Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Beyond the fanning of US militarism in Africa: A response to Nick Turse’s “terror diaspora” (part 1)

Why is it the case that many Western analysts and critics would oppose militarism but directly or indirectly fan the flame of U.S. militarism in Africa? Many journalists and commentators writing about U.S. Africa Command, U.S. War on Terror in Africa, and the broad U.S. military engagement with Africa adopt a tone that, more than anything else, reinforces the flimsy justification of U.S. militarism in Africa. Commentator and writer Nick Turse of TomDispatch committed this very error in his recent article, “The Terror Diaspora: The U.S. Military and the Unraveling of Africa.”

Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist and managing editor of TomDispatch.com. I have read his missives and enjoyed some of his publications. His book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam is a genuine contribution to the ongoing debate on the violation of humanity in Vietnam. As a specialist on the military, he has been writing on U.S. military in Africa and the U.S. Africa Command. I have also followed with interest the exchange between Turse and the public relations experts of the US Africa Command: “The Nature of the U.S. Military Presence in Africa: An Exchange between Colonel Tom Davis and Nick Turse.”[1]

After reading his recent article titled, “The Terror Diaspora: The U.S. Military and the Unraveling of Africa,” I wondered if Nick Turse was aiding the public relations apparatus of the U.S. Africa Command and U.S. militarism with regards to Africa. In the article, Turse gave an overview of the U.S. military operations in Africa, and concluded with the following paragraph: “Today, the continent is thick with militant groups that are increasingly crossing borders, sowing insecurity, and throwing the limits of U.S. power into broad relief. After 10 years of U.S. operations to promote stability by military means, the results have been the opposite. Africa has become blowback central.” The tone of the entire article oscillates between two problematic narratives: 1) a terror-swamped Africa overwhelmed by insecurity and instability (suggesting that the heightening of military engagement may be justified), and 2) an Africa where increased U.S. militarism has not yielded enough success.

Contrary to the impression that the whole of Africa is terror-swamped, of the 54 countries in Africa, Islamist extremists are active in less than five. Turse failed to give an in-depth analysis on the complicity of U.S. military and clandestine activities in aiding and creating instability and conditions that breed terrorism in Africa.

Where U.S. militarists and the U.S. Africa Command are unable to credibly tout successful military activities as basis for further militarization of engagement, they draw upon the narrative of “terrorists overrunning the whole of Africa” to justify increased U.S. military activities on the continent and increased expenditures from Congress for the Pentagon.

This is one area where Turse’s narrative of an Africa overwhelmed by terror could be considered a public relations gift for those who want to fight perpetual war. Turse clearly stated that the spokesperson for AFRICOM could not give U.S. military success stories in Africa (other than in Somalia whose instability in the first place the U.S. had contributed to and the Gulf of Guinea where U.S. originally moved to for the purpose of easy flow of oil). Instead of using the lack of credible success stories to probe the ineffectiveness of militarism in Africa, Turse seems to suggest that this failure makes a case for the stepping up of AFRICOM and U.S. militarism on the continent.

He cited discredited Failed States Index and other statistics to prove that Africa is overwhelmed by insecurity and instability. According to Turse, “After all, in 2006, before AFRICOM came into existence, 11 African nations were among the top 20 in the Fund for Peace’s annual Failed States Index. Last year, that number had risen to 15 (or 16 if you count the new nation of South Sudan).” It is no news that the failed state narrative is popular in the talking point of those American militarists who support perpetual war in Africa and elsewhere. 

This same old narrative about "failed states" has been used repeatedly by scholars such as Christopher Clapham. Other commentators and scholars, such as Robert Kaplan (author of The Coming Anarchy), have made a reputation for themselves as foreign policy analysts with views about state failure in Africa. This line of argument was then taken up by organizations such as the United States Institute for Peace that carried out research on “Collapsed States.” From these platforms there is then an international NGO constituency that bid for resources on the basis of the idea of “state failure” in Africa. It is a worn out idea that gained currency when the world was still under the spell of the Global War on Terror.

