In November 2008, when Barack Obama first took office, he was riding high on a wave of euphoria at his show-stopping promises. Beyond offering "change" and pledging universal healthcare, the most salient campaign point he made then revolved around scaling down the global military footprint of America aboard. But, seven years on, that promise has proven to be the most hollow; the Obama administration has been defined by a distinctly militaristic tone and eagerness to export American interests abroad, a development that few would ever have expected of a once military modest Obama.
The U.S. President’s pledge to close Guantanamo Bay by the end of 2009 has become a mockery, with the Cuba-based torture facility still alive and kicking. Only now has he conceded he should have closed down the detention center on day one of his tenure. At an event in Cleveland, Ohio, Mr. Obama excused himself with the remark that once the politics of the process got tough, "the path of least resistance was just to leave it open, even though it’s not who we are as a country and it’s used by terrorists around the world to help recruit jihadists."
Along similar lines, despite Mr. Obama’s criticism of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, US diplomatic and military intrusion has been ubiquitous during his presidency, from Syria to Ukraine and back to Iraq. But no expansion has been greater than the burgeoning presence of the US Army in Africa, where it is embroiled in no fewer than 90% of the continent’s 54 countries, according to independent research published by TomDispatch. Mr. Obama seems to have been overcome by the over-intervening, ends-justifies-the-means attitude to foreign affairs for which he so skillfully lambasted the administration of predecessor George W. Bush. Worse, this sprawling military presence paves the way for future interventions in the future.
Just watch how Ash Carter so wryly inferred that Washington could expand the war on ISIS to Nigeria and Libya by saying that "This AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force) could apply to operations in and around Libya, depending on whether or not they met the criteria", or more specifically, a pledge of allegiance to ISIS and evidence of coordination with the terror group that would harm Washington’s global presence. In both countries, several terror groups, most notably Nigeria’s Boko Haram, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic Caliphate in recent times. And since the US has stepped up its presence in Africa, it’s quite obvious that Washington will use its growing facilities to explain to the American public that terrorists are threatening its "global presence".
Indeed the US military, never far from the action, may soon be set to engage with Nigeria to do battle with Boko Haram in the north of the country. But Washington’s long arm doesn’t stop there. With US Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with the Nigerian opposition leader Muhammad Buhari, and Obama confidante David Axelrod’s political consulting firm AKPD quietly performing political work on Mr. Buhari’s behalf, the signs of US meddling look all too familiar.
Not only is high-handed mediation or intervention in Nigeria ill-advised – period – the particular course of action being applied seems beyond any sound judgment. The opposition leader whom the Obama administration appears intent on helping, Mr. Buhari, has a shady track record that could spell disaster for the country’s democracy and economy. The leader of the opposition APC party has been head of state for Nigeria once before, between 1983 and 1985, after he staged a military coup and appointed himself leader. What followed were 20 dire months of secret tribunals, unlawful executions, mass deportation and foolhardy economics, which finally led to his ouster by the same military that groomed him to power.
Moreover, though Mr. Buhari has promised to eradicate Boko Haram using his Islamic faith to create influence, his expression of absolute commitment to imposing Sharia law throughout the country threatens to create an unhealable rift between the Muslim north and the Christian south and spiral the country’s already rough politico-religious climate into catastrophe. Implications that the U.S. is supporting the unseating of the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan – who has come under flak for being slow to react to the threat of Boko Haram – in favor of a former dictator, do not quite seem to add up.
Far more pertinent, though, than questions of how the US should attempt to act upon such matters, is whether it should get involved in the first place. And the answer is a resounding no. Each time the United States military or diplomatic cadres start attempting to influence events on the other side of the world, it leads to a sticky mess and lands the country an ever worse name and a few more enemies it’s growing list. Enough blood has been spilt in far-flung lands due to an American attempt to "set things right" at the behest of a "manifest destiny".
Mr. Obama, for all his early promises, seems to have learned neither from his predecessor nor from his own two terms in office. Let us hope that as its ship sails, the Obama administration will rope in its attempts at international puppetry and allow the people of other nations to dictate their own future.
David Berggren is a Swedish security consultant currently based in New York. He spent the past 10 years working in several countries in Africa as a security adviser mainly working for NGOs.