Monday, October 31, 2011

From Iraq to Africa - America's Next Military Occupation

Political observers may view President Obama’s unexpected Friday afternoon announcement of an end to the Iraq War, his second in little more than a year, as more about reclaiming his 2008 ‘peace candidate’ image in time for the 2012 election than it was about ending the $1 trilion-plus conflict that cost 4,500 American lives with 32,000 American wounded, not including veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.  

Even with a $3 billion sale of eighteen F16 fighter jets to that beleaguered country earlier in the month, the President suggested, with hollow words of praise, that American troops will leave that war-torn, devastated country with ‘heads held high, proud of their success.” Obama’s version of ‘success’ failed to acknowledge the greatest, most enduring foreign policy failure in this country’s history including an Iraq more aligned today with Iran than prior to the 2001 invasion or an Iraq no closer to a western-style democracy than it was under Saddam Hussein or that sectarian strife has escalated into a civil war that now threatens to spread beyond northern Iraq. 

Despite the President’s ability to adroitly put a self-satisfied spin on any pronouncement, Obama neglected to mention that the withdrawal was hastened by Iraq’s steadfast refusal to modify the 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement.  The deal was brokered by President Bush and ratified by the Iraqi Parliament setting the December 31st withdrawal deadline.  At issue was the American insistence that any remaining military troops be immune from the Rule of Law in the case of belligerent acts against Iraq’s civilian population as they are in South Korea and Japan.   

Neo-liberal Democrats hailed Obama’s announcement as fulfilling his earlier campaign commitment while Republicans criticized the withdrawal as strengthening Iran’s presence in the region – a deep irony considering that  a major justification for the war was the overthrow and ultimate demise of Saddam Hussein, then-Iran’s most worrisome adversary.   
While the President was pledging an end to the U.S. combat mission, Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough said that negotiations are continuing that “could provide for the presence of the U.S. personnel.”   Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul, long time critic of the war and the only candidate to criticize drones as violating the War Powers Resolution, commented that with 15,000 State Department personnel remaining in Iraq along with 5,000 private contractors “only the names will change.”    

Near simultaneous with the Iraq withdrawal announcement that same afternoon was a Presidential letter to Congress that he had authorized the deployment of up to 100 US Special Op troops and military advisers to central Africa.  
As if American citizens were not already bone-weary of its leaders who offer selective bits of truth in pursuit of military excursions to unknown parts of the world while ignoring the basic needs of its citizens, Obama has expanded President Bush’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) established in 2007 into a permanent militarized bulwark throughout the resource-rich African continent. More in sync with his predecessor than his supporters would like to admit, Obama’s introduction of combat-ready forces and increased military advisers makes no pretense that broadening AFRICOM’s capability will alleviate the decades of pathological tribal hatred that has generated a constant misery, massive starvation and suffering of humanity.

Implying a humanitarian use of the U.S. military, the combat troops are to help the Uganda government track down Joseph Kony and a rebel force known as the Lord’s Resistance Army with a well-earned reputation for murder, rape, mutilation and kidnapping throughout central Africa.  Prior to the deployment, Mr. Kony’s Army had been dubbed a ‘rag tag’ force of no more than 400 rebels raises questions of whether the LRA represents a sufficient threat to attract the military might of the United States.
The LRA is sought by the International Criminal Court  for war crimes and crimes against humanity with the United States (along with Israel and Sudan) a notable absent signatoree of the ICC.  

Obama’s letter sent after the deployment had already begun, gives no insight into how US combat presence "furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy” with the assurance that ‘although U.S. forces are combat-equipped, they will not engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense” or how  “regional stability’ will be achieved by a military internationally known for its destabilizing efforts.      

The President’s letter added, as cover for a deeper purpose of its proxy war, that elements of U.S. forces will deploy into Uganda, South Sudan,  the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo which is already being trained by US Special Forces as a light infantry battalion.   In addition, AFRICOM reports that the US has training missions throughout the continent in Somalia, Sierra Leone, Chad, Liberia, Kenya and Ethiopia (with a drone base) and about 3500 Special Forces troops conducting missions in Djibouti (another drone base).  With the anxious Ugandans watching Kenya’s recent invasion into Somalia chasing al Shabaab rebels, the entire central sub-Saharan of Africa is a potential powder keg.   

