June 5, 2008

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review—the hundredth in the series—Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, makes the case for United States engagement of Africa which has expanded under the Bush administration and likely to be nurtured by the next administration.

Quoting the pledge by Senator John McCain to engage the continent and its nations on a wide variety of fronts—the most detailed exposition by any of the three remaining presidential candidates—Dr. Pham observes:

At a time when…surging food and fuel prices, falling home prices, shrinking employment, and more modest income growth have driven consumer confidence to its lowest level in twenty-eight years, American voters might be tempted to ask why their government is expending resources on a far-off continent that has, historically, played at best a secondary role in U.S. foreign policy. What is the U.S. national interest in continuing the Bush administration’s policy of increased aid to the continent, much less undertaking an even greater commitment as Senator McCain has suggested that he would do as the forty-fourth president?

Not only can an argument be made that American engagement in Africa resonates the country’s idealist vision of international relations while being consonant with its realist calculus of interest, but the case needs to be made because, as in any democracy, no foreign policy, however correct, is sustainable without public buy-in.

Making a detailed argument that “ the integration of democratic and humanitarian impulses as well as geopolitical and economic calculations into overall U.S. foreign policy in Africa, as elsewhere, is mutually reinforcing, advancing both American ideals and strategies,” the essay concludes:

Africa today represents a major strategic opportunity for the United States to not only prevail on an important front in the struggle against extremism, but also to significantly advance both American ideals and national policy objectives in a region where there is present every challenge of the contemporary world, from violence and the scramble for natural resources through poverty and failed states. The economic and political resources and diplomatic attention which the Bush administration has lavished on the continent since 9/11 have been impressive by historical standards of U.S. engagement with Africa. Nonetheless, in absolute terms, they are still less than adequate given the scope of what is at stake. The focus has largely been short- or, at best, medium-term in scope: tracking terrorists, training security forces, providing humanitarian relief, and, to a certain extent, strengthening local capacities.

To read the full text of the article, “U.S. Engagement of Africa in the National Interest,” click here.