The Pentagon has yet to meet a military in a desperately poor or hopelessly corrupt country that it does not believe it can train and equip to a professional standard. Pentagon training has in fact strengthened and stabilized professional militaries in many developing countries. Yet some of the militaries that the United States has mentored in North and West Africa are best understood as criminal organizations that happen to wear pressed uniforms and epaulets. The better that some of these students learn to shoot while at Fort Benning, and the better the equipment they receive as favored clients, the more effective they become at their enduring vocations—drug smuggling, coup-making, and profitable collusion with pirates and terrorists.
Captain Amadou Sanogo, of Mali, was a longtime mentee of American trainers. He led a coup d’état against Mali’s weak democratic government early last year; after he seized power, reporters who interviewed him noticed that he proudly sported a United States Marine Corps pin on his uniform. As it turned out, Sanogo had been dispatched to the U.S. for training several times. Unfortunately, his skill as a mutineer ran “contrary to everything that is taught in U.S. military schools,” as a Pentagon spokeswoman later put it to the Agence France Presse.