Retired Admiral Stavridis publishes op-ed demonstrating American “National Security Establishment” view of “Africa’s Security and the Power Struggle”

I highly commend to my friends who are Africanists or African, or Americans who have not been directly involved in the “national security” professions, a short op-ed piece today from Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.):

Africa’s Security and the Power Struggle

The immediate policy debate in Washington being addressed is consideration of reductions to AFRICOM to be redeployed in support of the Trump Administration’s National Security Strategy of greater emphasis on “Great Power Competition” relative to “Violent Extremism”/”Global Terrorism” so Adm. Stavridis provides an “ionospheric” look at the Continent and its future in support of his argument.

Adm. Stavridis retired from the Navy in 2013 after an extremely accomplished career. He served as Commander of the U.S. Southern Command from 2006 to 2009, then served as Commander of the European Command and Supreme Allied Commander. The perspective of a recent former SOUTHCOM and EUCOM Commander on AFRICOM is clearly invaluable to understanding that way of seeing the world.

Stavridis graduated from the Naval Academy in 1976 and climbed the ladder as a distinguished Surface Warfare Officer, along with UN/NATO deployments to Bosnia and Haiti in the 1990s. He ultimately commanded the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group “conducting combat operations in the Arabian Gulf in support of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom”.

Along the way, he did his PhD in International Relations at Tufts, along with other graduate degrees from Tufts, and the National and Naval War College. After retirement he served as the Dean of Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. So he is simply put a superstar by background and experience.

Today he is the Operating Executive for The Carlyle Group, the famous global defense-focused equity fund [NASDAQ: CG] and the Chair of the “Board of Counselors” of McClarty Associates, the famous Washington-based global consulting firm [“We know diplomacy; We provide diplomatic solutions”].

By way of disclosure, I retired from 12+ years as a defense industry lawyer working primarily in Navy shipbuilding around the time Stavridis retired from the Navy. I was on unpaid “public service leave” for my East Africa democracy assistance work at the International Republican Institute. So Stavridis’ perspective is all “second nature” for me but will not be intuitive to those from other places and backgrounds.

[Longtime readers or those who otherwise follow Kenyan elections closely might remember that McClarty Associates Vice Chairman John Negroponte was Deputy Secretary of State during the 2007-08 election crisis in Kenya. Negroponte met with representatives of the ODM opposition seeking release of the embargoed USAID-funded International Republican Institute exit poll done with the University of California, San Diego, showing an Odinga win. I learned through FOIA that Kalonzo Musyoka met with Negroponte the same day:

The War for History” part nine: from FOIA, a new readout of Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s February 2008 meeting with John Negroponte:

The Kalonzo-Negroponte meeting was the same day as U.S. Senate hearings on the Kenyan election, lobbying by ODM with IRI and Negroponte for release of the USAID/IRI exit poll and that evening’s announcement that IRI found the poll “invalid”. (My FOIA did not result in any documents regarding the ODM-Negroponte meeting.)

From my e-mail to Joel Barkan in 2012:

Kalonzo meeting with Negroponte was in Washington on Feb 7, 08–also included [Kenyan Ambassador] Ogego and a staffer from Kenyan embassy. He said power sharing would be a set back for democracy as Kibaki win was “evident” from review at ECK. Would be willing to step aside as VP for Raila, but the Kenyan people would not support it as it would be “undemocratic”. Kalonzo assured that the violence was now under control, but that the U.S. should continue to call it “ethnic cleansing”. According to Salim Lone interview in Standard back in December ’08 he and ODM delegation met with Negroponte that day to push for release of exit poll before meeting with IRI.

Like George W. Bush in 2007, Donald Trump is more popular in Kenya than he is at home

While Donald Trump is not as unpopular in the United States right now as George W. Bush was during the time of my service as East Africa Resident Director for the International Republican Institute in Nairobi, Trump is more popular in Kenya than at home, as Bush was then (Bush was conspicuously popular in the early aftermath of 9-11, won re-election in 2004 and was not highly unpopular until on into his second term; Trump is steadily, but not extremely unpopular in terms of raw approval numbers, per his apparent strategy tied to our Electoral College system, although a slight overall majority would like the Senate to remove him from office in the current impeachment trial).

See: Trump Ratings Remain Low Around Globe, While Views of US Stay Mostly Favorable; Trump foreign policies receive little support” from the Pew Center for Research.

Update: At the same time, we have to note a similar situation with China’s Xi Jinping:

Publics in most of the countries surveyed lack confidence in Xi Jinping. His highest ratings come mostly from countries in Africa and the Middle East, including 61% in Nigeria, 58% in Kenya, 52% in South Africa, 44% in Tunisia and 41% in Lebanon. Filipinos and Russians generally voice confidence in the Chinese president as well.

Some thoughts:

1) the United States has been generally popular in Kenya in part because we have kept closely linked in our policy positions at the Government to Government level while also getting credit for moral support for “the Second Liberation” once the Cold War ended. We have shown a level of diplomatic finesse at a “10,000 foot level” in achieving what we have wanted from the relationship. There are always issues and problems, such as overhang from the perception that we tried to sell a bad election in 2017 and have been too supportive of the Jubilee Administration in the context of bad economic performance, but we manage.

2) the bottom line. We spend a greatly disproportionate amount of foreign assistance dollars in Kenya relative to poorer, less advantaged countries within Africa in the context of poverty relief. We do a lot to help alleviate some of the worst consequences of extreme inequality, corruption and bad policy priorities from Kenya’s governments. Some of this is for obvious foreign policy reasons as part of our diplomacy, some of it is because people prefer to live in Nairobi to Blantyre, say. Some of it is because as a more developed country with a well educated albeit small middle class and some real infrastructure, along with a lot of poverty and other challenges, Kenya is one of the most logistically easy places to do a lot of things within the “assistance” field.

As a brutal example of the role of US assistance in providing for basic needs that Kenya’s government is unwilling to meet, see Max Bearak in the Washington Post: Kenya’s blood banks go dry after US ended aid.

