Peripheral Revision

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The African ‘Star Wars’: US uses militarism to counter China’s development aid

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It is the Pentagon’s Africom versus China’s web of investments – the ultimate prize: Africa’s natural resources.

Pepe Escobar, Al Jazeera, April 26, 2011

From energy wars to water wars, the 21st century will be determined by a fierce battle for the world’s remaining natural resources. The chessboard is global. The stakes are tremendous. Most battles will be invisible. All will be crucial.

In resource-rich Africa, a complex subplot of the New Great Game in Eurasia is already in effect. It’s all about three major intertwined developments:

1) The coming of age of the African Union (AU) in the early 2000s.

2) China’s investment offencive in Africa throughout the 2000s.

3) The onset of the Pentagon’s African Command (Africom) in 2007.  

Beijing clearly sees that the Anglo-French-American bombing of Libya – apart from its myriad geopolitical implications – has risked billions of dollars in Chinese investments, not to mention forcing the (smooth) evacuation of more than 35,000 Chinese working across the country.

And crucially, depending on the outcome – as in renegotiated energy contracts by a pliable, pro-Western government – it may also seriously jeopardise Chinese oil imports (3 per cent of total Chinese imports in 2010).

No wonder the China Military, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) newspaper, as well as sectors in academia, are now openly arguing that China needs to drop Deng Xiaoping’s “low-profile” policy and bet on a sprawling armed forces to defend its strategic interests worldwide (these assets already total over $1.2 trillion).

Now compare it with a close examination of Africom’s strategy, which reveals as the proverbial hidden agenda the energy angle and a determined push to isolate China from northern Africa.

One report titled “China’s New Security Strategy in Africa” actually betrays the Pentagon’s fear of the PLA eventually sending troops to Africa to protect Chinese interests.

It won’t happen in Libya. It’s not about to happen in Sudan. But further on down the road, all bets are off.

Meddle is our middle name

The Pentagon has in fact been meddling in Africa’s affairs for more than half a century. According to a 2010 US Congressional Research Service study, this happened no less than 46 times before the current Libya civil war.

Among other exploits, the Pentagon invested in a botched large-scale invasion of Somalia and backed the infamous, genocide-related Rwanda regime.

The Bill Clinton administration raised hell in Liberia, Gabon, Congo and Sierra Leone, bombed Sudan, and sent “advisers” to Ethiopia to back dodgy clients grabbing a piece of Somalia (by the way, Somalia has been at war for 20 years).

The September 2002 National Security Strategy (NSS), conceived by the Bush administration, is explicit; Africa is a “strategic priority in fighting terrorism”.

Yet, the never-say-die “war on terror” is a sideshow in the Pentagon’s vast militarisation agenda, which favours client regimes, setting up military bases, and training of mercenaries – “cooperative partnerships” in Pentagon newspeak.

Africom has some sort of military “partnership” – bilateral agreements – with most of Africa’s 53 countries, not to mention fuzzy multilateral schemes such as West African Standby Force and Africa Partnership Station.

American warships have dropped by virtually every African nation except for those bordering the Mediterranean.

The exceptions: Ivory Coast, Sudan, Eritrea and Libya. Ivory Coast is now in the bag. So is South Sudan. Libya may be next. The only ones left to be incorporated to Africom will be Eritrea and Zimbabwe.

Africom’s reputation has not been exactly sterling – as the Tunisian and Egyptian chapters of the great 2011 Arab Revolt caught it totally by surprise. These “partners”, after all, were essential for surveillance of the southern Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Libya for its part presented juicy possibilities: an easily demonised dictator; a pliable post-Gaddafi puppet regime; a crucial military base for Africom; loads of excellent cheap oil; and the possibility of throwing China out of Libya.

Under the Obama administration, Africom thus started its first African war. In the words of its commander, General Carter Ham, “we completed a complex, short-notice, operational mission in Libya and… transferred that mission to NATO.”

And that leads us to the next step. Africom will share all its African “assets” with NATO. Africom and NATO are in fact one – the Pentagon is a many-headed hydra after all.

