July 2008

Government Executive brings a story based on yesterday’s hearing. AFRICOM, which has been trumpeting how it would combine aid and diplomacy with the Pentagon is having trouble filling the jobs that are supposed to come from civilian agencies such as the State Department and USAID. Africa Command has trouble filling key civilian slots.

Developing an integrated interagency command structure has proved much harder than planners expected, witnesses told the panel. Africa Command’s architects originally expected to staff as much as a quarter of the command with experts from the State, Treasury and Agriculture departments, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other civilian agencies. But that goal proved too ambitious.

“According to State officials this goal was not vetted through civilian agencies and was not realistic because of the resource limitations in civilian agencies,” said John Pendleton, director of defense capabilities and management issues at the Government Accountability Office. As a result, Africom reduced its interagency representation to 52 notational interagency positions, or about 4 percent of the staff.

It looks like the planners of AFRICOM failed to consult with anyone before declaring the command. They did not consult with Africans, and they did not consult with the people in the US government who supposedly were cooperative partners.

But even that substantially reduced goal will be difficult to achieve. “Personnel systems among federal agencies were incompatible and do not readily facilitate integrating personnel into other agencies, particularly into nonliaison roles,” Pendleton said.

By Sept. 30, Defense expects to have only 13 of the 52 interagency command positions, or about 1 percent of the overall staff slots, filled by representatives from non-Defense agencies.

“One DoD official suggested that the U.S. government could consider the command a success ‘if it keeps American troops out of Africa for the next 50 years,'” Ploch said.

… not everyone shares the Defense Department’s enthusiasm for the new whole-of-government command.

“The prospect that Defense will focus less on fighting wars and more on preventing them engenders mixed feelings in some U.S. government circles,” Ploch said.

While many officials welcome the military’s ability to leverage resources and to organize complex operations, others worry that the military will overestimate its diplomatic role.

“Some argue that the highly unequal allocation of resources between the departments of Defense, State and USAID hinder their ability to act as equal partners and could lead to the militarization of development and diplomacy,” Ploch said.

In a speech Tuesday to the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign in Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said those concerns are legitimate, but he emphasized the importance of better cooperation between civilian agencies and the military services.

“Where our government has been able to bring America’s civilian and the military assets together to support local partners, there have been promising results,” he said, pointing to an effort in the Philippines. There, U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney has “overseen a campaign involving multiple agencies working closely with their Philippine counterparts in a synchronized effort that has delegitimized and rolled back extremists in Mindanao,” he said.

Worries about “a creeping militarization of some aspects of America’s foreign policy,” can be assuaged with “the right leadership, adequate funding of civilian agencies, effective coordination on the ground, and a clear understanding of the authorities, roles, and missions of military versus civilian efforts, and how they fit, or in some cases don’t fit, together,” Gates said.

Of course not everyone sees the US military activity in the Philippines in such a positive light. See How the US got its Philippine bases back by Herbert Docena in Asia Times. It has lessons for Africa.

And I doubt worries about “creeping militarization” can be assuaged so easily. Keeping American troops out will need to be looked at, since they are already there in a number of countries. Individual troops rotate in and out, but the presence is always there. And even if American troops are not there, if the US government or US corporations are arming and paying Africans to kill each other, as in the past, or employing mercenaries for the same purpose, the US will not have gained anything positive, or any return for the taxpayers funding the destruction.

For transcripts of testimony at yesterdays Congressional hearing, scroll down this page: AFRICOM: Rationales, Roles, and Progress on the Eve of Operations

h/t to Outside the Silver Lining for the graphic above.

Tommy the Cork

cover of book: Tommy the Cork

I came across the column below awhile back, and was able to track it down this evening.  It has always seemed to me extremely dim witted to vote for the candidate and not the party.  People often say they do this as though it was some indication of their good judgement and virtue.   As a canny politician once told me, vote for the person whose party will push him (or her) in the right direction.  This is particularly true in those cases where you think all the candidates are bums.  Here is advice on how to pick a president from Tommy the Cork via Molly Ivins:

How to Pick a President
Molly Ivins |  September 24, 2004

This is the Tommy Corcoran column. Tommy the Cork, so dubbed by FDR, was a Washington wise man. His various biographers called him the ultimate insider, the super lawyer, and the master fixer. He came to Washington in 1926 to clerk for Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and became a fixture, an almost institutional source of wisdom about American politics, before his death in 1981.

The Cork had a theory about how to choose a president. He always said it didn’t matter who was running, that it was unnecessary to pay any attention to them. What matters, he said, is the approximately 1,500 people the president brings to Washington with him, his appointments to the positions where people actually run things. The question to consider is which 1,500 people we get.

