The United States has a major perception problem in the two world regions where the Pentagon has decided to focus greater effort. Latin America and Africa represent new frontiers for a military that in recent decades has mostly concerned itself with Western Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific. In addition to Fourth Fleet’s recent launch, in October the Pentagon formally stood up Africa Command, a new headquarters overseeing all of Africa, save Egypt. The so-called AFRICOM has proved deeply unpopular among everyday Africans — so much so that only one country, Liberia, offered to host the command’s facilities. Rather than risk further alienating Africans, AFRICOM instead chose to keep its facilities in Germany.
Similarly, in the Southern Hemisphere, Fourth Fleet has been a magnet for criticism. Upon hearing of the Pentagon’s intention to stand up the new headquarters, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez accused the U.S. of deliberately provoking a new “Cold War” in Latin America. Chávez followed up his accusation by inviting the Russian navy to conduct exercises off the Venezuelan coast. Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa supported the invitation. “The U.S. Fourth Fleet can come to Latin America but a Russian fleet can’t?” Correa said.