3) Trump solves a couple of things that were tricky for President Obama during his time: because he has not visited Kenya himself and has no obvious personal connection to the region beyond the ubiquitous “friends trying to get rich” he is more generically “American” as opposed to the son of a “Luo tribesman” as propagandists in the US described Obama. Obama faced certain misunderstandings and disappointed expectations, and maybe overcompensated in certain areas. On the “culture war” issues, Trump has returned on abortion to the strong “no” position under Bush and then some, and seems to calibrate mixed messages on sexual minorities rights which was a particular area where my sense is that Obama unsuccessfully “spent” some personal political capital in Kenya in his second term. Trump has emphasized in his campaigns and general messaging his relationships with Americans who are involved with these issues in Kenya such as his impeachment defense counsel Jay Sekulow of the East African Centre for Law and Justice. See “American Center for Law and Justice opens Nairobi branch, campaigning against draft Constitution” from May 2010.

4) Trump has tried numerous times to make large, draconian cuts in foreign assistance, but he has failed in Congress (and Kenya has not experienced any extraordinary and arguably illegal blocks like Ukraine did earlier this year) but all this is “inside baseball”–as long as the money comes the President gets credit symbolically.

5) The Trump Administration has promoted a high degree of personal Trump-Kenyatta interaction both in Washington and at the G-7 and other non-African venues. Kenyatta is very wealthy and comes from family wealth like Trump, and similarly graduated from an private American Northeastern college. Kenyatta is no Zelensky, left to twist for a meeting. Kenyatta may not be exceptionally popular as an individual right now in Kenya, but the obvious benefits to Trump’s image in the minds of Kenyans are not dependent on that kind of specifics.

6) Without getting too “deep in the weeds” I think Trump got a break and the US has benefited from having former Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter as Trump’s political appointment for Ambassador. Having a career civil servant and experienced diplomat in the position would lead to Trump keeping his distance presumably, but McCarter has little in common with Trump in background, style or personality (nor are his politics as a former elected official from the “Tea Party” wing of the Republican Party all that much like Trump’s unless he has changed his mind about quite a few things). At the same time, his missionary background and status with Trump and the GOP and other organizations give him entre beyond conventional diplomacy. So arguably McCarter is in a unique role to broker between Washington and Kenya and not typical of the type of political appointments we have seen from Trump in other Embassies.

Bechtel Mombasa-Nairobi Expressway project background

Ambassador McCarter has been engaging with Kenyans on Twitter following an Embassy media release on US support for the proposed Mombassa-Nairobi expressway.

For background:

U.S. withholds funding for Sh. 300 billion Mombasa-Nairobi expressway. This was the news on May 27, 2019, as reported from A1Autoservice,Ltd.com:

Nairobi-Mombasa expressway funds stalled 

The US Government has temporarily shelved funding for the proposed Sh. 300 billion Nairobi-Mombasa expressway over cost implications. The construction of the 485-kilometre road to ease perennial traffic snarl-ups was to be done by American engineering firm Bechtel after Kenya and US struck a deal during last year’s meeting between Presidents Donald Trump and Uhuru Kenyatta at the White House. The US ambassador Kyle McCarter, said the US was scrutinising the proposal to establish whether Kenyans would get value for their money. He said the cost was in question at a time when the country is struggling with piling debt. 

Responding to queries whether Bechtel had lost the contract to China, McCarter said: “Bechtel did not lose the deal, we are still working on the finance. Kenya has a challenge of debt and we are wary of burdening Kenyans”. “We did not want to sign onto a project whose cost would turn out to be three to four times higher than the actual. We want to ensure there is an honest return on investment for Kenyans before we break ground.” 

In 2015, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) — in a feasibility report — indicated that the costly project was viable.McCarter said US zero tolerance for corruption forced them back to the drawing board and would only embark on the project once they are satisfied it guarantees value for money for Kenyans and will not sink the country deeper into debt. 

The envoy affirmed US support for the war against corruption and termed the plunder of public coffers an act of outright thievery. “Calling it corruption makes it mystical, like those behind it share the proceeds with the nation. But the truth is that it is simply taking what is not yours and that is thievery,” he said. 

The proposed road will be a dual-carriage motorway with four lanes to ease congestion and cut travel time between the two cities from the current 10 to about four hours.It will run parallel to the current Nairobi-Mombasa highway and will help promote trade and movement in Kenya and the neighbouring countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC and South Sudan. 

Working documents on the project show that it is expected to start any time after the June budget release.Bechtel estimates that construction of the expressway will create 500 jobs and involve local businesses supplying up to 100,000 tonnes of cement and 40,000 tonnes of steel.

Here is a digest of stories on the project from July 2017 to July 2018:

The battle for road tenders hots up as U.S. giant opens Nairobi office, Construction Kenya, July 11, 2017:

. . .

As a starting point, the US construction giant has already expressed its interest in the forthcoming expansion of the 485-kilometre Mombasa-Nairobi highway into a six-lane dual carriageway.

The US Export Import Bank is strongly pushing Bechtel to secure the contract in an arrangement similar to that of the China Export Import Bank where the Asian bank funds projects contracted to Chinese firms.

“With the support of the US government agencies such as Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Export-Import Bank, we can provide solutions to move this critical project forward quickly with a high standard of quality,” Mr Patterson added.

The entry of Bechtel – along with its financial backing by the US Exim Bank – will complicate matters for Chinese multinationals who have been winning all tenders for projects financed by the China Exim Bank. . . .

U.S. firm wins deal to build Kenya’s first high speed highway, Construction Kenya, Aug 17, 2017:

US-based engineering firm Bechtel International Inc. has signed a Sh230 billion commercial agreement with the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) for construction of a 473-kilometre Nairobi-Mombasa high-speed expressway.

KeNHA director general Peter Mundinia said the signing of the deal has paved the way for the next stage of mobilisation of financing from export credit agencies in the United States of America.

. . .

It is expected that agencies such as the US Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) will finance the project.

“It is projected under the proposed commercial contract that the 473km highway will be completed in ten sections within the next six years,” Mr Mundinia said.

The first section, from the junction with Namanga Road near Kitengela will have an interchange near Konza ICT City and a spur road to Kyumvi (Machakos Turnoff) on Mombasa Road. This section is anticipated to open to traffic in October 2019. . . .

