Category Archives: Africa

Four More Years: Into Africa

Four More Years: Into Africa

Dispatches From The Edge

Nov. 15, 2012

Over the next four years the U.S. will face a number of foreign policy problems, most of them regional, some of them global. Dispatches From The Edge will try to outline and analyze some of the key issues for Africa.

 

Africa is probably the single most complex region of the world and arguably its most troubled. While the world concerns itself with the Syrian civil war and the dangers it poses for the Middle East, little notice is taken of the war in the Congo, a tragedy that has taken five million lives and next to which the crisis in Syria pales.

Africa represents 15 percent of the world’s population, yet only 2.7 percent of its GDP, which is largely concentrated in only five of 49 sub-Saharan countries. Just two countries—South Africa and Nigeria—account for over 33 percent of the continent’s economic output. Life expectancy is 50 years, and considerably less in those countries ravaged by AIDS. Hunger and malnutrition are worse than they were a decade ago.

At the same time, Africa is wealthy in oil, gas, iron, aluminum and rare metals. By 2015, countries in the Gulf of Guinea will provide the US with 25 percent of its energy needs, and Africa has at least 10 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. South Africa alone has 40 percent of the earth’s gold supply.  The continent contains over one-third of the earth’s cobalt and supplies China—the world’s second largest economy—with 50 percent of that country’s copper, aluminum and iron ore.

But history has stacked the deck against Africa. The slave trade and colonialism inflicted deep and lasting wounds on the region, wounds that continue to bleed out in today’s world. France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal sliced up the continent without the slightest regard for its past or its people. Most of the wars that have—and are—ravaging Africa today are a direct outcome of maps drawn up in European foreign offices to delineate where and what to plunder.

But over the past decade, the world has turned upside down. Formerly the captive of the European colonial powers, China is now Africa’s largest economic partner, followed closely by India and Brazil. Consumer spending is up, and the World Bank predicts that by 2015 the number of new African consumers will match Brazil’s.

In short, the continent is filled with vibrant economies and enormous potential that is not going unnoticed in capitols throughout the world. “The question for executives at consumer packaged goods companies is no longer whether their firms should enter the region, but where and how” says a report by the management consultant agency A.T. Kearney. How Africa negotiates its new status in the world will not only have a profound impact on its people, but on the global community as well. For investors it is the last frontier.

The U.S. track record in Africa is a shameful one. Washington was a long-time supporter of the apartheid regime in South Africa and backed the most corrupt and reactionary leaders on the continent, including the despicable Mobutu Sese Seko in the Congo. As part its Cold War strategy, the U.S. aided and abetted civil wars in Mozambique, Angola, and Namibia. Americans have much to answer for in the region.

Militarization

If there is a single characterization of US policy vis-à-vis Africa, it is the increasingly militarization of American diplomacy on the continent. For the first time since WW II, Washington has significant military forces in Africa, overseen by a freshly minted organization, Africom.

The US has anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 Marines and Special Forces in Djibouti, a former French colony bordering the Red Sea. It has 100 Special Forces soldiers deployed in Uganda, supposedly tracking down the Lord’s Resistance Army. It actively aided Ethiopia’s 2007 invasion of Somalia, including using its navy to shell a town in the country’s south. It is currently recruiting and training African forces to fight the extremist Islamic organization, the Shabab, in Somalia, and conducting “counter-terrorism” training in Mali, Chad, Niger, Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Gabon, Zambia, Malawi, Burkina Faso, and Mauretania.

Since much of the US military activities involves Special Forces and the CIA, it is difficult to track how widespread the involvement is. “I think it is far larger than anyone imagines,” says John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org.

As a whole, US military adventures in Africa have turned out badly. The Ethiopian invasion overthrew the moderate Islamic Courts Union, elevating the Shabab from a minor player to a major headache. NATO’s war on Libya—Africom’s coming out party—is directly responsible for the current crisis in Mali, where Local Tuaregs and Islamic groups have seized the northern part of the country, armed with the plundered weapons’ caches of Muammar el-Qaddafi. Africom’s support of Uganda’s attack on the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of the Congo resulted in the death of thousands of civilians.

While the Obama administration has put soldiers and weapons into Africa, it has largely dropped the ball on reducing poverty. In spite of the UN’s Millennium Development plan adopted in 2000, sub-Saharan Africa will not reach the program’s goals for reducing poverty and hunger, and improving child and maternal healthcare. Rather than increasing aid, as the plan requires, the US has either cut aid or used debt relief as a way of fulfilling its obligations.

At the same time, Washington has increased military aid, including arms sales. One thing Africa does not need is any more guns and soldiers.

There are a number of initiatives that the Obama administration could take that would make a material difference in the lives of hundreds of millions of Africans.

First, it could fulfill the UN’s Millennium goals by increasing its aid to 0.7 percent of its GDP, and not using debt forgiveness as part of that formula. Canceling debt is a very good idea, and allows countries to re-deploy the money they would use for debt payment to improve health and infrastructure, but as part of an overall aid package it is mixing apples and oranges.

Second, it must de-militarize its diplomacy in the region. Indeed, as Somalia and Libya illustrate, military solutions many times make bad situations worse. Behind the rubric of the “war on terror,” the US is training soldiers throughout the continent. History shows, however, that those soldiers are just as likely to overthrow their civilian governments as they are to battle “terrorists.” Amadou Sanogo, the captain who overthrew the Mali government this past March and initiated the current crisis, was trained in the U.S.

There is also the problem of who are the” terrorists.” Virtually all of the groups so designated are focused on local issues. Nigeria’s Boko Haram is certainly a lethal organization, but it is the brutality of the Nigerian Army and police that fuel its rage, not al-Qaeda. The continent’s bug-a-boo, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Meghreb, is small and scattered, and represents more a point of view than an organization. Getting involved in chasing “terrorists” in Africa could end up pitting the US against local insurgents in the Niger Delta, Berbers in the Western Sahara, and Tuaregs in Niger and Mali.

What Africa needs is aid and trade directed at creating infrastructure and jobs. Selling oil, cobalt, and gold brings in money, but not permanent jobs. That requires creating a consumption economy with an export dimension. But the US’s adherence to “free trade” torpedoes countries from constructing such modern economies.

Africans cannot currently compete with the huge—and many times subsidized industries—of the First World. Nor can they build up an agricultural infrastructure when their local farmers cannot match the subsidized prices of American corn and wheat. Because of those subsidies, US wheat sells for 40 percent below production cost, and corn for 20 percent below. In short, African needs to “protect” their industries—much as the US did in its early industrial stage—until they can establish themselves. This was the successful formula followed by Japan and South Korea.

The Carnegie Endowment and the European Commission found that “free trade” would end up destroying small scale agriculture in Africa, much as it did for corn farmers in Mexico. Since 50 percent of Africa’s GNP is in agriculture, the impact would be disastrous, driving small farmers off the land and into overcrowded cities where social services are already inadequate.

The Obama administration should also not make Africa a battleground in its competition with China. Last year US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described China’s trading practices with Africa as a “new colonialism,” a sentiment that is not widely shared on the continent. A Pew Research Center study found that Africans were consistently more positive about China’s involvement in the region than they were about the US’s.

Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, recently praised the continent’s “relationship with China,” but also said that the “current trade pattern” is unsustainable because it was not building up Africa’s industrial base. China recently pledged $20 billion in aid for infrastructure and agriculture.

One disturbing development is a “land rush” by countries ranging from the US to Saudi Arabia to acquire agricultural land in Africa. With climate change and population growth, food, as Der Spiegel puts it, “is the new oil.” Land is plentiful in Africa, and at about one-tenth the cost in the US. Most production by foreign investors would be on an industrial scale, with its consequent depletion of the soil and degradation of the environment from pesticides and fertilizers. The Obama administration should adopt the successful “contract farming” model, where investors supply capital and technology to small farmers, who keep ownership of their land and are guaranteed a set price for their products. This would not only elevate the efficiency of agriculture, it would provide employment for local people.

