By Bonnie Kristian
“I got a little insight on why” U.S. troops are in Niger “and what they were doing,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. They’re “there to defend America,” he said, “to help allies” and “to prevent another platform to attack America and our allies.”
In these few sentences Sen. Graham has woven a case for endless war unconnected to any considerations of necessity, prudence, cost, or even real danger to the United States.
He conceded just moments later that terrorist activity in Niger poses no direct threat to America—"I don’t think the forces inside of Niger, the [Islamic State]-affiliated forces, have the capability to attack the United States,” he said—only to argue this crucial fact must not dampen our enthusiasm for military intervention. “The ungoverned spaces of Africa is where the terrorists will come after you defeat them in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan,” Sen. Graham claimed, “and there are some groups within this system of terrorist groups in Africa that would attack our allies or the United States.”
These comments are a remarkably concise expression of all that is wrong with the last decade and a half of bipartisan foreign policy, a statement of Washington’s reckless commitment to playing world police at the expense of developing a wise and effective grand strategy.
Sen. Graham begins with a conflation of policing friendly nations’ internal disorder, on the one hand, and defending the United States’ vital national interests, on the other. It should be obvious that though these may both be desirable goals, they are not synonymous, nor are they both Washington’s responsibility.
Furthermore, it is worth noting the United States’ primary ally in Niger is not Niger itself but France, which remains militarily active in its former colony and others nearby. This means that to the extent that U.S. soldiers are intervening in Niger “to help allies,” in Graham’s phrase, they are helping a wealthy European power cling to remnants of a lost empire and police a nation far from French and American shores alike.
What our presence in Niger is not doing, as Sen. Graham himself admits, is defending the United States against any meaningful threat.
However much they may hate us, the would-be terrorists active there are not capable of attacking America, defended as we are by the world’s most powerful military,expansive moats, and a stringent screening process for would-be visitors. That means U.S. intervention in Niger is neither defensive, preemptive, or even preventive war. It is an unnecessary use of precious resources .
This becomes all the more troubling given Sen. Graham’s ad-lib approach to selecting new places to deploy the U.S. military. “The ungoverned spaces of Africa is where the terrorists will come after you defeat them in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan,” he says—and a couple decades down the line he’ll be on NBC explaining that Washington simply must send American troops to some new location still, because its “ungoverned spaces” are “where the terrorists will come after you defeat them in Niger.”
There is nothing strategic or defensive about committing to fight every objectionable group everywhere on the globe forever. That does not and cannot contribute to U.S. security, and it is a callously casual way to risk American blood and treasure.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities. She is a weekend editor at The Week and a columnist at Rare, and her writing has also appeared at Time Magazine, CNN, Politico, Relevant Magazine, The Hill, and The American Conservative, among other outlets.
This piece was originally published by The Hill on November 1, 2017. Read more HERE.