U.S. rejects Kenyan press criticism of $3B Bechtel roads deal, Global Construction Review, Sept. 25, 2017:

The US embassy in Kenya has rejected a newspaper’s criticism over a $3bn road contract awarded to Bechtel without competitive bidding.

The embassy said the Nairobi-to-Mombasa expressway had been under discussion for two years, and had been evaluated to ensure Kenyans receive value for their money. 

It also rejected press claims that the award was a “thank you” to the US for its political support of the Uhuru Kenyatta government. 

On 13 September, the day after the article appeared, the embassy tweeted: “US private firms (bound by US anti-corruption laws) investing in Kenya’s future bring jobs, tech transfer and development. This expressway has been under development for two years to bring best value. The US embassy does not and will not give political favours for commercial deals. On Kenyan election 2017, we’ve been and will continue to be strictly neutral.”

Kenyan government officials also defended the Bechtel deal. Peter Mundinia, director general of the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA), said on 18 September that Bechtel was selected because of its experience of handling large infrastructure projects “over 119 years”.

He added that the Kenyan government had entered into an agreement with the US government in July 2015 whereby US companies would develop key infrastructure projects with US funding.

The US and Kenyan authorities were responding to an article in Kenya’s Financial Standard newspaper that questioned the way the project was announced and quoted from a Ministry of Transport briefing, carried out before the contract award, which argued the project should be put out to tender as a public–private partnership (PPP).

The Standard highlighted the fact that contract for the 473km A8 expressway between Mombasa and Nairobi was announced three days before the 8 August general election, and broke with established practice by being made without a Ministry of Transport press conference or an announcement from the president’s office. 

Instead, the announcement was made on a Saturday afternoon when government departments are usually closed, and made no mention of the project’s estimated price. 

The newspaper drew a comparison with the way the government had awarded the country’s standard gauge railway (SGR) scheme to Chinese contractors before the 2013 general election. In both cases the winner was appointed without putting the work out to competitive tender. 

In the SGR case, the choice was determined by the fact that China was making the funding available for the line; in the case of the motorway, the motive was to thank America for an “unspecified service” that the US had done for Kenya, according to unnamed “government insiders” quoted by the Standard.

According to the Standard there are now concerns within the Kenyan government over the amount of debt the country is taking on. The combined cost of the rail and road link between the country’s main port and the capital is likely to be at least $6.7bn, or almost 10% of the country’s GDP.

The controversy comes at a sensitive time in Kenya after the results of the 8 August election, which recorded a victory for the country’s incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta, were annulled by Kenya’s Supreme Court on 1 September. 

The court cited irregularities and illegalities in the transmission of results and ordered the election to be held again within 60 days. It is due to take place on 26 October. Kenya has a history of serious post-election violence.

Nairobi-Mombasa expressway project dogged by serious concerns, Construction Kenya, July 4, 2018

Almost a year after Kenya signed a deal with US engineering firm Bechtel for construction of a Sh300 billion high-speed expressway between Nairobi and Mombasa, the two parties are yet to agree on how to finance the project despite a series of extremely high-level talks.

On the one hand, the Kenyan government wants the 473-kilometre Nairobi-Mombasa expressway to be completed through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model where private investors will build and operate the facility for up to 25 years – charging toll fees – to recoup their investments and margins.

On the other hand, Bechtel International is opposed to the PPP model which it says will cost the Kenyan taxpayer Sh540 billion over next 25 years.

The company has therefore urged Kenya to undertake the project under an engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning (EPCC) contract.

Under the EPCC model, a contractor is obliged to deliver a complete facility to a developer who needs only to turn a key to start operating the facility; hence such deals are sometimes referred to as turnkey construction contracts.

But the government, which is concerned about the fast rising public debt, has made its stand clear. . . .

“We will commence detailed discussion on how the financing approach will be undertaken under that project. We will be discussing modalities, financing structuring and the details for us to be clear on how to undertake this project,” Treasury secretary Henry Rotich said on Tuesday.

Grateful that President Bush did not press President Kibaki to have to Government of Kenya investigate Senator Obama’s “birth certificate”

While I cannot prove the negative from personal knowledge, I think we can be assured that such a gambit–President George W. Bush leaning on Kenya’s President Kibaki using the leverage of American foreign assistance to Kenya to investigate Barack Obama as the potential Democratic nominee in the next US election–did not happen.  But absent some sense of “boundaries”, a recognition of a difference between the foreign relations of the United States and the conduct of personal affairs and partisan political campaigns, why not?

Birther John Corsi in Kenya to investigate Senator Obama

Author of “Obamanation” and “Where’s the Birth Certificate” Jerome Corsi in Kenya during my tenure at the International Republican Institute

See “My writing on my experience with the birth of “Birtherism” and Trump’s foreign policy.

Here is my piece from last year in The Elephant discussing the origins of Birtherism in the 2007-08 election campaigns in the United States and Kenya and their enduring legacy in American politics: “FROM BIRTHER TO MORE OF THE SAME: American foreign policy in the age of Trump and its impact on Kenya.”

See also American diplomatic perspective on Obama’s Kenya visit and a few personal thoughts.

USAID Administrator Mark Green and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump Deliver Remarks on the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative | USAID Media Advisory

On Wednesday, July 10, Administrator Mark Green of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Ivanka Trump, Advisor to the President, will participate in a discussion co-hosted by USAID and the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC). Administrator Green and Advisor Trump will highlight new partnerships and activities of the Women’s Global Development and
— Read on www.usaid.gov/news-information/press-releases/jul-8-2019-usaid-administrator-mark-green-and-advisor-president-ivanka-trump

See Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s announcement of the program here.

WASHINGTON, DC

“The Trump administration continues to empower women economically with the launch of the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity initiative.

“This initiative aims to benefit 50 million women from 2017 to 2025 through economic empowerment efforts and motivates private sector actors – both abroad and at home – to emphasize the critical role women play in creating prosperity. Economic empowerment of women has a significant effect on global growth as women invest in stable societies and promote a world free of child labor and forced labor.