The Obama administration should also strengthen, not undermine, regional organizations. The African Union tried to find a peaceful resolution to the Libyan crisis because its members were worried that a war would spill over and destabilize countries surrounding the Sahara. The Obama administration and NATO pointedly ignored the AU’s efforts, and the organization’s predictions have proved prescient.

Lastly, the Obama administration should join with India and Brazil and lobby for permanent membership for an African country—either South Africa or Nigeria, or both— in the UN Security Council. India and Brazil should also be given permanent seats. Currently the permanent members of the Security Council are the victors of WW II: the US, Russia, China, France and Great Britain.

In 1619, a Dutch ship dropped anchor in Virginia and exchanged its cargo of Africans for food, thus initiating a trade that would rip the heart out of a continent. No one really knows how many Africans were forcibly transported to the New World, but it was certainly in the 10s of millions. To this day Africa mirrors the horror of the slave trade and the brutal colonial exploitation that followed in its wake. It is time to make amends.

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The Mali War-The Wages of Sin

The Mali War: The Wages of Sin

Dispatches From The Edge

Aug.7, 2012

The reports filtering out of Northern Mali are appalling: a young couple stoned to death, iconic ancient shrines dismantled, and some 365,000 refugees fleeing beatings and whippings for the slightest violations of Sharia law.  But the bad dream unfolding in this West African country is less the product of a radical version of Islam than a consequence of the West’s scramble for resources on this vast continent, and the wages of sin from the recent Libyan war.

The current crisis gripping northern Mali—an area about the size of France— has its origins in the early years of the Bush Administration, when the U.S. declared the Sahara desert a hotbed of “terrorism” and poured arms and Special Forces into the area as part of the Trans-Sahal Counter Terrorism Initiative. But, according to anthropologist Jeremy Keenan, who has done extensive fieldwork in Mali and the surrounding area, the “terrorism” label had no basis in fact, but was simply designed to “justify the militarization of Africa.”

The U.S. military claimed that when the Taliban fell in Afghanistan, terrorists moved west into the Horn of Africa, the Sudan and the Sahara. But Keenan says, “There was absolutely no evidence for that…really a figment of imagination.” The real target of enlarging the U.S.’s military footprint was “oil resources” and “the gradually increasing threat of China on the continent.”

The U.S. currently receives about 18 percent of its energy supplies from Africa, a figure that is slated to rise to 25 percent by 2015. Africa also provides about one-third of China’s energy needs, plus copper, platinum, timber and iron ore. According to the Financial Times, new gas fields were recently discovered on the Algeria-Mali border

There have been terrorist acts in Africa. In 1998, hotels were bombed in Kenya and, in 2002, a synagogue in Tunisia. The 2004 Madrid train bombers were associated with the Moroccan Islamic Combat Group, an organization that set off bombs in Casablanca in 2003.

But these groups had no affiliation with international terror groups like al-Qaeda, and the only one that could be said to be Sahara-based was the Algerian Salafist Group for Fighting and Preaching. That group later renamed itself “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” (AQIM).

In 2006, the International Crisis Group also concluded that the Sahara “was not a hotbed of terrorism” and that most North African governments saw the Trans Sahal Initiative as a way to tap into high end arms technology, like attack helicopters, night vision equipment, and sophisticated communications networks.

When the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) was formed in 2008, it took over the Initiative and began working directly with countries in the region, including Mali, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Niger, Mauretania, and Senegal.  Indeed, the only country in the region that did not have a tie to AFRICOM was Libya.

The US also has basing agreements with Uganda, Ghana, Namibia, Ghana, Gabon, and Zambia. Some 1500 U.S. Marines are currently deployed at Lemonier, a French Foreign Legion base in Djibouti on the horn of Africa.

The “terrorism” label has always been a slippery one. For instance, the US supported the 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia that overthrew the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) government. Washington said the UIC was associated with al-Qaeda, but never produced any evidence of that. The UIC was a moderate Islamic movement that drove out the U.S.-supported warlords and brought peace to Somalia for the first time since 1991. It included such radical Islamic groups as the Shabab, but those organizations did not dominate the government.

The Ethiopian invasion changed all that. For Somalians, Ethiopia is a traditional enemy, and the Shabab succeeded in uniting a large section of the population against the occupation. Thus, a small group that was marginal in the UIC became the backbone of the resistance. “The end result of the US-backed invasion was driving Somalia into the al-Qaeda fold,” says Somalia’s former foreign minister, Ismaciil Buubaa.

The crisis in Mali has a long history, rooted in the country’s deep poverty, on one hand, anda on the other, a push by the Tuaregs—a nomadic Berber people that have long controlled trans-Sahara trade—for greater autonomy and a bigger piece of the development pie. The Tuaregs have staged unsuccessful revolts four times since Mali won its independence from France in 1960, but the fall of Mummer Gaddafi in Libya gave them a golden opportunity.

Gaddfi had long supported the Tuaregs in their war for independence, and many Tuaregs served as pro-government mercenaries in Libya. When Gaddafi fell, a cornucopia of arms opened for the Tuaregs, who quickly put their newly acquired firepower to use against the largely ineffective Malian army.

The so-called “terrorist” groups, like Ansar al-Din, al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad and AQIM, only moved in after the Tuareg Movement for the National Liberation of Azawed had expelled the Malian army from the north and declared a separate country. It is these groups that are stoning people to death, tearing down Sufi shrines, and enforcing rigid Sharia law. The Tuaregs have largely been pushed to the side, and many of them have returned to the desert, abandoning cities like Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal to the Islamic groups.

Besides the original protagonists in northern Mali, there is growing tension between the Islamists and the Songhai, Mali’s largest ethnic group. There are rumors that Songhai villages are organizing militia, adding yet another dimension of potential trouble.

None of this had to happen.

When the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973 on Mar. 17 last year, it was to “protect civilians” in Libya. At the time, the 53-member African Union (AU) was attempting to negotiate a political solution to the crisis, but two days after the UN resolution was approved, NATO launched Operation Odyssey that smashed up Gaddafi’s air force and armor.

On Mar. 20, the AU met in Mauritania in an effort to stop the fighting. “Our desire,” read a joint AU statement “is that Libya’s unity and territorial integrity be respected as well as the rejection of any kind of foreign intervention.” The AU was acutely aware that Africa’s delicate post-colonial borders have enormous potential for creating instability, and that Libya might end up being a falling domino.

“Whatever the motivation of the principle NATO belligerents [in ousting Gadaffi], the law of unintended consequences is exacting a heavy toll on Mali today,” former UN regional envoy Robert Fowler told the Guardian (UK) “and will continue to do so throughout the Sahel as the vast store of Libyan weapons spreads across this, one of the most unstable regions of the world.”

A decade of growing US military involvement on the continent has not only failed to curb instability and the growth of so-called “terrorist” groups, the US’s actions in Somalia and Libya have directly fed the formation of such organizations. And “training” has hardly stabilized things. Indeed, the Mali army captain, Amadou Sanogo, who overthrew the civilian government—the act that led to the Tuareg’s successful offensive—was trained by the U.S. military.  Sanogo attended the Defense Language Institute in 2005 and 2007, a US Army intelligence program in 2008, and an officer-training course in 2010.

“Terrorism” in Africa is fueled by local conditions, not by an international jihadist agenda. Boko Harum in Nigeria reflects the tension between the poverty of the country’s largely Islamic north and its more prosperous Christian south. Similar fault lines run through Niger, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. Terrorism in Algeria and Morocco mirror economies that are unable to provide jobs for a huge swath of their populations, coupled with authoritarian political structures that stifle any attempt to do something about it. Somalia was first a pawn in the Cold War, and then the very definition of chaos. When an Islamic government began taming that chaos, the U.S. overthrew it, unleashing the Shabab.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid is being directed at fighting terrorism on the continent, and the US military is training the armed forces of dozens of African nations.  A Malian army captain used that aid and training to pull off a coup that now threatens to turn into a regional war.

