MR
24.04.09
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The Political Economy of Media
THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF MEDIA:
Enduring Issues, Emerging Dilemmas by Robert W. McChesney

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Censorship, Inc.
CENSORSHIP, INC.: The Corporate Threat to Free Speech in the United States by Lawrence Soley
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Law and the Rise of Capitalism
LAW AND THE RISE OF CAPITALISM by Michael E. Tigar
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Religion and the Human Prospect
RELIGION AND THE HUMAN PROSPECT by Alexander Saxton
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Bush versus Chávez
BUSH VERSUS CHÁVEZ: Washington's War on Venezuela
by Eva Golinger

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Humanitarian Imperialism
HUMANITARIAN IMPERIALISM: Using Human Rights to Sell War by Jean Bricmont
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Fool's Crusade
FOOLS’ CRUSADE: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions by Diana Johnstone
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Naked Imperialism
NAKED IMPERIALISM: The U.S. Pursuit of Global Dominance by John Bellamy Foster
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Pox Americana
POX AMERICANA: Exposing the American Empire edited by John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney
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The Cold War and the New Imperialism
THE COLD WAR AND THE NEW IMPERIALISM: A Global History, 1945–2005
by Henry Heller

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Imperialism without Colonies
IMPERIALISM WITHOUT COLONIES by Harry Magdoff
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Toward an Open Tomb
TOWARD AN OPEN TOMB:
The Crisis of Israeli Society
by Michel Warschawski

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Eastern Cauldron
EASTERN CAULDRON: Islam, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq
in a Marxist Mirror
by Gilbert Achcar

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Inside Lebanon
INSIDE LEBANON: Journey to a Shattered Land with Noam and Carol Chomsky (Ed. Assaf Kfoury)
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The Liberal Virus
THE LIBERAL VIRUS: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World by Samir Amin
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The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy
THE RISE OF CHINA AND THE DEMISE OF THE CAPITALIST WORLD ECONOMY by Minqi Li
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China and Socialism
CHINA AND SOCIALISM: Market Reforms and Class Struggle
by Martin Hart-Landsberg and Paul Burkett

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The Great Reversal
THE GREAT REVERSAL: The Privatization of China, 1978-1989 by William Hinton
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Red Cat, White Cat
RED CAT, WHITE CAT: China and the Contradictions of "Market Socialism" by Robert Weil
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The Unknown Cultural Revolution
THE UNKNOWN CULTURAL REVOLUTION
Life and Change in a Chinese Village by Dongping Han

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FANSHEN: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village by William Hinton, new preface by Fred Magdoff
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Korea
KOREA: Division, Reunification, and U.S. Foreign Policy by Martin Hart-Landsberg
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The Rush to Development
THE RUSH TO DEVELOPMENT: Economic Change and Political Struggle in South Korea by Martin Hart-Landsberg
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Open Veins of Latin America
OPEN VEINS OF LATIN AMERICA:
Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent
by Eduardo Galeano (Translated by Cedric Belfrage, with New Introduction by Isabel Allende)

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Days and Nights of Love and War
DAYS AND NIGHTS OF LOVE AND WAR by Eduardo Galeano
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The Great Financial Crisis
THE GREAT FINANCIAL CRISIS: Causes and Consequences
by John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff

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The Irreversible Crisis
THE IRREVERSIBLE CRISIS by Harry Magdoff and Paul M. Sweezy
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Stagnation and the Financial Explosion
STAGNATION AND THE FINANCIAL EXPLOSION by Harry Magdoff, Paul M. Sweezy
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Labor and Monopoly Capital
LABOR AND MONOPOLY CAPITAL: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century by Harry Braverman
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Monopoly Capital
MONOPOLY CAPITAL: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order by Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy
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More Unequal
MORE UNEQUAL: Aspects of Class in the United States (Ed. Michael D. Yates)
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The Politics of Immigration
THE POLITICS OF IMMIGRATION Questions and Answers by Jane Guskin and David Wilson
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Railroading Economics
RAILROADING ECONOMICS: The Creation of the Free Market Mythology by Michael Perelman
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The Amoral Elephant
THE AMORAL ELEPHANT: Globalization and the Struggle for Social Justice in the Twenty-First Century by William K. Tabb
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A History of Capitalism
A HISTORY OF CAPITALISM: 1500 – 2000 (New Edition) by Michel Beaud
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Hungry for Profit
HUNGRY FOR PROFIT: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the Environment edited by Fred Magdoff, John Bellamy Foster, and Frederick H. Buttel
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The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet
THE ECOLOGICAL REVOLUTION: Making Peace with the Planet by John Bellamy Foster
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Ecology against Capitalism
ECOLOGY AGAINST CAPITALISM: by John Bellamy Foster
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Marx's Ecology
MARX'S ECOLOGY: Materialism and Nature by John Bellamy Foster
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The Vulnerable Planet
THE VULNERABLE PLANET: A Short Economic History of the Environment by John Bellamy Foster
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Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality
POWERS OF DESIRE: The Politics of Sexuality edited by Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson
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Gender Politics in Latin America
GENDER POLITICS IN LATIN AMERICA: Debates in Theory and Practice edited by Elizabeth Dore
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Women and the Politics of Class
WOMEN AND THE POLITICS OF CLASS by Johanna Brenner
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The Socialist Feminist Project
THE SOCIALIST FEMINIST PROJECT: A Contemporary Reader in Theory and Politics edited by Nancy Holmstrom
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The Fiction of a Thinkable World
WE ARE THE POOR: Community Struggles in Post-Apartheid South Africa by Ashwin Desai
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Township Politics
TOWNSHIP POLITICS: Civic Struggles for a New South Africa by Mzwanele Mayekiso
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Return to the Source: Selected Speeches of Amilcar Cabral
RETURN TO THE SOURCE: Selected Speeches of Amilcar Cabral
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The Next Liberation Struggle
THE NEXT LIBERATION STRUGGLE: Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy in Southern Africa by John S. Saul
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The Rosa Luxemburg Reader
THE ROSA LUXEMBURG READER edited by Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson
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Che Guevara: His Revolutionary Legacy
CHE GUEVARA: His Revolutionary Legacy by Olivier Besancenot and Michael Löwy
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Che Guevara
REMINISCENCES OF THE CUBAN REVOLUTIONARY WAR by Che Guevara (translated by Victoria Ortiz)
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Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution
UNDERSTANDING THE VENEZUELAN REVOLUTION: Hugo Chavez Talks to Marta Harnecker by Hugo Chavez and Marta Harnecker (translated by Chesa Boudin)
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Build It Now
BUILD IT NOW: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century by Michael A. Lebowitz
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Beyond Capital
BEYOND CAPITAL: Toward a Theory of Transition by István Mészáros
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THE CHALLENGE AND BURDEN OF HISTORICAL TIME: Socialism in the Twenty-First Century by István Mészáros (foreword by John Bellamy Foster)
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The World We Wish to See
THE WORLD WE WISH TO SEE: Revolutionary Objectives in the Twenty First Century by Samir Amin
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Lessons from History:
The Case against AFRICOM

