24 February 2008

Attempting to make sense of U.S. policy on African peace and security

For the past week or so, I've been trying to wrap my brain around U.S. policy toward Africa, in light of a presidential visit, the FY09 budget request, and the development of events on the ground.

First, an incredibly brief synopsis of the current security situation in Africa. The Ethiopian/U.S. intervention in Somalia has basically failed to bring security to the country, and has possibly made it worse. The whole point of supporting intervention in the first place was to root out terrorist threats there, but that obviously can't be done in a context of more generalized fighting. Just up the road, Ethiopia and Eritrea are in a period of heightening tensions, with Eritrea basically thwarting the UN peacekeeping mission along the border. Looking a little further west, implementation of the CPA in Sudan is more precarious than ever, the Darfur peacekeeping operation is pretty much stalled, fighting continues in Chad and C.A.R., which has led to refugees now flowing into Cameroon, and the EU peacekeeping mission for Chad/C.A.R. is basically on hold. There's a bit of hope that we might soon see some positive progress in Northern Uganda, and if so, that process might require some greater international assistance. Things in the eastern Congo are still tenuous. Who knows what will happen in Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, the countries of the Mano River Basin in West Africa are on the long, slow road to recovery, and need support.

In this context (or, perhaps, in spite of it), the Bush Administration has proposed a dramatic cut to its financial support to UN peacekeeping, which of course is in addition to our existing arrears to the peacekeeping fund. Instead, they propose focusing more exclusively on various troop training/peacekeeping capacity building programs through bilateral agreements. These programs have existed for several years now, under a huge variety of names, but generally focus on generating more professional armed forces that are trained in the intricacies of peace and stability operations. Although some somewhat shady partners get help through these programs (like Ethiopia), in general I think they're a good thing.

So what's the problem then? It's pretty simple, actually. All the trained troops in the world won't make a peacekeeping operation effective. Those troops need equipment, transportation, weaponry of various types (beyond the assortment provided through the programs above), and most importantly, civilian leadership in each mission. What's the point of having a bunch of trained troops if there aren't any missions to send them to? A peace operation is usually a pretty complex undertaking, and well-trained, professional security forces are but one part of them. With the number of UN and African Union peace operations continuing to increase in Africa, it is essential that the Administration look at the whole picture when making policy and budgetary decisions of this sort.

If, then, the Bush Administration thinks they're somehow promoting peace and stability in Africa through their robbing Peter to pay Paul funding logic, they definitely have another thing coming. If their proposal makes it into the actual 2009 budget (and based on last year's stunning performance by Congressional Democrats, it likely will), this will become yet another foreign policy mess that the next administration will have to clean up.

10 February 2008

Silly southern states... and I learned something

I was catching up on my blog/news reading today, and saw where the State of Georgia is working on legislation to redefine part of its northern border with Tennessee as a backhanded attempt at getting access to Tennessee's more abundant water resources. This in itself is a sad, yet bizarrely amusing development (as evidenced by the reaction to the news in Nashville). Yet I figured that since I grew up in the area in question, I would blog about a funny little bit of related history that only a local would know.

See, the section of border in question falls along the northern line of Dade County, Georgia, which is the state's most northwestern county. The old legend about "the State of Dade" is that at the beginning of the Civil War, residents of the county were pissed about the whole thing, and seceded from both Georgia and the Union. Some say this is because Georgia didn't secede fast enough (not really plausible given the Western half of the Southern Appalachians pro-Union tendencies), and others say (much more plausibly) that the county wanted to stay in the Union, and the only way it could think to do so was to secede from Georgia. Nobody would really notice the county being gone anyway, as there wasn't a road that connected it with the rest of Georgia until 1939 (you had to go through Tennessee or Alabama). In an elaborate ceremony in 1945, Dade County officially rejoined both the Union and Georgia -- allegedly Harry Truman even placed a phone call to the county to welcome them back. This was such a humorously big deal, that an article about it even ran in the New York Times.

So today while I was poking around the net looking for an actual link to point you to about all this hilarity, I learned that I was wrong. Dade County never did secede, and was indeed very pro-Union, like most poor mountain areas in the Tennessee River basin. Next time you and yours visit my old stomping grounds at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, enjoy debunking one of the few old guides who might still tell the story of Dade County's secession (it always gets a fun reaction).

And now for me to stake out my ground in the current controversy: It'll be a cold day in hell before Tennessee shares part of its river with Georgians. It's bad enough that through a fault of geography, we have to share it with Alabamans.

04 February 2008

Did you ever notice...

How American media/attention spans (and to a lesser extent, the Western world more generally), can only focus on one African conflict at a time? After the holidays we had all Kenya all the time, with an occasional burst of news from the DRC when things in Kenya were looking calm. Now that there's been an uprising in Chad, Kenya has disappeared. Meanwhile, some blogs I follow have been practically pleading for people to consistently pay attention to things in places like Sudan, Uganda, and Somalia.

And, of course, there's always the bit about there never being any coverage at all of good news from Africa, but that's a book (several already written, in fact), in itself.

I'm probably roughly 400 years late to this particular parade. And it isn't necessarily something I haven't observed before. Just sayin'...

Meanwhile, today's piece in the Times magazine on Bernard Kouchner was a fascinating read. Check it out. It sheds some light on a few things.