US, West Chasing Non-Threats in Africa

Washington systematically exaggerates the threat from militant groups in Africa, including Mali

by John Glaser, January 23, 2013

As the France-led military intervention in Mali enters its second week, a growing chorus of Western governments, from Britain to the US, are voicing strong support for it by systematically exaggerating the threat posed by militants in Africa’s Sahel region.

“Washington inevitably and automatically magnifies every hiccup internationally into a threat, mobilizing massive resources that lead to the proverbial flea being smashed with a sledge hammer,”writes former CIA analyst and Antiwar.com columnist Phil Giraldi.

“The fall of Timbuktu to extremists who have a local agenda does not actually threaten the United States and the ability of such groups to strike the U.S. is nil, so one might well plausibly decide that Washington has no real interest in Mali at all,” Giraldi adds.

Still, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the intervention in Mali as a response to “a very serious, ongoing threat” posed by militants allegedly associated with al Qaeda.

“We are in for a struggle but it is a necessary struggle. We cannot permit northern Mali to become a safe haven,” Clinton insisted.

The militants in Mali – with no stated or implicit intent to attack the US – are not the only non-threat Washington has been chasing in Africa: al-Shabab in Somalia is one of the most prominent scare stories.

“The group poses no direct threat to the security of the United States,”writes Malou Innocent, Foreign Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute. “However, exaggerated claims about the specter of al Qaeda could produce policy decisions that exacerbate a localized, regional problem into a global one.”

Even the Obama administration has quietly acknowledged the fact that military involvement in Somalia may create more problems than it solves, with one administration official telling the Washington Post last year there is a “concern that a broader campaign could turn al-Shabab from a regional menace into an adversary determined to carry out attacks on U.S. soil.”

The Nigerian group Boko Haram, although weak and ineffectual, is also an inflated threat on Washington’s radar. A Congressional report issued at the very beginning of December said ”Boko Haram has quickly evolved and poses an emerging threat to US interests and the US homeland.”

But Patrick Meehan, chairman of the US Congressional committee that drew up the report, said “While I recognize there is little evidence at this moment to suggest Boko Haram is planning attacks against the [US] homeland, lack of evidence does not mean it cannot happen.”

Washington’s interest in Africa goes back at least to 2007, when the Pentagon’s AFRICOM was formed, long before rebels in Libya or militants in Mali were a threats to exaggerate.

The dominant way of thinking in Washington is that the US should be involved in every corner of the planet, and the pressure to always “do something” is intense.

But as Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations recently commented with regards to the intervention in Mali, “Some things that happen on the other 94% of the earth that isn’t the US, has nothing to do with the US, nor requires a US response.”

Last 5 posts by John Glaser