Four Dead in Africa: The Addiction to World Policing Must End

Many Americans, including our nation's leaders, don't know where or why our military is deployed.


Lindsey Graham, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and perpetual enthusiast of military intervention, only recently learned the United States has roughly 800 soldiers on the ground in Niger, where four of them were ambushed and killed earlier this month.

Graham (R-S.C.) admitted as much in an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, telling host Chuck Todd he "didn't know there was [sic] a thousand troops in Niger" before news of the four deaths broke.

In Graham's undeserved defense, he's not the only one who had no idea the United States has a significant military presence in Niger—not to mention elsewhere on the African continent. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also copped to ignorance, as did the many confused Americans who turned to Google to pose the suddenly pressing question, "Why are we in Niger?"

Our national knowledge gap, forced on us by tragedy, should occasion a clear-eyed assessment of whether it is necessary, prudent, or even constitutional to maintain a substantial U.S. military presence in about 20 African nations. Instead, many in Washington have seized on Americans' horror at what happened in Niger as an excuse to push for more unexamined, unaccountable, and unneeded military intervention. Graham himself is chief among them.

In the NBC interview, he pivoted from arguing for congressional abdication of its war-making authority to the declaration of his own ignorance and right back again. "The military determines who the threats are, they come up with the engagement policy, and if we [in Congress] don't like what the military does, we can defund the operation," he told Todd. In the very next sentence he admitted he is inexcusably uninformed about "what the military does." A little more information from the Pentagon, Graham concluded, is all that is needed to make, as he put it, "an endless war without boundaries, no limitation on time or geography" totally A-OK.

This reckless, forever-war approach is utterly incompatible with responsible, effective foreign policy. It ignores all strategic questions about whether it is "incumbent upon the United States to police vast swaths of the planet in perpetuity." And, if not, why our government has committed us to exactly that.

As this tragedy in Niger has too vividly demonstrated, Graham's approach risks American lives in conflicts in so many different places around the globe that politicians can't even be bothered to notice. This approach is also incompatible with the Constitution's explicit delegation of the power to "declare war" to Congress, a phrasing James Madison noted was intended to communicate that though the president is allowed "the power to repel sudden attacks" on U.S. soil, the executive branch cannot "commence war" on its own.

This means Graham was flat wrong when he suggested Congress should default to foreign policy passivity unless things go so awry it must exert a fiscal veto. On the contrary, it is Congress' responsibility to "determine who the threats are" and "come up with the engagement policy."

That has not happened in Niger or any of the other African countries where our military leaders have put troops in harm's way.

American soldiers have been in Niger since 2005, their presence escalating through three presidential administrations representing both major parties. Their concern is now predominantly with extremists crossing the border from Libya, a country still in chaos following yet another unauthorized U.S. intervention in Africa. The Pentagon defends this murky status quo, insisting "America is not at war in Africa." This month's tragedy shows that claim to be disingenuous at best.

After the Senate Armed Services Committee met with Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Friday, Graham told reporters Mattis shares his interest in expansion, not reconsideration, of U.S. military intervention in Africa. "The war is morphing," Graham said. "You're going to see more actions in Africa, not less; you're going to see more aggression by the United States."

Graham's forecast is troubling. Escalating the present American military action in Niger and surrounding nations will place more Americans in danger and further undermine the constitutional balance of power while making no gains for U.S. defense. Mattis would do well to instead heed the advice of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and other senators pushing for "a public discussion about the current extent of our military operations around the world."

Now is the time to set defense priorities, to end Washington's addiction to sending U.S. troops to solve any and every international problem, regardless of whether American national security is directly at stake—or whether outside intervention is the best tool for the job. When U.S. vital interests aren't in peril, nations like Niger must assume responsibility for their own affairs.

This month's tragedy should be the overdue impetus to get the U.S. military out of Africa, and to reassess the value of our military commitments around the world.

