As President Bush met with two East African leaders at the White House to discuss the war on terrorism, a U.S. lawmaker urged the Bush administration to do even more to increase its engagement with Africa.
In the wake of last week's bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, which Washington blames on al-Qaida terrorists, a U.S. Senator is urging the United States to step up its security engagement with Africa.
Senator Feingold, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, led a panel of experts in a discussion of U.S. policy toward Africa. "A world full of weak states that have become havens for international criminals helps the forces of terror not just by providing a lawless haven for their operations, but also by providing evidence for their argument that the status quo is deserving of destruction, because the world of a Somali child is a world many of us would quite readily reject," he said. "It only takes one look at Somalia, or the war-ravaged state of Congo today, or the porous borders of West Africa, to see opportunities for those who would do us harm. The only way to address these diffuse threats is through a long term commitment to reengagement."
Greg Engle, Director of Regional Affairs in the State Department's Africa Division, defended U.S. engagement with the continent. He noted that U.S. and Kenyan troops are conducting joint exercises off Kenya's coast, and that U.S. troops are operating in Djibouti in an effort to track down suspected terrorists in the region.
Mr. Engle said the United States is also trying to fight terrorism with economic aid. "We put together a package to provide assistance to Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Sudan, Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire," he said. "It did look at terrorist financing, movement of money, but it also looked at education, agricultural development and marketing, improved food security, because unless we look at some of these things, we are always going to have states that are failing or barely surviving, and breeding grounds for terrorists to take advantage of the dispossession."
The discussion took place on the same day that President Bush met at the White House with Kenya's President Daniel Arap Moi and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to discuss the war on terrorism.
Kenya especially has been an important U.S. ally in that war ever since the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which Washington also blames on al-Qaida.
But Stephen Morrison, Director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Africa Program, says closer U.S. security ties with Kenya and Ethiopia, along with the possibility of a U.S.-led war against Iraq, could provoke a backlash in the region. He warns of intensified criticism of the United States as imperialist and anti-Islamic, along with more terrorism.
In fact, he said he is not surprised by the recent bombing in Mombasa. "The attacks against Mombasa this past week was not coincidental to the advent of a U.S. regional command in Djibouti," he said. "Al-Qaida had not shown much interest or ability to strike within Africa after September 11, and suddenly if resurfaces and begins to strike in Kenya. I think that is at the front edge of a heightened motivation and will to bring the war of terror back into this environment where the United States has now projected itself in such a significant and dramatic fashion."
Mr. Morrison called on the Bush administration to redouble its diplomacy in Africa to counter anti-U.S. sentiment on the continent.