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Africa Command Could Boost U.S. Efforts

FARAI CHIDEYA, host: And now we turn to Susan Rice, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and former assistant secretary of state for African affairs. She argues that AFRICOM should help the U.S. give Africa more humanitarian and military help.

Ms. SUSAN RICE (Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution): The State Department and our ambassadors on the ground in each of the countries will retain the leadership and responsibility for all the different U.S. government agencies and programs that are operating in their territories. So we're not subordinating development or diplomacy to the Defense Department. What we're doing is making sense of what's been a crazy system.

CHIDEYA: With all of the humanitarian crisis going on on the continent - and I myself just got back from southern Africa - will this allow the United States to be more engaged as a powerful member of the international community, or will we see fairly similar degrees of action and engagement to what we see now?

Ms. RICE: The short answer is we don't know. But what this does do is increase the potential for more constructive and active U.S. engagement. For this very reason, if you have one combatant command whose sole responsibility it is to pay attention to what's going on in Africa, that single combatant command is much more likely to give it the focus and the attention and the priority that Africa deserves than would be the case if Africa were just a slice, and indeed a minor slice, of their entire area of responsibility, as is the case now. So, if you're the European commander, Africa is really an afterthought compared to Europe, the former Soviet Union and the huge geographical space that it entails. Or if you're the Central Command, you're focused principally on Iraq and Afghanistan, not Africa.

And so Africa has been divided up and been the poor stepchild in each of these different commands and not gotten the full attention it deserves. So now that it will be consolidated under a single command I think there is at least greater potential for the kind of attention and resources that it deserves.

MARTIN INDYK: Well, as I said, I think that a phased redeployment to Iraq's borders and a focus on trying to contain the implosion makes sense. That is part of what Baker Hamilton recommended. They also recommended a stepped up effort to train the Iraqi forces. That, I think, will be a lost cause, simply because, as things fall apart, I think, the Iraqi Army will fall apart and join either the Sunnis or the Shiahs in this process.

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