Craig Mullaney, an author and person who I admire greatly, just wrote the above title article on the USAID blog.
Unlike the then 15-year-old Mullaney, I served as the Operations Support Squadron Commander in Cairo, overseeing the airlift support operations to withdraw personnel from Somalia, in the months prior to the incident he describes. Even I, a “non-combat” airlift pilot, recognized the deteriorating security conditions in Mogadishu. Other than restricting extraneous people from flying on the missions (American forces liked to do this because they would earn combat pay for a whole month by flying in, sitting around the runway for a few hours, and then flying out), I was helpless to do any thing more to improve the situation. Even within the Air Force, Airlift forces are not listened to for security advice. I couldn’t even get satellite time to send secure mission data to our runway teams; we often settled for sending minimum information (such as arrival times) via Egyptian car phones to Mogadishu hotel switchboards. I returned to the states less than a month before the American soldiers were dragged through the streets; just thinking about it still leaves me nauseous.
During the second Gulf War, Secretary Rumsfeld ignored the advice of American military personnel on how to conduct operations after Saddam fell. Like many Americans, he pictured a world where strong, American military forces sweep in, remove dictators, declare a democracy, and then adoring natives throw flowers at our feet and buy U.S. products. Of course, that is not real life. Mullaney articulates how targeted aid can help bring lasting change. Fair elections in Sudan is one example; quickly rebuilding bombed-out infrastructure in Iraq ten years ago could have been another example. Providing countries with critical aid after or before committing troops to the ground could save American lives and money.
I, however, am more cynical than Mullaney about the aid that is needed to help Sudan, South Sudan, and other countries from boiling over into hot conflict again. To me, South Sudan looks to be in even worse straits than Eritrea after the end of its decades old war with Ethiopia. Free elections, an educated leader, and a determined populace sounded like ingredients to create an African democracy that could survive above subsistence level. Unfortunately, its president repeated the African tradition of remaining in office, eliminating opposing parties, and declaring war to deflect public opinion away from him. Unless South Sudan can train its undereducated populace in democratic ideals, broker a fair agreement with Sudan to transport its oil, develop agriculture and share wealth, I fear this peace is also doomed to fail. Funny, some socialist concepts are crucial to creating vibrant, multiparty democracies.One thing I hope everyone can agree on, is that American combat power is NOT the way to develop peaceful democracies in underdeveloped nations with no previous democratic tradition. After reading The Unforgiving Minute (see my sidebar), I know that Mullaney would agree with me.