avatar
GWB, Africa and a New African American General


“In between panels, I ran into Colin Powell and asked him if we are ever going to get out of Iraq,” Arianna Huffington wrote on July 2006 in a report from the Aspen Ideas Festival. ‘We are,’ he told me, ‘but we’re not going to leave behind anything we like because we are in the middle of a civil war.’” Writing on her website, Huffington added, “Powell and Jack Murtha both talking about civil war in Iraq — shouldn’t that be headline news?

 

Evidently not.

 

Powell showed up at Aspen again this year and said quite out loud that he once spent 2-hours vainly trying to persuade President George Bush not to invade Iraq and believes today’s conflict cannot be resolved by US Armed force. “I tried to avoid this war,” Powell alleged at 2007 Festival in Colorado. “I took him through the consequences of going into an Arab country and becoming the occupiers.”

 

We know the former secretary of state said these things to the heavy thinkers gathered at the ski resort because correspondent Sarah Baxter reported it on July 8 in The Times in Britain. We wouldn’t know it otherwise. Aide from a note in a media review column in the Washington Post, the story was almost totally ignored by the major news outlets in this country.

 

General Powell, once a top official in the U.S. government has apparently become an invisible man.

 

I was musing on this the other day when the news came that another African American military leader had been picked to carry the weight of still another important controversial aspect of Bush Administration foreign policy. On July 10, the Defense Department announced that Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward, the Army’s only active black four-star general, will take over Pentagon’s new Africa Command or “Africom.”

 

It’s clear that the Bush Administration has embarked on a bold effort to increase U.S. presence and influence in Africa and that part of the effort is putting African Americans upfront in the drive.

 

Bush Administration Africa policy flows almost directly from recommendations from two right-wing Washington think tanks: the Heritage Foundation that came up with the idea of an African command and the American Enterprise Institute. (The latter would appear to be working to increase its clout by recently adding to its staff former – briefly – World Bank director, neo-conservative, and Iraq war promoter, Paul Wolfowitz, who says his principle interest these days is Africa.)

 

Another African American Pentagon official, Cindy Courville, was recently appointed U.S. ambassador to the African Union, having previously served as director for East African Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense where she was responsible for the coordination of U.S. military and security policy with East Africa and the Horn of Africa. Courville said at her confirmation hearing, “Africa holds growing geostrategic importance and is a high priority of this administration.”

 

According to the Administration, the new Africa command Ward now heads up will help “promote peace and security and respond to crises on the continent” and coordinate military support for other diplomatic and development programs. The new command has been set up, according to a Pentagon press release, because of “the increasing importance of Africa strategically, diplomatically and economically.” This is because of “the increasing importance of the continent to the U.S…”

 

One of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s last acts before his dismissal was to convince President Bush to create Africa command. President Bush announced the formation of the Africa Command in February, saying it will “strengthen our security cooperation with Africa and create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa.”

 

Not everybody sees it quite this benignly. Many people both here and in Africa are alarmed by the Administration’s decision to step up U.S. military operations on the continent. Moreover, many see it linked to the rapidly accelerating scramble for Africa‘s natural resources, principally, but not exclusively, oil.

 

Nii Akuetteh, the executive director of Washington-based Africa Action, said Africom “has nothing to do with African interests and programs; its access to oil and the ‘war on terror’.”  Akuetteh, a former Adjunct Professor at Georgetown‘s University’s School of Foreign Service and one time Research and Education Director of the advocacy group TransAfrica, told me he is of two minds about the appointment of General Ward. “He must be someone of considerable competence to have risen to where he is, given the persistence of racism, and that is a good thing. What bothers me is the concept of Africom itself; I don’t like it. Beyond all the talk about bureaucratic reorganization the real fear must be over the threat of increased militarization of sub-Saharan Africa. If you read the details you will see that that’s pretty much what it is.”

 

Akuetteh says although some African governments may have welcomed the idea, civil groups in most of Africa and people in the U.S. concerned with U.S. policy toward the continent, ” are all of one mind: we don’t like it.”

 

Bill Fletcher Jr., BC Editorial Board Member and former President of TransAfrica, said, “It is ludicrous to think that setting up Africom has anything to do with fighting terrorism. It is a dangerous notion.” The real motivation, he says, is to protect America‘s oil interests in Africa.

 

“Pentagon to train sharper eye on Africa,’ read the headline over a Jan. 5 report by Richard Whittle in the Christian Science Monitor. “Strife, oil, and Al Qaeda are leading the US to create a new Africa Command.” Today, the US gets about 10 percent of its oil from Africa, but, the Monitor said, some experts say it may need to rely on the continent for as much as 25 percent by 2010.’

 

“I think the emergence of Africa as a strategic reality is inevitable and we’re going to need forward-based troops, special operations, marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors to be in the right proportion,” Marine General James Jones, then-NATO’s military commander and head of the US European army, told an interviewer last year before the African Command plan was revealed. Jones was appealing for more U.S. troops in Europe to be available for deployment for trouble spots in Africa. “I think the emergence of Africa as a strategic reality is inevitable and we’re going to need forward-based troops, special operations, marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors to be in the right proportion,” said Jones.

 

However, TransAfrica argues that “While the Bush administration claims this development will build partnerships with African governments that will lead to ‘greater peace and security to the people of Africa‘ nothing could be further from the truth. This newest incursion follows a pattern of extraction of minerals and aiding factions in some of Africa‘s most bloody conflicts: thus further destabilizing the continent. This operation will strengthen the US military’s presence in the Gulf of Guinea, to aid oil extraction processes and will work to further militarize the Horn of Africa in support of the administration’s ‘war on terror.’ US troops are already on the Horn of Africa carrying out operations within Somalia and on its border with Kenya.”

