On foreign policy, the Trump/Bannon approach is not to recreate the 1950’s, but to undo the post-Cold War era

On  Africa, thus back to the era of the American consultants Paul Manafort and Roger Stone working for Kenya’s autocrat Moi through his re-election in 1992.  Go back and support right/nationalist movements in white Europe and Russia, rather than internationalist liberalism and NATO expansion.  

At the core, repudiate the thinking of the the George H.W. Bush administration in promoting a globalist, rule-based “New World Order” with an alternative that imagines a third Reagan term in which the U.S. turned on the end of the Cold War with the Soviets to engage in a similar confrontation against “expansionist global Islamism” and treated China as a Communist power in rivalry rather than an economic partner whom we would continue to assist to rise on the faith that its role in the economic order would eventually result in liberalization and even democratization.  

Reorient to say the problem is not “the arc of instability” and a lack of elections or freedoms, it’s the jihadis.

“Nixon would have told us to stop with the ‘China card’ after we ‘won’ the Cold War.  Henry has been hanging out with Hillary for ‘the holidays’ and working both sides and we’ve gotten confused.  Never could trust him.  We’ve gotten this completely wrong and have to straighten up.”

In this perspective the collaboration between the neocons and the liberal  internationalists that drove policy under Clinton and George W. Bush left us weakened and feckless, snatching long decline from the jaws of victory.  We ended up paying for European security because they would rather focus on competing for arms exports–nice deal if we are suckers enough to go for it!  

And we’ve ended up following the European liberals to the point of underwriting the wrong sides in the culture wars.  The Bushes and Bill Clinton were bad enough–but Obama really went far left; we’ll fix that.

Calling Ollie North and Erik Prince.

“Africa is a Command” – Bush to Obama to Trump

By electing President Obama we got through with race and became post-racial.  Now that we have elected Trump we are surely done with “political correctness”, so lets us speak plainly.  What is “Africa” as seen from Washington?
Well, surely Africa is a playground for so many characters, but that is nothing new at all, and we don’t really like to focus on that.  From Trump children big game hunting to politically engaged ministers and ex-diplomats involved in unusual investment schemes, Africa abides.  With election campaigns to run and autocrats to lobby for in Washington.  And missions and aid and economic investment programs continuing apace with varying degrees of pep and power in accordance with the visions and priorities of policy makers.

The thing that is new from U.S. vantage in this century is the overriding common legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations: AFRICOM (recognizing that the new command was primarily planned by the Bush Administration but did not “stand up” until Obama was almost in office).

I never had strong opinions about whether having a separate combatant command for Africa would be better or worse than than the status quo under CENTCOM, et al, that existed in my time working in Kenya and Somaliand in 2007-08.  It has escaped my attention if there are many Americans who see our policies in Africa during the Cold War as a highlight of our better angels, and I think on balance our aspirations for our relations in Africa in this century are higher than back in the past; nonetheless, largely staying out of Africa directly with our own military during the the Cold War and its initial aftermath may have reduced risks that are now potentially at play.

I think it is fair to say that ten years in the December 2006 Ethiopian operation to remove the ICU in Somalia with our support has not over time convinced all skeptics.  In fairness, perhaps, as with the French Revolution, it is still too early to tell.

So did having AFRICOM as a separate combatant command from late 2008 (with a new “whole-of-government” flavor and hardwired entre for USAID and State Department involvement) result in wiser judgment and better execution in terms of US national security and/or related and ancillary command objectives in recent years?

It is hard to judge because it is a big command (aside from the answer being, in substance, classified) but the experience with regard to the Libya intervention in particular is not altogether encouraging.

Would having CENTCOM engaged from Tampa rather than AFRICOM from Stuttgart have made a difference in some way to our consideration of intervention and our planning-perhaps more hard questions initially to Washington from a more “war wary” perspective as opposed to input from an entity with the bureaucratic equivalent of the “new car smell”?  [If inexperience was not a factor, what do we need to change to avoid future repetition if we agree that something went wrong on Libya?]

One way or the other, Trump takes office with AFRICOM at his command, a vast range of relatively small training interactions of a primarily “military diplomatic” nature all over, large exercises and larger programs with many militaries, active limited and largely low profile (from outside) “kinetic” operations  across a wide “arc of instability” and the war in Somalia with a new legal opinion, for what its worth, tying the fight against al Shabaab more explicitly to 9-11 and al Queda.  Along with a real live emergency in South Sudan and several other critical situations from a humanitarian and stability perspective.