by Stephen Roblin

Africa has historically been less of a priority to U.S. foreign policy planners than other regions, such as the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.  This was certainly the case when George W. Bush took office in 2001.  But during the course of his tenure, "Africa's position in the U.S. strategic spectrum . . . moved from peripheral to central."1  There is no better evidence for this development than the most recent and significant change to the U.S. military structure -- the establishment of the U.S. Africa command, commonly referred to as AFRICOM.

So what is AFRICOM?  To answer this question, we need to understand one of the principal means of organizing the U.S. military's global presence.  The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has carved the globe into regions, and these regions fall under the "area of responsibility" of geographic combatant commands, the "prisms through which the Pentagon views the world."2  The function of these combatant commands is to coordinate, integrate, and manage all U.S. defense assets and operations for their respective regions.3  Until recently the globe was covered by five U.S. combatant commands:  European (EUCOM), Pacific (PACOM), Northern (NORTHCOM), Southern (SOUTHCOM), and Central (CENTOCOM).4  On October 1, 2008 AFRICOM was added as the sixth U.S. combatant command, its area of responsibility being the continent of Africa, with the exception of Egypt.

Before AFRICOM was established, Africa fell under the responsibility of three different commands -- EUCOM, CENTCOM, and PACOM -- each of which viewed Africa as a "secondary or even tertiary concern."5  AFRICOM has effectively taken over all U.S. military initiatives and operations conducted on the continent (again, with the exception of Egypt).  This administrative change within the DOD has been praised as a "positive" step towards the U.S. achieving a "unity of focus throughout Africa."6  AFRICOM's proponents, official and intellectual, claim increased U.S. "focus" on Africa will be mutually beneficial for African countries and the U.S. alike.  They argue that AFRICOM will facilitate security and stability on a conflict-ridden continent while enabling the U.S. to better pursue its increasing "strategic interests" there.  Such claims have elicited abundant criticisms, but proponents insist that AFRICOM is "a different kind of command" that represents a new "paradigm" in U.S. military engagement.  Hence, "there is sufficient reason to be hopeful," as put by one military intellectual.7

In contrast to proponents, I argue that, given the history of U.S. involvement in Africa, past and present, there is "sufficient reason" to think that AFRICOM will be potentially disastrous for citizens of African countries.

1. The Pitch

A Hard Sell For Good Reason

The creation of AFRICOM raises the question: why have U.S. foreign policy planners become so interested in Africa anyway?  The question has sparked controversy, primarily because of how U.S. officials initially handled it.  Back in 2007 (before AFRICOM was officially established), the U.S. pursued a diplomatic campaign in search for African countries that would host AFRICOM headquarters.  During this campaign the strategy was to downplay U.S. strategic interests in Africa and sell the new command through "the language and aims of humanitarianism."8  With the exception of the Liberian government, African governments, civil society organizations, and citizens were skeptical and governments declined to host the new command.

