A few weeks ago I paid a visit to my hometown of Brooklyn, NY. I was running a little late for my scheduled bus from Washington, D.C. and decided to take a cab to the greyhound bus station. The cab driver was a very friendly and older gentleman. We struck up a conversation and quickly learned a bit about one another. He was a native of Somalia and much of his family still lived there.
"How is it in Somalia?", I asked. I had never been to the country and, unfortunately, the name Somalia invokes images of starvation and poverty stricken despair. I hoped that this man could offer deeper insight. "Somalia is no different from other countries around the world", he said. "We have our poor and sick, we also have our middle class and wealthy. We have country and city areas. Somalia is not how they portray it on TV."
Speaking about American media, the driver complained, "The American corporate media likes sensationalism. They are concerned with profits and ratings so they only run stories when there is a drought, famine or some kind of war. Rarely is the mundane life of a regular Somalian featured … and NEVER do they provide context behind these wars that occasionally break out." His tone changed from dismay to anger. "It also helps to not explain or analyze the root causes of war so that Western countries can justify their desire to come over to our continent and ‘help’."
"Coming over to ‘help’?" I repeated. "… right, just like those ‘ungrateful’ Iraqis we’re helping right now huh?"
He said "European and Western intervention from the past is the number one cause of the troubles we’re seeing in African countries … and it’s the number one thing that keeps us in that situation today."
"What do you mean?", I asked.
He said, "Well let’s not even talk about the ugly European history of enslavement, conquest and terrorism in Africa … that’s a whole other topic … but let’s talk about the fact that even today Africans cannot expect to live independently without interference from the western world. Political leaders are influenced with carrots and sticks … Brutal dictators propped up and supported, democratic movements killed … International economic organizations acting on behalf of the wealthy west and keeping the developing world in poverty. We’re also still suffering from residue of the Cold War tactics that occurred in African nations. To this day, there is a small country that neighbors Somalia called Djibouti, there is a huge U.S. military base there from which they control the entire Horn of Africa!"
I said, "Right, and that base is just one of the over 737 U.S. military bases in other sovereign countries around the world … but in Africa we’re watching the world’s powerful nations jockeying to expand their influence there and the rest of the developing world. China is jumping into the game now too. As for the US, you are familiar with AFRICOM right?"
"Of course!", he replied. He knew all about the U.S. military’s AFRICOM initiative (which most African Union nations have rejected) … yet another military initiative, thinly veiled as a "humanitarian organization".
The website for African Command or AFRICOM states: On February 6, 2007, President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the creation of U.S. Africa Command. The decision was the culmination of a 10-year thought process within the Department of Defense (DoD) acknowledging the emerging strategic importance of Africa, and recognizing that peace and stability on the continent impacts not only Africans, but the interests of the U.S. and international community as well. Yet, the department’s regional command structure did not account for Africa in a comprehensive way, with three different U.S. military headquarters maintaining relationships with African countries. The creation of U.S. Africa Command enables DoD to better focus its resources to support and enhance existing U.S. initiatives that help African nations, the African Union, and the regional economic communities succeed … The creation of U.S. Africa Command does not mean the U.S. military will take a leading role in African security matters, nor will it establish large U.S. troop bases. Rather, Africa Command is a headquarters staff whose mission entails coordinating the kind of support that will enable African governments and existing regional organizations, such as the African Standby Force, to have greater capacity to provide security and respond in times of need.
"BULLSHIT!!!", we said in unison.
With his left hand on the wheel, he held is right hand back over and behind his head. I reached up and gave him dap. (note – not the ‘terrorist fist bump’).
For the final few blocks the conversation spread beyond the African continent and into the nature of American politics. My driver remarked on the unwavering U.S. support for the brutal apartheid Israeli state against the rights of occupied Palestinians … how murderous imperial foreign policies have continued for decades through both Democrat and Republican administrations.
Just as we pulled into the greyhound parking lot, he said, "… every president, every administration, continues on this same path… more intervention, more war, more exploitation, more lies. That’s why I am never excited about presidential elections, because they mean nothing for justice around the world.
"You’re absolutely right", I said.
He quickly continued … "Except now! Barack Obama is the difference we need and he will change all of this."
"… wow" I thought. How could he come to that conclusion after all we just spoke about?
"You really believe that?", I asked.
"Of course!", he exclaimed. "Obama offers the hope that the people in Africa, Palestine and elsewhere really need; to stop war, exploitation and western bullying. Because he is from the African people, he has been among the poor and the exploited. He knows better … in his heart."
We were at my destination but I really couldn’t leave the car just yet, so I decided to challenge him.
"But sir … have you heard what Obama has said about AFRICOM? … He endorses the program"
"There will be situations that require the United States to work with its partners in Africa to fight terrorism with lethal force. Having a unified command operating in Africa will facilitate this action."
"Have you heard Obama’s unwavering support for the apartheid Israeli state?"
"Let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel."
I went on, "Or, what about the things Obama has said about …"
"My friend." He cut me off. "This is just election rhetoric. He has to say these things to get in the White House. He’ll switch when he’s president." Then – as if he and I were not alone in his taxi – my driver leaned in closer to whisper his next words "Trust me he’s not just another politician, I can feel it…"
And so an uncommonly good and sobering conversation about American imperialism, history and contemporary international politics quickly slips into talk about vague feelings for a better American politician. The insurmountable evidence and political observation have been trumped by "hope" in a new candidate. This is JUST what the empire needs when faith in the republic is this low.
If this thoughtful gentleman, with his first hand understanding of American empire and third world suffering, could get swept up in the emotive wave of empty "change" slogans and muliti-million dollar marketing … then there is no wonder why so many Americans have come to similar comforting conclusions.
The truth is that the American intervention in Africa will continue and expand in the coming years, through the AFRICOM initiative. The plight of the occupied Palestinian will likely worsen as well. Democratic and populist movements in the developing world will continue to be regarded as contrary to "American interests", and strategically disrupted. George Bush will simply hand the corporate imperial baton over to the waiting hands of either Barack Obama or John McCain this November.
I found my cash for the cab ride and thought about my driver’s last words. "Trust me he’s [Obama] not just another politician, I can feel it…"
My reply to this wasn’t profound, but I think it was sufficient … I said "Well be careful sir, ’cause feelings can cloud your vision. On these issues I’ve found that it’s best to just see things clearly, as they are."
He nodded and chuckled a bit, while staring pensively at his steering wheel.
"Yep, I know … I must confess, I know"
Billy Buntin is co-founder/co-editor of SleptOn.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org