“The U.S. Department of Labor supports the W-GDP initiative through its efforts to promote the development of in-demand skills among women in the workforce, the identification of entrepreneurship opportunities, and the creation of an empowering environment for working women to flourish in the global economy.

“The Department of Labor works every day to ensure a fair global playing field for workers in the U.S. and around the world by enforcing trade commitments and strengthening labor standards.

“As part of this work, the Department of Labor seeks to ensure that the workplace rights of women are enforced – through policy engagement in both bilateral and multilateral contexts, and through negotiations and enforcement of labor protections under U.S. trade agreements that promote women’s empowerment as workers and as entrepreneurs.”

Agency

Office of the Secretary

Date

February 7, 2019

Release Number

19-252-NAT

Contact: Megan Sweeney

Phone Number

So how is United States global leadership on child sex trafficking? Impartial administration of justice?

Some thoughts on US relations with the governments of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the Armenian genocide, in the context of NATO, military vision and religious freedom and pluralism

This is a piece reflecting some partly tongue-in-cheek musing on complex and deadly serious larger questions of “who we want to be” in the world, with specific immediate relevance to the Sudan crisis, Libya and Yemen, along with current issues with Iran that I touched on in my last post.
I decided to subordinate the title and add this preface to make sure that it was clear that I hoped to be taken “seriously but not literally”:

———————————–

If we replaced Turkey with Saudi Arabia in NATO could we acknowledge the Armenian genocide while cutting hypocrisy on current support for religious freedom versus security interests?

Update: “Erdogan dealt stunning blow as Istanbul elects rival candidate” Bloomberg, June 23.

There are a few moving pieces here, but stay with me.

First, we have longstanding unfinished business on simply acknowledging historic fact on the Armenian genocide.

This was a basic premise of the Barack Obama presidential campaign in 2008–the whole “hope and change” versus fear and loathing thing. The whole Samantha Power to lead our Mission to the UN thing. Unfortunately, it got Overcome By Events, along with the notion that Obama’s personal background, “story” and manner would allow him to be a sort of “Christian Islamist Whisperer” to realize the hopes reflected in his June 2009 Cairo “remarks to the Muslim world” from Al-Azhar.

Instead, we have let ourselves be embarrassingly bullied by Turkey. See “For Anniversary of Armenian Genocide Obama Calls It an ‘Atrocity’ Instead“, NYTimes, April 24, 2014: (“Although Mr. Obama called the acts against the Armenians genocide as a presidential candidate in 2008 and vowed to do so once he reached the White House, he again chose not to follow through on his promise for fear of offending Turkey, a NATO ally that denies that the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians constituted genocide. Instead, Mr. Obama implied that he still thought it was genocide even if he did not say so directly.”). To what benefit? While we have and will continue to have some interests in common with the regime in Turkey it is clear that Turkey continues to move away from democratic values, including respect for religious freedom and tolerance at the same time they have made it clear that the security relationship is very situational. What might have made sense during the Cold War when confronting the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact during Turkey’s years of secular authoritarianism make less sense under Turkish Islamism now that even Greece has democratized, the Russians dissolved direct control of the various European and Central Asian republics previously colonized and the Warsaw Pact disbanded in accordance with the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

Of the Islamist governments in the region, it is Saudi Arabia with whom we seem to be mutually committed rather than Turkey. Likewise, in the context of NATO if there is one Western government more committed to the Saudis than we are, it is the UK (London), the other party to our “special relationship”. Selling arms to the Saudis is a “national emergency” for the Trump Administration, and keeping the Saudis off the list of countries using child soldiers just now and earlier certifying that the Saudis were serious about trying to miss civilians in their Yemen bombings join our commitment to “knowing” as little as possible about the Khashoggi murder in demonstrating some extraordinary bond. Just as British “national security” trumped law enforcement by the UK on the BAE bribery in the al-Yamamah deals.

Our relationship with the Saudis predates the formation of NATO and a time of recognition of reality vis-a-vis Turkey may be the time to more formally recognize what the Saudi alliance has now come to be.

By recognizing the Armenian genocide while formally including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in mutual defense obligations, we can show that we disapprove historically of the purging of Christian and other minority religious populations while making clear that our own security as we see it in an immediate sense is our first and foremost priority and that we do not object to exclusivist and repressive Islamist governments that are willing to cooperate militarily and on national security. (And this could be another opportunity for President Trump to cooperate with Kim Kardashian on a policy initiative, as in some criminal justice reforms.)

For insight on a military view of the value of the alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I recommend this writing contest piece from special forces officer Scott Horr in Divergent Opinions: “Assessment of the Impacts of Saudi Arabia’s Vision2030 on U.S. Efforts to Confront Iran.”

Amidst the continuing turmoil and instability that touches many parts of the Middle East, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) maintain a fierce rivalry vying for regional and Islamic dominance. Both countries factor prominently into U.S. regional goals and interests as Iran (since its Islamic Revolution in 1979) serves as the preeminent regional threat and adversary to the U.S. while the KSA, in many ways, serves as the centerpiece of U.S. efforts to counter and degrade Iranian influence in the region[1]. As the region’s premiere Islamic rivals, internal social, economic, and political movements within the KSA and the IRI inherently shape and inform U.S. actions and efforts aimed at undermining hostile (IRI) objectives while supporting friendly (KSA) initiatives. U.S. President Trump, for instance, was quick to voice support in early 2018 for protesters in Iran railing against (among other things) perceived regime inaction and contribution to the stagnant Iranian economy[2]. Alternatively, Trump preserved U.S. support to the KSA even after allegations of KSA government involvement in the killing of a prominent and outspoken journalist[3]. Such dynamics underscore how the inner-workings of regional rivals create venues and opportunities for the advancement of U.S. interests confronting regional threats by applying pressure and defining alliances using different elements of national power.