Anyone who read Elliot Ross’s June 28 article in the UK Guardian understands why the citing of the Fund for Peace’s Failed States Index by Turse portrays him as a mouthpiece for U.S. intervention and militarism in Africa. In the article “Failed States are a Western Myth,” Ross noted:

The organisation that produces the index, the Fund for Peace, is the kind of outfit John le Carré thinks we should all be having nightmares about. Its director, JJ Messner (who puts together the list), is a former lobbyist for the private military industry. None of the raw data behind the index is made public. So why on earth would an organisation like this want to keep the idea of the failed state prominent in public discourse?

The main reason is that the concept of the failed state has never existed outside a programme for western intervention. It has always been a way of constructing a rationale for imposing US interests on less powerful nations.[2]

When Western commentators like Nick Turse who are supposedly opposed to militarism write in ways that suggest AFRICOM should step up its activities in Africa, citing failed states index that was prepared by militarists and lobbyists for private military contractors, it is the obligation of people in the peace movement to speak up. This is very important given the stranglehold of the militarists on global information apparatus and the misinformation they peddle in order to ensure that those opposed to war would support militarism in certain parts of the world. Such misinformation about the need for increased militarization of Africa could be bought into by otherwise credible analysts who are made to believe that Africa is becoming a “Ground Zero” for terrorism. This notion of ground zero is echoed in Turse’s narrative:

A careful examination of the security situation in Africa suggests that it is in the process of becoming Ground Zero for a veritable terror diaspora set in motion in the wake of 9/11 that has only accelerated in the Obama years.  Recent history indicates that as U.S. “stability” operations in Africa have increased, militancy has spread, insurgent groups have proliferated, allies have faltered or committed abuses, terrorism has increased, the number of failed states has risen, and the continent has become more unsettled. 

This kind of analysis fits into the narrative of those sections of the foreign policy establishment who would like to deepen the US militarization of Africa. I would like to suggest that Nick Turse may want to widen his sources of information about the US military activities in Africa.


One of the most important points I would like to make about Turse’s conclusion is that it is misleading to state that militants are everywhere crossing borders in Africa and sowing instability. Such sweeping assertion reinforces the criminalization of the broader movement of the youths and market women in Africa, which has been part of the long Pan African traditions that do not respect the borders that were instituted at the Berlin Congress that partitioned Africa in 1884. From Southern Africa to East Africa, West and North Africa, people move across these artificial borders for many legitimate reasons, including trade and maintenance of social ties. Yes, few of these numerous borders are also crossed by some people with criminal intents, but it is a stretch to cast almost all cross border interactions in Africa in terms of militants and jihadists everywhere crossing borders on the continent. The majority of these Africans believe that Africa is for Africans. They should not be criminalized or broadly labeled as militants.

Such narrative about Africa becoming a ground zero for terrorists has no place at this moment when the collective actions of Africans have delegitimized the U.S. military operations and the African activists have turned the corner in focusing on economic reconstruction and transformation.

Apart from military engagement, in an era of economic crisis and sequestration, the US establishment has nothing substantial to offer in its relations with Africa.  There is desperation among the US militarists to expand operations in Africa. In Africa, the U.S. cannot compete economically with emerging economies, such as China and Brazil, so they use the ideas of terror and brute force to sustain their influence.  China’s “resource for infrastructure” initiatives signed with 25 countries have undermined the bullying powers of the IMF and the World Bank, two institutions that have been a tool of US influence in Africa.

Far from failing, African economies are registering major growth rates. There are 20 countries in Africa that have registered over 5 per cent growth rate of GDP. Africa is transforming faster than Asia, and in the next five years, this will have a decisive impact on major economies, especially the future of the dollar. Seven of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. Africa is not where it ought to be yet, but there are exciting success stories coming out of the continent. Africans understand this, and the optimism it exudes is reflected in the confidence of the youths of Africa. African entrepreneurs and business persons do not want the militarization of Africa.

