Uganda: In which I support Obama. (Oh, it hurts!) — Updated

**Posted by Phineas

News broke today of President Obama’s decision to send 100 American soldiers, armed for combat, to Uganda:

President Obama said Friday he is sending a small number of U.S. combat troops to central Africa to assist in a regional effort to neutralize the Lord’s Resistance Army, a guerrilla force originally from northern Uganda that has been accused of terrorizing civilians in several countries.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Obama announced the deployment of “approximately 100” combat-equipped personnel to act as “advisers to partner forces” that are targeting the leadership of the insurgent group.

He said he ordered the deployment under a law enacted in May 2010, the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. His letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and the president pro tempore of the Senate, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), said he was keeping Congress informed of the move consistent with the War Powers Resolution.

“For more than two decades, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women, and children in central Africa,” the letter said, adding that the group “continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

With limited U.S. assistance, Obama wrote, “regional military efforts have thus far been unsuccessful in removing LRA leader Joseph Kony or his top commanders from the battlefield.” Therefore, he said, “I have authorized a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa” to help regional forces achieve that goal.

Here’s a summary of the 2010 law; it appears this assistance is authorized by section 4(3):

…an interagency framework to plan, coordinate, and review diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military elements of U.S. policy across the region regarding the LRA…

Emphasis added. An excerpt from Obama’s letter to Boehner is here.

This news set off a predictable flurry on Twitter, with people comparing this to Obama’s commencement of a war in Libya, bringing up analogies to Vietnam, and other reactions.

At the risk of getting labeled a RINO, I support Obama’s decision. Let’s keep a few things in mind:

First, the LRA is a bunch of religious psychopaths who are in no way Christian. From their entry at Global Security:

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, operated in the north from bases in southern Sudan. The LRA committed numerous abuses and atrocities, including the abduction, rape, maiming, and killing of civilians, including children. In addition to destabilizing northern Uganda from bases in Sudan, the LRA congregated in the Bunia area in eastern Congo. They linked up with the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALIR) and other rebel groups that were battling with forces from the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD).

The LRA continued to kill, torture, maim, rape, and abduct large numbers of civilians, virtually enslaving numerous children. Although its levels of activity diminished somewhat compared with 1997, the area that the LRA targeted grew. The LRA sought to overthrow the Ugandan Government and inflicted brutal violence on the population in northern Uganda. LRA forces also targeted local government officials and employees. The LRA also targeted international humanitarian convoys and local NGO workers.

The LRA abducted large numbers of civilians for training as guerrillas. Most victims were children and young adults. The LRA abducted young girls as sex and labor slaves. Other children, mainly girls, were reported to have been sold, traded, or given as gifts by the LRA to arms dealers in Sudan. While some later escaped or were rescued, the whereabouts of many children remain unknown.

In particular, the LRA abducted numerous children and, at clandestine bases, terrorized them into virtual slavery as guards, concubines, and soldiers. In addition to being beaten, raped, and forced to march until exhausted, abducted children were forced to participate in the killing of other children who had attempted to escape. Amnesty International reported that without child abductions, the LRA would have few combatants. More than 6,000 children were abducted during 1998, although many of those abducted later escaped or were released. Most human rights NGOs placed the number of abducted children held captive by the LRA at around 3,000, although estimates varied substantially.

As far as I’m concerned, these guys fall under the First Rule of Texas Common Law: they need killing. Clearly local security forces have been unable to destroy the LRA, so assisting them with advisers to help coordinate their efforts and provide them with training –as authorized under law– make sense. And, since they’re going into a dangerous environment, arming them is only reasonable. I’ve read before that these advisory missions work best when the advisers can take the field with the troops they’re training, so it would be foolish not to issue them weapons for self-defense.

Why here and why now? Why not Darfur, south Sudan in their civil war with the north, or any of a dozen other places?

Frankly, those are good questions. For the record, I would have armed the Darfuris and south Sudanese, but, then, I’m a warmongering neocon. Though I confess to begging the question, I can only conclude that this mission was settled on as a relatively inexpensive (1) way to do both a moral thing and meet our national interests.

What is the American national interest? I don’t know the specifics (Oddly enough, I wasn’t included in the negotiations that lead to this.), but both Uganda and South Sudan are friendly governments — we midwifed South Sudan’s “birth,” for example. In a region increasingly threatened by jihadist movements from Somalia and Sudan, we have an interest in supporting stable allies. Think of it as not only doing the right thing (helping friends against a deadly threat), but building relationships for future cooperation, too.

This isn’t an uncommon or unusual or sinister action for us to take: we have military advisers in the Philippines helping against the jihadist Abu Sayyaf movement, for one. American advisers are also in Mali and Senegal, Chad, and other African countries, training them to fight al Qaeda.

And it’s not just al Qaeda or other jihad groups. The last ten years saw an average of 1,000 US advisers visit Colombia to help that country confront drug traffickers and communist rebels.

Some people were fretting that this was another “hot war” like  Libya or Vietnam, both of which analogies I think are way off. Unlike Libya, this is not a conventional war started by a president who decides to ignore the War Powers Act (2). Unlike Vietnam, we are not fighting a client state that’s getting aid and diplomatic cover from two nuclear-armed superpowers.

This decision to send advisers –yes, potentially into harm’s way– to Uganda is more akin to our existing military advisory missions than it is to “starting another war.” It is an extension of our existing diplomacy.

It’s also, given the horrific nature of the LRA, a good and right thing to do.

(1) No, I’m not callous to the risk these individuals might face. But 100 troops is a small commitment even for the stretched US military and, relative to our budget, it won’t cost us that much. A much larger deployment, of course, would require a reevaluation of costs relative to national interests.
(2) As far as I’m concerned, the War Powers Act is unconstitutional, but, until voided by the courts or repealed, it is the law and Obama broke it.

UPDATE: Regarding national interests, a little digging shows Uganda provides the largest contingent of troops, over 5,000 (link in French), for the contingent fighting the Islamist al-Shabaab in Somalia. This could easily be a case of “We helped you with what you said was a vital interest, now how about some help in return?” (via The Jawas)

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

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