Using “American Power Wisely”: AFRICOM’s Imperialist Quest

Published: Sunday 30 December 2012


In the morning after Christmas, I listened to a video from Democracy Now! detailing the day’s headlines. What I heard announced by Amy Goodman angered me greatly: “U.S. Army teams will be deploying to as many as 35 African countries early next year for training programs and other operations as part of an increased Pentagon role in Africa. The move would see small teams of U.S. troops dispatched to countries with groups allegedly linked to al-Qaeda…The teams are from a U.S. brigade that has the capability to use drones for military operations in Africa if granted permission. The deployment could also potentially lay the groundwork for future U.S. military intervention in Africa.” President Obama echoed this sentiment when he nominated John Kerry; he congratulated his previous Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on restoring “our global leadership” and declared triumphantly: “the United States will continue to lead in this world for our lifetimes.” These statements and the headline from Democracy Now! didn’t surprise me one bit. Already, I had heard that an imperialist intervention will begin in the West African state of Mali next year, fighting over uranium deposits, gold deposits and untapped oil deposits, which is exactly what I predicted back on November 3rd. I had already written a year earlier, criticizing the war for oil in Libya for the same reasons, saying that “the extent of imperialism in this war is very troubling…[and] is not debatable…The war is imperialist, unconstitutional and illegal…[and] is very costly.” If this isn’t enough, the latest data from the Pentagon notes that 851 soldiers are already stationed in countries across Africa. Still, one might argue these are isolated incidents. That is incorrect. Michael T. Klare, a defense correspondent for The Nation magazine noted in his movie, Blood and Oil, that the four-year old military command, AFRICOM (Africa Command) was “the first new regional command created since the Central Command was created in 1980…and [its creation] in my view is directly related the growing importance of African oil in the United States.” The question that begs to be answered is: does AFRICOM want to spread imperialism across the continent in the name of American democracy, or is it working for noble purposes?

One hint at answering this question comes from the director of the AFRICOM office of public affairs, Colonel Tom Davis said a revealing statement. After saying that the amount of troops in the continent wasn’t fast growing, he admitted that “We also conduct some type of military training or military-to-military engagement or activity with nearly every country on the African continent.  This is part of our effort to enable African nations to increase their defense capabilities.” This statement is very telling of US intentions to come. Nick Turse conveys this clearly, a process which seems to have sped up since Obama has been in office. Turse writes that since 2003, the modern American ‘scramble for Africa,’ has begun, as “…in quiet and largely unnoticed ways, the Pentagon and the CIA have been spreading their forces across the continent. Today…the U.S. maintains a surprising number of bases in Africa…Under President Obama, in fact, operations in Africa have accelerated far beyond the more limited interventions of the Bush years…To support these mushrooming missions, near-constant training operations, and alliance-building joint exercises, outposts of all sorts are sprouting continent-wide, connected by a sprawling shadow logistics network…The U.S. is now involved, directly and by proxy, in military and surveillance operations against an expanding list of regional enemies [in the continent]…U.S. special operations forces are stationed at a string of even more shadowy forward operating posts on the continent…U.S. troops are also working at bases inside Uganda…They now supply the majority of the troops to the African Union Mission protecting the U.S.-supported government in the Somali capital, Mogadishu…the U.S. is conducting counterterrorism training and equipping militaries in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, and Tunisia…[recently] AFRICOM Commander General Carter Ham explained the reasoning behind U.S. operations on the continent: “The absolute imperative for the United States military [is] to protect America, Americans, and American interests; in our case, in my case, [to] protect us from threats that may emerge from the African continent…With the Obama administration clearly engaged in a twenty-first century scramble for Africa, the possibility of successive waves of overlapping blowback grows exponentially.” These words are confirmed by the evidence from the Congressional Research Report, Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2012, which shows, among other aspects, the amount of military interventions in Africa since 2008:

1.     2008:“The President reported that various U.S. “combat-equipped and combat-support forces” were deployed to “a number of locations…[including] Africa Command areas of operation” and were engaged in combat operations against al-Qaida and their supporters”…

2.     2009:“…The United States has deployed “various combat-equipped forces to a number of locations [including]…African Command areas of operation” in support of anti-terrorist and anti-al-Qa’ida actions…the United States continues to deploy “U.S. combat-equipped forces to assist in enhancing the counterterrorism capabilities of our friends and allies”…in the Horn of Africa region”…

3.     2010:“...The United States has deployed “combat-equipped forces to a number of locations [including]…African Command areas of operation” in support of anti-terrorist and anti-al-Qa’ida actions…”

4.     2011: “…The United States has deployed various “combat-equipped forces” to a number of locations in…the African Command areas of operation” in support of anti-terrorist and anti-al-Qa’ida actions… A combat-equipped security force of about “40 U.S. military personnel from the U.S. Central Command” were deployed to Cairo, Egypt, on January 31, 2011, for the sole purpose of “protecting American citizens and property.” That force remains at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo”…