In 2016, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, known as “MBS,” unveiled an ambitious and grandiose plan for economic, cultural, and social change in the Kingdom. In response to a worldwide decline in oil prices that drastically shrunk Saudi cash reserves and simultaneously highlighted the precarious state of the Kingdom’s oil-dependent economy, MBS released “Vision2030”- a sweeping program of reform that aimed to create a vibrant society, build a thriving economy, and establish a culture of ambition within the Kingdom[4]. Motivating these ideas was a desire to increase the privatization of the economy and make Saudi society attractive to foreign investment to diversify the economy and decrease its dependence on oil[5]. Whether explicitly or implicitly, the mechanisms of change that drive the execution of MBS’ Vision2030 rest on the extent to which Western values (namely free-market principles and social liberalism) can be inculcated into a historically conservative and closed society. Given the magnitude of Vision2030’s scope, targeting all of Saudi society, the ideology involved in its execution (incorporating Western values), and the KSA’s geopolitical status as a key U.S. ally against Iranian foreign policy objectives, the implementation and execution of Vision2030 cannot fail but to have far-reaching impacts on both Middle Eastern regional stability in general and U.S. efforts confronting Iran in particular.

. . . .

For an appreciation of the extent to which things have fallen apart during the Bush, Obama and Trump Administrations, See Janine di Giovanni’s “The Vanishing: the plight of Christians in an age of intolerance” in the December Harpers on the impact of war and oppression in Iraq, Syria and Egypt. And then last month, Emma Green’s Atlantic piece, “The Impossible Future of Christians in the Middle East: An ancient faith is disappearing from the lands in which it first took root. At stake is not just a religious community, but the fate of pluralism in the region.”

In terms of aid, the Trump Administration deserves credit for stepping up some overdue help and attention to minority religious communities beleaguered in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and the rise of al-Queda in Iraq/ISIS. At the same time, they have turned a harder, colder shoulder to accepting immigrants while embracing the exponents of Wahabist ideological expansionism who have done so much harm to pluralism and tolerance even in areas where it once thrived.

For a more divergent take suggesting that things have just not been adding up over the years, see retired career soldier and historian Andrew Bacevich’s “America’s War for the Greater Middle East“.

A U.S. war with Iran would be a big set back for longterm American interests and values in Africa as well as elsewhere

1. The basic rationale would be a version of the thinking in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2001-03: sanctions do not work forever, we have been in a low grade conflict mode for years against an intransigent regime that is not going to change its mind about willingness to use terror, a desire to threaten regional interests and aspirations for extended regional influence and a refusal to loosen domestic repression to allow any opportunity for “organic normalization”. Ultimately proliferation happens and the regime will get nuclear weapons in addition to the other WMDs it has had/is developing. At the same time, the repression assures a domestic mass constituency for liberalization.

2. In my perch in the defense industry in 2003 (working on Navy shipbuilding on the Gulf Coast) I was unpersuaded personally that the Bush Administration had made its case for the Iraq invasion. It seemed to me that we did not know enough about the situation to know what would happen next after we invaded, especially in the context of the Sunni/Shiite and other divisions within the country. It seemed too risky, too much of a “Hail Mary” so to speak, given what was argued by the Administration’s public diplomacy such as the Colin Powell speech at the UN and domestic speeches in the US, Congressional debates and such about the alleged threat.

3. At that time I was a lifelong Republican, and was by reputation somewhat connected in the Party, although I was not active in partisan politics while I was a lawyer in the shipyard (starting in 2000) because it seemed unrealistic to participate as a citizen “free agent” while being a lawyer with the dominant local industry as opposed to my previous work as a student and lawyer in private practice. I had voted for George W. Bush as the Republican nominee in 2000 although he was not a top choice for the nomination because I thought he was thin on experience and got the top of the field through preemptive fundraising clout rather than comparative merit. Ironically I had been reassured about Bush’s limited experience by Cheney’s performance in the campaign, even though I was unenthused about having essentially an all-Dallas ticket and Cheney’s role in asserting himself as running mate. I did not have an understanding of how contradictory Cheney’s own views were from the messages Bush presented in the campaign. All this is to say that I was not going to automatically support a war because Bush was proposing it–the most salient reason in Washington–but I should have been highly susceptible to being persuaded and they did not succeed in persuading me.

4. I will also note that there were countervailing influences over a period of time. Several years before the start of Fox News I got married and became active again in church having drifted during school years and then we had our first child. Even during the Bill Clinton/Ken Starr years I probably spent more time in church than with cable television, a major fork in the road and ultimately countercultural. The al Qaeda USS Cole bombing hit shortly after I started in shipbuilding and the Cole was brought to our yard for the repair/reconstruction so I was very aware of al Qaeda before being in Washington on business on 9-11. Then I went home and carried on. Yes, things had “changed” but the basic issues, challenges and choices remained.

5. As an orthodox non-fundamentalist Protestant who was not a daily consumer of Fox News, I did not feel a call to cast aside my formative moral orientation of restraint for peace and embrace some new doctrine of “pre-emptive war”.

6. Nonetheless, in the run up to Iraq I continued to read and study and learn but did not actually do anything to act on my lack of persuasion that we should invade.

7. While I was not in a position of influence, ultimately I have concluded that we went to war because hundreds or thousands of people in or around Washington who did know or should have known better went along with it anyway. And in doing so we made collectively as a country a most consequential foreign policy mistake and a moral misjudgment.

8. So now today I want to warn that going to war with Iran as a preemptive policy choice rather than a bona fide necessity would gravely set back our recovery from the 2003 miscalculation in Iraq and jeopardize the hopes of Iraqis for a better future. It would potentially arrogate to ourselves a role and responsibility in Iran that we simply are not prepared for, morally or otherwise. It would potentially kill who knows how many people not given a choice in the matter. And it would sap hope of standing up to outside counter-democratic forces (Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Egypt, Russia and China) in the immediate Sudan crisis which presents an important positive longterm opportunity for us to be who we say we want to be. It would have related impact in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa and to an unpredictable extent well beyond on the Continent. We already lack adequate diplomatic bandwidth to do as much as what we could with our “Prosper Africa” policy and are notionally planning military drawdowns even though AFRICOM has seen substantial degradation in overall security versus Islamist terrorist groups during its ten year existence. AFRICOM has yet to become the “different type of combatant command” that it was planned to be in substantial part because of the inevitable institutional inertia associated with a “permanent war” footing in the Middle East and South Asia. Likewise war with Iran could increase Iranian-supported terrorist activity in East and West Africa. And we all know that Donald Trump does not have the experience or moral gravitas to take these decisions.

