President Barack Obama begins his second term with a new national security team in the making. It now looks like most if not all his key nominees will secure Senate confirmation in coming months, with Sen. John Kerry at State, former Sen. Chuck Hagel at Defense and White House counterterrorism czar John Brennan at the CIA.
Though some have described Obama’s new “team of friends” as representing an inward-looking impulse, world events may not permit that. As in his first term, Obama will probably again face a gap between his preferred goals and strategies -- focusing on Asia and rebuilding U.S. military and economic power -- and contingencies both abroad and at home, with non-Asian scenarios diverting his attention and U.S. political stalemate threatening his domestic agenda.
One already evident diversion will be Africa. That continent has received less attention than might be expected under the Obama administration, but recent events in Algeria, Mali and elsewhere should change this. The number of Islamist militant groups on the continent, some with close ties to traffickers and al-Qaida, is on the rise all the way from Somalia in the Horn of Africa to Mali. All of these groups exploit poorly governed places, and they have begun to coordinate planning, training and weapons trafficking. As the Pentagon withdraws U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the U.S. military presence in Africa should increase, but the emphasis will be on maintaining a light footprint. Roughly 100 training missions in some three dozen African countries are scheduled for this year alone. Much of their effort will be designed to prevent terrorists and insurgencies from taking root in vulnerable African countries.