5.     2011: [Libya war] “Libya. On March 21, 2011, the President submitted to Congress “consistent with the War Powers Resolution,” a report stating that at “approximately 3:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, on March 19, 2011,” he had directed U.S. military forces to commence “operations to assist an international effort authorized by the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council and undertaken with the support of European allies and Arab partners, to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and address the threat posed to international  peace and security by the crisis in Libya.”… The President said that the actions he had directed were “in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”…After April 23, 2011, the United States supported the coalition effort in Libya through use of “unmanned aerial vehicles against a limited set of clearly defined targets” there. Except in the case of operations to “rescue the crew of a U.S. aircraft” on March 21, 2011, and deploying 16 U.S. military personnel to aid in re-establishing the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli in September 2011, “the U.S. deployed no ground forces to Libya.” On October 27, 2011, the United Nations terminated the “no-fly zone” effective October 31, 2011.”…

6.     2011: “Central Africa…a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces [were]…deploy[ed] to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony,”  leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), from the battlefield…on “October 12, 2011, the initial team of U.S. military personnel with appropriate combat equipment deployed to Uganda.” In the “next month, additional forces will deploy, including a second combat-equipped team and associated headquarters, communications, and logistics personnel.”…“elements of these U.S. forces will deploy into Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”…

7.     2012: “Other military operations reported by the President include the “deployment of U.S. combat-equipped military personnel to Uganda “to serve as advisors to regional forces that are working to apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and other senior Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leaders from the battlefield…The total number of U.S. military personnel deployed for this mission is “approximately 90,” and elements of these U.S. forces have been sent to “forward locations in the LRA-affected areas of the Republic of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic.”…

8.     2012: “the President…ordered [the] deploy[ment of]…“a security force from the U.S. Africa Command” to “support the security of U.S. personnel in Libya.” This action was taken in response to the attack on the U.S. “diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya,” that had killed four America[n] citizens, including U.S. Ambassador John Christopher Stevens.”

These eight interventions obviously have a negative repercussion for American imperial policy. Even more prevalent is how those in the inner workings of the imperial system seem to forget history. As George Santayana put it, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” By the start of the twentieth century, 90 percent of Africa was colonized by European powers. Chris Harman writes in A People’s History of the World that “the first European attempts to carve out colonies in Africa involved them in bloody battles…they often lost…but by the 1880s the accelerated industrialization of Western Europe was shifting the balance…[giving] European armies the decisive edge in most battles…The capitalist powers…did not expend money and effort conquering the world out of philanthropy…the motive was profit.” The same could be said out of the new scramble over the continent, and just like back then there is another “enemy” to fight with: the Chinese government. The blog, China in Africa: the Real Story, digs through some of the lies about this “enemy,” with posts about Chinese interest in building hydroelectric dams in the continent, a mystery investment in Mali, a disappeared railway in Mauritania, an agricultural collaboration with the government of Senegal and a fabled trans-West African highway, among other projects. Socialist author Alan Maass wrote about the contest of imperialist countries in his book The Case for Socialism: “the twentieth century has seen two horrific wars…about which imperialist country would dominate which areas of the globe. Wars are a constant feature in capitalism…the product of the ruthless competition for profit at the heart of the free market system…That’s why wars are inevitable under capitalism…unless ordinary people fight back…against a system that breeds war.”

How will one fight back? For one, pushing the idea that China is an enemy or any of the other rising powers in the world including Russia, India and Brazil, will result in a new Cold War-like scenario leading to an increasing imperialist policy, especially in Africa. Chalmers Johnson writes in last pages of his book, Nemesis, that “to maintain our empire abroad requires resources and commitments that will inevitably undercut our domestic democracy and in the end produce a military dictatorship or its civilian equivalent…if we choose to keep our empire…we will certainly lose our democracy and grimly await the eventual blowback that imperialism generates.” In his earlier book, Blowback, Johnson offers a solution to the idea that China is an enemy and pushes to end the empire, saying that the United States should adjust and support the emergence of China. Even so, it is up to the individual if to take the stance of Chalmers Johnson, or take action on the streets, in the communities, and elsewhere to curb imperialist policy of all countries, not just America. In the end, the only way to use American power wisely, as Obama mentioned, is to not impose onto the darker people of the African continent a neo-colonialist policy that will benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

ABOUT Burkely Hermann
Burkely Hermann is a writer, activist, and researcher who tries to challenge perceptions about the world we all live in and pushing for the creation of discussion spaces to talk about pertinent issues. In doing this, Burkely has not only written articles but also used his tech savvy skills to aggressively fight for an internet that serves the masses.
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