I have declined to be persuaded by a dark view of the intentions behind standing up AFRICOM (versus the status  quo ante and any realistic alternatives).  Perhaps this is merely self protective since I am, after all, American, but also worked for much longer in the defense industry than my brief foray in paid assistance work.  But it is my attempt at honest judgment from my own experience.  Regardless, we are where we are, and Donald Trump will be giving the orders at the top to AFRICOM and whatever anyone had in mind, the fact that it is a military command rather than a civilian agency makes a great deal of difference in terms of the latitude that he inherited along with possession of the American White House.

Needless to say I hope it turns out that he has a yuge heart and bigly wisdom however fanciful that hope might look from what he has said and done so far.

Something about the American election from the day before . . .

From my personal Facebook page yesterday, something I wanted to share with my friends:

As I was born between the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kennedy assassination, back during the “Mississippi Burning” era, it’s a bit hard for me to go too far down the road about how exceptionally apocalyptic this particular election is. 

I will also note that if the wolf is really at the door this time, it is only to be expected that so many people can’t hear the warnings because so many people were screaming “wolf” about each of the the last two people who got elected.

Likewise, it seems pretty silly to me to think that we should look to anyone that fights to the top of the dogpile in our current politics for grand moral or spiritual leadership–just because we have generally run down or torn down other institutions does not mean that we can find a substitute in politics. Sure we have a pretty decadent culture in many ways–how have our serially reactive choices for president since the late 70s really made a big impact on this? We are also, of course, in some ways better than we we were 50 years ago.

None of us has a crystal ball and it is very much guesswork to know how the next presidential term will play out–we have to do our best but we ought to be humble enough not to claim certainty about future events. If Trump, who I could never vote for, wins, I’m not going to give up on my country, nor if Hillary wins am I going to suddenly decide that she doesn’t need to be “watched like a hawk” so to speak. Personally, I have a good record of being as gullible as the next person in voting.

U.S. fights in Somalia; Old lions–Kissinger, Moi, Scowcroft, Brezenski–outlast the post-Cold War democratization era in East Africa 

Things had gone so far awry on the democratization front by last year  to trigger a Washington Post editorial noting the authoritarian trend in East Africa.

Recently we have news of a major U.S. airstrike (manned and drone) on an al-Shabaab training camp, followed by a raid involving U.S. and Somali special forces.

We are now also faced with a major ISIS presence in continental Africa in the wake of the proverbial “ungoverned space” in Libya and are in discussions considering a new military coalition to organize resistance.  Prior to the 2011 uprising AFRICOM was joining our European allies in coordinating military relationships with Gaddafi but the revolution, in which we intervened, has not resulted in a stable or unified replacement government.

Let’s face it; 14 years after 9-11, 15 years after the USS Cole bombing, 17 years after the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the window of opportunity for a U.S.-led focus on the building of shared democratic values in the region may have largely slipped shut.

Years ago I got some attention for a post noting that “the aid bubble has burst” and Western attention had moved past the Gleneagles era toward a more normalized mode of profit-seeking investment.  While private actors will remain more alert for opportunities in Africa and “public-private” endeavors including the current Power Africa program can still have legs, it seems to me that “conflict management” and irregular warfare have come to the fore to the point that we seem to be back in an era more akin to the Cold War in which perceived immediate “security” interests are predominant.

Museveni in particular “surfed the wave” of democratization after the fall of the Soviet Union and came out onshore as a primary U.S. military ally in the region anyway.  We are willing to chastise him to a point, but there is no indication from Washington that the fundamental facts of our relationship are at issue over another awful election.

While much has been accomplished with AMISOM in Somalia, we are still a long way from seeing a stable, sustainable government there that would create an opportunity to de-militarize our relationships with Uganda, or Kenya or Ethiopia.  The increasingly direct U.S. role in fighting al-Shabaab reflects the limitations of Ugandan and Burundian proxies, as well as the reality of limited capacity and contradictory objectives from the Kenyan and Ethiopian contingents in AMISOM.

This also leaves Somaliand in suspended animation.  Sudan remains an awful paradox for our policy goals and our values, and South Sudan is simply a fiasco.

It seemed to me in Nairobi during the post-election violence in 2008 that the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December 2006 to displace the ICU and save in some fashion the remains of the TFG was a turning point for U.S. policy.  After that, we seemed to have effectively dropped our criticism of the corruption failures of the Kibaki administration and its failure to reform the constitution and then helped get Moi and Kibaki back together.  We upped our security cooperation and looked the other way as Kibaki stole re-election.

