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African Mission Makes Mockery of Talk About Reducing Troop Commitments

I have no idea whether President Obama is right to send 100 U.S. troops to help Uganda and other African states to battle the homicidal Lord’s Resistance Army and its maniacal leader, Joseph Kony.

There is little doubt the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has been responsible for more atrocities than anyone can count, is the embodiment of evil. Whether it should be America’s role to stop this particular manifestation of evil is another question. Too often in the past–e.g., in Beirut in 1983 and Somalia in 1993–good deeds went awry when our forces encountered stronger-than-expected resistance, and it turned out we had enough will to send troops but not enough to suffer any casualties.

I don’t know enough about the situation on the ground in central Africa to know whether the introduction of 100 American personnel will make a major difference and will allow the eradication of the Lord’s Resistance Army at low cost. What I do know is missions such as this one–which are the very definition of a “war of choice”–make a mockery of talk about reducing our troop commitments in line with declining resources.

The defense budget has already been cut by more than $450 billion this year, and another $600 billion or more in cuts could be in the offing if the congressional super-committee does not find a good alternative. Yet, there has been no corresponding reduction of American commitments. Indeed this year, even while winding down (prematurely) our mission in Iraq, the administration has employed force against Muammar Qaddafi and now against Joseph Kony. Meanwhile, we are stepping up drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, fighting pirates off Somalia, battling the Taliban in Afghanistan, etc.

This is not because Obama is an especially militarist president. To the contrary, he is probably the most dovish president we have seen in a long time–possibly since Herbert Hoover. Yet the nature of American power is such that even a liberal president will find plenty of reasons to use force. Whatever you may think of each individual use of force–and I am hardly sold on the latest deployment–they suggest there will not be a decreasing demand on the American military. Yet the funds available to maintain these forces are being drastically slashed.

That is how you produce an overstretched, hollow force. Which, unfortunately, is where we are likely to be heading unless Congress  holds the line on further budget cuts.

 


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