Rep. Bass Op-ed: "Niger tragedy underscores the need for a coherent Africa strategy, answers"
"On Oct. 4, four American families tragically lost their loved ones when U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers were killed in an ambush while conducting a joint patrol in Niger. As contradictory accounts emerge about what happened that night, it’s apparent that we need to not only establish a full congressional investigation into what exactly happened, but also take a detailed look at what our strategic priorities are in the second largest continent on Earth.
After nearly a week of political mudslinging, the president still has not issued a statement about what exactly happened on the ground in Niger. With so few details about the state of play, emerging media stories cannot be allowed to distract us from the real questions about our role in the region.
Until now, we’ve only been offered glimpses of this administration’s strategy in Africa. The now almost year-long absence of an appointed assistant secretary for the Africa Bureau at the State Department combined with gaffes on the world stage in front of African heads of state have left much to be desired in terms of substantive direction of policy.
The truth is, Africa is a region of important strategic and diplomatic relevance. The continent is host to some of the fastest growing economies in the world and certainly other countries have taken notice. But the Trump administration’s FY18 budget proposal calls for a more than 30 percent cut to the State Department and USAID that includes a 35 percent decrease in aid allocated specifically for Africa including peacekeeping and development funding. Given these proposed cuts, especially to programs that have been producing tangible results, a way forward includes building on programs that allow us to move away from traditional aid, programs that build economies, allow countries to feed themselves and invest in future generations—programs that were slated to be cut. It seems clear that there is a lack of understanding, at best, or interest, at worst, in this critical region.
Most Americans had no idea that there are approximately 800 U.S. troops stationed in Niger, that the U.S. has a drone base in Niger’s capital city of Niamey or that the country is facing increased security threats from violent extremists. But a myopic military approach fails to not only address the root causes that impact long-term stability on the continent, it also misses real opportunities for investment and partnership. The time has more than come for the Trump administration to advise Congress and the American people of its proposed strategy in the region.
A coherent policy toward Africa cannot be ad hoc or emerge in response to isolated events on the ground. Defense alone, without diplomacy and development, is a losing foreign policy proposition. We must pursue a congressional investigation into what happened in Niger while calling on the administration to establish a robust and clear U.S.-Africa strategy to enhance the possibility of peace."
The op-ed appeared in the print edition on October 24, 2017.