Being at the back of the pack waiting in a long line to pee on the proverbial White House fire hydrant provides a certain perspective. From my unique view, it appears the current subject the big dogs up front are peeing all over is the wrong one. While there is a need to examine the dead soldier in Niger controversy that has exploded into a five-day and climbing shitstorm over personalities, veracity, disrespect, etc., etc., that sad story is merely the bleed over from the real saga.
The real story here is obscured from view because the master of misdirection has once again ignited a firestorm that consumes reason like a good lasagna, this time disguising the truth with ignominious pathos. The other story is about undeclared war, military adventurism, the melding of military and mercenary forces, unspoken international alliances, and the rise of Machiavellian masters of war lurking in the long, dark shadows.
Behind Trump’s diversion is a clandestine war where American soldiers depend on private (make that mercenary) air support, sterile French military backup, a shoestring logistical supply line, a command wracked repeatedly by scandal since the Obama Administration, and suddenly all the astounding clues come into shiny focus like a string of luminous pearls, revealing a far bigger unplumbed story evolving behind the White House wall of smoke and mirrors.
The story starts with the obscure U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which has been conducting clandestine war since October 2007 from its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. The low-intensity conflicts it is engaged in are undeclared, intentionally disguised shooting wars nobody except generals and war geeks ever heard of. The curious and the incautious can go to http://www.africom.mil to perhaps find out what they are, except it is unfortunately all down at the moment. The website and its associated links have disappeared. Gone! Poof! Check anyway, it could be an anomaly, but don’t blame us if your computer gets hijacked by an African prince . . . or somebody.
Controversy is nothing new to AFRICOM:
- Its first commander, Army four-star Gen. William “Kip” Ward, got the boot following allegations of “unauthorized expenses” and “lavish travel.” Ward commanded AFRICOM from Oct. 1, 2007 to March 8, 2011.
- In April 2013, Maj. Gen. Ralph Baker, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa was fired following allegations of alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct and reduced in rank to brigadier general.
- In late August, 2017, Maj. Gen. Joseph Harrington was relieved from U.S. Army Africa for sending racy messages to the wife of an enlisted man. Harrington oversees the Army’s activities in Africa from a post in northern Italy. He lasted about a year. The lack of leadership may be one of the issues that will undoubtedly be reviewed.
AFRICOM hasn’t totally shut itself off from inquiry. According to a press release available through the command’s people-friendly Facebook page called “Why the U.S. Military is in Niger?”, the answer is simple. “A safe, stable, secure and prosperous Africa is an enduring United States interest. Niger is an important partner to the U.S. The United States and Niger have a longstanding bilateral relationship.” That post was published Oct. 20, 2017.
No shit! Good to know we got the poor and downtrodden in Niger under our wing.
In any event, AFRICOM’s current, unspecified combat mission begs several questions:
- Does the current policy exist solely because Mr. Trump announced he was delegating his role as Commander-In-Chief to Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, essentially handing over command and control of all warfighters to a retired four-star Marine general with a passive/aggressive persona and a distinguished reputation?
- Does it mean America is already immersed in a intercontinental war that is spreading throughout Africa? Although France’s role is scarcely mentioned in the budding imbroglio, the French are deeply involved in Africa.
- Is Mad Dog Mattis — or his preferred moniker the Warrior Monk — still subject to the rule of law? And for that matter, is Commander in Chief Donald Trump subject to the rule of law, or has that quaint notion been discarded?
Since asking “what for” seems reasonable but nobody’s asking, allow me to ask it now, along with a few more questions:
- Why did four fine American soldiers get wasted and two more wounded in Africa?
- Who said it was okay for the United States to be sending armed soldiers to kill the locals on another continent for peace and security?
- What are the objectives?
- Who is paying for it?
Mr. Trump, that master strategist, may reason that war is better left to the generals, but does that mean the generals are waging an undeclared, clandestine war, or does it mean Mr. Trump is exercising plausible deniability in case Congress suddenly notices that something is amiss?
Eventually, someone in Congress is bound to notice a retired Marine four-star general, aided by another retired Marine four-star in the White House and an active-duty Army two-star general with strong ambitions have stolen their thunder. Mr. Trump certainly hasn’t mentioned anything. The generals’ actions could lead to a constitutional crises if somebody important finally injects the mandates of the U.S. Constitution into the fray. Very simply, our Constitution states that only civilians in Congress can authorize war.
Did Mr. Trump go to Congress for authorization for whatever is going on in Africa? Apparently not, and that’s the crux of the impending BIG problem. Generals and former generals only conduct wars, they don’t start them.
So, who are the civilians dictating international strategy to the Warrior Monk? Although now a civilian, the veteran of 41 years fighting wars is still subject to the laws and customs of the United States. The only thing scarier than wondering if Mattis has usurped America’s war-making powers is thinking that Mr. Trump might some day take the helm instead.