November 6, 2000
British troops are back in Sierra Leone. Well thatís what they seem to be saying on the government owned BBC, as well as saying that Sierra Leone is heading for peace talks. Of course the fact that Britain has had a continuous military presence in Sierra Leone since the weeklong (ho, ho) rescue mission for British nationals earlier this year is not mentioned. Part of the problem is that two of the participating countries in this adventure, India and Jordan are pulling out. The high salaries on offer for taking part in the United Nations mission are no longer so attractive when having to deal with local rebels and jungle diseases, and thatís even before they look at their own side.
You see the problem is those pesky Nigerians. Unlike India or Jordan, or for that matter Britain, they perceive a genuine strategic interest in stopping fratricidal civil war in a nearby country. Indeed Nigeria knows a bit about fratricidal civil war itself, with a civil war brewing up over the proposed imposition of Islamic Sharia law in some Muslim areas of the country. The Nigerian army, while leading the forces of its neighbours in ECOWAS (a West African version of NAFTA), actually held the rebels at bay. More than can be said for the UN. Now these uppity Nigerians, with their strategic interest and their half-decent track record, want a bit of a say on running things. This is what has forced the latest crisis in the UNís largest military operation. The Indians have decided that if they are not going to be appreciated then they are leaving, and the Jordanians have used the excuse to go as well.
So what does the British government do? Regular readers of my column know that when I ask this rhetorical question that a really stupid answer is sure to emerge, so I will try to be fair. They could announce that they will be going as the UN force is falling apart, they could continue the training commitment to the end of its life span and leave, or they could send 500 troops and a naval flotilla. Now what do you think they did? Reader, they took the stupid option. We now have the situation where we have a failed UN mission, a government that is a patchwork quilt of criminal militias that could turn against us without warning, a regional superpower aggrieved at our bravado and no strategic interest. So naturally we had to go over there. After all our six-month-old legacy of securing Sierra Leone was under threat. What would Tony Blair and Robin Cook do at their meetings of foreign leaders, especially with a new American President to impress?
So how does this affect America? What exactly is happening on Tuesday? There is a very real chance that there may be a new gang in charge. Remember the last time that happened. 1992, and Clinton defeated Bush. Bush was in a bit of a bind. All that campaigning done and nothing to do now other than raise money for his presidential library. Oh and act as commander in chief, which was handy as in Somalia all these aid workers were being stopped from doing good and feeding the hungry by these rapacious war lords. This was fortunate, as Bush would not be around for long, and his erstwhile opponent Bill Clinton would have to look after any mess. And what a mess. At the time almost every one said how noble Bushís intervention was, and then the body bags started coming back, but it wasnít Bush who was being blamed but his successor.
Of course things arenít the same any more. Bill Clinton is now in the White House, and is going to be retiring soon. There could be a Republican measuring up the White House curtains. His predecessor's son, in fact. And the British could be finding themselves with an awful bloody nose soon. And there are all these poor people in Sierra Leone who need protection. But what am I saying? Clinton wouldnít do something like that to make his successor look bad, would he?
While Sierra Leone may be an embarrassment for Bush it would like, almost every other trouble spot, be an infatuation for Al Gore. Unlike Clinton who would see this as a political maneuver or Bush who would see it (or his advisors would) as an embarrassment, Gore would see this as part of Americaís civilising mission. Of course a military mission to help the Brits out of a hole in Africa is not going to be wildly popular with the American electorate, but can the same be said of fighting Al? After all who will remember this in four years time?
Zimbabwe is also going to be problematic. The leader of the opposition has been accused of treason, the opposition are trying to impeach the President (for more than an inappropriate use of a cigar) and almost all whites over forty are being threatened with genocide trials. Now this would usually be a story of everyday corrupt third world folks, but with a half-decent economy going down the tubes. Sad and worrying, but not of great effect to anyone without friends or relatives there. However, it seems that Britain, having failed innumerable times to do anything decent in former Rhodesia, is itching to go in again. Before Sierra Leone there was serious talk of going in to "rescue expatriates". In Sierra Leone, of course they went in to "rescue expatriates", and are still there. In Zimbabwe, they stopped before they went in. The electorate were intimidated (although strangely not defrauded), (a few) whites were beaten up with (more of) their black farm hands and successful commercial farms were handed over to the President's supporters. Britain did not invade. Why not? I'll be honest; I was expecting an invasion. Despite Mugabe remaining his awful self, the Brits stopped dropping heavy hints about rescuing expatriates who were, if anything, in greater danger than before. However, Zimbabwe was dropping hints about how they were finding their involvement in Zaire to be too expensive, and so their non-cartelised diamond mining (like Sierra Leone's). Now that Zimbabwe shows no sign of withdrawing, are the expatriates going to need another rescue mission? And will American troops be helping after November 7?
What a busy continent Africa is, these days. Fighting is flaring, again, between the government of Angola and the rebel UNITA movement. There has been a coup in the Ivory Coast. New democratic administrations are imposing Islamic Sharia law in the Muslim provinces of Nigeria, prompting Christians to riot. The government of Tanzania is busy rigging ballots in the conquered territory of Zanzibar. In addition, the President of America's oldest African colony, Liberia, is being blamed for everything including the weather among his neighbours.
This election is more important than a drink-driving charge dredged up by a desperate and unscrupulous government. This election is about where American, and British, troops will be, probably in twenty years time. I picked on Africa, as the continent where America shows the least interest, even considering Somalia. This may not be the case if Omnipresent Al gets in.
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