The USAID democracy programming I inherited in mid-2007 as regional director at the International Republican Institute included the pre-war era 2005 criticisms of Kenyan government backsliding and I failed fully appreciate how much had changed until the midst of that year’s disaster.

Back in the U.S., Kissinger is now personally embraced by key elements of the leadership of both our parties.  In early 2009 after the New York Times published its investigation on the Kenya exit poll,  IRI, to my amazement, gave Kissinger its “Freedom Award” even though it has long worked to promote democracy in Cambodia, in particular, as well as places like Bangladesh and East Timor where I was invited a few years before I worked for IRI in Kenya.  Now, the likely Democratic nominee apparently holidays with Kissinger in the Dominican Republic.  A new, old, era, apparently.

A little Kenyan-American history: Kissinger, Waiyaki, Kibaki–getting the F-5s, safaris and slums

More Kenyan-U.S. diplomatic history: Kenyatta’s health and succession; status of whites; military assistance

“Linkage”-remembering how we got here, from “rules of the game” with the Russians and the “Carter Doctrine” to Al-Queda in East Africa and the Embassy Bombings

Why the U.S. got started training the Kenya Police Service; 1977 Embassy cable

“Peacebuilding Update” amid tensions in Kenya

I previously highlighted the work of the Quakers, through the Friends Church Peace Teams, in running a successful grassroots election monitoring effort in Western Kenya during the 2010 constitutional referendum.  Here is the latest information from the U.S. Friends Committee on National Legislation on the ongoing work in Kenya:

The Friends Church Peace Team reported on its continuing work toward a grassroots election monitoring system, which will allow Alternatives to Violence facilitators and others in Kenyan Friends’ peacebuilding networks to send text message updates on any incidences of violence in their communities.

Change Agents for Peace International (CAPI), based in Nairobi, is responding to rising tension between Christians and Muslims in the city’s informal settlements. July’s attacks on churches in a town near Kenya’s border with Somalia have heightened divisions, and CAPI has worked to facilitate interfaith dialogue since.

Updates from Kenya

Last week, at least 48 Kenyans were killed in an attack on Reketa village in Tana River, southeastern Kenya. The violence was part of ethnic clashes between two tribes, and local residents have cited the approaching elections as a source of rising aggression. The deadly conflict underscores the immediate need for community-based violence prevention and peacebuilding, which will only increase as the polls draw nearer.

Unfortunately, Reketa is not the only area experiencing growing tension. Another is Kenya’s coast, where the recent death of a Muslim cleric has led to protests and conflicts with police. Tensions have also risen arounda growing secessionist movement, known as the Mombasa Republican Council, which seeks to address the decades of marginalization and inequity experienced by those living on the coast. The Kenyan government recently decided to lift its ban on the group, and some feel this will allow more space for non-violent paths forward. In the meantime, however, others are increasingly concerned about the impact the divide may have during the next polls.

While in Kenya earlier this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted U.S. support for a peaceful, fair election. The visit was an important one, particularly as Kenyan experts have emphasized the need for vocal diplomatic engagement from the international community. The visit was also an important follow-up tothe resignation of U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Gen. Scott Gration, in late June. While the appointment of a new ambassador will likely be slow going, FCNL has joined others in advocating that the position be filled by someone with deep conflict prevention.

 

Having spent my time in Kenya on leave from a job in the U.S. defense industry and having retired from that role to be an independent lawyer only very recently, I have been pleased to get acquainted with the FCNL work and the Quaker perspective in Kenya, having been aware of the Quakers as a significant presence in the towns and villages of Western Province from my work there.

Growing up in the United States during the Cold War and the post-Vietnam period, I think we had a better ability then to express an appreciation for the value of peace as a goal and ideal than we have now after almost eleven years during which we have been continuously at war.  Partly it was the gravity of the nuclear standoff and “mutual assured destruction”; partly the proximity of the draft in a more egalitarian era in which we did not compartmentalize overseas “warfighting” in the way that we do now in this century, and in part just the tremendous cost in lives in Vietnam in recent memory.  I very much believe that the more recent reticence to speak of “peace” has had a lot to do with the success of people who were promoting the Iraq war in domestic American politics to mobilize key Christian spokespeople and constituencies to support, ironically, a war of choice–that was a distorting misadventure and I hope that we can put it behind us now that that war is finally over.