South Sudan: new Salva Kiir—Rannenberger Foreign Agent filing shows $1.2M non-refundable retainer “already paid” and $3.7M flat fee (contra Reuters)

  1. COMPENSATION

6. The Consultant will charge the Client a flat fee of $3.7 million dollars for the services (the “Compensation”) for this two-year Contract.

7. The parties acknowledge that $1.2 million dollar’s of the Compensation has already been paid to the Consultant as ofthe date hereof, as a non-refundable retainer. The Consultant will invoice Client quarterly for amounts due.

Here is the May 7 filing with the Justice Department, by Gainful Solutions with a new “Exhibit AB” which includes both a letter purportedly canceling the April agreement, dated May 2, and the substitute agreement dated May 5.

The widely-reprinted Reuters story from my update to my previous post indicated that the new agreement did not mention compensation.

On May 2 Gainful Solutions filed a “Short Form” Foreign Agent registration act for Ambassador Timothy Towell as an additional lobbyist and business agent with the title of “consultant” at compensation “to be determined” to go with the previous filings for Ranneberger, Soheil Nazari-Kangarlou and Constance Berry Newman.

Note: The Justice Department has these filings incorrectly posted on its FARA.gov database under “Sudan” instead of “The Republic of South Sudan”.

Update: Politico reported on the contract change here in their “Influencers” newsletter, noting the compensation and identifying dropping reference to the hybrid court as the main change.

And read: “EDITORIAL: Cry havoc, and let slip the U.S. ex-diplomats” in The East African.

Amb. To Kenya Michael Ranneberger with late Kenyan diplomat Bethuel Kiplagat, defending Kiplagat’s controversial appointment by President Kibaki to head Kenyan TJRC

Ramping up air strikes after 12 years, does the Trump Administration have a new strategy for the war in Somalia or is this escalation “mission creep”?

Kenyans going for water in Eastern Province with jerry cans on red dirt

The Trump Administration’s escalation of the air power part of the war in Somalia in recent months has caught the attention of American journalists. See recent reporting in The New York Times and Amanda Sperber’s investigative reporting in The Nation. A recent Amnesty International report that U.S. air strikes have caused 14 civilian casualties since 2017 had enough salience now to draw a formal AFRICOM denial in response. Al-Shabaab has maintained a recent high rate of suicide bombings causing mass civilian casualties as well as targeting government officials.

[Update 2: On April 5, AFRICOM released this statement regarding civilian air strike casualties, indicating that records had been discovered showing two civilians killed in April 2018 with further review to be conducted.]

[Update: See April 3 from the Council on Foreign Relations, “Controversy over U.S. Strikes in Somalia“,]

Meanwhile, Kenyan forces under AMISOM are reportedly continuing to pull back into more defensive position and thus leaving previously secured villages.

In a nutshell, the current chapter of war in Somalia has been underway since December 2006 with the Ethiopian invasion to restore the Transitional Federal Government which had been forced out of Mogadishu and was under threat of complete collapse in the face of fighters supporting the Islamic Courts Unions. There is a fair bit of fog on the details of the U.S. role. Secretary Condoleezza Rice wrote in one of her memoirs, No Higher Honor, that Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, already having expressed concern about spillover effects in Ethiopia from an extremist takeover in Somalia, called her on December 29 to let her know that his military was going in and, “Frankly, I did not try to dissuade him”. While there seems to be no surfaced evidence that we initiated the idea and some Americans involved in dealing with the Ethiopians could have been more discouraging at some prior point–clarity will await the historians–we nonetheless got directly involved without any public debate or disclosure to the American public. By the “go date” –just prior to December 29–we ended up providing air support and special forces hunting terrorists, at least, as well as coordinating with Kenya in the south as reported.

See “David Axe on ‘America’s Somalia Experiment’ provides a timely reminder of policy in the Horn of Africa in 2007-08“.

Rice’s memoir indicates she had no high regard or expectation regarding the TFG. She also writes that the Ethiopians were supposedly intending to be quickly in and out. Given these two factors, it is hard to understand exactly what was hoped for or expected (one has to be at least reminded of Libya or Afghanistan or Iraq where we were supposedly intervening militarily to prevent bad behavior without having a clear plan for the aftermath).

There has been some argument from commentators that we opposed the Islamic Courts Union because it was “Islamist”. The United States has close and supportive relations with a variety of Islamist governments, most conspicuously of course the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself which has had such a big ideological footprint in re-shaping education and worship among Muslims in Kenya, Somalia and throughout East Africa (and globally) so it does not make any sense to think that the U.S. supported a military ouster of the ICU just because they were Islamist rather than either tolerant or secular.

Nonetheless, Ethiopia had become a military ally of perceived importance and the invasion made sense for Meles Zenawi as head of a EPRDF regime that had its own reasons be concerned about a consolidating Islamist government regime next door, in an environment in which it had cracked down on political expression following a strong opposition showing and protests from the May 2005 election. For the U.S. I suspect that the motivator, in addition to supporting Meles, was the notion of the ICU as providing a “safe haven” for al Qaeda figures, including especially suspects in the Kenya and Tanzanian Embassy bombings, rather than issues more specific to the civil war or otherwise of internal governance. Al-Shabab has a long history with al Qaeda connected foreign fighters in leadership, and al Qaeda’s involvement in Somalia predated the ICUs by many years, although al-Shabaab it did not publicly and formally declare allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri and become an open affiliate until 2012.

In 2002 the United States Central Command had established its base in Djibouti for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.  In December 2006 the new “Africa Command”–AFRICOM–had been announced but did not become operational and take over the Somalia war in its Area of Responsibility until late 2008, or almost two years into the war. AFRICOM has continued to be headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany for ten years now and relies on the CJTF-HOA as its only formal “base” on the continent, although in layman’s terms it has many small “base-like facilities” with various “MILSPEAK” labels across the north and central parts of the continent. Journalist Nick Turse in particular has identified facilities for American readers who do not have the opportunity to see these locations for themselves by seeking records and public sources, while sparring with the AFRICOM public affairs function who seem to have orders to make sure only skeptics will report most of what AFRICOM does. Several of these facilities, such as Camp Simba at Manda Bay near the Somali border in Kenya, are particularly relevant to the warfighting in Somalia. See “Africa is a Command: from Bush to Obama to Trump“.