Chinese Contingent of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) during a medal ceremony held today (06/20/2008) in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

Chinese Contingent of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) during a medal ceremony held June 2008, in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

The Human Security Brief 2007 reports:

… the extraordinary, but largely unnoticed, positive change in sub-Saharan Africa’s security landscape. After a surge of conflicts in the 1990s, the number of conflicts being waged in the region more than halved between 1999 and 2006; the combat toll dropped by 98 percent.

… Between 2002 and 2006 the number of campaigns of organized violence against civilians fell by two-thirds.

During the first 6 years of this century peace and stability have improved in Africa, largely due to pressures from within Africa, and with help from the UN. With increased stability, Africa has become a better prospect for investment, and business and markets are starting up and taking off.

Then the Bush administration dreamed up AFRICOM.

From Michael Klare:

American policymakers have long viewed the protection of overseas oil supplies as an essential matter of “national security”, requiring the threat of – and sometimes the use of – military force. This is now an unquestioned part of US foreign policy.

… Although department of defence officials are loath to publicly acknowledge any direct relationship between Africom’s formation and a growing US reliance on that continent’s oil, they are less inhibited in private briefings. At a 19 February meeting at the National Defence University, Africom deputy commander Vice-Admiral Robert Moeller indicated that “oil disruption” in Nigeria and West Africa would constitute one of the primary challenges facing the new organisation.

AFRICOM is about oil. It is a combatant command. There has been lots of talk about its humanitarian role, lots of photo ops in African countries, and lots of talk about working with the State Department and USAID. But the State Department and USAID are just tools for AFRICOM to insert itself into target countries such as Nigeria. The Pentagon can kill lots of people, or arrange for others to kill lots of people. It can devastate the environment. But it will not be able to secure the oil.

The Pentagon intends most of the actual fighting to be done by African surrogates, hence the AFRICOM emphasis on training. Or have it done by mercenaries, who are unregulated and unaccountable. And that is one reason the Cheney Bush administration likes them so much. They are subject to the laws of no nation. The mercenary corporations are looking to AFRICOM for their next contracts.

Theresa Whelan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, and frequent spokesperson for AFRICOM addressed a dinner of the IPOA, the association of military contractors.

Contractors are here to stay in supporting US national security objectives overseas.

… some times we may not want to be very visible.

The US is investing more money in the IPOA, the International Peace Operations Association, for “peacekeeping” and “stability operations. At the same time, just before Bush visited Africa this year, he he made huge cuts to the US peacekeeping contribution to the UN.

But to think the US or any country can secure the world’s oil by use of military force is to live in Dick Cheney’s own version of cloud cuckoo land.

As Klare concludes:

After all, other than George Bush and Dick Cheney, who would claim that, more than five years after the invasion of Iraq, either the US or its supply of oil is actually safer?

Contrast this with China’s approach. China’s interest is at least as self serving as the US. It wants and needs Africa’s oil and other resources. But so far it is behaving in a far more practical manner.

From Elaine Wu at the University of Southern California comes this report:

China’s Presence Increasingly Important in Cooling the World’s Hot Spots

China, which has long been wary of foreign entanglements and has historically had a policy of nonintervention, is playing an increasingly prominent role in U.N. peacekeeping operations and other humanitarian aid undertakings. …

In efforts to expand its role as a global leader, China has increased diplomatic ties and economic linkages with resource-rich regions of the world, including … Africa

Currently, of the five permanent members on the U.N. Security Council, China and France are the two largest contributors to peacekeeping missions.

However, China continues to shy away from any form of direct military involvement. Most of China’s peacekeepers are non-military personnel. Some serve as military observers, advisors and liaisons, but the majority of Chinese forces deployed are involved with engineering, transportation, medical and other civilian projects.

According to 2007 statistics released by the Peacekeeping Affairs Office of China’s Ministry of Defense, Chinese peacekeepers have built more than 7,300 kilometers of roads, constructed over 200 bridges, treated more than 28,000 medical patients, performed over 230 surgical operations, and have cleared more than 7,500 explosives.

China has never deployed any military troops in any of its missions,” Wen Long told US-China Today. Wen is a Chinese counter-terrorism unit officer and a former member of a Chinese peacekeeping delegation. “China’s attitude towards peacekeeping missions is one of giving help and aid, not to take any kind of aggressive stance. We want to show we care about humanitarian crises.”

It’s not easy for a Chinese police officer to be chosen to go on a mission,” Wen said.

