President Barack Obama's decision to send 100 troops in coming weeks to Central Africa to advise local armies on fighting the Lord's Resistance Army raises serious questions, both at home and in terms of the nature and complexity of the situation there.
First, what exactly does the problem have to do with the United States? The LRA is definitely bad news. Founded in the mid-1980s in Uganda, it says that its original ideological platform was the biblical Ten Commandments. (This misleading claim prompted radio commentator Rush Limbaugh on Friday to criticize the president's decision to dispatch the military personnel.)
What the LRA and its leader, Joseph Kony, have done in practice since its founding is the brutal opposite of the Christian values it professes. The guerillas have slaughtered hundreds of innocent civilians in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Uganda. They have forcibly recruited child soldiers, both boys and girls.
The U.S. effort against the LRA, which the Obama administration said will be limited to Uganda, is the work of the Africa Command, established by President George W. Bush in 2008 and headed by Army Gen. Carter F. Ham. AFRICOM's 2009 effort, in coordination with Congolese and Ugandan forces, to defeat the LRA ended in disaster. The LRA escaped "Operation Lightning Thunder" and went on a vengeful spree in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo that slaughtered about 1,000 villagers.
Last week Mr. Obama wrote to the House speaker, "as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution," to inform him of the troops' use. He did not seek congressional authorization for the deployment, citing instead a 2009 act of Congress that supported "U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability" as a reason for his action.
Even so, the White House has not given an estimate of what the African operation will cost, nor how long it will last. Even his statement that the advisers would engage in combat only in self-defense is not reassuring.
The real objective may be to prop up Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. He is a friend of the United States but also under pressure at home over corruption and the fact that he has now ruled the country for 25 years.
Whether it is pursuit of the LRA or support of Mr. Museveni's rule, the real point is that the United States has no valid reason to put forces in harm's way for what is entirely a Central African matter. Mr. Obama should shift this new, troublesome enterprise into reverse immediately.