The accusation coming from Africa was that U.S. officials were not upfront about the true intentions for AFRICOM.  In the view of African critics, the primary interest in Africa for the U.S. is to secure its own strategic interests, mainly ensuring U.S. access to Africa's massive oil reserves, fighting the "war on terror," and checking China's increasing influence in the continent.  They went so far to say that AFRICOM represents the "militarization" of U.S. foreign policy towards Africa, which they fear would too closely resemble the U.S. policies during the Cold War when the U.S. gave military aid, training, and financial support to repressive and undemocratic governments.9  The response of Ryan Henry, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, to the criticisms was to refer to them as "myths."10  According to one state department official, "We've got a big image problem down there. . . .  Public opinion is really against getting into bed with the US.  They just don't trust the US."11

It should be hardly controversial, however, to say that the U.S. interests cited above were crucial motivations for AFRICOM's creation.  First of all, these interests have been well documented in established journals, including military journals.  Sean McFate writes in the Military Review: "AFRICOM is more than just an administrative change within DOD; it responds to Africa's increased geopolitical importance to U.S. interests."  He goes on to identify some of those interests as "the needs to counter terrorism, secure natural resources . . . and respond to growing Chinese influence."12  Furthermore, two years before President Bush first announced the plans for AFRICOM in 2006, Congress organized a panel of Africa experts to identify the top factors shaping U.S. interests in Africa.  Terrorism oil, and global trade were among them.13  While China's growing influence in Africa was not cited specifically, U.S. "corporate and political decision-makers" have undoubtedly been paying attention to this development.14

Judging from the response by African governments, civil society, and citizens, it is safe to say that U.S. efforts to downplay these interests in Africa and sell the new command through "the language and aims of humanitarianism" fell, for the most part, on deaf ears.  Since then, U.S. officials have altered their diplomatic campaign for AFRICOM.15

A Different Kind of Command

After initial attempts to downplay U.S. interests in Africa, U.S. officials began to admit that AFRICOM was not based purely on "humanitarian" intentions.  Instead, it has been argued the U.S. can pursue its strategic interests while helping African nations in the process.  According to AFRICOM's commander, General William Ward, the new combatant command will benefit the U.S. and its African counterparts through the "active security" strategy -- the "persistent and sustained level of effort oriented on security assistance programs that prevent conflict and foster continued dialogue and development."  There are two crucial components of this strategy: conflict prevention and "interagency" coordination.  According to General Ward, this strategy will help prevent conflicts before they start through helping "Africans build and maintain their own security capacity."16  The benefit for the U.S. is "to prevent attacks emanating from Africa against Americans" and "secure U.S. strategic access," which is presumably access to trade and strategic natural resources, such as oil.17

As for African nations, conflict prevention will play an important role in U.S. development efforts in Africa.  General Ward has described how: AFRICOM will employ "a wide range of tools at its disposal . . . to promote security," which is a necessary "foundation for political, diplomatic, and economic development."  Ward adds that, through increasing Africa's "security capacity," AFRICOM will "[s]trengthen democratic principles by fostering respect for the Rule of Law, civilian control of the military, and budget transparency."  Given that democracy promotion cannot occur solely through military efforts, built into the AFRICOM structure is "interagency personnel," who "will provide better informed and more effective support to initiatives led by civilian Departments and Agencies such as the Department of State (DOS) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)."18  In other words, AFRICOM will work in conjunction with the DOS and USAID, as well as local and international organizations, to better coordinate military and civilian initiatives.

General Ward has asserted that the "active security" strategy -- conflict prevention and interagency coordination -- makes AFRICOM "a different kind of command," a command that will serve as an important tool in helping African countries "meet the challenges facing Africa today."19  Others have shared in General Ward's enthusiasm.  According to McFate, "AFRICOM is a post-Cold War experiment that radically rethinks security in the early 21st century based on peace-building lessons learned since the fall of the Berlin Wall."  But, if past and recent U.S. military engagements are any indication of what the future may look like, there is little reason for citizens of African countries to be so optimistic.

To be certain, let's take a detailed look at a recent example of post-9/11 U.S. military engagement in the Horn of Africa: the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia.  The buildup to the invasion and the invasion itself, which began in December 2006, reveal a set of conditions that rendered the U.S. "war on terror" in Somalia disastrous for the country's citizens.

2. The Somalia Case

Unlikely Allies

From March to June 2006, Mogadishu and the surrounding area was the contested territory fought over between the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and a coalition of U.S.-backed warlords.20  The ICU, an organization designated as terrorist by the United States,21 was a broad coalition of Islamist courts and militias that were taking control of Mogadishu from the warlords who had long terrorized the city's residents.  The rise of the ICU, however, was an unacceptable development for U.S. foreign policy planners who asserted that an ICU-controlled Somalia would become a "safe haven" for Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.22

The U.S. could not rely on the internationally recognized government of Somalia, the "corrupt and feeble" Transitional Federal Government (TFG),23 to contest the increasing authority of and public support for the ICU in southern Somalia.  The TFG had no territorial control of Mogadishu, not to mention it was illegitimate and irrelevant in the eyes of most Somali citizens.24  Instead, the U.S. turned to the local warlords,25 who around this time formed a coalition called the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, a name Somalis believed was purely a "marketing ploy to get U.S. support."26

The irony about this choice of allies is that some of the warlords had "fought against the United States in 1993 during street battles that culminated in an attack that downed two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters and left 18 Army Rangers dead."27  Irony aside, the financial support given to the warlord coalition by the U.S. was in violation of long-standing U.N. Resolution 733, which called on "all States to refrain from any action which might contribute to increasing tension and to impeding or delaying a peaceful and negotiated outcome to the conflict in Somalia."28