Will Morocco use U.S. aid to fight terrorism or tighten its grip over the mineral rich Western Sahara and re-ignite its war with the Polisario Front? Will Niger fight “terrorists” or crush Tuareg resistance to French uranium mining in the Sahara? Will Algeria go after the AQIM or its own outlawed Islamist organizations? Will aid to fight terrorism in Nigeria be diverted to smash resistance by local people to oil production in the Niger Delta?

Bayonets won’t defeat the source of terrorism and instability in Africa. Indeed, military solutions tend to act as recruiting sergeants for groups like AQIM. Africa doesn’t need more weapons, but rather aid, development, and programs that lift a significant section of the continent’s population out of poverty.

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Obama’s Dangerous Asia “Pivot”

Obama’s Dangerous Asia “Pivot”

Counterpunch

Conn Hallinan

Dec. 8, 2011

“On his recent trip to Asia Pacific, the President made it clear that the centerpiece of this strategy includes an intensified American role in this vital region,” Financial Times Nov. 28, 2011

–Tom Donilon, President Barak Obama’s national security advisor

“An Indo-Pacific without a strong U.S. military presence would mean the Finlandisation by China of countries in the South China Sea, such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore,” Financial Times Nov. 30, 2011

–Robert Kaplan, senior fellow Center for a New American Security and author of Monsoon: The Indian Ocean the Future of American Power

Donilon is a long-time Democratic Party operative and former lobbyist for Fannie Mae and a key figure in the Clinton administration’s attack on Yugoslavia and the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe. Kaplan is a Harvard Business School professor and advisor on the Mujahedeen war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, as well as current U.S. military intervention in the Horn of Africa.

Something is afoot.

Indeed, it is. The Obama administration is in the middle of a major shift in foreign policy—a “strategic pivot” in the words of the White House—in two regions of the world: Asia and Africa. In both cases, a substantial buildup of military forces and a gloves-off use of force lie at the heart of the new approach.

The U.S. now has a permanent military force deployed in the Horn of Africa, a continent-wide military command—Africom—and it has played a key role in overthrowing the Libyan government. It also has Special Forces active in Uganda, Somalia, and most of the countries that border the Sahara.

But it is in Asia that the administration is making its major push, nor is it coy about whom the target is. “We are asserting our presence in the Pacific. We are a Pacific power,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the National Defense University in August, “we know we face some long-term challenges about how we are going to cope with what the rise of China means.”

There is whiff to all this of old fashioned Cold War hype, when the U.S. pumped up the Russian military as a world-swallowing force panting to pour through the Fulda Gap and overrun Western Europe: the Chinese are building a navy to challenge the U.S.; the Chinese are designing special missiles to neutralize American aircraft carriers; the Chinese are bullying nations throughout the region.

Common to Clinton’s address, as well as to Kaplan’s and Donilon’s opinion pieces, were pleas not to cut military spending in the Pacific. In fact, it appears the White House is already committed to that program. “Reduction in defense spending will not come at the expense of the Asia Pacific,” Donilon wrote, “There will be no diminution of our military presence or capabilities in the region.”

The spin the White House is putting on all this is that the U.S. has been bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, allowing China to throw its weight around in Asia. Donilon’s opinion piece was titled “America is back in the Pacific and will uphold the rules.”

It is hard to know where to begin to address a statement like that other than with the observation that irony is dead.

Asia and the Pacific has been a major focus for the U.S. since it seized the Philippines in the 1899 Spanish-American War. It has fought four major wars in the region over the past century, and, not counting China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), it deploys more military personnel in the Pacific than any other nation. It dominates the region through a network of bases in Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the Marshall Islands, and island fortresses like Guam and Wake. The White House just announced the deployment of 2,500 Marines to Australia.

The American Seventh Fleet—created in 1943 and currently based in Yokosuka, Japan—is the largest of the U.S.’s naval fleets, and the one most heavily armed with nuclear weapons.

We aren’t “back,” we never went anywhere.

But the argument fits into the fable that U.S. military force keeps the peace in Asia. Kaplan even argues “A world without US naval and air dominance will be one where powers such as China, Russia, India, Japan and others act more aggressively toward each other than they do now, because they will all be far more insecure than they are now.”

In short, the kiddies will get into fights unless Uncle Sam is around to teach them manners. And right now, China is threatening to upend “the rules’ through an aggressive expansion of its navy.

China is indeed upgrading its navy, in large part because of what the Seventh Fleet did during the 1995-96 Taiwan Strait crisis. In the middle of tensions between Taipei and Beijing, the Clinton administration deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups into the Taiwan Straits. Since there was never any danger that China was going to invade Taiwan, the carriers were just a gratuitous slap in the face. China had little choice but to back down, but vowed it would never again be humiliated in its home waters. Beijing’s naval buildup dates from that crisis.

And “buildup” is a relative term. The U.S. has made much of China acquiring an aircraft carrier, but the “new” ship is a 1990 vintage Russian carrier, less than half the size of the standard American Nimitz flattop (of which the U.S. has 10). The “new” carrier-killer Chinese missile has yet to be tested, let alone deployed. Only in submarines can China say it is finally closing the gap with the U.S. And keep in mind that China’s military budget is about one-eighth that of the U.S.

If the Chinese are paranoid about their sea routes and home waters, it is not without cause. Most invasions of China have come via the Yellow Sea, and 80 percent of China’s energy supplies come by sea. China ships much of its gas and oil through the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. With major suppliers based on the west coast of Africa, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, it has little choice. Those sea-lanes are controlled by the U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain and the Seventh in Japan.

China is also building friendly ports for its tankers—the so-called “string of pearls”—and why Beijing is suspicious about the sudden thaw in U.S.-Myanmar relations. China plans to build a “pearl” in Myanmar.

Indeed, a major reason why China is building pipelines from Russia and Central Asia is to bypass the series of choke points through which its energy supplies pass, including the straits of Hormuz and the Malacca Strait. The Turkmenistan-Xingjian and Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean pipelines are already up and running, but their volume is not nearly enough to feed China’s 11 billion barrels of oil a day appetite.

In spite of protests, the U.S. recently carried out major naval operations in the Yellow Sea, and Washington has injected itself into tensions between Beijing and some of its neighbors over the South China Sea. In part, China has exacerbated those tensions by its own high-handed attitude toward other nations with claims on the Sea. In responding to protests over China’s claims, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi remarked, “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that is just a fact.”

China’s initial arrogance on the issue has allowed the U.S. to wedge itself into the dispute and portray itself as the “protector” of small nations. Less than 40 years ago it was trying to bomb several of those nations back into the Stone Age, and Vietnam just recorded its 100,000th casualty since 1975 from explosives left over by the American war.

Beijing has since cooled its tone on the South China Sea and is backing away from defining it as a “core” Chinese area.

Why the “strategic pivot?”  Undoubtedly, some of it is posturing for the run-up to the 2012 elections. Being “tough” on China trumps Republican charges that Obama is “soft” on foreign policy. But this “pivot” is more than cynical electioneering.

First, China does not pose any military threat to the U.S. or its allies in Asia, and the last thing it wants is a war. Beijing has not forgotten its 1979 invasion of Vietnam that ended up derailing its “four modernizations” drive and deeply damaging its economy.

Part of this “China threat” nonsense has to do with the power of the U.S. armaments industry to keep the money spigots open. When it comes to “big ticket” spending items, navies and air forces top the list. An aircraft costs in excess of $5 billion, and the single most expensive weapons program in U.S. history is the F-35 stealth fighter.

But there is more than an appetite for pork at work here.

China is the number two economy in the world, and in sharp competition with the U.S. and its allies for raw materials and human resources. It is hard to see the aggressive U.S. posture in Asia as anything other than an application of the old Cold War formula of economic pressure, military force, and diplomatic coercion. From Washington’s point of view, it worked to destabilize the Soviet Union, why shouldn’t it work on China?

