Archive for May, 2014

Originally published in The Rutland Herald




‍By Haviland ‍SMITH


The United States Government has now committed military and intelligence assets to the search for the Nigerian children kidnapped by Boko Haram, a group of Muslim fundamentalist militants affiliated with al-Qaida.



For a wide variety of reasons, it would seem that the U.S. government has learned virtually nothing from its experiences throughout the past 14 years in the Middle East.



There seems, appropriately, to be a general consensus here that when we decide to get involved in what are essentially military or counterterrorist affairs abroad, it will be only because we are able to establish a direct connection to our own national interests.



In this regard, there are two points of view on the meaning of the term “national interests,” one of which goes far beyond the universally accepted notion that in any given event, nations should act only in ways that accrue to their own advantage. Today, we deal with the regular “realists,” who wish to implement only foreign policies that strengthen their state, but we also must deal with the “idealists,” who seek to inject morality into foreign policy or to promote multilateral solutions, which, many “realists” believe, given “foreign input,” would weaken the state.



And these are differences well worth considering. But they are not the only issues to consider.



If the U.S. government thinks it got in over its head in the Middle East (which it certainly appears to have done), then wait till it figures out how much easier it is to do the same in Africa.



The Middle East was and always has been a morass of competing national, tribal and sectarian interests. Given the policies of our government after 9/11 and the abject failures created by those policies , it is really difficult to understand how we could possibly have gone in the chosen direction we took there. But unfortunately for us and our national interests, we chose a course that ended up as complete disaster for us, despite the fact that there was expertise in U.S. governmental, academic and educational worlds that knew exactly what the situation was in the Middle East and that we should not under any circumstances, react as we eventually did. They lost. America lost.



Unfortunately for us, there is a far more pressing reality that affects our “national interest.” It is snugly vested in the fact that our unfinanced involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus our subsequent economic breakdown, have put is us in a uniquely negative position.



We are the unilateral world power that is going broke. We do not have the resources to continue to be the free world’s unilateral policeman. We have an entire nation that needs fixing: Our roads and bridges are falling apart, our electrical grid desperately needs attention, our schools continue to fail us in that they do not produce a product that is well suited for this new world we now occupy. In short, there isn’t much of anything here in America that does not require major financial input.



The Bush administration paid for its adventures in the Middle East with a national credit card. The Obama administration has continued that practice. Our Congress is not willing to spend one penny on our infrastructure unless the needed finances are taken out of some other national program. Infrastructure repairs will be financed only at the cost of social programs. Yet those who give our infrastructure short shrift are, in many cases, the same congressmen who chose to finance Afghanistan and Iraq with credit. Will they do the same as we move more deeply and broadly into involvement in Africa?



Quite frankly, any involvement in Nigeria is insane. If we are to use moral imperative as our rationale for intervention, there will be no end to our involvement in matters that have nothing to do with our real national interests. The net result of such policy will be the further impoverishment of our truest contemporary national interests, which are largely connected with our decaying infrastructure.



And what do we hope to accomplish with such involvements? What help can we give? We can only pray that our intelligence organizations have not been spending a great deal of time and money on Nigeria when there are any number of countries and issues that are far more important to us. In addition, a dozen of our military personnel are not likely to materially alter facts on the ground in Nigeria. The best we can hope for is that Boko Haram will swap those girls for prisoners held by the Nigerian government and that is likely to happen whether we load our guns or not.




   ‍Haviland ‍Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in eastern and western Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston.

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