U.S. support for the warlord coalition, which was "hated by the [Somali] population," clearly increased "tension" and hindered a "peaceful and negotiated outcome."  TFG officials, including Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, criticized the U.S. support for the warlords arguing that this course of action "only fuels further civil war."29  Moreover, it was widely reported that U.S. support for the coalition "sparked a wave of anti-American sentiment that massively boosted support for the Islamists."  According to Roland Marchal, a Horn of Africa expert who was interviewed during the conflict, "People who are absolute moderates in religious terms are fighting alongside the Islamic courts to get rid of the warlords."30  All of this contributed to making the three-month conflict deadly.  The Washington Post reported that clashes during just one week in May were "some of the most violent in Mogadishu since the end of the American intervention in 1994, and left 150 dead and hundreds more wounded."31

Despite the illegal U.S. backing of the warlord coalition, in June 2006 the ICU managed to drive it out and take control of Mogadishu and the surrounding area.  ICU control of Mogadishu only lasted from June to December 2006.  During its six-month tenure, the ICU brought "a degree of peace and security unknown to the south for more than fifteen years," according to an International Crisis Group report.  By reuniting Mogadishu and removing weapons from the streets, the ICU's "success at restoring peace, security and administration won admiration . . . from a broad cross section of Somalis."  The report adds that "Communities seemed prepared to tolerate a strict interpretation of Sharia law in return for peace and security."32  The opinions of Somalis, however, did not enter into the foreign policy calculations of the U.S. and Somalia's Christian neighbor and leading recipient of U.S. financial and military assistance in Africa, Ethiopia.

Enter Ethiopia

Like the U.S., Ethiopia was threatened by the rise of Islamic rule.  The fear was that the ICU would aid militant groups fighting for self-determination in the Ogaden Province of Ethiopia, whose population is composed primarily of ethnic Somalis.  The solution to the "security threat" was to unilaterally send military equipment and troops into Somalia to bolster the TFG and begin preparing for the overthrow of the ICU.  According to a U.N. Monitoring Group report, Ethiopia began moving trucks full of ammunitions into Baidoa, the TFG stronghold, in late June -- the same month the ICU came to power in Mogadishu.  This was followed by the deployment of Ethiopian troops into the city in early July, and by November there were thousands of Ethiopian troops on Somali soil.33  All of this was in blatant violation of U.N. Resolution 733.

Meanwhile Ethiopian officials denied the presence of troops and ran a media campaign aimed at convincing the U.S. that the ICU left the Ethiopian government with no other option than to invade.34  In late November Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said "as the direct victims of the aggression, we feel we might be forced at some stage to respond with force. . . .  If, and when, we are convinced that all options of resolving the invasion through peaceful means are exhausted, only then we may act to respond in kind."35  The claim that Ethiopians were the "direct victims of [ICU] aggression" was a gross exaggeration.  The threat posed by the ICU to the Ethiopian government was based on alleged ICU ties with the militant groups in the Ogaden Province and comments made by a few ICU officials about their desire to reunite the Somali province in Ethiopia with greater Somalia.36  If there were any party that could claim the status of "victim" in this case, it was the ICU whose pleas for the removal of Ethiopian troops from Somali soil were completely ignored.

Inside Ethiopia, the government's political opposition saw the ruling party's actions as a political strategy to cover up the character of its rule and to gather support from abroad.  In a letter written on November 29, the opposition criticized the ruling regime's exploitation of "the sad situation in Somalia," which serves "to deflect attention from the deteriorating situation in Ethiopia itself, to salvage and recover its sagging popularity at home and to garner the support of the West, particularly that of the United States, by jumping on the bandwagon of the war on terror."37  Ethiopia has many "deteriorating" situations, one of which is the manner in which the government and its military and security forces have attempted to quell the same insurgent groups allegedly supported by the ICU.  Instead of adopting peaceful measures to settle the conflict, the official strategy has been to inflict collective punishment on the ethnic Somalis of the Ogaden Province.  The tactics include indiscriminate attacks on civilians, forced displacement, torture, rape and sexual assault, and other war crimes and crimes against humanity.38

As a "staunch Ethiopian ally," the U.S. government has not only "ignored" the criminal acts committed by Ethiopian government against its own Somali population, but also helped pave the way for the Ethiopian government to extend its crimes against ethnic Somalis living in Somalia.39  Despite the adoption of U.N. Resolution 1724 in November 2006 -- which condemned "the significant increase in the flow of weapons and ammunition supplies to and through Somalia" and urged states to comply with Resolution 733 -- U.S. officials agreed with their Ethiopian allies that the ICU posed too big a threat and that a military solution was required.40

In December 2006, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, described the urgency of the situation: "The Council of Islamic Courts is now controlled by al Qaeda cell individuals. . . .  The top layer of the court are extremists.  They are terrorists."41  Frazer's comments came after the U.S. effectively gave Ethiopia "the green light" to invade Somalia by sponsoring a "Dec. 6 U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized . . . the deployment of an African peacekeeping force but omitted a demand for the withdrawal of the estimated 8,000 Ethiopian troops" on Somali soil.42  In addition, the U.S. took an active role in the Ethiopian invasion through training Ethiopian troops and providing the Ethiopian military with U.S. military advisors and intelligence on the military positions of ICU fighters.43  Not surprisingly, when the invasion was initiated in late December 2006, the ICU proved ill-equipped to defend itself against the regional power backed by the world's superpower.

