Friday, October 21, 2011

Why is the US sending its troops to Uganda now?

President Obama announced last week that he is sending "a small number of combat-equipped US forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield." His statement said the decision to send troops will further US national security interests and has the blessing of Congress.

Well, fine. But why send the troops now? The law the President sited was passed by Congress on May 24, 2010, and it required that the President submit a strategy to deal with the so-called Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) to Congress "not later that 180 days after the enactment" of the law. The President took 508 days to inform Congress of his strategy. It is understood that the Executive branch of the US government usually wants to keep the Legislative branch at bay when it comes to foreign policy matters. But this dynamics doesn't seems to explain why it took so long, since this particular law was not controversial and had strong bipartisan support.

The LRA has been terrorizing villagers in northern Uganda and neighboring countries for more than two decades. Sure, LRA is a menace that must be confronted. But the current dictator of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, is just as much to blame for the rise and continued existence of the LRA as the LRA itself. Museveni, who came to power using the barrel of the gun, has been in power since 1986. He has used his guns liberally to stay in power and to also project his power in the central African region.

So, why did this conflict, ugly as it is, suddenly rise to to the level of affecting US national security interests after all these years of killings? Could it be because of Uganda's newly found oil wealth? That is my strong suspicion. If that is the case, then the Obama Administration should stop the pretense and clearly state the connection. Yes, indeed, securing oil fields is in the interest of US national security and that is not something the US should be shy about.

The humanitarian side of this conflict is a genuine one, and the US government and many NGOs have already been making an effort to solve the conflict. However, I don't think the humanitarian side of the conflict by itself warrants the involvement of US troops. A much better approach to protect US national security in the region would have been for the US to pressure the long standing dictator of Uganda to step down.

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