Niger

How Niger Is Kind of Like Benghazi

It's the interventionism, stupid.

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Tedeytan/flickr

It's always exciting to watch a partisan talking point emerge in real time. Take the tortured analogy between the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the ambush that just killed four American soldiers in Niger. As the talking point metastasizes on Twitter, it's already being echoed by a member of Congress, with Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) declaring that Niger "might wind up to be Mr. Trump's Benghazi."

It isn't what she means, but there is one fundamental similarity between the two attacks: Both were the foreseeable effects of aimless intervention. The best way to prevent such meaningless deaths is to stop such meaningless interventions before they get off the ground.

President George W. Bush first sent U.S. troops to Niger in 2005. President Barack Obama sent an additional 100 special forces there in 2013. About 800 American troops there now. The U.S. is building a second, $100 million drone base in the country.

With so much military activity in Niger, American fatalities were bound to happen. A lot of questions remain about this particular ambush; the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is likely to seek more details about how the attack occurred. What McCain will almost certainly not address is the point of the U.S. mission in Niger in the first place, just as none of the investigations into Benghazi bothered to reflect on how the U.S.-backed intervention in Libya destabilized the country and created the environment in which Benghazi could take place.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), signaled that he might look at the broader issues at play. "I think the administration has to be more clear about our role in Niger and our role in other areas in Africa and other parts of the globe," Reed said on CNN. "They have to connect it to a strategy. They should do that. I think that the inattention to this issue is not acceptable."

That's true. But Reed isn't exactly innocent of inattention himself. He has been in the Senate since 1997, but he didn't raise concerns about the U.S. presence in Niger before this week.

In the immediate aftermath of the Niger ambush, I predicted that most Americans would forget about the U.S. troops in Niger soon enough. I was almost right—the issue had in fact receded into the background again before Trump blasted it back into the news cycle by making what should've been routine condolences into the latest episode of the Trump Show.

The four American troops killed in Niger are not the first U.S. service members killed outside of the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11. They are not even the first American fatalities outside the two major wars since Trump took office.

A Navy SEAL was killed in action in Somalia in May to little fanfare. Trump did not remark on the death, either adeptly or boorishly. So the U.S. presence in Somalia, which Trump has expanded, did not make a major impression on the American news cycle. This weekend's truck bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia, killed nearly 300 people, but it quickly fell off the news cycle as well. Revelations that the bombing may have been a retaliation for a failed U.S. operation did not substantively register either.

There are also a number of important differences between the ambush in Niger and the attack in Benghazi, most of which serve to display the craven opportunism at work in tying the two together.

In Niger, hundreds of U.S. troops are on the ground to help local forces fight terrorists. It's not surprising some terrorists would shoot back, and that sometimes they'd hit. It's remarkable that there have not been more casualties.

Benghazi was not the same kind of war zone. The U.S. government had spent a year at that point insisting its intervention in the Libyan civil war had not destabilized the country, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Clinton herself pushed the idea that the attack on the consulate in Benghazi was a spontaneous one, linked to other protests, some of which were violent, at embassies across the Muslim world that day. The Obama administration ended up trying to blame a video.

Obama himself eventually expressed regret about the way the intervention in Libya (whose aftermath saw weapons and fighters flow throughout the region) was handled. But Clinton insisted until the bitter end that she was not to blame for what happened in the country.

The ambush in Niger ought to serve as a clarion call to reevaluate the war on terror in Africa and around the world, and to push Congress to assert its constitutional role in U.S. foreign policy. If instead it just becomes another tool for berating political opponents, it will be as much a failure as the post-Benghazi debate—and a greater disservice to the troops than any boorish comment Trump makes to a grieving widow.

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  1. “… both the ambush in Niger and the attack in Benghazi are inevitable products of aimless intervention.”.

    “aimless” is unnecessary, and I’d also argue that “intervention” doesn’t go far enough. Aimless or not, and whether they’re there as intervention or some other reason, our troops (actually, to be more accurate, American citizens) are at some degree of risk wherever they happen to be. Americans on vacation abroad have been attacked, does the author argue that they had it coming also? Heck, since Americans have been attacked here in the US, where exactly does one go to avoid inviting upon themselves attacks such as this?

    Mind you, I’m not arguing that we should have been in either Benghazi or Niger (FWIW, they shouldn’t have been), it’s just that I don’t like using what is a small part of a big problem to argue that all would be fine if not for the distinction without a difference.

    1. “”””Americans on vacation abroad have been attacked, does the author argue that they had it coming also?”””

      Are you arguing that the US should be World Police?

      Or that Americans abroad have responsibility for themselves and should not visit places like Niger.

  2. “As the talking point metastasizes on Twitter, it’s already being echoed by a member of Congress, with Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) declaring that Niger “might wind up to be Mr. Trump’s Benghazi.””

