Show Hide image

John Pilger: Barack Obama, the Son of Africa claims a continent’s crown jewels

The President is leading the US at the head of a pack of western nations intent on the new scramble to exploit Africa’s resources. Their chief aim? To squeeze a China hungry for raw materials.

On 14 October, President Barack Obama announced that he was sending United States special forces to Uganda to join the civil war there. In the next few months, US combat troops will be sent to South Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic. They will "engage" only for "self-defence", says Obama, satirically. With Libya secured, an American invasion of the African continent is under way.

The press describes Obama's decision as "highly unusual" and "surprising", even "weird". It is none of these things. It is the logic of US foreign policy since 1945. Take Vietnam. The priority was to halt the alleged influence of China, an imperial rival, and "protect" Indonesia, which President Richard Nixon called "the region's richest hoard of natural resources . . . the greatest prize". Vietnam got in the way; the slaughter of more than three million Vietnamese and the devastation and poisoning of their land were the price of America achieving its goal.

As in all subsequent invasions by America, a trail of blood stretching from Latin America to Iraq and Afghanistan, the rationale was "self-defence" or "humanitarian", words long emptied of their dictionary meaning.

Proxy war

In Africa, says Obama, the "humanitarian mission" is to assist the government of Uganda to defeat the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which "has murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women and children in Central Africa". This is an accurate description of the LRA, evoking multiple atrocities administered by the US, such as the bloodbath in the 1960s following the CIA-arranged murder of Patrice Lumumba, the independence leader and first legally elected prime minister of Congo, and the CIA coup that installed Mobutu Sese Seko, regarded as Africa's most venal tyrant.

Obama's other justification also invites satire. This is the "national security of the United States". The LRA has been doing its nasty work for 24 years. Today, it has fewer than 400 fighters, and has never been weaker. However, "US national security" usually means buying a corrupt and thuggish regime that has something Washington wants. Uganda's "president-for-life", Yoweri Museveni, is already receiving the larger part of $45m in US military "aid" - including Obama's favoured drones. This is his bribe to fight a proxy war against America's latest phantom Islamic enemy, the ragtag al-Shabaab, based in Somalia. The LRA will play a public relations role, distracting western journalists with its perennial horror stories.

However, the main reason the US is invading Africa is no different from that which ignited the Vietnam war. It is China. In the world of self-serving, institutionalised paranoia that justifies what General David Petraeus, the former US commander and now CIA director, implies is a state of perpetual war, China is replacing al-Qaeda as the official "threat".

When I interviewed Bryan Whitman, a dep­uty assistant secretary of defence, at the Pentagon last year, I asked him to describe the current danger to America. Struggling visibly, he repeated, "Asymmetric threats . . . asymmetric threats." These justify the money-laundering, state-sponsored arms conglomerates and the biggest military and war budget in history. With Osama Bin Laden airbrushed, China takes the mantle.

Africa is China's success story. Where the Americans bring drones and destabilisation, the Chinese bring roads, bridges and dams. What they want is resources, especially fossil fuels. With Africa's greatest oil reserves, Libya under Muammar al-Gaddafi was one of China's most important sources of fuel. When civil war broke out and Nato backed the "rebels" with a fabricated story about Gaddafi planning "genocide" in Benghazi, China evacuated its 30,000 workers in Libya. The subsequent UN Security Council resolution that allowed the west's "humanitarian intervention" was explained succinctly in a proposal to the French government by the "rebel" National Transitional Council, disclosed last month in the newspaper Libération, in which France was offered 35 per cent of Libya's gross national oil production "in exchange" (the term used) for "total and permanent" French support for the NTC. Running up the Stars and Stripes in "liberated" Tripoli, the US ambassador, Gene Cretz, blurted out: "We know that oil is the jewel in the crown of Libyan natural resources."

World domination

The de facto conquest of Libya by the US and its imperial partners heralds a modern version of the "Scramble for Africa" at the end of the 19th century. Like in the "victory" in Iraq, journalists have played a critical role in distinguishing between worthy and unworthy Libyan victims. A recent Guardian front page carried a photograph of a terrified "pro-Gaddafi" fighter and his wild-eyed captors who, the caption said, "celebrate". According to General Petraeus, there are now wars "of perception . . . conducted continuously through the news media".

For more than a decade, the US has tried to establish a command on the African continent, AFRICOM, but has been rebuffed by governments fearful of the regional tensions this would cause. Libya, and now Uganda, South Sudan and Congo, provide the main chance. As WikiLeaks cables and the US National Strategy for Counter-terrorism show, American plans for Africa are part of a global design in which 60,000 special forces, including death squads, operate in 75 countries. As the then defence secretary Dick Cheney pointed out in the 1990s, America simply wants to rule the world.

