"[W]herever there's evil, we want to get there and fight it."
This is the logic for America's growing military
presence in West Africa, says U.S. Gen. Charles Wald, according
to the SF Chronicle. Wald, commander of EUCOM (the commander in charge
of imperial operations in Europe and West Africa) apparently made the comment
after being asked "whether cooperation would include the protection of
Nigerian oil infrastructure."
A bizarre response, given the question – but then again, this is West Africa we're talking about. Indeed, America's eventual and ineluctable eclipse as an empire may be precipitated by the interventions now unfolding there – and not by the confirmed disasters that are Afghanistan and Iraq.
In the latter states, the U.S. failed to manage
or accurately predict the reactions of dueling ethnic and religious groups,
with their bewildering array of different languages and local customs. It has
also failed to provide security or boost democratic reform, all the while being
forced to cooperate with various unsavory characters of wavering loyalty and
questionable motivations. Its soldiers have had to operate in stifling heat,
with untrustworthy locals, in disease-ridden and difficult terrain. And all
this while suffering the indignity of critics' suspicions that it's all about
However, the hard-nosed realpolitik crowd might argue that, all democracy-building
ambitions aside, at least these imperial ambitions have the added virtue of
helping secure bosom
buddy Israel, while also providing a pretext for edging closer to perceived
enemies Russia and China.
In contrast, what does West Africa have to offer? It harbors no particular
enemies for the U.S. on the state level. There are no rival superpowers. This
lack of strategic value on a political level has meant that time and time again,
the U.S. has proven disinterested in policing the periodic outbursts of genocide
and mayhem that continue to plague Africa – thus inviting well-earned charges
of hypocrisy, considering the many humanitarian interventions America has carried
out in other parts of the globe.
What West Africa does have is oil – a lot of it. Nigeria is the world's seventh-largest oil producer, and accounts for 70 percent of the continent's oil. Equatorial Guinea, as well as Angola, Senegal and São Tomé and Príncipe are all being eyed hungrily by Western oil majors, who've made sizable investments throughout the region.
Yet West Africa also has in abundance the same complexities that have stymied American efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq: inscrutable singularities of ethnicity, cultures and customs; a bevy of banana republics and informal statelets run by torture-prone, anti-democratic regimes marked by extreme corruption and violence, and an infinitely more difficult natural environment. In short, West Africa is Afghanistan and Iraq to the power of ten, and American troops stationed there are no doubt going to be feeling the heat.
Adventures in Anti-Terrorism
Now, the U.S. avers, West Africa also has terrorists
of the Islamic, al-Qaeda variety. As usual, American leaders are not interested
in severing terrorism at its roots – that is, addressing the lack of education,
economic opportunity and basic social welfare that inevitably give rise to inter-ethnic
conflict and ideological (in today's world, religious) fanaticism. As usual,
the remedy for the perceived growth of terrorism is to arm and train the various
clans and factions that pass for governments in the area – disregarding their
own connections with rogue arms dealers and organized crime, as well as their
often precarious grip on power.
And so has the Pentagon undertaken another multi-million dollar project for
training the armies of weak states in the war on terror – now, the central-west
African states of Niger, Chad, Mali and Mauritania. The American acronym for
the operation is TSCTI (Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorist Initiative), and it is,
Reuters, "aimed at stopping militant groups gaining a foothold in a
region which already provides 15 percent of U.S. oil supplies." In short,
as mission commander Major Paul Baker recently told the Christian Science
Monitor (CSM) in Chad, "[W]e're looking at Africa as a place of growth
for the Marine Corps and the Department of Defense."
Indeed. The CSM article points to the ongoing joint U.S. naval exercises
with Nigeria, reported anti-terror patrols along the Kenya-Somalia border, and
the "expansion of the Chad program from a four-nation, $7 million project
to a nine-country plan with an expected budget of up to $125 million."
More great news for the U.S. taxpayer, just as Iraq continues to empty imperial
Partially because of the recent fighting in neighboring Sudan, "military tension is increasing all over Chad," as ethnic turmoil threatens to boil over into war. According to Afrol News, public unrest is also mounting over President Idriss Deby's desire to change the constitution in order to win another term in office. The American-supported Deby (yet another African leader who came to power in a military coup) has been ruling the country since 1990. In May, a mutiny of Chadian soldiers occurred, and the president has been wary of possible coup attempts ever since. All things considered, is this really the sort of government that America wants to aid militarily? The same can be said for most of the other countries in the region.
The main concern for the U.S. in Niger is to contain "the al Qaeda-linked
Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), Algeria's last powerful rebel
force, which it fears is recruiting and regrouping further south after being
largely chased from its homeland." Niger's scruffy military is being trained
by the U.S. to hunt down the "pale-skinned Tuareg nomads," an ethnic
minority spread across desert patches of three states, who are believed to present
a physical threat: "[E]xperience has shown us that if we do not act in
time, various armed groups could be called into working with elements of the
GSPC," Major Sulaoua Barmou Moussa told Reuters. Yet considering how the
U.S. has broken everything it touches, bumbling around the multi-state minority
china shop (Albanians in the Balkans, Kurds in Iraq), can we really expect more
stability to be the result of sparking renewed combat in remote African deserts?