“If you are a strategic thinker in China,” says Simon Tay, chair of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, “you do not have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to think that the U.S. is trying to bandwagon Asia against China.”

Since U.S. foreign policy is almost always an extension of corporate interests, squeezing China in Asia, Africa and Central Asia helps create openings for American investments. And if such a policy also protects the multi-billion dollar military budget, including the likes of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman, so much the better.

It is a dangerous game, first, because military tension can lead to war, and, while that is an unlikely event, mistakes happen. “If we keep this up, then we are going to leave the impression with China that we are drawing battle lines,” Douglas Paal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the Financial Times. In fact, the Obama administration has drawn up a plan called AirSea Battle to deny China control of the Taiwan Straits.

The consequences for those caught in the middle will be severe. China has pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, but it still has a ways to go. An arms race will delay that. For the average American, racked by double-digit unemployment, a vanishing safety net, and the collapse of everything from education to infrastructure, it will be no less of a tragedy.

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Libya & Afghanistan: Getting It Wrong

Libya & Afghanistan: The Price of Getting it Wrong

Dispatches From The edge

Conn Hallinan

Oct 12, 2011

“In 1979, when Soviet troops swept into Afghanistan, an angry Jimmy Carter organized an unofficial alliance to give the Soviets ‘their Vietnam’ (which Afghanistan became).” New York Times, 11/9/11

The writer of the above paragraph is Marvin Kalb, a former network correspondent, Harvard professor emeritus, co-author “Haunting legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama.”

It is false history.

As Paul Jay of the Real News (and before him, the French publication Le Nouvel Observateur) discovered, the Carter administration made the decision to intervene in an Afghan civil war fully six months before the Soviet invasion. In a July 1979 “finding” the White House authorized U.S. military and intelligence agencies to supply the anti-communist mujahideen fighters with money and supplies.

The “finding” was the beginning of “Operation Cyclone,” a clandestine plan aimed at luring the Soviets into invading Afghanistan. From a relatively modest $23 million down payment, Cyclone turned into a multi-billion behemoth—the most expensive intelligence operation in U.S. history—and one that eventually forced the Soviets to withdraw.

Cynics might shrug and respond that isn’t truth always the first casualty of war? Except in this case the casualties are still coming in as the U.S. marks its 10th year occupying Afghanistan. And when one totes up the collateral damage from that July 1979 memo, which led to the eventual victory of the Taliban, it chills the soul.

When the mujahideen went home, they took the war with them, to Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Central Asia, North Africa, and a host of other places. They also permanently altered the skyline silhouette of New York City. In the annals of disastrous “blowbacks”—unintended consequences flowing from a policy or event—U.S. support for overthrowing the Afghan government and supporting the mujahideen has little competition.

Ancient history?

On Mar. 18, President Obama told the U.S. Congress that U.S. involvement in the war in Libya would be a matter of “days not weeks.” It turns out, lots of days, 227 and counting.

“It’s really quite interesting how resilient and fierce they’ve been,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Ralph J. Jodice II told the New York Times. “We’re all surprised by the tenacity of the pro-Qaddafi forces.”

Besides the rather creepy use of the word “interesting” to describe people you are trying to blow up with 500-pound bombs and Hellfire missiles, the key word in the general’s statement is “surprised.” Aside from destruction, about the only truth of war is surprise. As Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, Prussian Army chief of staff, and one of the great military minds of the 19th century, once noted, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

It appears that when the President made those comments, he had been listening to generals, always a very bad idea. President Johnson listened to generals in Vietnam, and they told him some variation of what our current generals obviously told Obama: Piece of cake. We’ll bomb the bejesus out of these Arabs, and in a few days they’ll turn tail and run for the sand dunes.

Except they didn’t.

In the long run the combination of bombing, ground support by British Special Forces, and the unpopularity of the regime will eventually defeat the pro-Qaddafi forces, but because this has turned into a war of some 34-plus weeks, there is going to be some very serious blowback.

For starters, take the 20,000 mobile ground to air missiles, most of which have gone missing. There are two basic kinds that someone—we haven’t the foggiest idea who—has gotten their hands on.

The SA-24 “Grinch”, or Igla-S, is a very dangerous character. It has a range of some three miles, a powerful warhead, and a guidance system that lets it find targets at night. It is similar to the U.S. Stinger that so distressed the Soviets in Afghanistan. Introduced in 1983, it can hit a plane at 11,000 feet. It can also down drones and cruise missiles, and helicopters are toast.

The other ground-to-air is the older Russian SA-7 “Grail,” or Strela-2, originally deployed in the 1968, but upgraded in 1972. It has an infrared detection system—it homes in on an aircraft’s engine heat—and the upgraded model has a filter for screening out decoy flares. The SA-7 is similar, but considerably superior, to the U.S. Redeye. The SA-7 has a range of a little over two miles and can reach up to 16,000 feet.

“We are talking about some 20,000 surface-to-air missiles in all of Libya,” according to Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights emergencies director, who says that “ in every city we arrive, the first thing to disappear are the surface-to-air missiles.” According to Bouckaert, “They could turn all of North Africa into a no-fly zone.”

One prediction: Niger has recently been using helicopters to attack the Tuareg-led Movement of Nigeriens for Justice in the Sahara. Tuaregs are demanding compensation for rich deposits of uranium that French companies are currently mining, and the Niger government has responded with military force. The Qaddafi government supported the Tuaregs in their fight with Niger, and supplied them with weapons. Want to make a bet that the Tuaregs end up with some of those missiles and that the Niger military is about to lose some helicopters?

And the fall of Qaddafi may not end the fighting. Libya is a complex place with strong crosscurrents of tribe and ethnicity. For instance, it is unlikely that the Berbers in the south will accept continued domination by the Arab north.

As for false history: journalism, as the old saw goes, is history’s first draft. According to the mainstream media, the U.S. and NATO got into the Libyan civil war to protect civilians, and indeed, one of the reasons the war has gone on so long is that NATO is reluctant to attack targets in Qaddafi strongholds, like Sirte, because such attacks might result in civilian casualties.

Which makes it hard to explain the Agence France Presse story entitled “NATO, NTC [National Transitional Council] deadlier than Kadhafi diehards: Sirte escapees.”

Sirte, Libya (AFP) Oct. 6, 2011-Fine words from NATO and Libyan new regime fighters about protecting civilians means little to the furious residents of Sirte, whose homes are destroyed and relatives killed in the battle to capture Moamer Kadhafi’s hometown.

 

“Why is NATO bombing us?” asks Faraj Mussam, whose blue minivan was carrying his family of eight jammed in beside mattresses and suitcases as they fled the city this week.”

According to the AFP story, the greatest danger civilians face in Sirte is from NATO bombs and shelling by NTC forces outside the city. A Red Cross official told AFP that there are still tens of thousands of residents in Sirte—it was a city of 100,000 before the February revolution—and they are under constant danger from artillery and bombs.

“When asked if NATO was fulfilling its mission to protect civilians, one aid worker, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly, replied: ‘It wouldn’t seem so.’

 “ ‘There’s a lot of indiscriminate fire,’ he said, adding that many of the Sirte residents and doctors he had spoken to had complained of the deadly results of NATO air strikes.”

According to AFP, NTC soldiers say that firing artillery and rockets into Sirte doesn’t endanger civilians because they are all gone. It is a contention aid workers heatedly dispute.

The UN resolution that authorized the NATO intervention was supposedly aimed at protecting Libyan civilians. It quickly morphed from saving lives to regime change, and somehow the “protect civilians” only seems to apply to those who are on one side of the civil war. Sooner or later that narrative is going to come out, and the next time “protecting civilians” comes up in the UN, it is unlikely to get serious consideration.

More than 30 years ago the U.S. intervened in the Afghan civil war in order to goad our Cold War enemy into a fatal mistake (and then lied about it). We are still paying for that policy.

