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Neo-Imperialism and the Arrogance of Ignorance

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  • Romi Elnagar
    NOTE:  I ve posted quite a few articles about Africa lately, but this has to be one of the most perceptive and deep analyses I ve read so far.  If you have
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2013
      NOTE:  I've posted quite a few articles about Africa lately, but this has to be one of the most perceptive and "deep" analyses I've read so far.  If you have trouble reading the article as forwarded because of all the codes indicating links, please do yourself a favor and go to the original at


      Africa and AFRICOM
      Neo-Imperialism and the Arrogance of Ignorance
      Most Americans do not realize the extent to which the U.S. is
      becoming involved militarily in the welter of conflicts throughout
      Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa (check out the chaos as mapped here).
      Although recent reports have tended to focus on the French effort to
      kick Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) out of Mali — an effort that may now be devolving into a far more complex guerrilla war, that French operation is just one operation in what may be shaping up to be a 21st Century version of the 19th Century Scramble for the resources of Africa. It’s a policy that, from the U.S. point of view, may not be unrelated to the pivot to China,  given China‘s growing market and aid presence in Africa.  Together, the scramble and
      the pivot will be sufficient to offset the near term effect of an
      sequester in the Pentagon with a torrent of money flows in the future.
      Last year, Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post provided a mosaic of glimpses into the widespread U.S. involvement in Africa.  He authored a series of excellent reports, including here, here and here.  The map below is my rendering of the basing information in Whitlock’s
      report (and others), as well as the relationship between that basing
      information to distribution of Muslim populations in central Africa.
      Consider the distances involved in this swath of bases loosely portrayed by the red dots: the distance between these bases along the axis from
      northwest to southwest on the African continent alone is greater that
      the distance from New York to Los Angeles.  Think of the ethnic and
      tribal differences between Burkina Faso and Kenya, not to mention the
      differences within those countries!  And remember, virtually all of
      North Africa, from Morocco to Egypt is over 90% Muslim.
      While the correlation between Muslim populations and our intervention activities in this variety of cultural mosaics will suggest a welter of differing messages to different audiences, one generalization is
      certain, given our recent history of intervention: Africom’s continuing
      presence and involvement will further inflame our relationship with
      militant Islam and perhaps the far larger number of moderate Muslims.
      But think of the other possibilities for one’s imagination to run
      wild.  For example: In view of the recent Libyan adventure,
      conspiratorially-minded North African Islamic radicals (and moderates?)
      with a penchant for seeing visions in cloud formations may well
      interpret the swath of Africom’s bases structure in Sub-Saharan Africa
      as early bricks in the construction an anvil, against which, they will
      be smashed by a new generation of European neocolonialists, attacking
      from the north in obedience with the new “leading from behind” doctrine
      of President Obama.  Of course, given the distances involved and the
      porosity those distances imply, such divagations of the paranoid mind
      are silly from a military point of view.  But given the US’s murderous
      track record of lies in Iraq, incompetence in Afghanistan, and our
      blatant disregard for the Palestinians by constructing a peace processes that facilitated the growth of settlements in a forty-year land grab by Israel, that kind of characterization nevertheless will be grist for
      the propaganda mill as well as the fulminations of a paranoid mind.  And remember, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t out
      to get you.
      Another sense of the metastasizing nature of our involvement in
      Africa can be teased out of the leaden, terrorist-centric,
      albeit carefully-constructed verbiage in the prepared answers submitted by Army General David M. Rodriguez  to Senate Armed Services Committee
      in support of his 13 February 2013 confirmation to be the new commander
      of the  U. S. Africa Command or Africom. I urge readers to at least skim this very revealing document.
      The terrorist “threats” in sub-Saharan Africa that are evidently so
      tempting to the neo-imperialists at Africom do not exist in isolation.
      They are intimately connected to the ethnic/tribal discontent in Africa, a subject alluded to but not really analyzed by Rodriquez or his
      senatorial questioners in their carefully choreographed Q&A.
      Many of these tensions, for example, are in part a legacy of
