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Good Reads: lighter, messier African conflicts, and burning Qurans

How the post-cold-war era has given birth to smaller, messier conflicts; and how the Quran burning incident in Afghanistan could have been much worse. Seriously.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / March 2, 2012



Sometime well into the first decade of what the Bush administration termed the "war on terror," it became clear that war was going to be the new normal, and it was going to be that way for a very long time. 

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President Bush’s Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described the new war machine in the way that development experts describe a new system of local health clinics, with an emphasis on sustainability. The key in taking on guerrilla movements like the Taliban or those weapons-of-mass-destruction-hiding Iraqi militants was sustainability, according to Mr. Rumsfeld and other Pentagon planners. US fighting forces should be “lighter” and more “agile.” (From here onward, the analogy to health clinics falls apart. US troops needed to be able to project deadly force into hostile territory in the pursuit of US interests. Health clinics? Not so much.)

Nowhere is Rumsfeld's uncluttered vision more clear than in Africa.

In Uganda and the Central African Republic, there is a grand total of 100 US special operations forces assigned with the task of helping the Ugandan military hunt down and apprehend Joseph Kony, the leader of a shadowy rebel group calling itself the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). For African leaders concerned about the world’s last remaining superpower setting up a beachhead on the African continent – similar to its permanent base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba or its long-term basing agreement at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan – having 100 troops running around in the bush is a concern.

But there are worse scenarios.

The problem is that this is the same way many African rebel groups operate. And in a post-cold-war era where there are no real ideologies at stake, African conflicts have become smaller, messier, more personal, and according to a piece by The New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman in The New York Review of Books, perhaps not as deadly as the old-style army conflicts, but certainly more difficult to bring to an end.  

Describing the 2009 scene of a massacre by the LRA in the Congolese town of Niangara, Mr. Gettleman writes,

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