The U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia ended the six month period of relative peace and security ushered in by the popular ICU and drove the country back into a state of war and terror.

Exaggerated Threats and Their Inflictions

During the invasion, the "worst abuses" of international law were committed by the foreign occupier, Ethiopia.  According to Human Rights Watch, the crimes committed by Ethiopian forces included firing "rockets, mortars, and artillery in a manner that did not discriminate between civilian and military objectives . . . [and] deliberate attacks on civilians, particularly attacks on hospitals."44  The invasion and post-invasion violence "killed hundreds of civilians, provoked almost 400,000 people to flee the city, and shattered the lives, homes, and livelihoods of thousands of families."45  Notwithstanding the crimes committed against Somali civilians and the massive "collateral damage," the invasion was considered a "major success for Ethiopia and the U.S."46

Somalis resented the ICU's defeat and felt threatened by the presence of Ethiopian and TFG forces.47  The manner in which Ethiopian forces and the TFG fought insurgent groups contesting the occupation fueled further resentment.  Ethiopian and TFG forces showed complete disregard to civilian life.  The crimes committed by Ethiopian forces included indiscriminate attacks, assault, rape, looting, and killing of civilians.  TFG forces mirrored this conduct and committed "widespread acts of murder, rape, looting, assault, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture."48  The impact of the occupation for Somalis has been devastating.  Since January 2007, "Thousands of civilians have died in the violence that has engulfed the country," and "over one million have been displaced and up to 3.2 million need humanitarian assistance."49  The U.S. response was to support its allies, Ethiopia and the TFG, by refusing to "confront or even publicly acknowledge the extent of Ethiopian military and TFG abuses in the country."50

The illegal nature of the U.S. role in the invasion becomes even more glaring when we consider the so-called "threat" posed by the ICU to the U.S. and the "international community."

Claims made by U.S. officials that the ICU was "controlled" by al-Qaeda has been called an "exaggeration."51  In fact, when Horn of Africa expert, Kenneth Menkhaus, was asked by Foreign Policy magazine, "Are the Courts controlled by Al-Qaeda?" his response was, "No. Absolutely not."52  In addition, studies by Menkhaus found that "post-9/11 fears of al-Qaeda bases in Somalia were unfounded."  Even the conventional wisdom guiding U.S. foreign policy towards Somalia, which assumes that "failed states" are breeding grounds for terrorism, has been challenged: "Both academic and government-affiliated studies suggest that failed state environments like Somalia are, in fact, less conducive to transnational terrorism than environments with some amount of governmental control."53  This view is corroborated in a study by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, which found that "the Somali context has generally tended to inhibit and constrain the rise of radical Islamism."54

The only "legitimate" debate concerning ICU's connection to Al-Qaeda was "whether a small number of leaders in the Islamic Courts . . . [had] linkages with a small number of leaders from Al-Qaeda."55  Instead of settling the debate before taking action, the U.S. engaged in air strikes on alleged al-Qaeda targets with civilians paying the ultimate price.56  In the beginning of January 2007, strikes in southern Somalia resulted in the killing of some 30 civilians.57  No foreign al-Qaeda operatives were killed.58  The Somalia Arms Embargo Monitoring Group reported that such air strikes, as well as U.S. training of Somaliland officers, were in violation of the Somalia arms embargo.59  The U.S. responded by sending a letter to the Monitoring Group describing the air strikes as acts of "self-defense against al-Qaeda terrorist targets in Somalia," and a "response to ongoing threats to the United States posed by al-Qaeda and its affiliate[s]."60

Based on actual evidence, there is only one party that has right to claim self-defense: the people of Somalia.  And to date, no U.S. (or Ethiopian or TFG) official or military personnel has been held accountable for their role in driving the country back into a state of war and terror, at a level even unknown to a "failed state."

3. The Somalia Case and Its Implications for AFRICOM

Conditions That Kill

Let us return to the central topic of this paper and draw a connection between the U.S. role in the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia and AFRICOM.  What the Somalia case reveals is a set of conditions that rendered the prosecution of the U.S. "war on terror" -- AFRICOM's "number one theatre-wide goal"61 -- disastrous for Somali citizens.  These conditions include U.S. willingness to: violate international law and U.N. Resolutions; exaggerate threats to the U.S. to sell foreign policy, thereby rendering the "war on terrorism" as a tool of propaganda; establish alliances with brutal and criminal regimes as well as non-state actors (i.e. Somali warlords), who readily violate international law and commit heinous human rights abuses; provide the means for such crimes and abuses through financial and military/security assistance; deny that such crimes and abuses were committed by U.S. allies; and so on.

To state my argument concisely, as long as such conditions are part of the U.S. foreign policy agenda, claims that AFRICOM will help the U.S. pursue its strategic interests on the continent while helping African nations in the process seem irrationally optimistic.