Eight months ago the U.S. and its allies engineered an intervention in Libya’s civil war behind the cover of protecting civilians, a rationale that is increasingly being challenged by events in that country.

What the “blowback” from the Libyan War is still unclear, it might be a bad idea to invest a lot of your money in commercial air travel, particularly anywhere in Africa, the Middle East or Central Asia. Qaddafi’s days may be numbered, but those SA-24s and SA-7s are going to be around for a long time.

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The New Scramble For Africa

The New Scramble for Africa

Foreign Policy In Focus

Aug. 31, 2011

Is current U.S. foreign policy in Africa following a blueprint drawn up almost eight years ago by the rightwing Heritage Foundation, one of the most conservative think tanks in the world? While it seems odd that a Democratic administration would have anything in common with the extremists at Heritage, the convergence in policy and practice between the two is disturbing.

Heritage, with help from Joseph Coors and the Scaife Foundations, was founded in 1973 by the late Paul Weyrich, one of the most conservative thinkers in the U.S. and a co-founder of the Moral Majority. While the Moral Majority whipped up the culture wars against abortion and gays, Heritage lobbied for an aggressive foreign policy and American military supremacy.

In October 2003, James Carafano and Nile Gardiner, two Heritage Foundation heavyweights, proposed a major shift in U.S. military policy vis-à-vis the African continent. Carafano is a West Point graduate who heads up the Foundation’s foreign policy section, and Gardiner is the director of Heritage’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

In a “Backgrounder” article entitled “U.S. Military Assistance for Africa: A Better Solution,” the two called for the creation of a military command for the continent, a focus on fighting “terrorism,” and direct military intervention using air power and naval forces if “vital U.S. interests are at stake.” Such interventions should avoid using ground troops, the authors argue, and should include the participation of other allies.

Almost every element of that proposal has come together over the past year, though some pieces, like African Command (Africom) and the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative, were in place before the Obama administration took office.

The Libya war seems almost straight off of Heritage’s drawing board. While the U.S. appeared to take a back seat to its allies, NATO would not have been able to carry out the war without massive amounts of U.S. military help. It was the U.S. who took out the Libyan anti-air craft systems, blockaded the coast, collected the electronic intelligence, fueled the warplanes, and supplied munitions when NATO ran low.

While the UN resolution forbade using ground troops, U.S. special forces and CIA teams, along with special units from Britain, France, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates organized the rebels, coordinated air strikes, and eventually pulled off an amphibious operation that sealed Tripoli’s fate.

The Heritage scholars were also clear what they meant by vital U.S. interests: “With its vast natural and mineral resources, Africa remains strategically important to the West, as it has been for hundreds of years, and its geostrategic significance is likely to rise in the 21st century. According to the National Intelligence Council, the United States is likely to draw 25 percent of its oil from West Africa by 2015, surpassing the volume imported from the Persian Gulf.”

It was a sentiment shared by the Bush Administration. “West Africa’s oil has become a national strategic interest,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Walter Kansteiner in 2002.

The UN tasked NATO with protecting civilians in Libya, but France, Britain, the U.S. and their Gulf allies focused on regime change. Indeed, when leaders of the African Union (AU) pushed for negotiations aimed at a political settlement, NATO and the rebels brusquely dismissed them.

The NATO bombing “really undermined the AU’s initiates and effort to deal with the matter in Libya,” complained South African President Jacob Zuma. More than 200 prominent Africans released a letter Aug. 24 condemning the “misuse of the United Nations Security Council to engage in militarized diplomacy to effect regime change in Libya,” as well as the “marginalization of the African Union.”

The suspicion that the Libya war had more to do with oil and gas than protecting civilians is why the AU has balked at recognizing the rebel Transitional National Council. For much of Africa, the Libya war was a “shot heard ‘round the continent,” and there is a growing unease at the West’s “militarized diplomacy.”

Though the Defense Department’s African Contingency Operation Training and Assistance Program, the U.S. is actively engaged in training the militaries of Mali, Chad, Niger, Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Gabon, Zambia, Uganda, Senegal, Mozambique, Ghana and Malawi, and Mauretania.

In June 2006, NATO troops stormed ashore on Sao Vicente island in the Cape Verde archipelago in operation “Steadfast Jaguar” (an odd choice of monikers, since jaguars are natives of the New World, not Africa). The exercise, which brought together a host of nations, including France, Germany, Spain, Greece, the U.S. and Poland, was aimed at “protecting energy supplies” in the Niger Delta and Gulf of Guinea.

Major oil producers in the region include Angola, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Chad and Mauritania.

Protecting energy supplies from whom?

In the case of the Niger Delta, it means protecting oil companies and the Nigerian government from local people fed up with the pollution that is killing them, and corruption that denies them any benefits from their resources. Under the umbrella of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), locals are waging a low-key guerilla war that at one point reduced oil supplies by 20 percent.

MEND is certainly suspicious of American motives in the region. “Of course, it is evident that oil is the key concern of the U.S. in establishing African Command,” says the organization’s spokesman, Jomo Gbomo.

The Nigerian government labels a number of restive groups in Nigeria as “terrorist” and links them to al-Qaeda, including Boko Haram in the country’s north.

But labeling opponents “terrorists” or raising the al-Qaeda specter is an easy way to dismiss what may be real local grievances. For instance, Boko Haram’s growing penchant for violence is more likely a response to the heavy handedness of the Nigerian Army than an al-Qaeda inspired campaign.

Terrorism and the protection of civilians may be the public rationale for intervention, but the bottom line looks suspiciously like business. Before the guns go silent in Libya, one British business leader complained to The Independent that Britain was behind the curve on securing opportunities. “It‘s all politics, no commercial stuff. I think that is a mistake. We need to be getting down there as soon as possible,”

The Spanish oil company Reposal and the Italian company Eni are already gearing up for production. “Eni will play a No.1 role in the future,” says Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. Almost 70 percent of Libya’s oil goes to four countries, Spain, Germany, France and Italy. Qatar, which is already handing oil sales in Eastern Libya, will also be on the ground floor as production ramps up.

A major loser in the war—and some would argue, not by accident—is China. Beijing had some 75 companies working in Libya and 36,000 personnel, and accounted for about 11 percent of Libya’s pre-war exports. But because China complained that NATO had unilaterally changed the UN resolution from protecting civilians to regime change, Beijing is likely to suffer. Abdeljalil Mayouf, information manager of the rebel oil firm AGOCO told Reuters that China, Brazil and Russia would be frozen out of contracts.

Brazil and Russia also supported negotiations and complained about NATO’s interpretation of the UN resolution on Libya.

For Heritage, keeping China out of Africa is what it is all about. Peter Brookes, the former principal Republican advisor for East Asia on the House Committee on International Relations, warned that China was hell-bent on challenging the U.S. and becoming a global power, and key to that is expanding its interests in Africa. “In a throwback to the Maoist revolutionary days of the 1960s and 1970s and the Cold War, Beijing has once again identified the African continent as an area of strategic interest,” he told a Heritage Foundation audience in a talk entitled “Into Africa: China’s Grab for Influence and Oil.”

Beijing gets about one third of its oil from Africa—Angola and Sudan are its major suppliers—plus important materials like platinum, copper, timber and iron ore.

Africa is rife with problems, but terrorism is not high on that list. A severe drought has blistered much of East Africa, and, with food prices rising, malnutrition is spreading continent-wide. The “war on terrorism” has generated 800,000 refugees from Somalia. African civilians do, indeed, need help, but not the kind you get from fighter-bombers, drone strikes, or Tomahawk cruise missiles dispatched at the urging of right-wing think tanks or international energy companies.

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Juan Cole: 10 Myths About Libya?