That this is now the gift of Barack Obama, the "Son of Africa", is supremely ironic. Or is it? As Frantz Fanon explained in Black Skin, White Masks, what matters is not so much the colour of your skin as the power you serve and the millions you betray.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 24 October 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The art of lying

The Prime Minister still has questions to answer about his plans for Syria

Cameron needs a better plan for Syria than mere party-politicking, says Ian Lucas.

I was unfortunate enough to hear our Prime Minister discussing the vexed issue of military action in Syria on the Today programme yesterday. It was a shocking experience - David Cameron simply cannot resist trying to take party political advantage of an extremely serious crisis. It is quite clear that there are massive humanitarian, military and political issues at stake in Syria. A number of international and national powers including the United States and Russia are taking military action within Syria and David Cameron said in the broadest terms that he thought that the UK should do so too.

The questions then arise - what should we do, and why should we do it?

Let me make it clear that I do believe there are circumstances in which we should take military action - to assist in issues which either affect this country's national interest and defence, or which are so serious as to justify immediate action on humanitarian grounds. It is for the Prime Minister, if he believes that such circumstances are in place, to make the case.

The Prime Minister was severely shaken by the vote of the House of Commons to reject military action against President Assad in 2013. This was a military course which was decided upon in a very short time scale, in discussion with allies including France and the United States.

As we all know, Parliament, led by Ed Miliband’s Labour Opposition and supported by a significant number of Conservative MPs, voted against the Government’s proposals. David Cameron's reaction to that vote was one of immediate petulance. He ruled out military action, actually going beyond the position of most of his opponents. The proposed action against Assad action was stressed at the time by President Obama to be very limited in scope and directed specifically against the use of chemical weapons. It was not intended to lead to the political end of President Assad and no argument was made by the governments either in the United States or in the UK that this was an aim. What was proposed was short, sharp military action to deal specifically with the threat of chemical weapons. Following the vote in the House of Commons, there was an immediate reaction from both United States and France. I was an Opposition spokesman at the time, and at the beginning of the week, when the vote was taken, France was very strident in its support for military action. The House of Commons vote changed the position immediately and the language that was used by President Obama, by John Kerry and others .

The chemical weapons threat was the focus of negotiation and agreement, involving Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and his connections with Syria.  The result was that Assad agreed to dispense with chemical weapons on a consensual basis and no military action took place.

David Cameron felt humiliated by this outcome and loses no opportunity to suggest that the decision was wrong.  He is determined that he should revisit the issue of bombing in Syria, though now action there has elided to action against Islamic State. He has delegated Michael Fallon to prepare the ground for a vote on military action in Parliament. Fallon is the most political of Defence Secretaries - before he became a minister he was regularly presented by the Conservative party as its attack dog against Labour. He gives me the impression of putting the Conservative Party’s interest, at all times, above the national interest. Nothing in his tenure at Defence has changed my view of him.

I was therefore very sceptical what when, in September, Fallon suggested that there should be briefings of members of Parliament to inform us of the latest position on Syria. It turns out that I was right - at the Conservative party conference, Mr Fallon has been referring to these briefings as part of the process that is changing minds in the House of Commons towards taking military action in Syria. He is doubtless taking his orders from the Prime Minister, who is determined to have a vote on taking part in military action in Syria, this time against Islamic State.  

If the Prime Minister wishes to have the support of the House of Commons for military action he needs to answer the following questions: 

What is the nature of the action that he proposes?

What additional impact would action by the UK have, above and beyond that undertaken by the United States and France?

What is the difference in principle between military action in Syria by the UK and military action in Syria by Russia?

What would be the humanitarian impact of such action?

What political steps would follow action and what political strategy does the government have to resolve the Syrian crisis?

The reality is that the United States, UK, France and other western powers have been hamstrung on Syria by their insistence Assad should go. This situation has continued for four years now and there is no end in sight.

The Prime Minister and his Defence Secretary have yet to convince me that additional military action in Syria, this time by the United Kingdom, would help to end Syria's agony and stem the human tragedy that is the refugee crisis engulfing the region and beyond. If the Prime Minister wishes to have support from across the House of Commons, he should start behaving like the Prime Minister of a nation with responsibilities on the United Nations Security Council and stop behaving like a party politician who seeks to extract political advantage from the most serious of international situations.

Ian Lucas is the Labour MP for Wrexham.