At the last Chinua Achebe colloquium in Brown University, in December 2012, Mo Ibrahim, the African billionaire, spoke out the loudest against AFRICOM. It was at that same colloquium where I stated to General Carter Ham that AFRICOM has been a failure and that it is time to dismantle it.[3]

Within the Association of Concerned Africans, progressive scholars and activists have started a campaign for the demilitarization of Africa. However, as far back as 2003, I had suggested that all sections of American progressives should adopt a less aloof attitude to the results of militarism, especially in relation to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. My view then and my view now is that the place of the peace and justice forces was to educate the citizens of the United States about the crimes that were being committed in the name of the war on terror.

There are some basic features of U.S. militarism that many Americans, even progressives, do not appreciate. The struggle between the Rocks and the Crusaders inside the U.S. military establishment is one of such battles.[4] The Crusaders are those who benefit from war, either ideologically or through the military revolving door,[5] and thus want to fight perpetual war. They search for any little evidence to make a case for intervention and continuous militarization. Since last year the Crusaders have been campaigning for the State Department to brand the deadly Islamist group in Nigeria Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization. Such move has the implication of internationalizing and further complicating a local problem, creating room for full fledge U.S. intervention in Nigeria.  

Nick Turse stated in the article that in 2012, General Carter Ham, then AFRICOM’s chief, added Boko Haram to his own list of extremist threats. What Turse should have added is that the Nigerian government along with the White House and the State Department refused to agree to label Boko haram as a foreign terrorist Organization. When Johnnie Carson, the then assistant Secretary of state for African Affairs testified before Congress last year, he named three individuals from this organization as “specially designated global terrorists” (SDGTs). There is a crucial distinction because in this way the U.S. State Department stopped short to designating the group as an FTO under U.S. law, a step some conservative Republican have long been urging. More recently, the U.S. government offered financial rewards for the capture of these leaders of Boko Haram. 

This was an explicit rejection of those sections of the Pentagon who wanted open intervention by the U.S. military in the current struggles over Boko Haram in Nigeria. Those who understand the Special Operations and private security networks know that these elements are on the ground along with U.S. intelligence and oil company personnel. However, the Nigerian government understands the implications of the U.S. government labeling Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist Organization – a blank check for U.S. militarists and private military companies to turn the country into an open playground for unhinged militarization.

I would like to draw attention to the article by Seymour Hersh on the role of the Crusaders in the U.S. military establishment. In an article in Foreign Policy Magazine, Seymour Hersh revealed that there is a faction of the U.S. military known as “Crusaders.”[6] 

Hersh asserted that these Crusaders are bent on intensifying a war against Islam, and that they see themselves as protectors of Christianity. According to the article, Hersh maintained that these neoconservative elements dominate the top echelons of the U.S. military, including figures such as former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Vice Admiral William McRaven. These crusaders have held American foreign policy hostage. Hersh stated, "What I'm really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over."

African Generals and top military personnel grasp the entrenched racism of the Crusaders. The Crusaders are the elements from the Dick Cheney/ Donald Rumsfeld/ David Petraeus/Jack Keane branch of the military who want perpetual war. These Crusaders believe that Africans are inferior. They are supporting the religious fundamentalists who are penetrating the villages in Africa and creating conditions for terrorism to thrive. It is now known that conservative militarists in the U.S. intelligence and military establishment have an alliance with the Wahabists and Salafists sects of Islam from Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Qatar. These Islamic sects are known for financing Islamists in Northern Nigeria and some other parts of Africa.

The Rocks are those who oppose the Crusaders. The fall of David Petraeus was a big blow to the Crusaders and in my own writings I have argued that these Crusaders have placed General David Rodriquez as the Head of AFRICOM to advance the work of the Crusaders. One can get a sense of how the Crusaders are linked to the military journalists by the way Thomas Ricks responded to the firing of General James Mattis.[7] General James Mattis was the Head of Central Command and it is reported that he wanted immediate war against Iran.