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  1. The brutal fact is that what Africa needs is a return of old fashioned paternalistic Colonialism. By the Victorian British, for choice. It really doesn’t take all that many decades of kleptocracy, tribal genocide, famine as a tool of statecraft, and rampant public health disasters to make Rudyard Kipling’s jingoism and imperialism look like the vegetarian option.

    Sadly, there isn’t anybody capable of instituting a third world colonial regime anything like as benevolent as that of the 19th Century British. So we’re going to have to stand back and allow waves of two legged vermin to sweep across the African continent, until there isn’t anything living there more advanced than the Bonobos.

    1. Immanently practical, but a boon to anti colonial rhetoric. Practical and effective is trumped by intentions and sensitivity to identity politics.

      1. The ends do not justofy the means, and it’s past time we forced the Sanctimonious Left to acknowledge that the results often indict the means.

    2. fact

      That is a fascinating new application of that word.

      1. You disagree? Fine; make your argument. My impression is that, the horrors of the Belgian Congo notwithstanding, those parts of the African continent that were colonized were better governed then than they are now. Think I’m wrong? Make your case.

    3. Well, the Chinese are aiming to give it the ol’ college try given the vast untapped natural resources in Africa.

    4. Umshini wam, man. Those wasted GIs got nothing less than they deserved.

    5. they were so benevolent they built a bunch of concentration camps in South Africa so the Africans had somewhere to die of starvation and disease.

  2. nations like Niger must assume responsibility for their own affairs.

    “What do you mean — ‘you people’?!”

  3. “an endless war without boundaries, no limitation on time or geography” totally A-OK.

    Well, the enemy who declared war on the US is not a nation-state, restricted to a geographic boundary. It is a religious ideology, without boundaries. So, I would suggest that fighting that enemy in the places and times where he chooses to surface is probably the only choice there is, until the ‘rules of war’ are updated to address combat by other than nation-states.
    In terms of declaring war, congress has not done that since we quit numbering the wars.
    They approve funding for police actions, UN operations, training forces, peace keeping efforts, and damn near anything else except an actual declared war.
    It would be interesting to have the Supreme Court rule on the constitutionality of funding armed conflicts other than declared wars. Who would have standing to bring such a suit against the US? How, exactly, would congress declare war on terrorists who are not a nation-state, who do not put on uniforms and actually wage ‘war’, and are extra-territorial in reach?
    Should the war on terror be considered a police matter based on each attack being a civil crime? How would US police agencies function overseas in that case? Could the military assist police agencies inside the US territory? Where would posse comitatus fit in those circumstances?
    Should we just let the extremists carry on until they do form a nation-state, and then declare war? What if they never do?
    Who is John Galt?

    1. You hit at least one nail on the head: no person or institution can bring a lawsuit to SCOTUS because no person or institution has standing to do so. Congress arguably could, but Congress’ remedy against unconstitutional usurpation of the war power is to exercise its war power and its power over the purse, both of which (separately or together) mean an all-out confrontation with the Executive, and there’s the rub. Congress hasn’t the stones for that.

  4. Why oh why do we intervene? Well there are the “humanitarian” situations [Somalia, Rwanda, etc.] where we just have to “do something” to stop the suffering. And it’s probably our fault in the first place [just cite “colonialism”].

    There is the “national interest” issues where someone is threatening the supply of oil of other essential commodity, and we must “do something” to protect it. As in the Iraq wars.

    There is the need for revenge, as we “must respond” to aggression of a terrorist group by attacking whatever country they reside in. As far as being attacked, 9/11 is about the only thing that comes close in the years since Pearl Harbor.

    Given just these justifications for the use of force, I’m surprised the military is on only 20 of the 54 African countries and most everywhere else. No one gives a “fly’n” when Serbs are murdering Croats, or Hutus are slaughtering Tutsis [no we didn’t go there but Bill Clinton’s biggest regret of his presidency is that we didn’t] , or we feel a national “need” to kick the shit out of someone. And given those types of situations do not ever count on the career loving “I’m a master legislator” politicians of Congress to stand for dick about it.