Beijing for its part sees right through it; the Mediterranean as a NATO lake (neocolonialism is back especially, via France and Britain); Africa militarised by Africom; and Chinese interests at high risk.  

The lure of ChinAfrica

One of the last crucial stages of globalisation – what we may call “ChinAfrica” – established itself almost in silence and invisibility, at least for Western eyes.

In the past decade, Africa became China’s new Far West. The epic tale of masses of Chinese workers and entrepreneurs discovering big empty virgin spaces, and wild mixed emotions from exoticism to rejection, racism to outright adventure, grips anyone’s imagination.

Individual Chinese have pierced the collective unconscious of Africa, they have made Africans dream – while China the great power proved it could conjure miracles far away from its shores.

For Africa, this “opposites attract” syndrome was a great boost after the 1960s decolonisation – and the horrid mess that followed it.

China repaved roads and railroads, built dams in Congo, Sudan and Ethiopia, equipped the whole of Africa with fibre optics, opened hospitals and orphanages, and – just before Tahrir Square – was about to aid Egypt to relaunch its civilian nuclear programme.

The white man in Africa has been, most of the time, arrogant and condescending. The Chinese, humble, courageous, efficient and discreet.   

China will soon become Africa’s largest trading partner – ahead of France and the UK – and its top source of foreign investment. It’s telling that the best the West could come up with to counteract this geopolitical earthquake was to go the militarised way.

The external Chinese model of trade, aid and investment – not to mention the internal Chinese model of large-scale, state-led investments in infrastructure – made Africa forget about the West while boosting the strategic importance of Africa in the global economy.

Why would an African government rely on the ideology-based “adjustments” of IMF and the World Bank when China attaches no political conditions and respects sovereignty – for Beijing, the most important principle of international law? On top of it, China carries no colonial historical baggage in Africa.  

Essentially, large swathes of Africa have rejected the West’s trademark shock therapy, and embraced China.

Western elites, predictably, were not amused. Beijing now clearly sees that in the wider context of the New Great Game in Eurasia, the Pentagon has now positioned itself to conduct a remixed Cold War with China all across Africa – using every trick in the book from obscure “partnerships” to engineered chaos.

The leadership in Beijing is silently observing the waters. For the moment, the Little Helmsman Deng’s “crossing the river while feeling the stones” holds.

The Pentagon better wise up. The best Beijing may offer is to help Africa to fulfil its destiny. In the eyes of Africans themselves, that certainly beats any Tomahawk.


Written by peripheralrevision

04/26/2011 at 12:37 pm

Seeing Libya’s future in Darfur’s past

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The outcry over the current situation in Libya has been echoed from practically all segments of the political spectrum. Humanitarian intervention has a broad appeal in the west, a modern day continuation of its historical civilizing mission, bringing freedom and modernity to the backward peoples of the world. Those with the power of language have the power to control how complex issues are interpreted by the public. Robert Fisk has discussed this issue routinely in relation to conflicts in the middle east, focusing on the U.S. and Israeli governments’ knack for being able to manipulate events and policies by crafting media discourse through simple semantics. Language is a powerful tool in the hands of economic and political power who, when having learned to wield it effectively, can also be used as a weapon. This weapon has been instrumental in garnering support for overseas political and military objectives by the U.S. government throughout its history, most instructively in such circumstances where the necessity for war surfaces out of humanitarian considerations.

Libya has now become the most recent victim of western “humanitarian” intervention, where a vast majority of the western public was chomping at the bit for American bombs to be dropped on another country that they had not even known existed a month ago. While direct military involvement in Darfur materialized as “UN peacekeepers” as opposed to western aerial bombardments, the path of Sudan in recent years provides an invaluable scenario with which to view the events that are likely to transpire in Libya.