When Obama wanted to place a Rock, General Michael Harrison, as the Deputy of Central Command, the army high Command demoted him on the basis that he had tolerated sexual harassment. General Harrison already had been selected to become deputy commander of the Army component of U.S. Central Command, based in Kuwait. General Lloyd Austin was appointed the head of CENTCOM and the Crusaders could not bear the thought of two black generals running the Central Command.

Of course, we know of the problem of sexual harassment in the armed forces, and we condemn this act in its entirety; but the top brass of the army would like us to believe that it is only the black generals who are tolerating sexual harassment under their watch. Two top black generals have been suspended. Indeed, decisive action must be taken against those who commit or tolerate sexual assaults in the military; and similarly those perpetuating and tolerating racism within the military should be dealt with as well. (It has now been revealed by CNN that military leaders tolerate blatant display of white supremacy in the U.S. military[8]). Racism and sexual assault must not be tolerated in the larger society, neither should they be condoned within the military.

The Crusaders will resist the potential impact of Obama's May 23 speech that the perpetual war must come to an end. The recent announcement for the U.S. to expand into Syria is part of a desperate measure by the private military contractors to ensure that they have work after the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan. Where is the peace movement when the military and foreign policy establishment pressure the President to give arms to the Jihadists in Syria and then proclaim that they are fighting the same Jihadists in Somalia and Mali? Al Qaeda operatives were recently arrested in Spain while recruiting fighters for the rebels in Syria. America’s support for Syrian rebels thus shows that the U.S. might be supporting in Syria groups with links to the same Al Qaeda it seeks to kill elsewhere. 

We have seen the results of Petraeus arming the Jihadists in Libya. I have explored the failure of the US military planning in Libya in the book, Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya. Ambassador Stevens was caught in this duplicitous planning and it will now backfire on a grand scale in Syria unless the peace movement intervenes decisively. This is a dangerous moment and Turse did not mention the link between U.S. complicity in terror in Africa and this support of terrorists and Jihadists in Syria. 

Ultimately, it must be the role of the peace movement to diminish the massive expenditure on the military and to rise beyond the contradictions between the Rocks and the Crusaders.

Read part 2

[1]See Nick Turse, “The Nature of the U.S. Military Presence in Africa: An Exchange between Colonel Tom Davis and Nick Turse,” TomDispatch.com, July 26, 2012.http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175574/ .
[2] Elliot Ross, “Failed States are a Western Myth,” UK Guardian, June 28, 2013.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/28/failed-states-western-myth-us-interests.
[3] See Horace Campbell, “Dismantle Africom! General Carter Ham Makes the Case?” Pambazuka News, Decmeber 13, 2012.  http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/85780.
[4] See Horace Campbell, “US Military and Africom: Between the Rocks and the Crusaders,” Pambazuka News, March 31, 2011. http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/72174.
[5] See for example, Bryan Bender, “From the Pentagon to the Private Sector,” Boston Globe, December 26, 2010. http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2010/12/26/defense_firms_lure_retired_generals/?page=full
[6] Blake Hounshell, “Seymour Hersh Unleashed,” Foreign Policy, January 18, 2011. http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/01/18/seymour_hersh_unleashed. 
[7] See Thomas E. Ricks, “Obama Administration’s Inexplicable Mishandling of Gen. James Mattis,” Foreign Policy, January 18, 2013. http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/01/18/the_obama_administration_s_inexplicable_mishandling_of_marine_gen_james_mattis.
[8] “White Supremacy in the Military,” CNN, August 24, 2012. http://newsroom.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/24/white-supremacy-in-the-military/ ; see also “U.S. Military Battling White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis In Its Own Ranks,” Huffington Post, August 21, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/us-army-white-supremacists_n_1815137.html.