkably easy the more our presence grows.”
But rather than keeping the effort secret, as we’ve done with special missions from the Panamanian revolution in the 1820s through the CIA’s operations in Africa through John Stocwell’s time in the 1970s and ’80s, the Obama administration is realizing people tend to view these things more favorably if you call them “aid and economic development.” Who doesn’t want aid and economic development?
Of course, this friendly national security image is tarnished by the NY Times’ recent leak of Obama’s “kill list,” which The Washington Post described as “President Obama poring over the equivalent of terrorist baseball cards, deciding who on a ‘kill list’ would be targeted for elimination by drone attack,” including some American citizens.
Make no mistake, America is constantly at war, fighting for what seems in our best, sometimes imperial, interest. But where the Obama administration has failed to articulate a clear and convincing message on the economic, it seems to has found its voice on national security: America is your buddy.