  5. It’s hard to overstate what a slimy, craven POS Graham is. You want forever war? Vote for it, you f—–g coward.

    1. Why do that when there are so many ways to just “let it happen” and then claim ignorance of the entire matter when some shit blows up? Is that not how our government works?

  6. First, it is not a tragedy. These guys knew the risks when they signed up for the job. I certainly with they had not died, but the fact that they did is part of their job and thus not a tragedy.

    Second, the fact that four people got killed says nothing about whether we should or should not be in Niger or anywhere in Africa. Saying that is does is no different than saying the fact some kid accidentily shot himself with his parents’ gun means no one should be able to own a gun. Sorry but “what about the soldiers” is no more rational than saying “what about the children”.

    The fact is that there are places where sending rough men to kill and be killed is either necessary for the country’s security or the morally right thing to do because such men are helping the people in these places defend themselves against an agressive evil. Maybe Niger and all of Africa is niether of those things. Maybe it is both. Regardless of where you stand on that question, that is the issue. If Ms. Kristian thinks that it is not in the interests of the nation or of justice to do this, she should learn something about the circumstances and explain why that is, because this nonsense isn’t going to cut it.

    1. You should have composed the taking points for Graham, then at least there would have been less dissembling on his part.

      1. Graham is an idiot and the people who work for him likely idiot sons and daughters of big donors. Even if they were rational and honest enough to tell the truth about this, that would still leave them with explaining why we should be in Niger and why being there is worth sending American soldiers to their death and having them bring death to other people. Honestly, I can’t see someone like Graham being up to that job. I don’t think he is even able to ask the proper question much less give a rational answer to it.

        1. Lindsay Graham can’t speak a word without John McCain’s hand jammed up his ass.

        2. Yes, Graham is a clown but the joke is on all who vote for rulers. Who is the greater fool, the taxpayer who supports the clown who gets power/riches from their position, or the voter who keeps getting screwed but won’t stop to consider a voluntary alternative?

    2. the morally right thing to do because such men are helping the people in these places defend themselves against an agressive evil

      That’s pretty vague. I guess that’s why we’re everywhere in the world.

      1. It is not vague at all. Last I looked, there are very few places in the world that are really confronted with an agressive evil such that they would want or need our assistence fighting it off. If a country is under attach by Islamic terrorists and irregular forces and needs our help defending itself from them, helping them is a just mission and not a misuse of our military. It may be that we can’t help them and therefore any help we send would be pointless. Or it may be that helping them is not in our interest for some reason. Maybe we just don’t have the forces to spare from more important functions. I don’t know. But, it not being in our interests doesn’t necessarily make it an unjust thing to do.

        1. “Even if they were rational and honest enough to tell the truth about this, that would still leave them with explaining why we should be in Niger and why being there is worth sending American soldiers to their death and having them bring death to other people.”

          “But, it not being in our interests doesn’t necessarily make it an unjust thing to do.”

          Somehow your dialogue reminds me of the old “Point Counterpoint” [Shana Alexander and Jack Kilpatrick] from 60 minutes episodes of the 70s. Emanating from one person it does seem just a tad schizophrenic however.

          1. Those two statements are not contradictory. Something can be right and just and still not in the nation’s interests. Whether something being the right thing to do is by itself justification for country doing it is a very debatable propistion. All I am saying here is that being in Africa can be justified two ways; that it is in our national interests to be there or that it is in the interests of justice to be there. One is neither exclusive of or dependent upon the other.

            1. Yes, I understand it has been said that a measure of intelligence is one’s ability to entertain two distinct and possibly contradicting ideas simultaneously. But back to your original statement, that “These guys knew the risks when they signed up for the job. I certainly with they had not died, but the fact that they did is part of their job and thus not a tragedy.”

              I think that is the crux of the matter; whether the United States is indeed the “world’s policeman” and is it justified to send our sons and daughters into harms way for what may be little more than “good intentions.” And I cannot disagree with you more that the loss of any military personnel is indeed a tragedy, whether they “knew what they signed up for” if that purpose is not clearly in our national interests. It is both a tragedy and a waste of American lives.

