The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Elite U.S. Troops Helping Africans Combat Terror,” describes a prudent move with the potential of backfiring. The attitude towards the United States overseas can, at best, be called schizophrenic. They admire our democracy, our social mobility, even our movies. But when we start to get involved with the military, we are called “The Great Satan.”
Of course, our heart is in the right place. We want democracy to succeed even when it might not be in our best interest. Take Egypt, for example.
Mohamed Morsi, the first freely elected President, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization with uncomfortable alliances for the United States. Yet we supported his election even when neighbors such as Israel expressed misgivings.
And our efforts in Africa are subject to the same reversals. Regimes can use our counterterrorism training to reinforce their power instead of fighting terrorists. And in places like Libya, it can be hard to discern the real allegiances of the people we are training. That’s why our efforts there foundered after the trained soldiers or related militias pilfered our equipment.
Yet we still have to try. We know the tragedies that can happen if we allow Al Qaeda a safe haven, where they can train and plot against our nation with impunity.