10 Myths About Libya?

Dispatches From The Edge

Conn Hallinan

Aug. 24, 2011

In his essay, “Top Ten Myths about the Libyan War,” Juan Cole argues that U.S. interests in the conflict consisted of stopping “massacres of people,” a “lawful world order,” “the NATO alliance,” and oddly, “the fate of Egypt.” It is worth taking a moment to look at each of these arguments, as well as his dismissal of the idea that the U.S./NATO intervention had anything to do with oil as “daft.”

Massacres are bad things, but the U.S. has never demonstrated a concern for them unless its interests were at stake. It made up the “massacre” of Kosovo Albanians in order to launch the Yugoslav War, and ended up acquiring one of the largest U.S. bases in the world, Camp Bond Steel. It has resolutely ignored the massacre of Palestinians and Shiites in Bahrain because it is not in Washington’s interests to concern itself with those things. Israel is an ally, and Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Cole accepts the fact that Qaddafi would have “massacred” his people, but his evidence for that is thin, and he chooses to completely ignore the deaths and casualties resulting from the NATO bombing.

The U.S. is interested in a “lawful world order.” That would certainly come as a surprise to the Palestinians, the Shiites in the Gulf, and peasants in Colombia who suffer the deprivations of death squads aided by the U.S.  etc. The U.S, supports international law when it is in its interests to do so, undermines it when it is not, and ignores it when it is inconvenient. I wish Cole were correct but he is not. The record speaks for itself.

Okay, spot on for the NATO alliance, which is exactly the problem.  Africa has increasingly become a chess piece in a global competition for resources and cheap labor. It is no accident that the U.S. recently formed an African Command (Africom)—the Libyan War was the organization’s coming out party—and is training troops in countries that border the Sahara. It is already intervening in Somalia, and a recent story in the New York Times about an “al-Qaeda threat” in Northern Nigeria should send a collective chill down all our spines. NATO has already “war gamed” the possibility of intervention in the Gulf of Guinea to insure oil supplies in the advent of “civil disturbances” that might affect the flow of energy resources.

NATO represents western economic and political interests, which rarely coincide with the interests of either the alliance’s own people, or those of the countries it occupies. The Libyan intervention sets a very dangerous precedent for the entire continent, which is why the African Union opposed it. Who will be next?

Ummm, Egypt? Certainly the U.S. has “a deep interest in the fate of Egypt,” which ought to scare hell out of the Egyptians. But overthrowing Qaddafi was important because he had “high Egyptian officials on his payroll”? Is Cole seriously suggesting that Libya’s 6.4 million people have anything to do with determining the fate of 83 million Egyptians?

Opposition to the Libyan War is not based on supporting Qaddafi, although Cole’s portrait of the man is one-sided. For instance, Libya played an important role in financing the African Bank, thus allowing African nations to avoid the tender mercies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Libya also financed a continent-wide telecommunications system that saved African countries hundreds of millions of dollars by allowing them to bypass western-controlled networks.  He also raised living standards. This does not make him a good guy, but it does say that Libya’s role in Africa cannot be reduced to simply “sinister.”

Lastly, the charge that this was about Libya’s oil is “daft”? Libya is the largest producer of oil in Africa, and the 12th largest in the world. Its resources are very important for NATO’s European allies, and over the past several years there has been competition over these supplies. The Chinese have made major investments. During the war China, Russia, and Brazil supported the African Union’s call for a ceasefire and talks, and pointed out that UN Resolution 1973 did not call for regime change. One of the first statements out of the Transitional National Council following Qaddafi’s collapse was that China, Russia and Brazil were going to be sidelined in favor of French, Spanish, and Italian companies. Quid pro quo?

The war was not just over oil, but how can anyone dismiss the importance of energy supplies at a time of worldwide competition over their control?  The U.S. is currently fighting several wars in a region that contains more than 65 percent of the world’s oil supplies. Does he think this is a coincidence? Sure, the companies that invested in Libya will take some initial losses, but does Cole think those Libyans beholden to NATO for their new positions will drive a hard bargain with the likes of Total SA and Repso when it comes to making deals? If I were those companies I would see the war as a very lucrative investment in futures. In any case, when the U.S., China, and Russia are locked in a bitter worldwide battle over energy resources, to dismiss the role of oil in the Libyan War is, well, daft.

Special Forces are taking over the U.S. military. Africom is increasingly active on the continent. NATO has just finished its first intervention in Africa. With Qaddafi gone, every country that borders the Mediterranean is now associated with NATO, essentially turning this sea into an alliance lake.

This is not a good thing.

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War Crimes and the Bombing of Libya

War Crimes & the Bombing of Libya

Dispatches From The Edge

May 16, 2011

According to the New York Times (5/16/11), Gen. Sir David Richards, “Britain’s top military commander,” is proposing that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) target Libyan “infrastructure,” including electrical power grids and fuel dumps, in government held areas.

Frustrated by the two-month old stalemate, Gen. Richards told the Times that “The vice is closing on [Muammar el-] Qaddafi, but we need to increase the pressure further through more intense military activity.” The British are playing a major role in the bombing campaign, and Gen. Richards was in Naples, the command center for the war in Libya, when he talked with the Times.

The Times went on to write, “The General suggested that NATO should be freed from restraints that precluded attacking infrastructure targets.”

Let us be clear what “infrastructure” means: “The fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city or area, as transportation and communication systems, power plants and schools”(Random House Dictionary, Second Edition).

Now let’s see what the 1977 Protocol Addition to Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 say on the business of attacking “infrastructure.”

“In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.”

Part IV, Section I, Article. 48

“It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuff, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works…”

Article 54

“It is prohibited for the Parties to the conflict to attack, by any means whatsoever, non-defended localities…”

Article 59

In short, you can’t bomb power plants, electrical grids, water pumping plants, or transport systems that service the civilian population, even if the military also benefits from them. As Article 50 states: “The presence within the civilian population of individuals that do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character.”

The pressure to step up the bombing and widen the delineation of targets reflects the fact that the war has turned into a stalemate. “We need to do more,” Gen. Richards told the Times, “If we do not up the ante now there is a risk that the conflict could result in Qaddafi clinging to power.”

That last statement appears to be a violation of United Nations Resolution 1973, which called for “protection of civilians,” a “no-fly zone,” “sanctions,” a “freeze of assets” and an “arms embargo.” Nowhere does 1973 mention regime change and getting rid of Qaddafi.

So are we being dragged into a war whose goals violate UN Resolution 1973, and whose means violate the Geneva Conventions for the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts?  It is hard not to answer that question in anything but the affirmative.

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Libya and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Libya & the Law of Unintended Consequences

April 6, 2011

 

 

Coming to grips with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) intervention in the Libyan civil war is a little like wresting a grizzly bear: big, hairy, and likely to make you pretty uncomfortable no matter where you grab a hold of it. Is it a humanitarian endeavor? A grab for oil resources? Or an election ploy by French President Nicolas Sarkozy?

But regardless of the motivations—and there are many—the decision to attack the regime of Muammar Qaddafi will have global consequences, some of them not exactly what NATO had in mind. For starters, forget a nuclear free Korean peninsula and pressing for wider adherence to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The humanitarian rationale was the one that brought the Arab League and the United Nations on board, although it is not entirely clear that such a crisis existed. Qaddafi’s blood-curdling rhetoric not withstanding, there is no evidence of mass killings of civilians.

UN Resolution 1973 authorized member states “to take all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populations under threat of attack,” while also “excluding a foreign occupation force of any form.” But exactly what that meant depended on who was flying the fighter-bombers and launching the cruise missiles.

The French targeted Qaddafi’s army. The British tried taking out the “Great Leader” with a cruise. The Americans smashed up the Libyan air force, but as to offing Qaddafi, that depended on with whom you talked. President Obama said he wanted him out, his Defense Secretary said that wasn’t the mission, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played coy.

On one level, Operation Odyssey Dawn was what one military analyst called “the attack of the Keystone Krusaders.” It took a week to figure out who was in charge, and cooperation wasn’t helped when French Interior Minister Claude Gueant called the attack a “crusade.” It is not a word that goes down well in the Middle East.