              1. WE are just arguing sematics. I agree that the guys being killed is a bad thing. Whether it is a “tragedy” depends on how you define tragedy. I define tragedy such that it doesn’t include the consiquences of risks that you knowingly and freely take. You disagree and that is fine but there is no way to say that either of us is “right” in any meaningful sense.

                The debate is whether it is justified to send people out to kill and to die. And that is a hard question. My problem with Reason is not that their answer is “no”. My problem is that their answer is “no” because that is always their answer not because they have thought about the issue and can explain why it is no in any rational or consistent way. I don’t consider saying “all intervention is wrong” any better than saying “the US must act whenever others do not”. Both positions are just mindless fanatacism for one side or the other.

                1. My point is that if a expenditure of lives is for a purpose not clearly in national interest, it is indeed tragic regardless of what semantic circumlocutions you choose to employ after the fact. Yes, being killed is a “bad thing” for good or bad, but we should never send those personnel into a conflict in pursuit of someone’s idiopathic notion of “justice” or because “morality” dictates we “do something,” Sure we can disagree about is but that should come BEFORE the deed is done and we can enjoin in these semantic and circular diatribes until someone wisely says “fuck it” that is not the role of the US military and it is not worth dying for, or it is worth risking and expending American lives. If so THAT needs to be clearly defined and stated. Again, I understand this should be the purview of Congress and it should not be engaged in a passing the buck scheme and then acting like WTF when the shit blows up and bodies come home in bags. I think we agree our “leadership” are mostly bags of shit. What we do not agree on is the vague and very indefinite sense of “justice” or “morality” being used to justify such undertakings; this is not an academic argument, it is in fact what is being done and not being justified or carried out according to law.

            2. Justice defined by whom? Obviously there are no clear definitions here. In other words, vague.

              1. According to the person making the decision. If you disagree, that just means you have a different definition of what is just. That doesn’t mean that justice and morality can never be a proper basis for government action. It just means you disagree with the current government’s view of justice and morality.

                1. So “justice” means whatever the “person making the decision” thinks it means? If “justice and morality” are to serve as a basis for government action [in this sense sending American military personnel into harms way] it certainly needs to be more defined than what someone wants it to mean. If we cannot openly agree on what that is, we have no business being there. Never mind the fore mentioned constitutional issues whereby it is incumbent upon Congress to come to terms with these matters before anyone is committed, short of an actual attack/ direct threat to the country.

                  1. In an ultimate sense, no. Yes Justice means something. Whether the person making the decision gets it right or not is of course up for debate. But the point is not whether they get it right or not but the proposition that if they do, it is okay to act. I only say, it is whatever they decide, because I don’t want to debate the nature of Justice here, not because I don’t think such a thing exists.

        2. So John, there must be a lot of evil out there for our Army to be in 140 countries.

  7. he’s not the only one who had no idea the United States has a significant military presence in Niger?not to mention elsewhere on the African continent. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also copped to ignorance, as did the many confused Americans who turned to Google to pose the suddenly pressing question, “Why are we in Niger?”

    Strange how there were no vehement expressions of curiosity, disbelief or confusion from anyone in the media when the policy was announced.

    flashback to the deep-thoughts of this publication at the time: where you learn that the reason we intervene is because we intervened, which causes need for more intervening*.

    but don’t dare suggest that maybe libertarians use the word “intervention” too broadly, too often, and in ways that make its commentary on foreign policy amount to vacuous repetition of canned-phrases.

    *bonus points for the editor’s note at the bottom of the article there, where the cart chases the horse, and the snake eats its tail.

    Editor’s Note: This article originally misdescribed the attack in Algeria as a response to the French-led intervention in Mali. The attack was planned before France’s Mali intervention.

