U.S. makes errors, enemies in Africa

By Carolyn Davis
Inquirer Editorial Board

As children and families in Uganda and Sudan's Darfur region wait for peace, and as civilians in Somalia brace for intensified war, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Jendayi Frazer, is making mistakes and enemies.
The result, said numerous government officials and private-sector sources familiar with Africa, is bobbled opportunities for the United States to help end some of the world's worst humanitarian catastrophes.
"We need to do better and could do better," said Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), who chairs the House subcommittee on Africa and human rights.
There is good reason to heed Smith's words. Africa is growing in strategic importance for the United States. It holds economic potential. Chaotic countries provide a haven for terrorists. Helping civilians caught in fighting could polish America's tarnished image.
Three crises in particular cry out for clearer and more polished diplomacy.
The most urgent situation is the Darfur genocide. After considerable prodding from elected officials and others, President Bush decided in September to appoint Andrew Natsios, former U.S. Agency for International Development chief, as special envoy to work on Darfur.
By doing so, Bush sent a strong message to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, a main force behind the genocide, that the United States considers the situation worthy of special attention from the Oval Office.
To people like Bashir, an envoy who has credibility "brings an enhanced focus to what's going on there," Smith said.
Frazer did not seem to get that, Smith said. Several sources told me that Frazer tried, but failed, to squash the appointment. Smith said he argued with her for months about it. People around Frazer told him that she thought she could handle the crisis.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R., Va.) was dismayed at Frazer's opposition. "Anybody who didn't want to do anything you could possibly do on the issue of Darfur, that's almost an indictment in itself," Wolf said.
In an interview Friday, Frazer would not answer whether she opposed an envoy. She did say she enjoys working with Natsios.
She also emphasized that President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are the leaders of foreign policy. Of course they are. But they rely on their top assistants to craft positions.
If published reports are correct, someone in the administration made the bad decision to support Somali warlords, despite a United Nations arms embargo. Why? Because they were fighting a fundamentalist Islamic group that has suspected ties to al-Qaeda.
Just what Somalia needs - more weapons. Besides, the strategy didn't work. The Islamists took the capital; neighboring countries are backing different militias.
The situation could get much worse. Frazer wants the U.N. Security Council to create a loophole in the embargo so that an African force for Somalia could get weapons. Its mission would be to train police and defend the weak transitional government, also packed with warlords.
The United States could be thinking that defeating the Somali fundamentalists is part of the war on terror. But intensifying what is now localized fighting rather than seeking a political solution could lead to a regional conflict, making the area even more unstable. There might as well be a blinking "Vacancy" sign welcoming al-Qaeda to set up shop in the region.
Then there is the war in northern Uganda, which has taken a huge toll on kids for 20 years. Many U.S. administrations have ignored this crisis.
Fragile talks between Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, are the best chance ever for peace.
It is mystifying why the White House hasn't been able to help Uganda catch Kony or pressure Museveni, a U.S. ally, to find peace.
Frazer's awkward, confusing and tentative support of the negotiations is one of the reasons. One Republican called her a "Museveniphile" because she coddles the Ugandan - even though he shares blame for the war and its longevity.
Other Capitol Hill observers said Frazer's problems stemmed from poor analysis, micromanaging and an unwillingness to acknowledge that covering Africa requires her to delegate authority. "One person cannot do it all. It's an unrealistic expectation," one observer said.
Frazer is smart, energetic, and said to have a good relationship with Rice and Bush. The secretary of state was Frazer's doctoral dissertation adviser at Stanford University, and Frazer served on Rice's National Security Council staff.
That connection would be invaluable - if she had the diplomatic skills to utilize it.
Don't misunderstand: Darfur, Somalia and northern Uganda would be a fearsome challenge to the best U.S. diplomat. But Frazer's approach makes the job harder still.
It would be great if Frazer used these critiques to improve her performance. That doesn't seem likely, as she instantly dismissed them and said they sounded "like a smear campaign."
She may be Rice's protégé. But Frazer's work is so important that if she can't or won't try to do better, the White House should replace her.

Contact Carolyn Davis at cdavis@phillynews.com or 215-854-4214.

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