But beyond the snafus is whether Odyssey Dawn is consistent with the U.S. Constitution and the UN Charter and what it means for the future.

According to the Constitution, unless the U.S., “its territories or possessions, or its armed forces” are attacked, only Congress can declare war. The Obama Administration did not consult Congress, nor did it claim Libya had attacked it, thus bypassing both the Constitution and the 1973 War Powers Act.

The UN Charter forbids countries from going to war except in response to an attack by another country. However, in 2005 the UN’s World Summit in New York endorsed a “Responsibility to Protect” (P2P) policy that member states have a responsibility to protect people from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. “P2P” was a response to the 1994 massacre of some 800,000 people in Rwanda.

“P2P,” however, requires that member states first “seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial arrangement…or other peaceful means of their own choice.”

But there was no effort to negotiate anything before the French started bombing. So, in strictly legal terms, UN Resolution 1973 is a little shaky. There is no question Qaddafi was killing civilians, but no one has suggested that it reached a level of genocide. One can, however, make a case for crimes against humanity. The problem is that you can make the same case against Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2008-09, as well as the current crackdown against democracy advocates in Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, not to mention the 2009 massacre of some 20,000 Tamils in the last weeks of the Sri Lankan civil war.

“The contradictions between principle and national interest,” says Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia, “have enabled the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, ostensibly to protect innocent civilians from slaughter, but to watch seemingly helplessly [in Ivory Coast] as…men, women and children are slaughtered in equally, even if less egregious, violence.”

There is no question that some supported the intervention for genuinely humanitarian reasons. A brutal thug like Qaddafi is certainly capable of killing a lot of people.

But there were lots of irons in this fire.

“Sarkozy likes nothing better than a crisis, a fight and a gamble,” says Financial Times columnist Peggy Hollinger. “With his approval ratings at an all-time low, this [Libyan intervention] could be just what he needs to revive his faltering popularity at home.” However, in spite of France’s leading role in the attack, the President’s party took a shellacking in the Mar. 28 local elections.

For the U.S., Odyssey Dawn was a coming out party for America’s newest military formation, African Command (Africom).  It is no accident that, at the very moment that African oil reserves are becoming a major source for the United States, Washington should create a military formation for the continent. By 2013, African oil production is projected to rise to 11 million barrels of oil a day, and to 14.5 million by 2018. Gulf of Guinea oil will make up more than 25 percent of U.S. imports by 2015.

Is the intervention then over oil? Control of energy resources is always central to U.S. strategy, and, with world reserves declining, the scramble to hold the petroleum high ground is always part of the agenda. Right now Washington is in a resource competition with China, and while the U.S. does not use Libyan oil, its NATO allies do.

A major reason the Obama administration is tolerant of Bahrain’s monarchy is because the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based there, controling the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, areas that hold the bulk of the world’s oil reserves.

China is currently Africa’s largest trading partner, and accounts for 73 percent of the continent’s oil exports, with the bulk of their purchases from Sudan and Angola. Between Africom and the Fifth Fleet, the U.S. has its thumb on five out of China’s six main petroleum suppliers: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Oman, Sudan, and Angola.

War always has consequences, although not all of them are initially obvious. In war, as Carl von Clausewitz noted, the only thing you can determine is who fires the first shot. After that it’s all fog and plans gone awry.

But some consequences are clear. An unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry official told Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency that “The Libyan crisis” was “teaching the international community a grave lesson…the truth that one should have power to defend peace.”

The official went on to suggest that the West had duped Libya into disarming its nuclear program in 2003 and then attacked it when it could no longer defend itself.

North Korea may be erratic, but there are many other quite sober countries that might draw similar conclusions. While most countries of the world adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the nuclear powers—three of whom are currently bombing Libya—have yet to fulfill their obligations under Article VI to eliminate their arsenals and begin negotiations on general disarmament.

Until that happens, the temptation will be to obtain something that will level the playing field, particularly when some countries are so quick to resort to military power.

That is a world that will be infinitely more dangerous than the one in which we currently live.

 

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Africa: No Butter but Lots of Guns

Africa: No Butter but Lots of Guns

Dispatches From The Edge

Conn Hallinan

July 9, 2010

The developed world has a message for Africa: “Sorry, but we are reneging on our aid pledges made at the G8 summit at Gleneagles, Scotland back in 2005, but we do have something for you—lots and lots of expensive things that go ‘bang’ and kill people.”

And that was indeed the message that came out of the G8-G20 meetings in Canada last month. The promise to add an extra $25 billion to a $50 billion aid package for the continent went a glimmering. Instead, the G8 will cut the $25 billion to $11 billion and the $50 billion to $38 billion. And don’t hold your breath that Africa will get even that much.

The G-8 consists of Britain, the U.S., Germany, France, Italy, Japan, France, and Russia, although Moscow is not part of the aid pledge.

Canada’s Muskoka summit hailed “significant progress toward the millennium development goals”—the United Nations’ target of reducing poverty by 2015—but when it came time to ante up, everyone but the United Kingdom bailed. The Gleneagles pledge was to direct 0.51 percent of the G-8’s gross national income to aid programs by 2010. The UK came up to 0.56 percent, but the U.S. is at 0.2, Italy at 0.16, Canada at 0.3, Germany at 0.35, and France at 0.47. Rumor has it that France and Italy led the charge to water down the 2005 goals.

The shortfall, says Oxfam spokesman Mark Fried, is not just a matter of “numbers.” The aid figures “represent vital medicines, kids in school, help for women living in poverty and food for the hungry.”

AIDS activists are particularly incensed. “I see no point in beating around the bush,” said AIDS-Free World spokesman Stephen Lewis at a Toronto press conference. He charged that Obama Administration’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief “is being flat-lined for at least the next two years.” Lewis said AIDS groups were treating five million patients, but that another nine million needed to be in programs. “There are AIDS projects, run by other NGOs [non-governmental organizations], where new patients cannot be enrolled unless someone dies.”

But ifthe  poor, sick, and hungry are going begging, not so Africa’s militaries.

According to Daniel Volman, director of the African Security Research Project, the White House is following the same policies as the Bush Administration vis-à-vis Africa. “Indeed, the Obama Administration is seeking to expand U.S. military activities on the continent even further,” says Volman.

In its 2011 budget, the White House asked for over $80 million in military programs for Africa, while freezing or reducing aid packages aimed at civilians.

The major vehicle for this is the U.S.’s African Command (AFRICOM) founded in 2008. Through the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative, AFRICOM is training troops from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Chad. The supposed target of all this is the group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Meghreb (AQIM), but while AQIM is certainly troublesome—it sets off bombs and kidnaps people— it is small, scattered, and doesn’t pose a serious threat to any of the countries involved.

The worry is that the various militaries being trained by AFRICOM could end up being used against internal dissidents. Tuaregs, for instance, are engaged in a long-running, low-level insurgency against the Mali government, which is backing a French plan to mine uranium in the Sahara. Might Morocco use the training to attack the Polisario Front in the disputed Western Sahara? Mauritanians complain that the “terrorist” label has been used to jail political opponents of the government.

In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said the U.S. was seeking to bolster Nigeria’s “ability to combat violent extremism within its borders.”  That might put AFRICOM in the middle of a civil war between ruling elites in Lagos and their transnational oil company allies, and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Delta, which is demanding an end to massive pollution and a fair cut of oil revenues.

The National Energy Policy Development Groups estimates that by 2015 as much as 25 percent of U.S. oil imports will come from Africa.

So far, AFRICOM’s track record has been one disaster after another. It supported Ethiopia’s intervention in the Somalia civil war, and helped to overthrow the moderate Islamic Courts Union. It is now fighting a desperate rear-guard action against a far more extremist grouping, the al-Shabaab. AFRICOM also helped coordinate a Ugandan Army attack on the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—Operation Lightning Thunder— that ended up killing thousands of civilians.