    1. Note the implicit correlation must equal causality fallacy in the original claim. Why did she think that the attack in Algeria was done in response to the French intervention in the first place? I see no reason why she would have ever thought that other than because one followed the other. It was only after the facts got in the way of the all pervasive narrative that the editor had to walk back on that claim.

      1. the editor had to walk back on that claim.

        oh, not at all. The story is still up.

        sure, the facts don’t actually support the argument, but that doesn’t mean you can’t repeat the same argument endlessly anyway.

  8. RE: Four Dead in Africa: The Addiction to World Policing Must End

    I still can’t find where in the US Constitution where the USA is the world’s policeman.
    I’m sure its in there somewhere.
    Otherwise we wouldn’t be in other countries killing people if it wasn’t in the US Constitution somewhere.

    1. We wouldn’t have to be the world’s policemen if they didn’t keep attacking us. And no, we didn’t start it, it started shortly after the nation was founded with attacks on our shipping.

      1. International shipping ventures outside US territorial waters are not protected under the Constitution. Why? It’s outside the jurisdiction just as all rights violations in foreign jurisdictions. In “open waters” it’s a grey area as this is like a “neutral zone”. So no govt. warships are supposed to be there. Pirates operate on their own, in theory, but states have usually provided support. This was solved by diplomatic means, most of the time.

        The USA didn’t officially act as international police at first. That happened as the military power grew. And now you can see why the anti-federalist Founding Fathers wanted no standing military or foreign treaties.

  9. So let me get this straight. Every there there is a terrorist attack by Islamists, it’s no big deal because more people are killed by lightning and we should really be letting more Muslims in because they are just angry because we’re racist or something.

    But when 4 soldiers die fighting Islamists, it’s the most horrible thing ever to happen in the history of the country and we should immediately pull them back so they can be killed by Islamists here at home. Because that’s so much more virtuous.

  10. So we shouldn’t police the world, because they’re none of our business, until they somehow magically appear in our country and only then should we lift a finger to respect their natural rights. Since they have the right to come into the United States as a feature of being human, we can’t say no to them even while we’re absolutely prohibited from going to where they are and doing anything about the situation at the source as a matter of principle.

    Sound about right? Yeah, I’m not so sure.

  11. Bonnie: “…why our govt. has committed us…”? I don’t support what the US Empire does, therefore I am not “committed” by their actions.

    I don’t vote. I don’t forfeit my sovereignty. I do not have a govt., a govt. has me.

    “…our govt….” is collectivist thinking. The Empire doesn’t act in the public interest. It takes stolen money (taxes) thanks to corrupt politicians, kills people and destroys property, and all for special interests. Every life lost is a life wasted.

  12. Radical islam does not recognize any geographical limits so neither can we.

  13. It’s important to understand the underlying principle of being “police man” to the world: Not justice, not even foreign policy, but the expansion of the monopoly on coercion.

  14. The problem is fundamental: to go to war a country must have a clear purpose and the will to achieve that purpose as quickly and expediently as possible. As of today, we have neither working.

    We don’t have a clear purpose because we are unwilling (or in some cases, unable) to identify the enemy. We know that it is radical Islam that has us in its cross-hairs, but we must also recognize that Islam as a whole identifies us (the west) as its enemy. In other words, we may not know that we are at war with Islam but Islam certainly knows that it is at war with us.

    And because we don’t have a clear purpose, we are unable to find the best ways to prosecute this war. So we end up chasing a black cat in a dark room without a flashlight. The real tragedy in Niger is not that four brave men died, but that they died for no clear reason.

  15. I love Reason’s cognitive dissonance.

    A) America must not be the world’s policeman. Allow other countries to manage their own affairs and if it goes to shit, its not our business.

    B) America should have open borders, allowing the free movement of peoples and acceptance of refugees.

    How can you have both beliefs in a globalized world? Either America keeps the shitholes from being shitholes, or we will have an endless parade of folks fleeing the shitholes for our shores. Once can argue about how much we suck at success with the former, but that’s more a question of being a better ‘world policeman’, then not doing it at all.

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