But, some may still argue that I am making too much of one historical example and that the U.S. role in the invasion of Somalia was one mishap in a long history of military initiatives on the continent which have served the people of Africa well.  In response to potential skeptics, let's take a look at pre-9/11 U.S. foreign policy in Africa, which brings us back to one of the primary criticisms of AFRICOM -- that it signals a return to U.S. Cold War policies in Africa.

Africa and the Cold War

To understand the character of U.S. foreign policy in Africa during the Cold War, we need not look further than the amount of arms poured into the continent, who received the bulk of U.S. military aid, and the impact this had on the continent.  According to Ugboaja Ohaegbulam, U.S. administrations "found it easier to throw military weapons at Africa's postcolonial conflicts than to contribute to their peaceful resolutions" by playing "the role of a champion of the principle of national self-determination or an impartial arbiter."62  Accordingly, more than $1.5 billion worth of weaponry was transferred to Africa from 1950-1989.63  The countries that received the largest amounts of U.S. arms shipments were Liberia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and Zaire,64 all of which were controlled by authoritarian, oppressive, and unpopular regimes.  As these countries enjoyed the status of "political ally," the crimes committed against their own populations were backed and facilitated by U.S. administrations.

Perhaps the most infamous recipient of U.S. military assistance in Africa was Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. Through financial and military support from the U.S., Mobutu seized control of the country in June 1965.  His rise to power came after the country had undergone five years of civil war, which was instigated by the CIA after successfully arranging the ouster of the democratically elected Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba.  Largely due to aid from the U.S., Mobutu remained in power until 1997.  His resume consisted of repressing all political opposition, pillaging the country's wealth, driving the economy into collapse, and carrying out with impunity atrocious human rights abuses.  U.S. officials were well aware of the oppressive and criminal nature of his rule; however, Mobutu was considered a "friendly tyrant" because of his strategic importance in the Cold War battles taking place on African soil, mainly his support for the apartheid contras in southern Africa.  The U.S. rewarded the "friendly tyrant" by providing aid to Zaire between 1960 and 1988 that amounted to $860 million,65 much of which was transferred to rebels across the border fighting a civil war in Angola, a war that wound up lasting close to three decades.

Like Zaire, U.S. involvement in Angola had devastating effects on its people.  Ohaegbulam provides a vivid description the consequences of the U.S. intervention in Angola: "The intervention exacerbated and prolonged the conflict . . . contributed enormously to the death toll, human suffering, damage to the economy and infrastructure, the education and health systems, agriculture and food production brought about by the war."  In effect, "all aspects of economic and human development" were "stalled."66  The same could be said for the impact of the U.S.-backed Mobutu reign as well as the other major recipients of U.S. military assistance during the Cold War era.  According to William D. Hartung and Bridget Moix, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, and Zaire "turned out to be the top basket cases in the 1990s in terms of violence, instability, and economic collapse."67  The impact of U.S. Cold War polices, specifically the arms transfers, is described by Ohaegbulam: "those transfers helped to create or aggravate the conditions which caused the escalation of the conflicts and inflicted devastating consequences on Africa and its peoples.  Worse still, they prolonged the conflicts, made them more lethal and increased political and economic instabilities in the region."68

Many of the conflicts continued after the Cold War ended in 1989, including the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which claimed close to 4 million lives between August 1998 and April 2004.69  The Clinton administration response to the humanitarian crisis was to "criticize the governments involved in the Congo War," while failing to accept responsibility for the role the U.S. had "in helping to create the conditions" that led this conflict.  In other words, the Clinton administration ignored the fact that U.S. Special Forces trained military personnel "fighting on both sides of the DRC's civil war -- from Rwanda and Uganda (supporting the rebels) to Zimbabwe and Namibia (supporting the Kabila regime)."70  For these reasons, Hartung and Moix argued back in 2000 that the U.S. "should be reducing its military role in the region, not expanding it," that is, if the U.S. "is to play a credible role in resolving and preventing wars in Africa."71

Judging from the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia and the creation AFRICOM, Washington evidently has not listened to their advice.

4. History and the New Administration

Denying the history of U.S. military involvement in Africa makes it easy for AFRICOM planners and proponents to be excessively optimistic about the new command's ability to serve U.S. and African interests.  As put by former president George W. Bush, "Africa command will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa,"72 all of which are to be made possible by the new "paradigm" shift in U.S. military engagement.  While AFRICOM planners initially had difficulty articulating this new "paradigm," they eventually settled on the "active security" pitch, which goes as follows: through preventing conflicts before they start and working with civilian branches of U.S. foreign policy, AFRICOM will not only assist African countries in their quest for peace, security, and democratization, but also facilitate U.S. efforts to combat the "war on terrorism," access natural resources, check China's increasing commercial and political influence, and secure other U.S. "strategic interests."  And to all the critics of AFRICOM, don't worry; "there is sufficient reason to be hopeful," at least from the point of view of the proponents.73

In my view, we should approach AFRICOM more realistically and ask: is there "sufficient reason" to think the U.S. via AFRICOM can pursue its interests in a manner that is necessarily in sync with the interests of the African masses?  This was clearly not the case when the U.S. supported and participated in the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, which drove a "failed state" deeper into the abyss of failure.  Nor was it the case when the U.S. transferred billions of dollars in military assistance to Africa's "basket cases" -- Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, and Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo.  What this history reveals is the problem with choosing allies.  Too often U.S. allies have included state and non-state actors that willingly violate with impunity human rights and democratic principles.  For AFRICOM's proponents to even begin to make a strong case for the new command, they would need to offer evidence that there has been a clear break from this history and that the recipients of AFRICOM's active security strategy will actually represent the public's interests.  No evidence has been offered because, indeed, such evidence does not exist.

