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I was musing on this the other day when the news came that another African American military leader had been picked to carry the weight of still another important controversial aspect of Bush Administration foreign policy. On July 10, the Defense Department announced that Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward, the Army's only active black four-star general, will take over Pentagon's new Africa Command or “Africom.”

GWB, Africa and a New African American General

By Carl Bloice (July 23, 2007)

“In between panels, I ran into Colin Powell and asked him if we are ever going to get out of Iraq,” Arianna Huffington wrote on July 2006 in a report from the Aspen Ideas Festival. ’We are,’ he told me, ‘but we're not going to leave behind anything we like because we are in the middle of a civil war.’" Writing on her website, Huffington added, “Powell and Jack Murtha both talking about civil war in Iraq -- shouldn't that be headline news?

Evidently not.

Powell showed up at Aspen again this year and said quite out loud that he once spent 2-hours vainly trying to persuade President George Bush not to invade Iraq and believes today's conflict cannot be resolved by US Armed force. “I tried to avoid this war,” Powell alleged at 2007 Festival in Colorado. “I took him through the consequences of going into an Arab country and becoming the occupiers.”

We know the former secretary of state said these things to the heavy thinkers gathered at the ski resort because correspondent Sarah Baxter reported it on July 8 in The Times in Britain. We wouldn’t know it otherwise. Aide from a note in a media review column in the Washington Post, the story was almost totally ignored by the major news outlets in this country.

General Powell, once a top official in the U.S. government has apparently become an invisible man.

I was musing on this the other day when the news came that another African American military leader had been picked to carry the weight of still another important controversial aspect of Bush Administration foreign policy. On July 10, the Defense Department announced that Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward, the Army's only active black four-star general, will take over Pentagon's new Africa Command or “Africom.”

It’s clear that the Bush Administration has embarked on a bold effort to increase U.S. presence and influence in Africa and that part of the effort is putting African Americans upfront in the drive.

Bush Administration Africa policy flows almost directly from recommendations from two right-wing Washington think tanks: the Heritage Foundation that came up with the idea of an African command and the American Enterprise Institute. (The latter would appear to be working to increase its clout by recently adding to its staff former - briefly - World Bank director, neo-conservative, and Iraq war promoter, Paul Wolfowitz, who says his principle interest these days is Africa.)

Another African American Pentagon official, Cindy Courville, was recently appointed U.S. ambassador to the African Union, having previously served as director for East African Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense where she was responsible for the coordination of U.S. military and security policy with East Africa and the Horn of Africa. Courville said at her confirmation hearing, “Africa holds growing geostrategic importance and is a high priority of this administration.”

According to the Administration, the new Africa command Ward now heads up will help "promote peace and security and respond to crises on the continent” and coordinate military support for other diplomatic and development programs. The new command has been set up, according to a Pentagon press release, because of “the increasing importance of Africa strategically, diplomatically and economically.” This is because of “the increasing importance of the continent to the U.S…”

One of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's last acts before his dismissal was to convince President Bush to create Africa command. President Bush announced the formation of the Africa Command in February, saying it will "strengthen our security cooperation with Africa and create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa."

Not everybody sees it quite this benignly. Many people both here and in Africa are alarmed by the Administration’s decision to step up U.S. military operations on the continent. Moreover, many see it linked to the rapidly accelerating scramble for Africa’s natural resources, principally, but not exclusively, oil.

Nii Akuetteh, the executive director of Washington-based Africa Action, said Africom “has nothing to do with African interests and programs; its access to oil and the ‘war on terror’.” Akuetteh, a former Adjunct Professor at Georgetown’s University’s School of Foreign Service and one time Research and Education Director of the advocacy group TransAfrica, told me he is of two minds about the appointment of General Ward. “He must be someone of considerable competence to have risen to where he is, given the persistence of racism, and that is a good thing. What bothers me is the concept of Africom itself; I don’t like it. Beyond all the talk about bureaucratic reorganization the real fear must be over the threat of increased militarization of sub-Saharan Africa. If you read the details you will see that that’s pretty much what it is.”

Akuetteh says although some African governments may have welcomed the idea, civil groups in most of Africa and people in the U.S. concerned with U.S. policy toward the continent, “ are all of one mind: we don’t like it.”

Bill Fletcher Jr., BC Editorial Board Member and former President of TransAfrica, said, “It is ludicrous to think that setting up Africom has anything to do with fighting terrorism. It is a dangerous notion.” The real motivation, he says, is to protect America’s oil interests in Africa.

“Pentagon to train sharper eye on Africa,' read the headline over a Jan. 5 report by Richard Whittle in the Christian Science Monitor. “Strife, oil, and Al Qaeda are leading the US to create a new Africa Command.” Today, the US gets about 10 percent of its oil from Africa, but, the Monitor said, some experts say it may need to rely on the continent for as much as 25 percent by 2010.'

“I think the emergence of Africa as a strategic reality is inevitable and we're going to need forward-based troops, special operations, marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors to be in the right proportion,” Marine General James Jones, then-NATO's military commander and head of the US European army, told an interviewer last year before the African Command plan was revealed. Jones was appealing for more U.S. troops in Europe to be available for deployment for trouble spots in Africa. “I think the emergence of Africa as a strategic reality is inevitable and we're going to need forward-based troops, special operations, marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors to be in the right proportion,” said Jones.


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