The Council on Foreign Relations can be a fantastic source of insight and analysis (such as Anthony Gambino’s recent report on Congo). But the results of their September 2008 survey of CFR’s staff on their preventive priorities suggest that Africa remains a distant afterthought for most members of that august institution. Although Sudan and Congo topped the list of conflicts “likely to bring severe, large-scale costs to civilian populations,” not a single conflict in Africa made their list of wars with the greatest potential impact on U.S. interests. This is rather remarkable given continent’s pivotal role as a source of oil and its vulnerability to transnational threats like terrorism and climate change.
Perhaps the Council should have surveyed Stanford University’s Dr. Thomas Fingar. Until recently Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis and chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Fingar highlighted threats to U.S. interests emerging from the Horn of Africa in 2007, particularly where large swathes of “ungoverned spaces” allow any number of bad actors to operate. Fingar also noted: “This is an area that, as a function of higher priorities over a decade or more, has the fewest analysts, the most junior analysts, and the ones with … the least experience on the ground.” I would imagine most CFR analysts did not think the failed state of Afghanistan posed much of a threat to U.S. interests until September 11 rolled around.