Sunday’s New York Times featured a front-page article by Thom Shanker on the U.S. military’s presence in Central America. In Honduras, American Special Forces operate out of three outposts—modeled on forward bases in Afghanistan and Iraq—providing support to Honduran Special forces. 600 U.S. troops operate across Central America and try to maintain a “discrete footprint” and do not, it seems, engage in many offensive operations. Nonetheless, the ease with which U.S. military personnel can be deployed practically anywhere is disturbing (though not surprising, given our recent experience). That some simply presume a need for having the U.S. military deploy to the jungles of Honduras is equally troubling.
Shanker explains that the U.S. military is implementing many of the lessons learned from counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just as our presence in those countries was supposed to bring stability—along with democracy, economic development, human rights, and the rule of law— so it goes in Honduras:
"By countering transnational organized crime, we promote stability, which is necessary for external investment, economic growth and minimizing violence," Colonel Brown said. "We also are disrupting and deterring the potential nexus between transnational organized criminals and terrorists who would do harm to our country." (emphasis mine)
According to Colonel Brown, the U.S. military has deployed to Honduras to encourage foreign companies to invest there. It is hard to square this with the military's core mission to “provide for the common defence.” Some in Washington still perceive a connection between economic development, drug eradication, and U.S. national security. But the most recent scholarship has largely debunked the belief that Americans must build/rebuild foreign countries in order to be secure here at home.
It isn't enough to learn lessons from our recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is equally important that we learn the right lessons. Until we do, it appears we are doomed to repeat our nation-building follies again and again.