Regardless, we shouldn’t be squeamish about being explicitly for peace even if we don’t know or agree on the details of how to get it or keep it.  I do have to note that even the Romney campaign of late has revived the Ronald Reagan “peace through strength” slogan.  While the jury is probably very much out on how much similarity there is to what that would mean to a Romney Secretary of State or Defense next year versus what it would have meant to George Schultz in 1984, at least the word itself is being dusted off.

The Michuki Rule

Much is being said and written about John Michuki with his passing this week.  The best I have read so far is here from Charles Onyango-Obbo: “Michuki was the bad guys’ good guy, and he was not afraid to take action.”

To some, Michuki gets some real credit for the fact that Kenya’s economy isn’t worse (Ken Opalo’s blog: “Michuki was among the group of super-wealthy conservative elites who at independence took over power and managed to quiet the more radical elements of the independence movement. Under their watch Kenya emerged as a capitalist enclave even as its many neighbors flirted with communism and African Socialism, with disastrous consequences.”)  I am not an enthusiast of that view.  My perspective would be to say that perhaps a bit of credit is due, in the sense that Kenya could certainly have done worse, but it could also be said that Michuki and his cronies helped assure the triumph of neo-colonialism over a robust national market economy, helped assure the growth of tribalism over the development of national identity and more generally stymied the opportunity for a competitive democratic system and political liberty.  As far as the economy, lets not forget that State ownership has been a big presence in Kenya’s economy even if less than in some others.  Likewise, privatization remains a highly politicized and extremely opaque process that seems to tie to the funding of election campaigns rather than to “technocratic” considerations (witness “Mobiltelea” and the Safaricom deal rushed through at the end of 2007 and unaddressed since).  In other words, to me not going Communist/Socialist is not nearly enough to justify the costs imposed on Kenyans by KANU and its successor as served, with effectiveness, by Hon. Michuki.  By any account, the Cold War has been over for a long time.

I did not meet Hon. Michuki and I do recognize that he was an accomplished man with friends beyond his politics and I appreciate that his command of “the Michuki Rules” was missed on the roads and highways during my time in Kenya in 2007 and 2008.  At the same time, the Standard raid cast a shadow over the Kenyan election campaign when I arrived in mid-2007 and he was the identified proponent of the raid (I give him his due for the courage  to “own” the raid, when others, including the President were relatively speaking “shrinking violets,” but the conduct was indefensible).  LIkewise, Michuki was the Minister of Internal Security when the country became insecure with the election crisis and the security forces protected Uhuru Park instead of the public, and he issued the order banning live broadcasting.  I respected his abilities, but I wished that he had stuck to his positive strengths when I was working to assist Kenyans in their democratic processes.

Most recently, Michuki has been Environment Minister and will be remembered in this last role for spurring the cleanup of the Nairobi River–certainly a task of government for the “common good”.  Here is a clip from NTV covering his recognition at a UN environment meeting he would have hosted:

Happy Birthday to USAID and Walter Cronkite

USAID turned 50 today.  The agency began in the first year of the Kennedy Presidency and has been an important part of his legacy and a symbol perhaps of American optimism and hopeful leadership in development.  It was a product of those years between Sputnik and Vietnam when America felt challenged, but seems to have retained a certain expectation of effectiveness, and faith in the ability to set and achieve goals as a country.  1961 was the independence era in Africa, and the time of the  “airlift” of students including Wangari Maathai and President Obama’s father to the United States.  It was also in the rising time of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and its is clear in hindsight that we were not yet fully prepared psychologically for complete African sovereignty in the context of the Cold War–but at least it was a beginning.

Walter Cronkite, a worldly man of Middle America, turned 45 on USAID’s first day.  As part of a generation born during one World War and in his 20s in the next, Cronkite I expect would have approved.  The next year he became the anchor of the CBS Evening News and soon “The Most Trusted Man in America”.  (This was before the Rupert Murdoch era in the United States . . .)

In 2011, the Cold War is long over.  Osama bin Laden is dead.  Democracy is stirring in the most unlikely places and the world is far more prosperous than it was 50 years ago.  We have been learning a lot about development.  We are starting to feel challenged again by a rising China–perhaps this will provide the inspiration and motivation for a renewed ability to look hopefully beyond the next election cycle into a future in which we have helped to solve some of the world’s problems.