The U.S. has been careful to keep a low profile in all this. “We don’t want to see our guys going in and getting whacked,” Volman quotes one U.S. AFRICOM officer, “We want Africans to go in.”

And presumably get “whacked.”

AFRICOM’s Operation Flintlock 2010, which ran from May 3-22, was based in Burkina Faso. Besides the militaries of 10 African nations, it included 600 U.S. Special Forces and elite units from France, the Netherlands, and Spain. Yes, there are other arms pushers out there, and the list reads like an economic who’s who: France, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, Sweden, and Israel. Some 70 percent of the world’s arms trade is aimed at developing countries.

So, is AFRICOM about fighting terrorism, or oil, gas and uranium? Nicole Lee, the executive director of Trans Africa, the leading African American organization focusing on Africa has no doubts: “This [AFRICOM] is nothing short of a sovereignty and resource grab.”

And who actually benefits from this militarization of the continent? As Nigerian journalist Dulue Mbachu warns,  “Increased U.S. military presence in Africa may simply serve to protect unpopular regimes that are friendly to its interests, as was the case during the Cold War, while Africa slips further into poverty.”

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Africa: The Right’s Stuff

Right Web

Conn Hallinan

April 10, 2007

The full-page ads in the New York Times are wrenching: children in the last stages of starvation, terrified refugees, and burned out villages. They are the images that come to mind when most Americans think about the Sudan.

But while the human rights crisis in Darfur is real—somewhere between 100,00 and 200,000 people have died since 2003—a seasoned cadre of neo-conservatives and right-wingers have latched on to the issue, pushing an agenda that favors military over political solutions.

They include Elliot Abrams and Nina Shea, both of whom played key roles in the Reagan Administration’s wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, leading conservative evangelical Christians, and two of the country’s most rightwing legislators, U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-Ka) and U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo (R-Co).

Behind the rhetoric of the “war on terrorism,” the Bush Administration has a long-term strategy for Africa that turns butter into guns.

The White House recently established a separate U.S. military command for Africa—AFRICOM—and this past December directly intervened in Somalia’s civil war. (1) The U.S. is also spreading a network of military clients throughout North Africa and the Sahara, (2) and is even considering military action against anti-government insurgents in Nigeria. (3)

A key person in this new aggressiveness is long-time neoconservative “prince,” Elliot Abrams.

When he was appointed chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (CIRF) in 1999, Abrams began levering U.S. foreign policy away from a concern for poverty toward a focus on “religious persecution” in the Sudan, Russia and China. (4)

In 2002 he was appointed senior director of Near East and North African Affairs, just as the Bush Administration began basing troops in Djibouti on the strategic Horn of Africa. Some of those forces took part in the recent invasion of Somalia. Abrams also helped launch the Trans-Sahel Counterterrorism Initiative that has drawn a number of countries in North Africa and areas bordering the Sahara into a web of military alliances.

Abrams is currently the National Security Advisor for Global Democracy and Strategy and the point person on Israel. His philosophy of diplomacy is probably best summed up by a line from a chapter he wrote in the New American Century’s Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy: “Our military strength and willingness to use it will remain a key factor in our ability to promote peace.” (5)

Negotiations are not his forte. William LeoGrande, Dean of the American University School of Public Affairs, and an expert on Central America, says that that Abrams’ track record demonstrates that he won’t “negotiate with adversaries,” but, instead, insists “on total victory, as if foreign policy were a moral crusade in which compromise was an anathema.” (6)

Abrams’ one prior involvement with Africa was his opposition to a diplomatic solution to South Africa’s 1975 attack on Angola just after that country had freed itself from Portugal. (7)

Force has always been central to the neoconservative view of the world. During the 1980s, Abrams helped organize the contra war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, and took part in the cover up of the horrendous El Mazote massacre in El Salvador by a U.S.-trained government battalion.

Abrams’ vice-chair on the CIRF was Nina Shea of Freedom House, an organization with a long rap sheet on destabilizing countries, including recently attempting to dislodge Hugo Chavez’s in Venezuela.

Shea founded the Puebla Institute in 1986 to fight the growth of liberation theology in Latin America and, according to former Contra leader, Edward Chamorro, worked with the groups trying to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. (8)

Like Abrams, Shea focuses on the issue of religion rather than human rights. According to Newsweek Magazine, Shea made “Christian persecution Washington’s hottest topic.”

A 2003 Human Rights Watch report entitled, “Sudan, Oil and Human Rights,” charges that when Abrams was chair and Shea vice-chair of CIRF, they advocated assisting the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) the principle military opponent of the Sudan government. The Bush Administration ended up backing the umbrella National Democratic Alliance of Sudan, which was dominated by the SPLM.

Abrams and Shea pushed hard to get Congress to declare the crisis in Darfur “genocide,” a designation that would permit military intervention. But while on the surface some kind of military intervention in Sudan would seem a no-brainer, Darfur is complex: a brutal conflict between nomads and agriculturalists, a proxy war between Sudanese elites in Khartoum, and an arena of regional competition between Sudan, Chad and Niger. A military “solution” may end up making things worse, not better.

Two of Congress’s most conservative legislators, Brownback and Tancredo, pushed hard for the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, which urges military intervention in the Sudan.

Brownback is co-sponsor of legislation that would allow local, state, and federal officials to overrule the courts on religious issues; he calls abortion a “holocaust,” compares stem cell research to Nazi medical experiments, and says global warming is “a hoax.”

Tancredo is also in deep in right field on a host of issues. He told a Florida radio station that if “fundamentalist Muslims” attacked the U.S. with a nuclear device, the U.S. should bomb Mecca, and he refers to Miami as a “third world country.” (9)

Two other key actors for the Bush Administration in Sudan are Robert Seiple, the former CEO of World Vision, a Christian aid and advocacy organization active in 22 African countries, and Andrew Natsios, head administrator for the U.S. Aid and Development Agency (USAID) from 2001 to 2006, when he was appointed Special Envoy to the Sudan. (10)

According to John Eibner, chief executive officer of Christian Solidarity International, “domestic pressure” from Christian groups played a key role into pushing the U.S. to get involved in the Sudan. (11)

Seiple, a former Marine pilot in Vietnam, was appointed to the CIRF when it was formed in 1998 and lobbied for supporting the armed resistance to the Khartoum government.

Natsios is a controversial figure because he opposed distributing drugs to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa when he was the USAID administrator. He told the House International Relations Committee that patients would be unable to take medications on time, because “African don’t know what Western time is. Many people in Africa have never seen a clock or a watch their entire lives.” The comment stirred widespread anger among Africans and AIDS activists. (12)

The people running the Bush Administration’s strategy for Africa use the rhetoric of “freedom” and “stability,” but their policies have seen an increasing military presence on the continent, the overthrow of a government which had finally brought peace to Somalia, and the establishment of alliances with authoritarian governments in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Chad.

A good many people are skeptical about the benefits of the Bush Administration’s designs for Africa.

Many African affairs analysts remain unconvinced [that the U.S.’s primary concern is not about oil and resources], perceiving a race with China for the control of the continent with potentially unsavory consequences for Africans,” writes Nigerian-based journalist Dulue Mbachu. (13)

Nicole Lee of TransAfrica, the leading African-American organization concerned with Africa, is blunter: “This is nothing short of a sovereignty and resource grab.” (14)

The National Energy Policy Development Group estimates that by 2015, a quarter of U.S. oil imports will come from Africa. Most of these will come from the Gulf of Guinea, but Sudan has the second largest reserves on the continent.

Many of the Bush Administration’s central players in all this have close ties to Vice-President Dick Cheney. It was Cheney’s National Policy Energy Development Group that recommended back in 2001 that the U.S. “make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy,” a blueprint the administration has closely adhered to.

Given the actors and the script, it is hard not to conclude that the Bush Administration’s strategy for Africa is less about freedom and God than about oil and earthly power.

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