It was a mere six months ago that AFRICOM was touting its missions in Africa as ‘stabilizing’ failed states, and ‘aiding development’ (read: trade deals, labor exploitation, mineral resource grabs). You no doubt remember the shifting termilogically inexactitude (h/t: L. Strether) of the Brown-People-Needing-to-Be-Dead characterizations in Afghanistan and other ‘theatres’ in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). It eventually had ratcheted down from al Qaeda to generic/fuzzy ‘Taliban’, ‘militant extremists’ to ‘militants’ (as in: any male of a certain age, yada, yada). But like the proverbial Bad Penny returning to characterize the black-People-Who, etc., the MSM stenographers are dutifully claiming that in Obomba’s letter to Congress of two days ago announcing that he’d sent another drone fleet to Niger to help ‘spy on’ al Qaeda in Mali, the die has now been completely cast.
Never mind that all sorts of military have said publicly that many of the insurrectionists only have loose ties to Al Qaeda, and have no intentions of harming the US. Never mind that many investigative journalists say that the Tuaregs in northern Mali have legitimate gripes, and that the west is supporting the Fort Benning-trained Amadou Sanogo who led the military coup against President Amadou Toumani Toure, head of an arguably corrupt, but democratically elected government.
Never mind that the US has armed and aided African leaders who committed massive genocides in African nations; never mind that much of the violence seems to be direct blowback from arming and training the Salafists in Libya (G. Greenwald)…the West loves to be frightened by ‘Eek!: al Qaeda being trained in vast sparsely populated deserts in…The Moddle East! The rest of Africa! Never mind that former Secretary of State Clinton on her last African jaunt warned that they’d be keeping an eye out since China was looking to usurp their resources and the US didn’t like it much. (William Engdahl’s ‘Mali and Africom’s Africa Agenda: Target China’ is long, but illuminating, if a bit confusing for the Average Bear like myself. The bits on France’s need for uranium were fascinating, for instance.)
Never mind that CIA and the Dark Armies have been at work since before AFRICOM was created by Bush in 2007 when fears and dreams began to brew up some major propaganda, resource dreams, and desire to recolonize poor Africa, as if it hadn’t been trying to escape a little bit from a century of European colonization already.
Never mind any of the realpolitik at work, nor how the spoils will be divided in dirt-poor but resource rich Mali (and the rest of the neighborhood): France in the lead, aided by the US schlepping in soldiers and armaments for them by airlift; Germany and Great Britain now sending troops, and the US, doing who the hell knows what now and in the near future?
This, after Panetta and Obomba had promised no troops on the ground (‘fooled ya, suckers; troops went to Niger!’) Obomba has now secured a status of forces agreement with Niger to build a permanent drone base there, and Africom/US personnel will be exempt from criminal oversight, always a handy provision.
But at least General Ham Carter, head of Africa Command said ‘oopsie’ on Jan 24:
We have had a U.S. training effort with the Malian armed forces for some number of years,” he said. “Some of that has occurred in Mali, and some of that was Malian officers coming to the U.S. for training, to include, Captain [Amadou] Sanogo, who led the military coup which overthrew the constitutionally-elected government.”
[This is] very worrisome for us.
And probably for many citizens in Mali, Algeria, Ivory Coast, you know, the whole neighborhood. Spencer Ackerman helped shine some light on the Africa Command’s intentions:
U.S. Army Gen. David Rodriguez, most recently the day-to-day commander in Afghanistan, all but laid out a hit list to a Senate panel during his confirmation hearing to run the military’s newest regional command organization. “A major challenge is effectively countering violent extremist organizations, especially the growth of Mali as an al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb safe haven, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and al-Shabaab in Somalia,” Rodriguez told the Senate Armed Services Committee in advanced questions on Thursday morning, as “each present a threat to western interests in Africa.”
The Senate panel opted not to ask questions about al-Qaida at all — a surprising move, given that Rodriguez testified alongside Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, nominated to command all U.S. military forces in the Middle East and South Asia. Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the committee, called the swaths of territory they will oversee “the centers of gravity for our military’s operations to counter the threat of terrorism.” Yet senators preferred to grill Austin over his recommendations for a residual force in Iraq that never came to pass.
