Pentagon expands imperialist role in Africa


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

The Pentagon hunkers down in Africa

Charles Cobb Jnr
26 January 2007 09:18

The stance of the United States with respect to the rest of the world has 
changed radically under the ³conservative² administration of George W Bush. The 
latest indication of the militarisation that is at the forefront of this shift 
came on December 13, when then-defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced that 
within ³one to two months² the US military would establish an African Command --
adding a sixth region to the existing five US geographic combat commands.

In the thinking of Pentagon and White House officials, the world today is too 
dangerous a place not to be policed by Washington. And given this notion -- 
viewed by Bush administration decision-makers as an urgent global political 
necessity -- there are not enough American policemen (indeed, there can never be
enough). So a restructuring of the capacity for force and violence has been 
under way for the past seven years.

One of the important shifts within this process is abandonment of the post-World
War II idea that the US and Europe are co-equal partners in military matters. 
Rumsfeld ³had a certain contempt for the Europeans,² the International Herald 
Tribune recently quoted Jens van Scherpenberg, an expert on trans-Atlantic 
relations at Berlin¹s German Institute for International and Security Affairs, 
as saying.

In Rumsfeld¹s view -- and despite his politically expedient departure, the 
administration continues to believe -- the US government requires a second tier 
of more pliable allies accepting of American leadership. A quick sense of this 
thinking can be gained by observing who is allied with the US in Iraq. The 
United Kingdom¹s support notwithstanding, Western Europe in general and France 
in particular have been, to put it mildly, cool toward this US effort. In the 
admini-stration¹s view, they are unreliable.

Back in 2003, Rumsfeld performed the remarkable feat of unifying France and 
Germany, angering both continental powers when he said they were part of an 
unrepresentative ³old Europe². The Bush admini-stration counts heavily on the 
³new Europe² of former Soviet satellites for support of its Iraq mission.

The White House is also counting on a ³new Africa². The establishment of 
³Africom,² as the Pentagon and state department are already calling it, is being
driven by two main strategic concerns: first, the growing demand for African oil
and gas (Africa is expected to be supplying 25% of US hydrocarbon imports by 
2015) and the vulnerability of those supplies, concentrated as they are in some 
of Africa¹s most unstable states; and second, the perceived danger of Islamic 

The top brass have concluded that the old Nato concerns are outdated: in the 
21st century, threats will come from the South and East.

The location of the Africa Command is ³still in the planning process², says 
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, as is the 
timing of its launch. State department personnel have also been deeply involved 
in planning for Africom, and the European Command¹s Deputy Commander, General 
William E (Kip) Ward heads the list of possible commanders.

The five existing commands -- which in their areas of military responsibility 
cover the globe -- are the Northern Command, based in Colorado; the Pacific 
Command, based in Hawaii; the Central Command, based in Florida; the European 
Command, based in Germany; and the Southern Command, also based in Florida.

It¹s easy enough to see that having one command for Africa makes for a certain 
logistical coherency. Currently, three of the commands share responsibility for 
the continent.

Discussion of the need for an Africa Command began long before the Bush 
administration -- Bill Clinton¹s military people talked about it too. But the 
question is whether this development will be a good thing for the continent.

I think not.

First, without significant and protective checks and balances, excessive 
³security² tends to erode, if not crush, civil liberties, and those governments 
on the continent that already show little inclination to support democratic 
freedoms will almost certainly use ³security² as an excuse to clamp down on 
things they don¹t like. This is already happening in the US, where despite 
checks and balances there is a steady erosion of constitutional rights in the 
name of ³homeland security².

A second and related point is that no other command will be as politically 
defined. None of the five other military commands will require as much, or as 
direct, intervention in the political affairs of their region. We already see 
this in Somalia, where US strategic concerns trump local needs. US money helped 
prop up the warlords, enabling them to continue the chaos that keeps that tragic
nation trapped in failure as a state, even though the transitional government 
the warlords are part of was trying to install itself in Mogadishu. The US 
needed the warlords to help fight Islamic ³terrorists². Never mind that those 
warlord militias were terrorising Somalis.

A few years ago, this was played out in a different way in the effort to crush 
Algeria¹s Islamist rebel organisation, the Salafist Group for Preaching and 
Combat. A chase across the Sahara in 2004 involving US, Algerian, Malian and 
Chadian soldiers resulted in a huge swathe of the Sahara-Sahel today being 
described as an anti- terror front aimed at al-Qaeda. In the future, Africom 
would be involved in such an operation. The problem is that the Salafist Group 
has little to do with al-Qaeda and a great deal to do with trying to topple the 
Algerian regime in order to set up an Islamist state -- a local matter from my 
viewpoint, although I personally would not like to see the Algerian government 
toppled, nor am I in favour of religious states. Still, you cannot say that if a
state is Islamist, it is by definition, ³terrorist². And US soldiers certainly 
don¹t belong on the ground in local conflicts.

After years of reporting, the cynic in me concludes that there is no more 
dangerous combination than foreign-backed military power and foreign alignment 
with the political goals of local regimes. You can always count on the worst 
oppression rising to the surface as the norm in the name of security and 

And that leads to the final reason for looking with suspicion at Africom. 
Ultimately, it simply does not seem to serve genuine US interests in Africa: 
fostering economic growth, fighting chronic disease, conveying the idea that 
military muscle and the willingness to use it ruthlessly is not a path to 

All these will surely be reduced to rhetoric about what needs to be done after 
Africa is ³secure².

Charles Cobb Jnr is senior correspondent for His book Civil 
Rights Trail: A Movement Veteran¹s Travel Guide and Narrative, will be published
in December

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