Of course, some still hope that the Obama administration will usher in a new era of U.S. foreign policy.  According to Secretary Clinton, future U.S. foreign policy will be "based on a marriage of principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology.  On facts and evidence, not emotion or prejudice."  Taking Secretary Clinton's words literally, one might be led to believe that the administration would take a different stance than supporting AFRICOM and the militarization of U.S. foreign policy towards Africa.  However, according to President Obama back when he was a senator, "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."74  Such an assertion is consistent with the views of administrations in the past and does nothing to address the problem that increased U.S. interests in Africa, an expanded US military role on the continent, and the U.S willingness to pursue its interests as it has done in the past is a recipe for disaster for the citizens of African countries and whoever else is interested in living in a more peaceful world.

 

1  Sean McFate. "U.S. Africa Command: A New Strategic Paradigm?" Military Review, January-February 2008.

2  Id.

3  Id.

4  Laura Plauch, "Africa Command: U.S. Strategic Interests and the Role of the U.S. Military in Africa," CRS Report for Congress, March 10, 2008, p. 4.

5  McFate, supra, footnote 1.

6  Jeff Schogol, "Africa Command Plans Approved by Bush, DOD Officials Confirm," Stars and Stripes,
Mideast edition, Saturday, December 30, 2006.

7  Africom.mil, "AFRICOM POSTURE STATEMENT: Ward Updates Congress on U.S. Africa Command," March 13, 2008 (retrieved on November 30, 2008); McFate, supra, footnote 1.

8  "U.S. Civil-Military Imbalance for Global Engagement," Refugee International, July 2008, p. 32.

9  Ugboaja F. Ohaegbulam, U.S. Policy in Postcolonial Africa: Four Case Studies in Conflict Resolution, Peter Lang: New York, 2004, p. 60.

10  Ryan Henry, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, State Department Foreign Press Center Briefing, June 22, 2007.

11  Simon Tisdall, "African States Oppose US Presence," Guardian Unlimited, June 25, 2007.  

12  McFate, supra, footnote 1.

13  Plauch, supra, footnote 4, p. 12.

14  George Frynas and Manuel Paulo, "A New Scramble for African Oil? Historical, Political, and Business Perspectives," African Affairs 2007 106(423): 229-251.

15  Supra, footnote 8, p. 32.

16  Africom.mil, "Marine Corps Forces, Africa Officially Established," November 14, 2008.  Retrieved on November 30, 2008.

17  Supra, footnote 7.

18  Id.

19  Id.

20  International Crisis Group, "Somalia: To Move Beyond the Failed State," Africa Report No. 147, December 23, 2008, p. 13.

21  "Somalia: Eliminating the Terrorist Threat," Fact Sheet, African Affairs, US Department of State, 25 January 2007.

22  Emily Wax and Karen DeYoung, "Secretly Backing Warlords in Somalia," Washington Post, May 17, 2006.

23  Supra, footnote 20, pp. 2, 7,and 8.

24  Human Rights Watch, "So Much to Fear: War Crimes and the Devastation of Somalia," December 2008, p. 3.

25  Many of the warlords had been had been previously financed by the CIA in efforts to assassinate local and foreign terror suspect.  Cedric Barnes and Harun Hassan, "The Rise and Fall of Mogadishu's Islamic Courts," Chatham House, April 2007; "Washington's Somalia Strategy Fuelled Islamist Rise: Experts," Agence France Presse, June 15, 2006; Julie Holler, "Rediscovering Somalia: Press Downplays U.S. Role in Renewed Crisis," Extra!, March/April 2008.

26  Wax and DeYoung, supra, footnote 22.

27  This claim was supported by Ted Dagne, the leading Africa analyst for the Congressional Research Service, who said, "We fought some of these warlords in 1993 and now we are dealing with some of them again."   Supra, footnote 22.

28  U.N. Resolution 733 (1992) of 23 January 1992.

29  Supra, footnote 22.

30  "Washington's Somalia Strategy Fuelled Islamist Rise: Experts," Agence France Presse, June 15, 2006.

31  Supra, footnote 22.

32  International Crisis Group, "Somalia: The Tough Part Is Ahead," Africa Briefing No. 45, January 26, 2007, pgs. 1 and 4.

33  U.N. Monitoring Group, "Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia pursuant to Security Council resolution 1676 (2006)," November 2006. p. 18.

34  "Ethiopia Says Ready to Defend Somali Government against Powerful Islamists," Agence France Presse, July 19, 2006.

35  "Ethiopia Says Seeks No Permission to Defend Itself," Reuters, November 25, 2006.

36  Supra, footnote 32, pp. 4 and 6.

37  "The Prospects of War between Somalia and the Regime in Ethiopia," AFD Statement, November 29, 2006.