The panel opted not to ask questions about Al Qaeda at all? Baffling. Just more theater? After repeating the ‘we never meant for the folks we armed and trained to overthrow an elected government’ meme, Rodriguez said:
There are questions about the extent of the threat that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Shabab and Boko Haram actually pose to the United States. Rodriguez conceded in his advance questions that the three groups “have not specifically targeted the United States.” Instead, they’ve “carried out attacks on western interests and engaged in kidnapping,” he said, warning that they’d be an “even larger threat” if they “deepen their collaboration.” Asked by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Rodriguez said Boko Haram in Nigeria “has committed some acts that can be associated with terrorism.” Rudy Atallah, the Pentagon’s former top Africa counterterrorism officer, told Danger Room last month that “The short answer is they are regionally focused for now,” rather than threatening the United States at home.
When the brass admit that these groups don’t pose any risk to the US, AFRICOM’s mission statement leaves left a little wiggle room (read: cavernous hole):
Should preventive or enabling efforts fail, we must always be prepared to prevail against any individual or organization that poses a threat to the United States, our national interests, or our allies and partners…
‘Partners and allies’ covers a broad swath, especially when many corrupt leaders in Africa are willing to cut some deals to allow western military in to ‘help stabilize chaos’ or now ‘defeat Al Qaeda.
Not long after France (aided by Canada) began bombing Tuareg separatists, and retook a few key cities, French President Joshua Holland said that France would be out of there in a couple weeks. Two days ago he said it might take a decade to smash the Islamists in the region. You know it’s another quagmire developing, especially since as part of the Mali operation, US Special Forces have been sent to Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo and Ghana, and of course Central African Republic.
Yesterday stories began popping up about kidnappings, extremist groups recruiting child soldiers, the arguably believable viciousness of the rebels. The case is building for a long-term presence in northwestern Africa. Pepe Escobar calls the whole venture ‘Zero Dark Mali’, and while I don’t find any of it funny, I understand why he finds it all absurd, and jests, as he did when he announced the US was leaving either Iraq or (kinda/sorta) Afghanistan. His column was titled, ‘So long, Ragheads’.
Glenn Greenwald, Jan. 14:
Finally, the propaganda used to justify all of this is depressingly common yet wildly effective. Any western government that wants to bomb Muslims simply slaps the label of “terrorists” on them, and any real debate or critical assessment instantly ends before it can even begin. “The president is totally determined that we must eradicate these terrorists who threaten the security of Mali, our own country and Europe,” proclaimed French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
As usual, this simplistic cartoon script distorts reality more than it describes it. There is no doubt that the Malian rebels have engaged in all sorts of heinous atrocities (“amputations, flogging, and stoning to death for those who oppose their interpretation of Islam”), but so, too, have Malian government forces – including, as Amnesty chronicled, “arresting, torturing and killing Tuareg people apparently only on ethnic ground.” As Jones aptly warns: “don’t fall for a narrative so often pushed by the Western media: a perverse oversimplification of good fighting evil, just as we have seen imposed on Syria’s brutal civil war.”
The French bombing of Mali, perhaps to include some form of US participation, illustrates every lesson of western intervention. The “war on terror” is a self-perpetuating war precisely because it endlessly engenders its own enemies and provides the fuel to ensure that the fire rages without end. But the sloganeering propaganda used to justify this is so cheap and easy – we must kill the Terrorists! – that it’s hard to see what will finally cause this to end. The blinding fear – not just of violence, but of Otherness – that has been successfully implanted in the minds of many western citizens is such that this single, empty word (Terrorists), standing alone, is sufficient to generate unquestioning support for whatever their governments do in its name, no matter how secret or unaccompanied by evidence it may be.
I chose one part of the soundtrack for the breathtaking film Never Let Me Go since the voices played by the solo instruments could be speaking of the anguish of the Mali people, their grim realizations and acceptance of their fate under Africom’s hammer. The people of Africa must know their history under colonial power all too well. Rachel Portman had said that the violins should not play any vibrato, lest the voices be heard as sentimental in any way. I chose it also because in the film, the dominant theme revolved around the question: Do these beings have souls? That question speaks to the issue of the otherness and dehumanization of those black and brown people around the world upon whom the West wage war and domination seems to be apt here.
In these selections, hope is offered, no matter how meager or seemingly unrealistic. We can hear the imaginings of a different dream, a different future The People may yet be able to create. Please, please…wish them well in their efforts.
(Forgive any mistakes; they’re entirely my own, and I’ll fix them as I see them, or as you correct me.)
Photo by Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CGIAR) released under Creative Commons License