      artificial borders created by the European interventionists of the 19th
      century. These interventionists deliberately designed borders to mix up
      tribal, ethnic, and religious groups to facilitate “divide and rule”
      colonial policies. The 19th Century colonialists often deliberately
      exacerbated local animosities by placing minorities in politically and
      economically advantageous positions, thereby creating incentives for
      seething discontent and payback in the future. Stalin, incidentally,
      used the same strategy in the 1920s and 1930s to control the Muslim
      soviet republics in what was formerly known as the Turkestan region of
      Central Asia. In the USSR, the positioning of the artificial borders
      among these new “Stans” were widely known as Stalin’s “poison pills.”
      The hostage crisis at the gas plant in eastern Algeria last January
      illustrates some of the deeply-rooted cultural complexities at the heart of many of these conflicts. Akbar Ahmed recently argued this point in
      one of his fascinating series of essays published by Aljazeera.  This series, which I believe is very important, is based on his forthcoming book, The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a War on Tribal Islam, to be published in March by Brookings Institution Press.
      Ambassador Akbar Ahmed is the former Pakistani high commissioner to
      the UK, and he now holds the the appropriately named Ibn Khaldun Chair
      of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C. 
      Considered to be one of fathers of modern historiography and the social
      sciences, Ibn Khaldun is also one of history’s most influential scholars of  spontaneous
      nature of tribalism and its role in establishing social cohesion.  The
      central thrust of Professor Ahmed’s work is in that spirit.  He aims to
      explain why discontent is so widespread throughout the former colonial
      world and how it is partially rooted in a complex history of oppressions of ethnic groups and in tribal rivalries throughout the region. This
      has created a welter of tensions between the weak central governments of the ex-colonial countries and their peripheral minority groups and
      tribes. Ahmed argues that these tensions have been exacerbated by our
      militaristic response to 9/11. He explains why military interventions by the U.S. and former European colonial powers will worsen the growing
      tension between central governments and these oppressed groups.
      Among other things, Ahmed, perhaps inadvertently, has laid out a devastating critique of US failure to abide by the criteria of a sensible grand strategy in its reaction to 9/11. By confusing a horrendous crime with an act of war, declaring an open ended global war on terror, and then conducting that war according to a classically flawed
      grand strategy that assumed “You are either with us or against us,” the
      US has not only created enemies faster than it can kill them, but in so
      doing, it has mindlessly exacerbated highly-volatile,
      incredibly-complex, deeply-rooted local conflicts and thereby helped to
      destabilize huge swathes of Asia and Africa.
      Mindless? Consider please the following: Most readers of this essay
      will have heard of AQIM and probably the the Tuaregs as well. But how
      many of you have heard of the Kabyle Berbers and their history in
      Algeria? (I had not.)  Yet according to Professor Ahmed, a Kabyle Berber founded AQIM, and that founding is deeply-rooted in their historical
      grievances. So, there is more to AQIM than that of simply being an al
      Qaeda copycat. You will not learn about any of this from Rodriquez’s
      answers, notwithstanding his repeated references to AQIM and Algeria;
      nor will you learn anything about this issue from the senators’
      You can prove this to yourself.
      Do a word search of General Rodriquez’s Q&A package for any hint of an appreciation of the kind of complex history described by Ahmed in his Aljazeera essay, The Kabyle Berbers, AQIM, and the search for peace in Algeria. (You could try using search words like these, for example: AQIM,
      Kabyle, Berber, history, Tuareg, tribe, tribal conflict, culture, etc —
      or use your imagination). In addition to noting what is not discussed,
      note also how Rodriquez’s threat-centric context surrounding the words
      always pops up. Compare the sterility his construction to the richness
      of Ahmed’s analysis, and draw your own conclusions.  Bear in mind AQIM
      is just one entry in Africom’s threat portfolio. What do we not know about the other entries?
      As Robert Asprey showed in his classic 2000 year history of guerrilla wars, War in the Shadows, the most common error made by outside interveners in a guerrilla war is succumbing to the temptation to allow their “arrogance of ignorance” to shape their military and political efforts.
      Notwithstanding the arrogance of ignorance being reaffirmed in
      Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, it is beginning to look like
      Asprey’s timeless conclusion will be reaffirmed Africa.
      Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@...

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