Kosovo in the 90s holds a particularly direct relationship with the current Libya situation, and such parallels have already been analyzed extensively (see here, here, here), but the connection to Darfur is just as relevant but much less critiqued in a similar fashion. Free from western-created narratives that have monopolized political discourse surrounding both these conflict zones, the selfless call for action for the preservation of humanity amounts to nothing more than just a pretty coat of paint on the all-too-familiar junk we’ve been sold before. A simple change in lexicon prevents many from engaging in the same critical assessment that they normally would had the call for military confrontation been more overtly espoused by the usual mouthpieces of the right-wing juggernaut. When one uncovers the actual issues and peels away the manufactured semantics, what is revealed is not a humanitarian struggle for rights and justice but the same sources of U.S. policy that we all know too well.

The “Save Darfur” movement is most commonly associated with the left. This remains one of the most prominent examples the way in which the left has been conned into fighting for what in reality are right-wing causes.

Chomsky explains the “Save Darfur” appeal in the west:

“But Darfur is a very popular topic for Western humanists because you can blame it on an enemy – you have to distort a lot but you can blame it on ‘Arabs’, ‘bad guys’.”

Elaborating further, Chomsky describes how the ambiguous assertions by western governments are simplified and exaggerated:

It’s a good question why Darfur is such an issue. I mean, there’s a lot of killing in Darfur. The numbers are apparently mostly made up, but it’s substantial. On the other hand, it isn’t a fraction of the dead in Iraq, let’s say, and it isn’t even a tiny fraction of the dead in the Congo right near by. So why is there a huge campaign about Darfur, and not one about a hundred times as bad about the Congo, and one a thousand times as bad about Iraq? Because we’re doing them…There are “Save Darfur” committees all over the place, but apparently not much funds — if anything — goes to Darfur. So it’s become a huge morality play.

Sudan was a country that was in the cross-hairs of western governments for decades. Endowed with sizable oil reserves and other natural resources, it was an African jewel just waiting to be firmly planted in the crown adorned by the west as self-appointed ‘king of the world’. But the days are past when direct colonialism can still be sold as an altruistic endeavor. The conflict in Libya more closely resembles the situation in Darfur than in recent Egypt. That is, in the sense that far from a mass movement fighting in opposition to the established concentration of power, what is at play are are factions vying for power. And like in Libya, the support of the west was not directed at alleviating the conflict, but by manipulating, and even stoking, the hostilities to best serve its ultimate interests in the region.

Where most of the condemnation by the international community (aka the west) focused on the Sudanese government, headed by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, he was, by no means, the exclusive, or even most attributable, source of instability and bloodshed. When the ICC Indicted al-Bashir for atrocities in the Darfur region, President Hugo Chavez, similar to his current stand against the drum beat to war in Libya, refused to let this unsubstantiated accusation go uncontested, arguing in a speech that:

“The recent indictment against the Sudanese president Bashir is one of these ridiculous cases. It’s a farce…So why doesn’t the international court indict President Bush, who committed atrocities over eight years, for example, and annihilated the Iraqi people?”

This is not just rhetoric, but a factually accurate juxtaposition as the humanitarian disaster in Iraq was vastly more dire and expansive than the situation in Darfur. The difference here, as Chavez understood, was that while the crimes occurring in Iraq were at the hands of the U.S. government, the crimes being attributed to al-Bashir were at the hands of an “enemy” of the U.S. that needed to be confronted. What is ignored by the ICC ruling is that much of the conflict in Darfur was being perpetuated by the western supported guerrillas, not al-Bashir’s forces.

Genocide was often alleged to have been taking place in Darfur. This refrain was repeated in the run up to western attacks on Libya. Bloomberg reported charges from rebel allies:

“We think in the coming hours we will see a real genocide if the international community does not move quickly…We are counting on international forces to limit the number of victims.”

The use of the term genocide has direct and indirect effects. The power of semantics here clearly demonstrates the ways in which the perception with which certain actions are viewed have vast repercussions. Not only does genocide elicit certain feelings and resentment within the public beneficial to garnering support for military intervention, but this term in particular has legal attributes that determine mandated actions by the UN. The politics of genocide has been thoroughly analyzed in works by Edward S Herman, David Peterson, and Mahmood Mamdani, among others. Seeking to fuel the flames for intervention in Darfur in 2007, then President Bush uttered the magic word:

“My administration has called these actions by their rightful name: genocide…The world has a responsibility to put an end to it.”