38  Human Rights Watch, "Collective Punishment: War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden Area of Ethiopia's Somali Regional State," June 208.

39  Id. p. 6.

40  U.N. Resolution 1724  (2006) of 29 November 2006.

41 Sue Pleming, "U.S. Says al Qaeda Radicals Lead Somali Islamists," Reuters, December 14, 2006.

42  Jonathan S. Landay and Shashank Bengali, "U.S. Policy in the Horn of Africa May Aid al-Qaida, Experts Warn," McClatchy Newspapers; John Prendergast and Colin Thomas-Jensen, "Getting It Wrong in Somalia, Again," Boston Globe, November 29, 2006.

43  Mark Mazzetti, "Pentagon Sees Covert Move in Somalia as Blueprint," New York Times, January 13, 2007; Mark Mazzetti, "U.S. Used Base in Ethiopia to Hunt al-Qaeda in Africa," New York Times, February 23, 2007.

44  Human Rights Watch, "Shell-Shocked: Civilians Under Siege in Mogadishu," August 2007, p. 5; Robert G. Berschinksi, "AFRICOM's Dilemma: The 'Global War on Terrorism,' 'Capacity Building,' Humanitarianism, and the Future of U.S. Security Policy in Africa," Strategic Studies Institute, November 2007, p. 43.

45  Human Rights Watch, "Shell-Shocked: Civilians Under Siege in Mogadishu," Vol. 19, No. 12(a), August 2007, pp. 51/103.

46  Supra, footnote 32. p. 1.

47  Id. p. 1.

48  Human Rights Watch, "So Much to Fear: War Crimes and the Devastation of Somalia," December 2008, p. 1, 2, and 42.

49  Supra, footnote 20, p. 1.

50  Supra, footnote, 48, p. 7.

51  Supra, footnote, 32, p. 4

52  "Seven Questions: War in Somalia." Foreign Policy, December 2006.

53  Robert G. Berschinksi, "AFRICOM's Dilemma: The 'Global War on Terrorism,' 'Capacity Building,' Humanitarianism, and the Future of U.S. Security Policy in Africa." Strategic Studies Institute, November 2007, p. 46; Kenneth J. Menkhaus, "Somalia and Somaliland: Terrorism, Political Islam, and State Collapse," in Robert I. Rotberg, ed., Battling Terrorism in the Horn of Africa, Washington, DC: Brookings, 2005; Anna Simons and David Tucker, "The Misleading Problem of Failed States: A 'Socio-Geography' of Terrorism in the Post-9/11 Era," Third World Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 2, 2007.

54  Al-Qaeda's (Mis)Adventures in the Horn of Africa, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, p. 29.

55  Supra, footnote 52.

56  Mark Mazzetti, "Pentagon Sees Covert Move in Somalia as Blueprint," New York Times, January 13, 2007; Mark Mazzetti, "U.S. Used Base in Ethiopia to Hunt al-Qaeda in Africa," New York Times, February 23, 2007.

57  Supra, footnote 20, p. 26.

58  Ken Menkhaus, "The Crisis in Somalia: Tragedy in Five Acts," African Affairs, 106/204, p. 381.

59  Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia pursuant to Security Council resolution 1766 (2007); International Crisis Group, "Somalia: To Move Beyond the Failed State," Africa Report No. 147, December 23, 2008, p. 26.

60  Supra, footnote 20, p. 26.

61  Africom.mil, "AFRICOM POSTURE STATEMENT: Ward Updates Congress on U.S. Africa Command," March 13, 2008. Retrieved on November 30, 2008.

62  Ohaegbulam, supra, footnote 9, pp. 60/253.

63  William D. Hartung and Bridget Moix, "Deadly Legacy: U.S. Arms to Africa and the Congo War," Arms Trade Resource Center, January 2000.

64  Ohaegbulam, supra, footnote 9, p. 60.

65  Martin Meredith, The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, New York: Public Affairs, 2005, p. 307.

66  Ohaegbulam, supra, footnote 9, p. 185.

67  Hartung, and Moix, supra, footnote 63.

68  Ohaegbulam. supra, footnote 9, p. 62.

69  GlobalSecurity.org, "Congo Civil War."

70  Hartung and Moix, supra, footnote 63.

71  Id.

72  The White House Office of the Press Secretary, "President Bush Creates a Department of Defense Unified Combatant Command for Africa," February 6, 2007.

73  Africom.mil, "AFRICOM POSTURE STATEMENT: Ward Updates Congress on U.S. Africa Command," March 13, 2008 (retrieved on November 30, 2008); Sean McFate, "U.S. Africa Command: A New Strategic Paradigm?" Military Review, January-February 2008.

74  Daniel Volman, "Africa: Campaign Presses Obama to Abandon Bush Plan for Africom," allAfrica.com, December 4, 2008.


Stephen Roblin is currently a master's student at the University of Maryland, School of Public Policy.  His research interests are U.S. foreign policy, specifically U.S.-Africa relations, the conflict in Nigeria's Niger Delta, the impact of neoliberal economic policies in Africa, and ecological economics.  You can contact him at <stephenroblin@gmail.com>.
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