Following the Ethiopian action, in early 2007 the African Union AMISOM “peacekeeping” force was established to continue to defend the restored TFG and it’s internationally sponsored “transition”, with the EU funding the AU to pay for troops from Burundi, Uganda and other providers.  In October 2011 Kenya entered the war with a land invasion from the south and roughly nine months later in June 2012 formally enrolled their Kenya Defense Forces fighters in the AMISOM mission for reimbursement. In September of 2012 Kenya AMISIM conducted a successful amphibious landing and joint attack with the Somali National Army and local militia, taking over the lucrative port at Kismayo, a regional charcoal and sugar smuggling venue that was controlled by al Shabaab and had been their key urban center since they were replaced from Mogadishu in 2011. Kismayo is capital of the Jubaland region that Kenya has long seen as a potential buffer beyond its own underdeveloped and ethnic Somali frontier. At present, Jubaland’s nascent regional government, led by former local warlord, is negotiating the possibility of resuming cooperation with the nascent Somali Federal Government, successor to the TFG, and is to hold a presidential election in August. Kenyan forces over the years have suffered significant, but officially obscured, losses in major attacks on two of their positions, but have generally avoided any sustained pace of conflict in supporting the regional Jubaland administration. Smuggling reportedly continues to be lucrative and shared by the KDF with al-Shabaab and non-al-Shabaab Jubaland Somalis. Kenyans at home have suffered high profile terrorist attacks from al-Shabaab and its supporters from both countries and the Kenyan “frontier region” seems to be more contested than at any time in the last 40 years, although political devolution seems to provide some examples of integration-supportive development progress. See “Now to that next step: evaluating the Kenya Defense Forces role in Somalia and Kenya’s security needs“.

Over the years since 2007 the war has ebbed and flowed on a seemingly sustainable, semi-permanent footing.  Both the recognized government and al-Shabaab have territory and funding and some resilient will even if leadership seem frequently fluid. AMISOM expert and George Washington University Professor Paul Williams has suggested that AMISOM could reasonably hope to pass off to a Somali defense in as little as ten more years, which would mean we are slightly more than half-way through a 22-year mission.

For some reason, there seem to be disruptive elements in recent months aside from the continued high number of suicide bombings and the major January terror attack in Nairobi’s Westlands. First, there seems to be the strange notion that AMISOM should draw down troop numbers now because someone years ago guessed that something more like ten years rather than twenty would be adequate.  This strikes me as quite irresponsible.  Inertia is not a substitute for a strategy and tactics that adjust to interim successes and failures.

Second, the big increase in air strikes. The strikes are not explained other than announcements after each in which al-Shabaab fighters are said to have been killed and that the strikes were in support of operations of the Somali National Army and/or AMISOM or protecting our troops supporting same.  Reportedly we only have around 500 “warfighters” of our own deployed so it is the volume of air strikes rather than personnel that represent a significant change and raise the question why?

Sometimes, the question of the deployment of 500 American warfighters can achieve major political resonance with the United States–such as the recent back and forth within the Administrations about residual deployment numbers for eastern Syria.  Others, as in the case of Somalia seem nearly invisible.

Reading through the AFRICOM public communications, one gets the impression that the Command has a concern to re-assure our African “partners” (“partner” in this context means any government in the Area of Responsibility that is not off limits for reason of some egregious human rights situation or other policy matter that will agree to let us help them with training and capacity building in return for access and cooperation) that we are not going to abandon them to their “violent extremists” as we are calling the various Islamist guerrilla forces that use terrorism among their insurgency toolkits. 

The Trump Administration has announced that it is re-orienting American National Defense Strategy toward defending against major power competitors (i.e. Russia and China) rather than the “violent extremists”.  The timing may seem worrying to African defense leaders since the “violent extremist” problem is significantly worse in many areas now than when AFRICOM started in 2008, just as a recent CSIS report has documented what we all know casually: the situation has worsened globally (“Despite nearly two decades of U.S.-led counterterrorism operations, there are nearly four times as many Sunni Islamic militants today as there were on September 11, 2001.“)

In the case of AFRICOM, the official “MILSPEAK” term for a ten percent drawdown in American forces in Africa associated with the new National Defense Strategy is “Optimization”.  (One could suggest that this is the defense assistance analog to USAID’s “Self Reliance” focus coinciding with the Trump Administrations budget proposals to dramatically cut assistance budgets while increasing overall defense spending.)  Of course we are all in favor of being optimal, and self-reliant, just like we all want to be best, but these kind of words mean different things to different people, especially when used as public diplomacy labels to win support for changes in policy.

Could increasing air strikes seem to someone in the process in Washington a way to “show commitment” to fighting al-Shabaab even as our global posture shifts?  Could they indicate concerns of more al-Queda related transnational terrorists coming in with the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria or otherwise?  Or if AMISOM is going to be allowed to draw down is there a desire to substitute air strikes or expedite the pace of fighting to keep al-Shabaab from waiting out AMISOM before the Somalia National Army is capable?  These are all just hypotheticals for me as an American not employed or contracted by my government to be personally involved beyond paying the taxes and preparing my children for the debt load.

Part of the challenge with Somalia is that we are not ready, at least yet, to acknowledge being “at war” even though there is not any serious factual debate about the fact that we are and have been.  The fact that we are fighting is not officially secret, but neither are we open about it.  We are not seeking public support in either the United States or in East Africa for what we are doing since we are willing to talk about it only in a way that is patently condescending rather than inviting engagement.