Citing the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 adopted unanimously by Congress which encouraged the US military to eliminate the LRA threat, the President’s letter was intended to satisfy the War Powers Resolution requiring Congressional approval prior to military action.  Obama’s October 14th letter left open the legal question of whether putting combat forces into harm’s way requires more than just a two page letter.     

The House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing held within days after the President’s announcement proved awkward with moments of discomfort for its members who had supported the 2009 LRA Act which the President was now inaugurating.  Ranking committee member Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif) reminded Members of both sides that “It is Congress that played a leading role in putting the LRA on the foreign policy agenda.”  Following the Administration’s lead in support for a military occupation and in an innuendo-filled statement, Berman proclaimed that “While the LRA may not pose a direct security threat to the US in narrowly defined terms, it does threaten a large swath of Africa the size of California. I believe it is squarely in our national interest to build capacity of allied forces so they can fight on their own and to support our allies when they need assistance, as we expect them to do for us.“

The level of testimony presented by Administration bureaucrats from the State Department and Department of Defense was sparse eliciting light reprimands from Members of the panel as the officials were unprepared to provide the Committee with details of the operation or its estimated costs; except to offer assurance that US combat troops would hold the hands of Uganda troops without personally engaging the LRA.   

There was no denial from Administration officials that the deployment wasn’t the first time the US has attempted to track down Mr. Koney or that previous unsuccessful battles to capture Kony and dismantle the LRA had already cost the US $497 Million since 2008, according to Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) who was critical of the escapade. 

News of the deployment seemed curious; sparking an interest in whether ‘national security and foreign policy interests’ was diplomatic code for allowing unfettered access to Africa’s mineral and resource rich assets by American international conglomerates. 

In 2002, the African Oil Policy Initiative Group (AOPIG) initiated discussion within the US national security community regarding the formation of an Africa Command based on the prediction of the National Intelligence Council that the United States will be buying 25% of its oil from Africa by 2015. 

By early 2007, fanning the flames of Islamic terrorists hiding in every corner of the Continent, oblivious to the impact of discrediting moderate Moslems while increasing repression of legitimate democratic movements, creating adversaries where none previously existed that resulted in undermining an opportunity to build trust and good will, President George W. Bush consolidated pieces of the European, Central and Pacific Military Commands to create AFRICOM, a Unified Command for the African continent morphing a new precedent-setting collaboration with the militarization of US foreign policy being dictated by the Pentagon.  That same year, the Navy’s Postgraduate School identified the increasing importance of African oil to American energy needs.

Driven by the hypothesis of American exceptionalism, Africom’s mission is to protect and defend the national security interests of the United States by strengthening the defense capabilities of African states and conduct military operations to deter and defeat transnational threats including sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs.  Unwilling to acquiesce to United Nations leadership in their historic ‘peacekeeping’ role, AFRICOM symbolizes a 21st century neo-colonial military occupation while adding the latest link in an international drone network that grew out of a recognition to ensure a reliable energy supply beyond the volatile Mideast and to protect African crude imported to the US in the name of national security. 

Mindful of its reputation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the right of the United States to divide the Continent into a military command with the insistence of an exemption from ICC prosecutions and a reluctance to accept AFRFICOM's presence resulted in abandonment of US plans to relocate AFRICOM headquarters to the Continent.  
Prior to the deployment announcement, the Gulf of Guinea countries along the south Atlantic Ocean represented a strong US strategic interest with a ‘sweet spot’ of 1.2 million prime acres for off shore oil production.  Boasting the fastest rate of new discoveries in the world, Nigeria and Angola are among the top ten oil importers to the US.  Total imports to the US from the West African Gulf is expected to increase to 25% by 2015, on a par with US imports from the Persian Gulf.
Nigeria, with proven reserves of 37 billion barrels is the Continent’s fourth largest supplier of a sweet, light crude with a low sulfur content especially suitable for US markets as gasoline.  Nine per cent of US imported crude is from Nigeria.   Unrest in the Niger Delta has proven to be an obstacle to reliable crude production with rebels kidnapping oil executives, taking over oil facilities, vandalizing pipelines and causing a 20% drop in production.   