Higher Stakes in the South?
Yet excluding the hunt for desert nomads, America's
biggest problems are no doubt going to be in richer, more fertile climes, the
sub-Saharan coastal states long marked out by conflict and extreme dichotomies
of wealth and poverty. Oil-rich Nigeria is currently
battling Islamic rebels from the north, while apparently criminal-minded
militants on the western coast have forced major investor Shell to evacuate
hundreds of workers.
Senegal, currently being blessed with "intensive" oil explorations,
is also a site of American military
re-orientation. The U.S. hopes that the West African nation "may become
a new major oil supplier within some years." But the real strategic center
of operations is the tiny island state of São Tomé and Príncipe,
an oil-rich archipelago slated to become a major oil producer. According to
high-ranking American military officers interviewed recently by AP, the "U.S.
military could monitor the movement of oil tankers and protect oil platforms"
from such a base.
Concerns over oil and terrorism have led pro-Israeli
groups to join the chorus calling for U.S. military bases in West Africa.
report from the Jerusalem-based Institute for Advanced Strategic & Political
Studies recommended that the Gulf of Guinea (which shelters both Equatorial
Guinea and São Tomé and Príncipe) be officially declared
an "area of vital interest" for the U.S., arguing that West African
oil "can help stabilize the Middle East, end Muslim terror and secure a
measure of energy security." That is if everything goes according to plan
– something that the think-tank experts always assume will happen.
U.S. Military Reorientation: Background
In the summer of 2002, American officials (along
with France and Britain) met at the UN with the 15-member Economic Community
of West African States (ECOWAS) to discuss military cooperation. At the same
time, the deputy commander of the U.S. European Command Gen. Carlton Fulford
made a specific stop-off in São Tomé and Príncipe. In late
Fradique de Menezes announced an agreement had been reached to build an
American naval base as "a harbor for aircraft carriers and for patrol boats
and for Marines stationed in the region."
In April of the same year, the deputy assistant defense secretary for African affairs, Michael Westphal, portrayed sub-Saharan Africa in the post-9/11 context: "…instability creates a vacuum, which can draw terrorists to it." He was speaking less than 6 months after a region-wide security alert had been issued:
"…a senior security officer working with one of the foreign embassies in Malabo alerted the U.S. ambassador in neighboring Cameroon that al Qaeda planned to attack U.S. oil installations in Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria.
George Staples, the U.S. ambassador in Cameroon who has diplomatic responsibility for Equatorial Guinea, convened a high-level meeting with defense attachés from the region and the general manager of ExxonMobil in Equatorial Guinea, Ben Haynes. A security alert was issued and remained in force until May 2002, as oil companies scurried to find ways to forestall attacks on their offshore rigs."
Gen. Fulford also spoke at a seminar run by the neocon-dominated American
Enterprise Institute on the increasing danger of Islamic fundamentalism
in Nigeria. The event was summarized
by a report published by the Israel-first
JINSA. The article concluded that unnamed "foreign policy experts"
agree that "the best way to combat political instability and terrorism
in Africa is to maintain full military and diplomatic engagement."
Incorrigible Problems, Illusory Solutions
However, the BBC has very recently reported that,
while the Nigerian government is claiming
to have killed 27 "Taliban" fighters in the northeast of the country,
ordinary Muslim Nigerians are growing
increasingly disillusioned with the harsh Sharia law enforced by local leaders.
So why do we need the U.S. to get involved militarily, when that kind of solution
can only alienate the locals and turn them toward extremist ideologies? We shouldn't
forget that Baghdad in 1979 was a lot more sophisticated and Western than many
ostensibly Western countries at the time.
Another factor is the sheer criminality of the region's governments, involved
with everything from al-Qaeda diamond sales to weapons smuggling, toxic waste
dumping, fraudulent licensing of ships and planes, passport fraud, racketeering,
human trafficking – the list goes on. An exhaustive
recent report explains at length why Equatorial Guinea is essentially a
criminal state – thus making a mockery of the brave face that the SF Chronicle
tries to put on America's great new opportunity in democracy-building:
"[I]n West Africa, the United States finds itself with a fresh chance
to do the right thing. It can give those countries a fighting chance to avoid
the paradox of plenty and to use their wealth to evolve into law-governed democracies.
Or it can give in to the temptation to promote a 'stability' that freezes corrupt
and repressive governments in place, for the sake of some tactical and ultimately
temporary victories in the war on terrorism."
While this paragraph seems to propose the existence of an actual choice, and
admirably errs on the side of the Good, there is absolutely no chance that the
first option is even remotely possible. There is only one game in town, and
the U.S. is too
deeply connected with all of the
worst characters and shady
practices to even think about the kind of idealistic "reform"
that would be necessary to salvage this God-forsaken continent.
And so, if indeed the words of Africa commander Wald – "wherever there's
evil, we want to get there and fight it" – were not meant in jest, Americans
are in for an expensive and exhausting future of war without end. Until the
empire itself collapses under the inordinate burden, that is.