Now we have Australia’s foreign minister Kevin Rudd arguing for the implementation of the Libyan no-fly zone asking the UN to “Look back at Darfur” and see how the resistance to engage militarily failed to stop the ensuing genocide. He then continued to assert that:

“I would hope the international community would learn from history, because in a month’s time, two months’ time, three months’ time, if for whatever reason Kadhafi begins to prevail and we see the large-scale butchery of Libyan civilians.”

The U.S. government is never one to hesitate from taking sides, as evident by Robert Fisk’s reporting on the Washington’s proposal that Saudi Arabia assist in arming the Libyan “rebels” against Qaddafi. The Egyptian military is also sending assault rifles and ammunition across the border. This is extremely reminiscent of U.S. policy in Sudan where allied nations acted as middlemen for arming anti-government factions. The release of the Wikileaks cables exposed the operation in Sudan, as reported in The New York Times:

It was September 2008 and a band of Somali pirates made a startling discovery.

The Ukrainian freighter they had just commandeered in the Gulf of Aden was packed with weapons, including 32 Soviet-era battle tanks, and the entire arsenal was headed for the regional government in southern Sudan. The Ukrainian and Kenyan governments vigorously denied that, insisting that the tanks were intended for the Kenyan military…

…But it turns out the pirates were telling the truth — and the Kenyans and Ukrainians were not, at least publicly. According to several secret State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks, the tanks not only were headed to southern Sudan, but they were the latest installment of several underground arms shipments. By the time the freighter was seized, 67 T-72 tanks had already been delivered to bolster southern Sudan’s armed forces against the government in Khartoum, an international pariah for its human rights abuses in Darfur.

Bush administration officials knew of the earlier weapons transactions and chose not to shut them down, an official from southern Sudan asserted in an interview, and the cables acknowledge the Kenyan officials’ assertions that they had kept American officials informed about the deal.

The cables reveal that the Kenyan and Ukrainian governments had worked in consultation with the U.S. to funnel unknown numbers of weapons into Southern Sudan to aid the secessionist movement. This particular freighter “was carrying 32 T-72 Soviet-era tanks, 150 grenade launchers, 6 antiaircraft guns and ammunition.” This is well beyond the publicly acknowledged provision of communications equipment, “non-lethal” weapons and combat training to guerrilla army.

It just so happens that the faction seeking to break off from the existing Sudanese nation, the side the U.S. has allied with, is territorially located on the vast majority of the country’s oil reserves. The goal is not necessarily to successfully dominate the entirety of the country, but to break off pieces from central control, preferably the areas rich in natural resources. Even Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has affirmed that removing Qaddafi isn’t guaranteed or even the prime military objective.  This may make the attack seem more innocent, but, barring successful regime change, it follows the same plan that we have seen repeated many times. The Clinton administration was largely successful in its military campaign to “free” Kosovo.  The secessionist forces in Santa Cruz, Bolivia are being supported by the U.S. as a means of regaining control over the region’s natural resources.  Following the Bolivarian Revolution lead by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, failure to topple the government has instigated U.S. operations to fuel secession of the oil rich Zulia region. The U.S. also backs the secessionist forces in Tibet in an attempt to sever off a large piece of territory from its biggest geopolitical rival.
Here are some images of Sudan.  The newly formed country of South Sudan encompasses a huge swath of Sudan’s oil resources within its borders:

Now here is Libya. The potential end-game of the conflict in Libya is to establish a new, “independent” (meaning from anyone other than the U.S.) state in the resource concentrated region of the north-east. This is where the “rebel” stronghold city of Benghazi is located. From the map of Libya’s population density, you can deduce the approximate borders of a possible independent country:

The divide-and-conquer strategy has been well played out but it still manages elude public skepticism, at least until its too late to stop it. Where-ever a separatist group exists in an enemy country, the U.S. will be there to support it.