From the official history at the USAID website:

On September 4, 1961, the Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act, which reorganized the U.S. foreign assistance programs including separating military and non-military aid. The Act mandated the creation of an agency to administer economic assistance programs, and on November 3, 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

USAID became the first U.S. foreign assistance organization whose primary emphasis was on long-range economic and social development assistance efforts. Freed from political and military functions that plagued its predecessor organizations, USAID was able to offer direct support to the developing nations of the world.  (emphasis added)

Part Four–Lessons from the 2007 Kenyan Election and new FOIA cables

See Part One, Two and Three of this series. And the full Freedom of Information Act Series.

Also see Election Observation–Diplomacy or Assistance?

The fourth cable I received last weekend under the Freedom of Information Act was a lengthy unclassified report from Monday, December 24 entitled “Kenya on the Eve of National Elections”.  The most noteworthy items are the Kibera issue discussed in my last post and, as also discussed there, Ranneberger’s very explicit position regarding what he considered U.S. interests to be in the whole matter–being able to treat the announced outcome as credible.  Otherwise, the cable is pretty much the kind of thing that I would have expected him to write based on my interactions with him personally and more generally with the Embassy, and as an observer of his very conspicuous role as a media figure in Kenya during the campaign.

Overall, Ranneberger was uniformly positive about Kibaki, even on the corruption issue.  He offered no real positives on Odinga other than, if it can be viewed in a positive light, noting that he was generally a more effective campaigner and speaker than Kibaki, but at the same time his criticisms of Odinga were in context fairly mild. Generally the view in the cable seems to be what I saw in muted form in Ranneberger’s statements to Kenyans through the media, and more strongly in his speech to the delegates of the IRI Election Observation at a reception at the Embassy residence that same Christmas Eve and in private conversation:  it certainly seems that Ranneberger preferred a Kibaki re-election, but in this writing to Washington he acknowledged Odinga as a “friend of the United States” like Kibaki and did not suggest at all that Odinga was seriously dangerous, threatening or sinister in some way along the lines of the some of the attacks from hardline Odinga critics in the U.S. or in Kenya.

Likewise, nothing about ideology;  whereas the New York Times picked up on concern back in Washington about Odinga’s background association on the left during the Cold War, going to college in East Germany and naming his son Fidel, I never talked to anyone with the U.S. government in Kenya that gave any indication that they found Odinga to present ideological or economic concerns to the U.S.  Ranneberger did make one derogatory comment about Odinga to me privately, but I would not let the Times use it when they interviewed me because I felt that it could be misleadingly inflammatory and was said only in private in his office in the context of doing legitimate business.

Another statement that he made to me separately in October in the context of the discussion about the pre-release Steadman poll showing Odinga leading Kibaki by a large margin was that “if we’ve been wrong about this all along” in what was reported to Washington about Kibaki’s standing “we might as well not even be here”.  I have no way of knowing what any of his previous reporting had been, but I was certainly struck when I first arrived in Kenya by how positive he seemed to be about the Kenyan administration and political climate in the context of what I had read in the my preparations for taking the post.  He said that he wanted to have an election observation with the notion of telling an African success story.

Under the heading “Messy, But Probably Credible Elections” Ranneberger wrote:

9.  Election day will almost certainly be messy, meaning some violent incidents, and a fair amount of allegations of interference with the voting process.  Both Kibaki and Odinga have senior people around them who are desperate to win, and who are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that.  While the potential for dangerous actions must be taken seriously, the track record of the well-run elections in 2002 and the national constitutional referendum in 2005 (which the government lost) bodes well.  The Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Samuel Kivitu, is highly respected and determined to run a clean election.  Elaborate procedures are in place to assure a credible and transparent process.  The large number of international observers will also help to limit misconduct.  The EU has about 120 observers, the U.S. Mission is fielding almost 200 observers plus funding an observer mission of the International Republican Institute led by former A/A Connie Newman, and there will be over 17,000 Kenyan domestic observers.  Finally, as we have traveled the country, average Kenyans have emphasized their determination to participate in a free and fair election (even if this is mixed with underlying tribal sentiment).

10.  If Kabaki loses, Odinga supporters will be riotously happy.  At the same time, most of the Kikuyu elite, with their business interests, will want to work out accommodation with the with the new government (many have already launched feelers).  The greater danger is if Odinga loses.  He and his supporters will be very tempted – even if the Electoral Commission and observers deem the process credible — to declare the election fraudulent and to resort to violence.  In that case, there could be significant violence and several tense days while things calm down.  While there is no likely scenario that would lead to generalized instability, substantial violence along tribal lines would be a setback for Kenyan democracy.