By ALEC HUDSON – STAFF WRITER
Living in the post-9/11 world, Americans have become used to hearing about overseas military conflicts involving American troops. From the high-profile wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to drone operations in the Middle East, Americans have witnessed the actions and aftermath of U.S. foreign policy on a daily basis. But in a society full of media hyperbole and narratives, Americans may be unaware of other operations the U.S. military and foreign services have been a part of recently.
“The United States has expanded its Africa Command, or AFRICOM, as an extension of the War on Terror,” International Relations Professor Lori Hartmann-Mahmud said. “Though the State Department has claimed that it has expanded military operations for cooperative as well as strategic reasons, this is mainly rhetoric. The U.S. primarily wants to combat terrorism in the region.”
Terrorism in Africa is a harsh reality, with Islamic fundamentalist extremist groups on the rise and committing atrocities through North and Sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Hartmann-Mahmud, the two biggest examples of this terrorism are the Nigerian Boko Haram and Somali al-Shabaab, both of which are home-grown organizations that seek to undermine Western power and establish Islamic states with Sharia law. However, though both groups are thought to have connections with each other, they are quite different.
Al-Shabaab has established power in some areas of the failed Somali state, and thus it has access to sea ports and a communication net. Further, al-Shabaab has been able to plan coordinated and effective attacks throughout Africa, including the recent Westgate Mall shooting in Nairobi, Kenya on Sep. 21, which was claimed to be retaliation for U.S.-backed Kenyan troops conducting operations in Somalia.
Boko Haram, on the other hand, is more of a rebel group that operates in the north of Nigeria, attacking schools (the group’s name in the African Hausa language means “Western education is sinful”), police, military bases, and UN workers. While their attacks have been brutal, they have not been as well coordinated, making one question on whether the group does, in fact, have a strategy.
Going beyond Africa, Hartmann-Mahmud described U.S. involvement in the Pacific Region. While the military has continued to develop bases in the region to counter Chinese economic domination, the U.S. has also conducted joint military exercises with their supposed rivals as well.
“The problem with Asia for American policy seems to be that for years we’ve seen Japan as the regional leader, but with China continuing to rise economically and militarily this may no longer be a realistic outlook,” Hartmann-Mahmud said. “The Chinese military budget has doubled since 2006, proof of their increasing military expansion (though that is still one-fifth of the U.S.’s military budget), so the question is whether the U.S. can accept China as the regional hegemon or not.”
She further described the tension between China and Japan over territorial claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. The islands are uninhabited, but the claim to them has been an issue not just for China and Japan, but Taiwan as well.
Their claim is further complicated by the fact that they are included in the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, meaning that any attempt to take the islands from Japanese authority would require U.S. intervention.
The Pacific Region is not quite as volatile as in the past, with what Hartmann-Mahmud calls a “perpetual political limbo” over the question of Taiwan and China, both of which see themselves as part of a single nation though each has different political systems.
Even talking about these conflicts does not scratch the surface of U.S. military involvement around the globe with anti-drug initiatives in Mexico, aid to Columbia, and more.
Nevertheless, if one wants to understand the complexity of American foreign policy it is always good to look beyond the partisan narrative echo-chamber of mainstream media and talk to experts or find foreign media sources that may challenge one’s notions of American power in the modern world.