The long-awaited culmination of western destabilization in Sudan came with the recent referendum that partitioned South Sudan as its own country, free from Sudanese authority. The entire process was heavily funded by western nations, which also engaged in extensive propaganda campaigns aimed at raising the support and perceived legitimacy of the vote. Now the U.S. backed forces were able to establish sole control over the oil-rich region and subsequent development. It is never simply about “getting” oil, but about controlling it. There is a significant difference. As we’ve seen in Libya, western nations had easy access to oil under the control of Qaddafi, so “getting” it wasn’t the issue. The problem, from the view of western governments, was that China, Russia and other “strategic competitors” also had access and were increasing their proportion of the Libyan oil business. This was also the case in Darfur where China was increasingly coming to dominate the tapping of Sudan’s oil reserves.

All of this was yet also reminiscent of the situation of American oil companies in Iraq where U.S. sanctions on Saddam Hussein during the 1990’s blocked U.S. firms from exploiting the country’s oil while China and Russia, without such restrictions, were able to make one deal after another. Juan Cole, in his book Engaging the Muslim World points out Vice President Dick Cheney’s though process on the invasion of Iraq:

During this period, Cheney quickly emerged as an opponent of congressional attempts to slap ever more sanctions on countries ruled by regimes its members disliked. The United States imposed unilateral sanctions on Libya, Iran, and Azerbaijan and participated in multilateral sanctions against Libya and Iraq. Cheney, a former congressman, urged the petroleum industry to take a “proactive approach” to battling such sanctions. He complained that legislators multiplied trade sanctions as a painless way to take a stand on policy and to “satisfy their domestic constituencies.” The latter phrase referred in part to lobbying by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to sanction states hostile to Israel.(136-137)

Cheney and other petroleum company executives had despaired of ever besting AIPAC on the sanctions issue. Therefore, they believed that they would be locked out of Iraq and Iran and their enormous oil and gas reserves while France, Russia, and China positioned themselves to benefit from developing those fields…if he pushed for regime change in Iraq and Iran, he could turn AIPAC and the Israel lobbies into allies of the oil majors’ plans for investment in Iraq and Iran. (139-140)

The U.S. doesn’t engage in any activity for “humanitarian” reasons. The Democrats, still having a sliver of credibility remaining, make the most out of it. Its a matter of picking the country first, figuring out excuses later. They foment an unquestioning public to become enamored with the altruistic mission of the American machine and an equal amount of vitriol for some far away dictator they allege is brutalizing his own people. A solitary message is dispersed by the western media without any attempt at balance, investigation or, for that matter, journalism. As Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!,  pointed out on Al Jazeera in a discussion about the future of the media, she noted:

“In the United States we don’t have state media but you have to ask, in this country, if we had state media how would it be any different?”

8 Revealing Wikileaks Cables Highlight Disturbing U.S. Foreign Interference

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1. WikiLeaks Honduras: State Dept. Busted on Support of Coup by Robert Naiman

“By July 24, 2009, the U.S. government was totally clear about the basic facts of what took place in Honduras on June 28, 2009. The U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa sent a cable  to Washington with subject: “Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup,” asserting that “there is no doubt” that the events of June 28 “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” The Embassy listed arguments being made by supporters of the coup to claim its legality, and dismissed them thus: “none… has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution.” The Honduran military clearly had no legal authority to remove President Zelaya from office or from Honduras, the Embassy said, and their action — the Embassy described it as an “abduction” and “kidnapping” — was clearly unconstitutional.

…Instead, a month after this cable was sent, the State Department, in its public pronouncements, pretended  that the events of June 28 — in particular, “who did what to whom” and the constitutionality of these actions — were murky and needed further study by State Department lawyers, despite the fact that the State Department’s top lawyer, Harold Koh, knew exactly “who did what to whom” and that these actions were unconstitutional at least one month earlier.”


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Written by peripheralrevision

01/07/2011 at 11:02 pm