With proven reserves of 13.5 billion barrels, Angola exports 31% of its oil to the US worth $9 billion in 2009.  Angola’s oil production represents 90% of its exports creating a petroleum-dependent economy which is 40% of GDP and 80% of government revenues  

Other Gulf countries include Gabon with a 3.7 billion barrel reserve of which almost 50% is exported to the US, Equatorial Guinea with 1 billion barrel reserves, the Republic of the Congo with 1.6 billion barrels and Chad at 1.5 billion barrels – all of which are prime US importers.  

Other non-Gulf oil-rich countries include Libya with proven reserves of 46 billion barrels which, according to a 2010 Reuters report, invested billions of its oil export profits in the infrastructure needs of its African Union neighbors - free from western banks.  Algeria has proven reserves of 12 billion barrels, the Sudan with 6.8 billion barrels, Ghana with 5 billion barrels  and Uganda with a 1 billion barrel reserve and a newly discovered site of 6 billion barrels along Lake Albert.  

Under cover of the LRA pursuit, AFRICOM has positioned itself to move into Nigeria or Angola or wherever it might be needed to protect America’s national security interests.  Mission creep in the turbulent Niger Delta area or into the Gulf of Guinea countries is a matter of time. 

With a fragile political history after an arbitrarily-imposed colonial border partition that encouraged social turbulence, civil wars and violent insurrections, the nations of Africa are reluctant to directly challenge a paralyzing US military presence.  Still a continent seeking enlightenment, Africa represents the world’s least developed and most economically marginalized continent now totally dependent on oil exports for its fiscal health, the African continent’s 13% of the world’s population consumes energy at a 3.4% rate.  The United States with an annual consumption of 21 million barrels a day, consumes 22% of the world’s oil production annually and imports over 60% of its total energy needs.
The United States has invested so heavily in Africa’s oil infrastructure with 75% of all US investment earmarked for petroleum production yet the vast wealth produced by oil exports has not translated into an improved quality of life for the local African population.  It is no secret that millions and billions of US taxpayer dollars have been funneled through American agencies like the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Export Import Bank, the Agency for International Development and other US sources for the sole benefit of the multinational petroleum industry.  In addition, US taxpayers supported AFRICOM's administrative budget with $298 Million in 2011, up from $255 million in 2010, not including CIA or other military expenses.

If the White House occupant were more of a Constitutionalist or more committed to openness and transparency, we might expect a press conference where a better explanation of the President’s deployment could be vetted or if the beltway media were doing its job, they might ask:
 ·        What is the role of the US using Nairobi as a base to pursue Islamic       insurgents and Kenya's recent invasions into Somalia and the South Sudan which included war planes?  

·         To what extent does Obama’s militarization of foreign policy represent another departure from the US historic ‘centrist’ foreign policy of diplomacy just as Geo W did in the Middle East?
·         Once the IMF (as an agent for the US) has its dirty hands on the African economies, how long before the US (agents for the petroleum multinationals) totally control the flow of African oil and the profits from its export?

·         With African countries already in desperate fiscal situations, once they  ‘borrow’ and allow the west’s rapacious banks to penetrate the heart of their sovereignty, how long before the African Union sees the writing on the wall of a fiscal paralysis just to cover the debt service.     

·         What level of fiscal crisis is required for the US to confront its own hypocrisy requiring other nations to identify insolvent banks, nationalize and dismantle those most vulnerable?

*   Instead of advocating a military response, will the United States ever truly understand what ‘winning the hearts and minds’ means as the Chinese have been building infrastructure projects such as roads, hospitals, schools, clean water systems and, most importantly, forgiving a $10 billion debt owed by African countries.

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