 

That an African American general would be named to oversee U.S. military operations didn’t come as a surprise. In August of last year, Time magazine previewed the decision to set up the African command. It noted that it would also “provide a single military organization for agencies like the State Department and the CIA to work within the region.” A Pentagon source said at the time Ward would probably be put in charge of the project, noting what Time called “his boots-on-the-ground experience in Africa.”

 

Ward, 58, currently deputy commander of U.S. European Command, graduated from Morgan State University‘s ROTC program and joined the military in 1971. He received his bachelor’s degree from Morgan, and his master’s from Pennsylvania State University. Among his many assignments, in the early 1990s, he served in Somalia as commander of the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (Light) Fort Drum when America sent the military in to battle Somali militias. In 2000, he commanded the occupation force in Bosnia and Herzegovina following the breakup of in the former Yugoslavia. He was the U.S. Security coordinator for the Palestine Authority for most of 2005. He was promoted to four-star general last summer.

 

The announcement of the new military command was followed by the joint U.S-Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. Once again, an African American became the public face of the Administration in an African operation. That would be Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer. In Somalis things are going from bad to worse with the Ethiopian occupation igniting an Iraq-like civil conflict that shows no sign of abating and threatens to become a larger regional conflict. Recent declarations by Frazer are said to be exacerbating the danger.

 

Last week, it became quite clear that Frazer’s boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not a central operative in terms of U.S. policy in Iraq. That role has apparently fallen to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Rice’s “assistant,” John Negroponte.

 

Rice was scheduled to visit Africa this week. After a stop in the Israeli-occupied West Bank she was slated to visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo and attend a trade conference in Ghana. However, all three trips – and another to Southeast Asia – were canceled or postponed. This came after the President said he was sending Defense Secretary Robert Gates to the Middle East early next month to survey the situation with – in the words of the New York Times – “an assist” from Rice, and the projection of a fall regional conference on the Middle East that she is to chair.

 

The postponement of Rice’s trip to Sub-Saharan African should not be taken as any diminution of the Administration’s stepped up attention to the continent. On July 11, she addressed the Organization of American States/African Union Democracy Bridge Forum in Washington.

 

“We have had combatant commands around the world for every place except Africa,” Rice recently told participants in the 2007 Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists. “We have a European Command. We have a Central Command; that’s the Middle East. We have a South Command, a Southern Command that is Latin America. We have not had a command dedicated to Africa.”

 

“Both on the war on terror and in dealing with conflicts, we are cooperating very intensely with local governments and local armed forces in training, equipping and intelligence sharing,’ said Rice. “For instance, right now we are assisting the African mission in Sudan, and but we’re doing it from our European Command. When we did the Liberia work with a very fine Nigerian general, General Okonkwo, we did that from European Command. So it only makes sense as we cooperate more and work more with African militaries and African leaders to have an African command.”

 

“According to Rice, “what you’re really seeing is the president’s very active policy in Africa in partnership with Africans to resolve Africa‘s problems. Now you’re seeing the institutions begin to develop to make that possible over the long run. Africa Command is one. Now in Africa we will have a sub-combatant commander for Africa and an ambassador to the AU because we’re doing so much cooperative work with the countries of Africa.”

 

Any African patriots looking over their shoulders at what U.S. efforts in the Middle East have wrought might only shudder at the thought. That is except for the autocratic rulers who have already thrown their lot with Washington – Chad, Ethiopia and Uganda come to mind – which have employed such “security” cooperation to try to crush local opponents. However, the Africom project drew a cool, sometime hostile response elsewhere on the continent. Under Secretary of Defense Henry recently led a team promoting the Africa Command to Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Ethiopia and Dijbouti where, according to the Financial Times they were met with “a wall of hostility from governments in the region” most of whom are apprehensive about the plan and hardly anxious to join the Administration’s so-called war on terror. 

 

A State Department official told the Times: “We’ve got a big image problem down there. Public opinion is really against getting into bed with the United States. They just don’t trust the United States.” The Guardian (UK) reported,  “The Libyan and Algerian governments reportedly told Mr. Henry that they would play no part in hosting Africom,” adding, “Even Morocco, considered Washington’s closest north African ally, indicated it did not welcome a permanent military presence on its soil.”

 

Most commentary on this situation avoids what I would consider the most important point: what right does the U.S. government have to interfere in the affairs of sovereign African nations? To intervene in their disputes? To promote the militarization of the continent? These questions seem to have eluded Rice, Frazer, Courville and company. But then again, they don’t make policy; they’re just doing their job.

 

Michele Ruiters, a senior researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue in South Africa, wrote in the newspaper Business Day that Africans should “oppose the expansion of US military power on the continent.” Debates will emerge, she wrote, “about Africom’s interests, maneuvers and probable outcomes, but we should also examine the potential social, economic and political destabilization of an already vulnerable continent.”

 

“The African Union and the Peace and Security Council were established to entrench democracy, create economic development and monitor and secure peace but have not been allowed to develop and mature enough to deal with the continent’s problems, “continued Ruiters. “Africa does not need another US base aimed at ‘promoting’ peace and development. Africom would destabilize an already fragile continent and region, which would be forced to engage with US interests on military terms.”

 

Meanwhile, General Powell also told the Aspen audience that Al Qaeda is only 10 percent of the problem in Iraq, who told columnist Robert Novak about CIA agent Valerie Palme was never a secret, and: “I believe Guantanamo should be closed.” Shouldn’t that too be headline news? Evidently not.

 

Commander Ward might well be on guard as he moves into his new position. Sometimes when things go bad in an unjustified, ill thought out foreign adventure – say aiding the invasion of Somalia – the brother in charge – like Powell – can apparently later become invisible, his recollections unreported.

 

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Click here to contact Mr. Bloice.

 

Leave a comment