China sets rigorous standards for selecting and training its peacekeepers. In order to be selected for the government’s intensive training program, officers must be at least 25 years old, have an associate degree from an institution of higher education and at least five years of professional work experience in public security fields. In addition, they must have proof of proficiency in English, two years of driving experience and be in top physical and mental condition. In the government’s 2004 screening examination only about 10% of the 500 candidates were accepted, according to a statement by Guo Baoshan, deputy director general of the international co-operation department of the Ministry of Public Security.

In 2002, China built Asia’s largest peacekeeping civil police training center on the outskirts of Beijing. The center trains its cadets in physical and technical skills, as well as in extensive foreign language proficiency and other areas of expertise required for specific missions. In addition to being trained and screened by the Chinese government, all peacekeeping candidates must pass a strict selection examination organized by the U.N., which tests cadets on their knowledge of and skills in U.N. field procedures.

China is very careful to send its best-trained troops, the cream-of-the-crop, to foreign countries,” said Daniel Lynch, an associate professor of international relations at the University of Southern California. “They’re very concerned with projecting a good image.”

“China is under a lot of pressure to be seen as a responsible power as its economic and military power is growing,” Lynch said. “It’s taking small steps, but it wants to prove that it’s a non-threatening, benign power.”

Most China experts agree that as long as China’s economy continues to grow, it will continue to become increasingly involved in world affairs. However, a heated discussion persists in academic, business and political fields over whether China’s rising influence will be a detriment to the current world order or a balancing force for a more stable global system.

And John Taplin writes regarding oil that the:

… Chinese have locked up supply all over Africa, just with a piece of paper, a contact stating they will buy all of the oil output at whatever the prevailing spot price is, for 10 years. They then introduce the local oil company to their local banking partners which lend the driller money against the Chinese contract. So while we have spent six years getting our ass shot off in Baghdad, the Chinese have been busy locking up much more oil than us without even writing a check and without getting their soldiers killed.

To recap, the US creates the Africa Command, trains surrogates, and employs mercenaries to secure oil resources by military force in Africa, damaging prospects for peace and stability.  China writes contracts to buy the oil at the going price, and helps build infrastructure.

Which approach looks more like the approach of a responsible world citizen and benign world power? Which approach looks like the best business practice and best investment? Which approach looks the most patriotic, benefiting the citizens at home while saving lives and money?

Carpenters with coffin in the shape of a Coca Cola bottle
Carpenters with coffin in the shape of a Coca Cola bottle. You can see more pictures at Ghana Web.

The Economist has an article up about how sales of Coke track economic change in Africa:

AFRICANS buy 36 billion bottles of Coke a year. Because the price is set so low—around 20-30 American cents, less than the price of the average newspaper—and because sales are so minutely analysed by Coca-Cola, the Coke bottle may be one of the continent’s best trackers of stability and prosperity.

“We see political instability first because we go down as far as we can into the market,” says Alexander Cummings, head of Coca-Cola’s Africa division. The ups and downs during Kenya’s post-election violence this year could be traced in sales of Coke in Nairobi’s slums and in western Kenya’s villages. Events in the Middle East, such as the 2006 war between Hizbullah and Israel, can dent sales in Muslim parts of Africa, though anti-American feeling usually wears off quite quickly.

At a macro-level, when Coke fails, the country whose market it is trying to penetrate usually fails too. Coca-Cola’s bottling plant in Eritrea hardly works because the country’s totalitarian government makes it impossible to import the needed syrup. The factory in Somalia sputtered on heroically during years of fighting but finally gave out when its sugar was pinched by pirates and its workers were held up by gunmen. Mr Cummings admits that Coca-Cola is “on life support” in Zimbabwe.

Still, if Coca-Cola’s predictions are anything to go by, Africa’s future is mostly bright. The company expects sales in Africa to grow by an annual 10-13% over the next few years, handily outstripping economic growth.

I have a new post up on at the African Loft: The Vultures are Gathering – Mercenary Corporations look to AFRICOM for new Contracts. The IPOA, the orwellianly named International Peace Operations Association is looking to AFRICOM and Africa for their next contracts. Take a look.

corn in Ghana

Corn in Ghana

The Guardian obtained an unpublished study by the World Bank. The reason it has not been published is probably because it would embarrass President Bush and create tensions between the World Bank and the White House. So it has been completed and sitting unpublished since April.

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% …The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

“Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises,” said Robert Bailey, policy adviser at Oxfam. “It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat.”

Rising food prices have pushed 100m people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt. Government ministers here have described higher food and fuel prices as “the first real economic crisis of globalisation”.

President Bush has linked higher food prices to higher demand from India and China, but the leaked World Bank study disputes that: “Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases.”