    And we all know what a heavy political price the Ds paid for that.

  3. “The ambush in Niger ought to serve as a clarion call to reevaluate the war on terror in Africa and around the world”

    Nonsense!
    What we should be doing is borrowing billions of dollars to chase poor waifs with AKs and IEDs all over the globe. We should be putting young men’s lives at risk for politicians’ egos and to prop up the revenues of the military industrial complex’s biggest benefactors so they can then in turn pad the coffers of egotistical politicians(john McCain and L Graham for example).
    This is how sound morally and fiscally bankrupt banana republics should transact their affairs.

    After all, we need to distract the sheep from the yolks of insurmountable debt, never ending wars, FED market manipulations run amuck, unfunded entitlements and pensions, and a massive bureaucratic-police state that is drunk on spending.

    What better way to do that than starting wars and chanting USA! Throw in some class warfare and you have all of Europe pre -WWI and WWII.

  4. “They have to connect it to a strategy. They should do that. I think that the inattention to this issue is not acceptable.”

    We’re only making plans for Niger

    1. Oh, bravo!

  5. I was ggoingg to make another comment, but the “gg” key on my computer keeps stickingg, and that migght result in awkwardness.

  6. I realized yesterday that, as far as we know, Trump has yet to get us militarily involved with any new countries yet. I know there’s not many left after Bush and Obama, but there’s that.

    1. Yet. There’s North Korea and Mexico. And possibly Puerto Rico.

      1. He also floated Venezuela as a possibility, and he doubled down in Afghanistan (is it a coincidence that Bannon wanted to leave, and was isolated and ousted by the establishment figures?)

        But staying the course on countries we’re in is bad enough. Had Obama done the same instead of adding new countries to the list, he would have deserved criticism as well, so we shouldn’t let Trump off the hook

  7. In Niger, hundreds of U.S. troops are on the ground to help local forces fight terrorists. It’s not surprising some terrorists would shoot back, and that sometimes they’d hit.

    They’re such jerks then. This totally justifies our actions now.

  8. Uhh…well are we running guns through our Nigerian embassy making it a valid military target?

    Is that how it’s the same?

    1. Nope. It’s the video stupid.

  9. Both were the foreseeable effects of aimless intervention. The best way to prevent such meaningless deaths is to stop such meaningless interventions before they get off the ground.

    One reason libertarian criticisms of foreign policy are hardly ever taken seriously is this constant use of the term “intervention” (or interventionism) to mean anything and everything.

    Military invasion? Intervention.
    Covert military aid? Intervention
    Overt military aid? Intervention.
    No military, but CIA+State dept… (a la Benghazi)? Intervention
    How about diplomatic efforts in support of… INTERVENTION*

    (*that’s right: no military or intelligence or gratuitous money… diplomatic overtures in support of an EU-friendly Ukraine was characterized as part of America’s ‘interventionist disease’ in these pages)

    When you’re using single, vague terms to mean almost anything in the entire foreign relations carrot-to-stick arsenal, you’re revealing more about your own 1-dimensional worldview, and your own limited vocabulary about foreign policy, than you are saying anything insightful about those specific policies and their flaws.

    All you’re doing is preaching to the same simple-minded choir who already agrees with you.

    Like “Racism” for progressives, “Interventionism” is Libertarian rhetorical ketchup.

    1. *footnote:

      criticizing the rhetoric of libertarian foreign policy arguments isn’t to endorse their opposite. i.e. Its not “pro-intervention”, any more than saying “nazis have free speech rights” is pro-nazi. Its pointing out that this one-size-fits-all argument simply is unconvincing to anyone outside libertarian circles, and frankly sounds stupid after years of repetition.

      There are clear differences between “CIA gun smuggling in Libya to arm Syrian rebels” and “US Socom aiding friendly African states w/ foreign internal defense”. They are wildly different in terms of their purpose. One is trying to actively destabilize/undermine foreign regimes, another is trying to aid allies.

      If you want to argue that “better foreign policy” includes “none of the above”…. fine; but at least demonstrate that you can categorize US policies in finer-gradations other than via a catch-all-term like ‘intervention’.


      1. (*that’s right: no military or intelligence or gratuitous money… diplomatic overtures in support of an EU-friendly Ukraine was characterized as part of America’s ‘interventionist disease’ in these pages)

        Well, when taken as a whole would you say this is false?

        In other words, would you say that the United States general policy of regime change and diplomatic efforts to bend foreign nations domestic policy towards our own ends is endemic to our foreign policy?

