Thursday, February 21, 2008

Africom, R.I.P.

When President Bush announced plans for a DoD African Command (Africom) last year, it raised hackles across the very continent it was intended to help.

Africom's flaws were many:

—The administration put forth no clear rationale for why Africa needed its own command, when U.S. military interests in Africa were being managed adequately from Germany.

—Similarly, there was no strong idea for how Africom would differ from its more combat-oriented cousins, beyond vague ideas that it would be decentralized in five African nations and more focused on soft power.

—African nations were not consulted beforehand about hosting Africom bases or other operations.

In "No Bases Planned for Africa, Bush Says" in today's Post, President Bush admitted that Africom was dead in the water, but only after Ghanaian president John Kufuor was, well, rude to his guest:

...The Bush administration has had trouble convincing Africans that it wants to use the new command to coordinate humanitarian and security aid to Africa more effectively, not to station large forces on the continent.

The tension evidently came to a head during talks with Ghanaian President John Kufuor in Osu Castle, a 17th-century oceanfront estate once used as a slave-trading post and now the seat of government. By Bush's own account, Kufuor brought it up pointedly during their private meeting.

"You're not going to build any bases in Ghana," Kufuor told him.

"I understand," Bush recalled replying. "Nor do we want to."

It would have been preferable for the Bush administration to prepare the ground in Africa for Africom before making an announcement last year; the president could then have appeared with a stage full of African leaders to announce the new command as the final step in a consultation among partners. Now, unfortunately, those consultations have to take place ex post facto, and will be the next president's problem, as this quote by J. Stephen Morrison at the Center for Strategic and International Studies implies:

"They're now in a quiet phase where they're trying to build up their credibility and their consultations."

For now, the [Africom] headquarters remains in Stuttgart, Germany, home of the European Command.

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