Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, the billionaire real estate developer and reality television star has stirred controversy with some of his proposals, most notably his differences with his own party regarding foreign policy and military intervention. While several inflammatory quotes have been tied to Mr. Trump, rumors of his contempt for the African people, specifically his alleged assertion that they are “lazy” and “only good at eating, lovemaking and thuggery”, were found to be unsubstantiated by various fact-checking organizations. His true position surrounding U.S.-African relations can perhaps be deciphered by his previous statements on American intervention around the world. Trump recently suggested that nations currently hosting American military forces compensate the U.S. for the full cost of providing such support against threats both foreign and domestic. With so much of the focus set on what a President Trump would do as Commander-In-Chief, it is what he would discontinue or decline to get involved with that is of greatest concern.
U.S. Army Gen. David Rodriguez, head of the Network of American Military Forces on the Continent (AFRICOM), recently stated in Congressional hearings that combat forces in the region have the ability to engage a specific military or humanitarian crisis anywhere inside the African theater of operations within four hours of its onset. Military experts and observers currently estimate a total of 34 out of 47 sovereign African states play host to as many as 60 U.S. outposts scattered across the region, in addition to numerous bases and airfields in southern Europe and the Middle East from which operations are launched. These operations – totaling 674 in 2015 alone, according to Pentagon statistics – are mainly in support of ongoing humanitarian missions combatting the AIDS and Ebola epidemics, as the official explanation goes. But the reality is that the U.S. is playing an increasingly active role in managing threats posed by groups like Boko Haram, Al-Shabab and Al-Qaeda. The total price tag is in the tens of billions, in addition to foreign aid provided to nearly a dozen nations totaling $8 billion. This is on top of the $3.4 billion in annual AIDS relief funds provided to the most affected areas.
While Donald Trump has stated his desire to see nations such as Japan and South Korea start paying for U.S. military commitments inside their borders, it is unlikely that he will attempt to extend the same treatment to the African nations, which face a decidedly more imminent threat than their Asian counterparts. While he may decline to authorize certain combat missions inside the African continent which threaten American lives, his hard stance on terrorism is likely to override this possibility, offering continued defense against destabilization by terror groups. Even if he were to propose a reduction in humanitarian or military aid to the region, he would need the approval of Congress in order for this to take effect, which is less likely to occur. The only situation in which a President Trump could significantly alter American policy in Africa would be in the event of a large-scale military dispute, and his potential refusal to order the military to take on a leading role, which could open up the door for another world power – Russia or China – to fill the void and thus introduce their own policy to the area, possibly exploiting African nations for their natural resources and meddling in their political affairs. However, the risks associated with this are far too great, and the benefits too insignificant to become reality.
In short, a President Donald Trump would not drastically change American foreign policy toward the nations of the African continent. While military operations may decline slightly, there is unlikely to be a large reduction in overall support from the United States absent a large-scale military conflict in the future. Despite his inflammatory comments, the American President is still bound by the legal limits of the U.S. Constitution and can only affect so much change to America’s current policies.