It was an unexpected move: the Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would be cutting military aid to the government of Cameroon. That aid was, for the nation of Cameroon, a vital resource in their ongoing fight against Islamic extremism. Cameroon is the tip of the spear in the fight against Boko Haram.
The reaction for those paying attention was surprise: given the Trump administration’s strong anti-terrorist credentials, highlighted by the recent elimination of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in Syria, why would it back down from the fight against Boko Haram in Africa? Was it now giving up in the fight against international terrorists?
The answer might lie in the work of the State Department, and in particular, in the work of one Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy. Nagy, interestingly, has advised two campaigns with significant criticism of Donald Trump and the Trump administration’s foreign policy: the presidential efforts of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. For both candidates Romney and Obama, Nagy served as an adviser on Africa policy.
In those roles, he was a public and prominent Trump critic. On Twitter, he criticized the President for his statements on Somalia. “Trump so wrong about Somalis,” he wrote, “American-Somali army officer helped prevent attack against me when I was US Ambassador to Ethiopia in 2001.”
Today, this Trump critic serves in the Trump State Department as Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of African Affairs. One suspects he could not have gotten this job if his bosses at the State Department knew how critical he was of their boss, the President of the United States. And for anyone paying attention, Nagy’s position in the State Department should be concerning. Because today, he appears to be undermining the Trump administration’s approach to Africa.
Consider this: just weeks ago, Cameroonian President Paul Biya took steps to bring peace to his country. He hosted a week-long peace summit. But more than that, he directed his government to release separatist prisoners who were arrested violating several laws, and he offered clemency to those who had taken up violent arms against his own soldiers.
Curiously, the language for the White House cutting aid to Cameroon in the fight against terrorists pointed to Cameroon’s human rights record as the source of the problem. But if the White House was looking for Cameroon to move in the right direction on human rights, why punish them now, just after their recent good behavior? Wouldn’t they, instead, praise the recent actions and continue to help the government in the fight against Boko Haram?
Something doesn’t add up. At least until you look at Nagy’s record of long-time criticism of the Cameroonians and their leaders. It doesn’t matter, of course, that under the Trump administration, Cameroon has taken greater steps in the direction of peace and human rights than it ever has before. Because for Ambassador Nagy and his ilk, the only thing worse than the Trump administration staying in office is the Trump administration receiving credit for something going right in the world.
And imagine what the Cameroonians must be thinking. They host a US military drone base. They work shoulder-to-shoulder with US Special Forces and Marines to fight radical Islamic terrorism. And now, they’ve had their legs cut out from under them. A rational actor in that situation would assume that the US President has abandoned them–and that it’s time to turn to overly-eager China or Russia for help.
President Trump, in this case, appears to be having his own legs cut out from under him by a rogue operative within the State Department and people who stand opposed to his politics. The timing, illogic, and unintended consequences of this decision point to only one conclusion: the White House didn’t make this call. Someone else did, and they forced it through fully knowing that the administration might not pay attention.
To President Trump and his supporters: this is exactly what the President campaigned to clean up. He came into office promising a new approach, and it’s these kinds of unaccountable, unelected, undisciplined deep state actors that threaten to undermine that approach.