Even successive droughts in Australia, calculates the report, have had a marginal impact. Instead, it argues that the EU and US drive for biofuels has had by far the biggest impact on food supply and prices.

… The basket of food prices examined in the study rose by 140% between 2002 and this February. The report estimates that higher energy and fertiliser prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.

It argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways.

  1. First, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going towards the production of biodiesel.
  2. Second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production.
  3. Third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher.

“It is clear that some biofuels have huge impacts on food prices,” said Dr David King, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, last night. “All we are doing by supporting these is subsidising higher food prices, while doing nothing to tackle climate change.”

scene from torture training video in Mexico

Still from a video in which a US Contractor Leads Torture Training in Mexico.

AFRICOM plans to make Ghana its anchor in the west African version of the DoD “War on Drugs”. Drugs are the DoD (Department of Defense) tool of choice for coopting a country. Nevermind that the US “War on Drugs” has gone on for decades with no apparent success, and has often been allied with the same people who are trafficking and profiting from drugs, as in Columbia, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia.

The Drug War Expands to Western Africa describes the problems faced by Guinea-Bissau, but also states:

DoD has identified Ghana as its “anchor country” for emerging counternarcotics efforts through AFRICOM.

Whichever is your richest and strongest government department, that is where the most opportunities for corruption lie, and where you will find people taking advantage of those opportunities. By investing heavily in African militaries, the US strengthens the opportunities and the likelihood of corruption in the countries it targets, and increases the likelihood of military coups. When the military controls the government, it is much easier to control the trade in contraband, the profits, and to protect cronies from the law.

The article describes the military complicity in Guinea-Bissau:

The military is thought to be complicit in the drug trade; last year, two military personnel were detained along with a civilian in a vehicle carrying 635 kilos of cocaine. The army secured the soldiers’ release and they have not been charged.

When Ghana had military governments they regulated the price of cocoa. Then the military smuggled cocoa across the border and sold it for higher prices, and officers pocketed the profits. There was no point in most farmers investing much in cocoa, they could not profit on their own. Strengthening the military in the face of the drug trade just provides these same opportunities to make even more money through the same practices that harm the country and enrich corrupt elites. There are passionately patriotic Ghanaians who would oppose this, within the military and without. But there are always plenty of people who are corruptible. It is very difficult to fight corruption when corruption becomes the norm.

It is the current elites in Ghana, and the NPP party in power who have been most often associated with cocaine and drug scandals in the press, such as MP Eric Amoateng, and even rumors regarding the Asantehene.

It gets a lot uglier than this. Keep in mind that the Pentagon via AFRICOM plans to use PMCs, the Private Military Corporations, that are currently gathering to feed at the AFRICOM trough, now that Iraq is passing laws that strip the PMCs of immunity for their actions, and the Iraq war may be winding down.

PMCs have been training the military and police in a number of countries. They are training in Mexico where videos of torture training for the Mexican police by an American PMC have just emerged.

Supposedly the people being tortured are trainees who “volunteered”, and they are learning how to psychologically withstand torture. But according to the account, the torture techniques they are learning are not typical of those used by the local gangs and criminals. From the article:

Leon city Police Chief Carlos Tornero told the AP that the English-speaking man in the videos is a contractor from a private US security firm. Tornero refused to elaborate on the man’s identity, details about the US company, and who contracted the company.

The government’s response has been to defend the program, attack the media for reporting on the videos, and deny the illegality of torture.

Mexico’s national daily La Jornada was quick to point out that torture is in fact prohibited, contrary to the public security chief’s assertions: “Torture is a crime in Guanajuato: in accordance with Article 264 of the state Penal Code, the public servant who ‘intentionally exercises violence against a person, be it in order to obtain information or constituting an illicit investigation method,’ faces a punishment of 2-10 years in prison.”

The existence of a training led by a US defense contractor to teach Mexican police
torture tactics in order to combat organized crime and the local government’s adamant defense of the program is particularly disturbing considering the US government’s recent approval of the $1.6 billion Plan Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative. Plan Mexico is an aid package specifically designed to support President Felipe Calderón’s deadly battle against organized crime. It will fund more US training for Mexican police and military, in addition to providing them with riot gear, spy equipment, and military aircraft. Plan Mexico allows funds for the deployment of up to fifty US defense contractors to Mexico.

This is not the first time US defense contractors have directed torture in foreign countries.

Representatives of the US training other countries’ police and military how to torture is not unprecedented, but it is still deeply shocking. Contraband and coups are the legacy of the US “War on Drugs” in Latin America. We do not need to spread that. Is this what AFRICOM and the US are bringing to West Africa?

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