- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2019

Thanks to President Trump’s America First approach, the U.S. is now the world’s biggest energy exporter. And that new reality is affecting more than just the price of a gallon of gas.

For starters, the Middle East is losing its geopolitical importance, no longer the linchpin of the American economy. We have 300 years of energy supply under our feet. We need no longer fight endless wars in the Fertile Crescent to safeguard our national economic interests.

Of course terrorism in the Middle East, mainly generated by Iran, is still a huge security issue and will have to be dealt with. But I predict the Trump administration’s hard-line pressure campaign on the Tehran regime will go a long way toward mitigating that threat.

But there is another hot spot where the brave new world of energy is forcing a major U.S. recalculation — Africa.

Here we have multiple issues at stake that directly affect America’s security interests. Africa has oil, but the real “precious cargo” of the region is its rare-earth metals and other commodities.

All of our major adversaries know this.

Russia is busy sending mercenaries to places such as Sudan and the Central African Republic, seeking to cut sweet deals that vulnerable African dictators can’t refuse. The pitch: Give us access to your raw materials and maybe even a military base, and we’ll keep you in power.

The campaign is even attracting attention inside Russia itself. Three Russian journalists were murdered last year in the CAR while attempting to ascertain what mercenaries hired by the Russian-based Wagner Group were doing with regard to local mineral deposits in the region.

China has long been active in Africa as well, anchored by its massive logistical hub in Djibouti. It remains to be seen if Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative will actually help these poor countries develop their infrastructure and transport networks or just saddle them with overwhelming debt they can never repay.

China’s mercantile agenda is currently in overdrive in Africa, looking to replace the vast U.S. market with the new Silk Road to Central Asia and beyond to Europe. Chinese officials are now even more desperate to put this trade channel in place as President Trump’s tariffs and trade talks threaten their export model of development.

American special forces have been involved in Africa fighting jihadist terror groups for decades. The killing of American troops in Niger last year during a mission that went very wrong highlighted this fact and raised awareness of how many countries on the continent Americans are deployed.

Africa is a far bigger arena than the Middle East, with many more places for terrorists to hide, train and plan attacks against the West. That by itself will ensure the U.S. military will be active on the continent for a long time.

Sources inside the U.S. Special Operations Community tell me the Pentagon is gearing up for a much bigger capability in Africa in order to thwart Chinese and Russian influence. That is a recipe for a high-intensity conflict between the world’s biggest militaries.

I only hope that future American operations in Africa get the resources our military forces deserve. Even though these soldiers may be serving and dying in an out-of-the-way place, their sacrifice will be every inch the match of those lost in Afghanistan and Iraq — and their families grieve just as hard.

L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, The New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through LToddWood.com.

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