And yet over at the Pentagon, it is a different story. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wasn’t on the job three months before he took his first trip to the continent, arriving in Djibouti on a bright Sunday in April for meetings with President Ismail Omar Guelleh. In Chad in March, American Special Forces were conducting training exercises with service members from 20 African countries.
Last month, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, was in Tripoli, Libya, in the first high-level visit by an American official since the 2012 attacks on the American Consulate in Benghazi. General Waldhauser huddled with Fayez Serraj, the leader of Libya’s new government of national accord, as the Defense Department — now the lead agency for diplomacy in Africa — wrestled with the idea of how to reach a political solution to the chaos in Libya.
And at the African Land Forces Summit in Malawi, held over two days in May, the American military spent $1.2 million flying in and housing African military leaders. The Americans hired buses to take the African commanders to their hotels and brought in National Guard and reserve officers from all over the United States to chat with their counterparts.
The American military leaders are among the first to sound alarms about the proposed cuts in humanitarian funding, worrying that the reductions could put in place conditions that lead to more conflict, which might then mean more military intervention.
In testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee this month, a long list of retired American military officers, including Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Adm. Michael Mullen, said foreign aid cuts hurt the Pentagon. “We are part of a long history of U.S. military leaders who have noted how much more cost-effective it is to prevent a conflict than to end one,” the officers wrote.
Or as Mr. Mattis told Congress in 2013, when he was a general overseeing American military operations in the Middle East as head of United States Central Command, “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.’’
Military leaders today echo Mr. Mattis’s sentiment.
“We recognize the limits of military power, and how important it is to leverage all elements and capabilities that our interagency and nongovernmental organizations bring to bear in Africa and around the world,” General Harrington told the opening session of the conference in Malawi.
Gen. Carter Ham, a former commander of Africa Command, said in an interview that cuts in foreign aid would lead to the need for more increases in military spending. “Insecurity in Africa, which adversely affects the United States, stems in my view from loss of hope,” he said.
He offered an example: “If you’re a young Muslim man in northeastern Nigeria, and you look at your government and say, my prospects for a job are pretty slim, there’s no education or health care, and then suddenly some guy comes along and offers me money, prestige, a gun and a girl, a purpose, that becomes attractive,” he said, referring to the many young men who have been coaxed into joining the militant group Boko Haram.
On the closing day of the African Land Forces Summit, the assembled African generals listened intently as one American diplomat posed a central question.
“How do we operate in an environment when we are willing to send peacekeepers,” asked Alexander M. Laskaris, a State Department official with Africa Command, “but we’re not willing to take the steps necessary to make peace?”