A lot of people seem startled that President Obama just announced that 100 US troops are going to central Africa to aid in the fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army, a loathsome group that has been brutally terrorizing the region for 24 years. But it’s actually not that surprising, and is in fact explicitly authorized by an act of Congress (which is more than we can say for the intervention in Libya). The Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 establishes, among other things, that US policy includes
providing political, economic, military, and intelligence support for viable multilateral efforts to protect civilians from the Lord’s Resistance Army, to apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield in the continued absence of a negotiated solution, and to disarm and demobilize the remaining Lord’s Resistance Army fighters;
The bill passed with no real opposition — by unanimous consent in the Senate, and by voice vote in the House. A lot of people on Twitter seem to think that in sending troops to Uganda (they will also be operating in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the permission of all of those countries’ governments) Obama has suddenly entangled the US in a new war. In fact, this is a relatively mild escalation in an existing mission; a Pentagon spokesman says that US troops will be in Africa “for a few months in an advisory role.”
While it’s true that the fight against the LRA is not at the indispensible core of our national interests, it’s not irrelevent to our national interests, either. Aiding in our allies’ security shores up American hegemony and promotes American values. In the absense of an alliance with the US, a semi-democratic regime like Uganda’s would most likely turn to China (which has certainly been courting Uganda and other African countries), and it would likely move in the direction of Beijing’s values rather than Washington’s — in other words, it would likely backslide into autocracy.
Maybe you don’t think the US should care about that at all, but when the footprint is small, the risk of casualties is low, and the potential humanitarian benefit is high (it’s hard to overstate how horrifying the LRA is), this sort of action — as the overwhelming support for this mission in Congress indicates — tends to be fairly uncontroversial. As it should be.