        I gotta admit, this seems like a semantic argument rather than substantive one. There are a whole lot of reasons to criticize libertarian ‘foreign policy’ but word usage doesn’t rate very high on that list to me. I get that you’re trying to angle that into an inherent misunderstanding when it comes to Libertarian foreign policy, and perhaps that is true, but your argument is pretty weak as listed.

        Honestly, Libertarianism in general is more domestic than ‘worldwide’ in my view so it’s hardly surprising that it doesn’t address foreign policy very well.

    2. Those are all clearly examples of Intervention in both a literal and casual usage of the term. One can discuss whether certain intervention is good or not. Libertarians tend to disagree with most intervention at a government scale. This is consistent with general libertarian principles of minimal government involvement with things.

      And as for Richman’s comment about the “American Disease” his statement was that our action there actively does damage in places where America is ill-favored as it allows for those we oppose to claim our allies are lap-dogs of American imperialism. From a purely practical standpoint that likely does happen.

      1. Those are all clearly examples of Intervention in both a literal and casual usage of the term

        All you’re doing is saying, “but I like my stupid catch-all terminology”.

        I’m not surprised *you* like it. what I’m trying to explain is that the language libertarians use is effectively useless outside of libertarian circles.

        When you lump everything from ‘unilateral military invasion’ to ‘diplomatic pressure’ under the same umbrella, you’re ultimately saying nothing specific about any of them.

        when your ‘non-interventionist’ posture makes no distinction between “assisting w/ foreign internal defense” (e.g. Niger) and “actively overthrowing a foreign power” (e.g. Libya/Syria), most people will write you off as some starry-eyed moron who shouldn’t be taken seriously.

        that isn’t saying both things aren’t worthy of criticism; its saying that the general-criticism in “interventionist” terms is stupid. You need to be more specific about why each of those things is bad on their own terms, not because they all coincidentally fit under your umbrella-label.

        1. All you’re doing is saying, “but I like my stupid catch-all terminology”.

          Categorization is something we do as humans. You said libertarian in your sentence, that is a class that refers to large set of beliefs, ideas, and concepts. You said “diplomatic pressure” which is also a tremendously large system of ideas and possibilities. The issue is that in this case you are saying split it to this level and no further. That’s not a particularly different usage of words, it’s just one you like right now. You can find arguments about specific aspects on foreign policy. But your comment is nothing but some worthless combination of mereology and semantics.

          I am saying that lumping those things together serves a purpose. To highlight the fact that they all are related. They are the Leviathan state interjecting into foreign affairs, picking and choosing who and what should win, and in the end causing distress at home and embroiling ourselves. Argue that being in Niger is just. That’s fine and I will read your argument. Right now all you are doing is getting irritated for the sake of it.

          1. Categorization is something we do as humans. You said libertarian in your sentence, that is a class that refers to large set of beliefs, ideas, and concepts. You said “diplomatic pressure” which is also a tremendously large system of ideas and possibilitie

            yes, and i try in all cases to be *as specific as possible*….not the inverse, which is what you’re defending here: trying to drag a wide variety of particulars and lump them into some amorphous mass and claim my one-size-fits-all argument applies equally well to every one of them

            i personally think its a shitty way to talk about foreign policy, because it makes no room for “policy” at all., and instead pretends entire swaths of what is called Foreign Relations can be handwaved away as “intervention”.

            you might find this an entirely satisfying way to talk about everything the US does, but my point is that no one else not already-libertarian will.

            Argue that being in Niger is just. That’s fine and I will read your argument.

            reminder:

            “”criticizing the rhetoric of libertarian foreign policy arguments isn’t to endorse their opposite. i.e. Its not “pro-intervention”, “”

            and no, i’m not ‘getting irritated for the sake of it’. I make some version of this point a few dozen times a year, and have done so for at least a decade. Libertarians are terrible at talking about FP because of their “intervention” mental-tic.

  10. Take the tortured analogy between the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the ambush that just killed four American soldiers in Niger.

    The best way to prevent such meaningless deaths is to stop such meaningless interventions before they get off the ground.

    President George W. Bush first sent U.S. troops to Niger in 2005.

    Leave to Reason to torture its’ readers with a meaningless intervention of an attempt to bash Trump

  11. Again, the same mistake that’s been made over and over. Why the hell can’t you get it right?

    You write here, “Clinton herself pushed the idea that the attack on the consulate in Benghazi was a spontaneous one.”

    There is not, nor has there ever been an embassy in Benghazi. Benghazi is (was) the location of a CIA operations center. Period. Embassy personnel as well as the ambassador work closely with the CIA in every embassy the US has in the world. Our ambassador was simply working with the CIA at their operations center. A very ordinary thing.

    What is so difficult about understanding this? I’ve heard this mistake hundreds of times by journalists who should easily be able to know and understand the difference. Yet they don’t.

    God damn. It’s not that difficult.

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