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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

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Ankara bombs: Turkey is being torn apart by bad leaders and bad neighbours

This is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed.

It had already been a deadly summer of political instability in Turkey. And now this. Another massacre – this time at the hand of twin bomb attacks on a peace rally in Ankara, which have killed at least 97 people.

It is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed. Barely a single day passes in Turkey without some incident of lethal political violence.

Freedom from fear is the very basic principle of human security, which should be protected by any state that wants a true sense of legitimacy over its population and territory. In Turkey, that freedom is under enormous pressure from all sorts of internal and external forces.

Stirred up

There are plenty of competing explanations for the political violence engulfing the country, but none can seriously overlook the impact of Turkey’s bad political leadership.

The terrible, violent summer reflects nothing so much as an elite’s greed for power and willingness to treat civilians as dispensable. This has become particularly apparent since Turkey’s inconclusive June 7 election, and the way various political parties and leaders did all they could to prevent the formation of a viable coalition government.

Ultimately, the power game is simple enough. At the elections hastily called for November, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party needs to garner only a few per cent more than it did in June to win the majority it needs for Erdogan to bolster his powers and make himself the country’s executive president.

To that end, pro-government media has been in overdrive throughout the summer, deliberately fuelling an environment of division, paranoia and mistrust in hopes of winning votes out of pure fear.

All the while, southeast Turkey has endured dreadful violence. Some towns – Cizre, for instance, which was under seige for days – have suddenly found themselves on the front line of renewed fighting between the security forces and the PKK.

The demise of the peace process is not just a failure of diplomacy – it signals that the armed conflict is still hugely politically and financially lucrative to Turkey’s political and military leaders. And the violence they’re profiting from is rapidly corroding social life and human security across the country.

The war next door

But the political instability caused by Turkey’s leaders has been greatly exacerbated by its neighbours, especially the continuing civil war in Syria and its deadly ramifications – an influx of jihadist fighters, a massive refugee crisis, and spiralling military interventions.

Since the end of the Cold War, global security has never been so seriously threatened as it is by today’s situation in Syria, which is now host to a head-to-head clash between the interests of Russia, the Assad regime and Iran on the one hand and the US, the EU, their Arab allies, and NATO on the other.

All sides claim to be fighting against the Islamic State and other Islamist extremists, but it’s clear that what’s really at stake is a lot more than just the fate of the jihadists or the political future of Syria. Already there’s an ominous spat underway over Russian planes' incursion into Turkish airspace; NATO has already raised the prospect of sending troops to Turkey as a defensive gesture.

And while it was always inevitable that the Syrian disaster would affect its northern neighbour to some degree, Turkey’s continuing internal political instability is proving something of an Achilles heel. By deliberately forcing their country into a period of chaotic and violent turmoil, Turkey’s leaders have made it more susceptible than ever to the Syrian conflict and the mighty geopolitical currents swirling around it.

And yet they press on with their cynical political ploys – seemingly unmoved by the cost to their people, and unaware that they could just be becoming pawns in a much bigger game.

The Conversation

Alpaslan Ozerdem is a Chair in Peace-Building and Co-Director of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.