I have always wondered to what extent the war effort on Somalia, and the decision not to talk about it, hamstrung Ambassador Ranneberger and others who were supervising our democracy assistance and election preparation in Kenya. And once I eventually saw recently through FOIA that by April 2017 the Ambassador was describing a new approach of “building capital” with Kibaki rather than pushing reforms as per the older USAID program I would inherit within a few weeks, I am left with the heightened collaboration with Kenya during those initial months after the Ethiopian invasion as the most obvious change in facts that could explain the Kenya policy change. Was our failure in election assistance in Kenya with its devastating consequences facilitated by an unwillingness to discuss and account for Ethiopia and Somalia policy overlaps? If so, are we facing this kind of risk again as we escalate an air campaign without discussing why?

I am hoping that somewhere in my Government someone has come up with a new strategy for this war and that it went up the military and ultimately civilian chain-of-command before we started this escalated air campaign. The other possibility is pure self-perpetuating institutional “mission creep” which would be disturbing and irresponsible:

The escalation of airstrikes, as well as the introduction of manned gunships, has transformed the Defense Department’s Africa Command, based in Germany, into a war-fighting element akin to Central Command, which directs the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Africa Command, which was created only in 2007, has stressed that its role on the continent is to focus on training and equipping allied troops on the continent, but the rise in strikes points to a change in both posture and mission. Current and former American officials previously told The Times that there wasn’t one clear reason for the increase, but they noted that the drawdown of American military operations elsewhere in the world has given Africa Command more drones and gunships to use in Somalia. The loosening of regulations under the Trump administration on using force in the country has also contributed to the rise.

See “At War: This New Generation of Weapons Could Mean More Covert Airstikes Around the World”, March 27, 2017, NY Times Magazine.

 See “Somalia and the Limits of U.S. Bombing“, a prescient warning from Jon Temin, now of Freedom House, early in the Trump administration.

For the KDF role, see “Why an open-ended military campaign in Somalia may prove to be very expensive“, Andrew J. Franklin, Business Daily Africa, Dec. 7, 2011.

For background please start with Kenyan writer Rasna Warah’s “War Crimes: How Warlords, Politicians, Foreign Governments and Aid Agencies Conspired to Create a Failed State in Somalia” and the recent “Inside al-Shabaab; The Secret History of Al-Qaeda’s Most Powerful Ally” by Haron Maruf and Dan Joseph, reviewed here in Hiiran Online.

Foreign Policy article gives insight on disagreements within Trump administration on backing off on criticism of flawed DRC vote

Foreign Policy has published a piece reporting significant internal dissent from the reversal of the U.S. position from significantly negative to largely positive on the recent DRC election:

. . . .

In a series of preliminary statements crafted by the team and released by the State Department on Jan. 3, 10, and 16—before confirmation of the final results—the United States sharply condemned reports of election-related interference and violence. The Jan. 3 statement included a threat that people involved “may find themselves not welcome in the United States and cut off from the U.S. financial system.”

With the Constitutional Court’s decision to confirm the election later in the month and with news of widespread election fraud, the group drafted a new U.S. response on Jan. 23. It noted the election results rather than welcoming them—a diplomatic way of signaling displeasure—and condemned the “deeply flawed and troubling” election, according to a draft reviewed by FP. It also stated that Congo’s electoral commission “failed to live up to the responsibility” it had to carry out elections fairly and ivowed that the United States would “hold accountable” any figures engaged in election fixing or violent crackdowns on any ensuing protests.

But none of this language made it into the final statement. Instead, Washington welcomed the results and declared itself committed to working with Tshisekedi. The revised statement made only passing mention to “electoral irregularities.”

Michael Hammer, the U.S. ambassador to Congo, along with Michael McKinley, a senior career diplomat advising Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, pushed for the revised statement, according to three U.S. officials. The department’s third-ranking official, David Hale, ultimately signed off on it, the officials said.

Senior U.S. officials in other agencies and some State Department officials—including the special envoy for the region, Pham—were kept out of the final decision entirely and did not know that a shift in policy was in the works, officials told FP. They said some officials found out about the shift in policy only once the statement came out. It left some of them fuming.

“If we said we’ll hold the government accountable … and five days later we congratulate a bunch of thieves, what good are our threats?” one senior U.S. official said.

One former State Department official familiar with the process said the implications went beyond Congo. “It was just a stupid decision to release that statement, a statement that has much bigger bearing on U.S. government democracy promotion in Africa,” the former official said.

The State Department, USAID, and NSC all declined to comment for this story. A State Department spokesperson also did not respond to a request to interview the senior diplomats who FP was told were involved in the process. . . . .

This is the kind of thing I always had hoped to see about Kenya 2007 where the U.S. initially relied on what my FOIA research indicates was a pre-determined blessing of Kibaki’s alleged re-election even after Ambassador Ranneberger witnessed vote totals being changed by the Kibaki-controlled Electoral Commission of Kenya and reported some pre-knowledge of unlawful rigging plans and conduct. In the face of violence the initial congratulations were withdrawn and the State Department pivoted to support a negotiation to include the opposition in a sharing of power with Kibaki. I know that there were differing internal opinions but I have never seen this level of public reporting on the internal debate.

Some of this may reflect differences in the internal environment and reporters’ expectations and aspirations during the Bush and Trump administrations as well as “the times” more generally. Regardless, I am glad to know more about how my government made this decision and encouraged that the problems with the positive statement final statement on the were recognized by some of those involved.

On the Congressional side, here is the January 18 Statement from the incoming Republican Ranking Member on the Foreign Affairs Committee:

Washington D.C. – House Foreign Affairs Committee lead Republican Michael McCaul (R-TX) released the following statement on the fraudulent election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“After eighteen years of the Kabila regime, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had a historic opportunity to give its people a voice by holding free and fair elections. Millions of Congolese bravely went to the polls to cast their vote amid long lines, intimidation and violence. Unfortunately, the fraudulent vote count does not demonstrate the will of the people. 

“I commend the African Union’s call for transparency and credible election results. All parties must refrain from violence as this process continues. It’s imperative for the United States and the rest of the world to stand with the Congolese people to demand an accurate vote tally and I urge Secretary Pompeo to fully engage at this pivotal moment. All individuals who impede this democratic process must be held accountable.”

I would also like to know more about slightly more gradual process of walking back the substance of our objections to Kabila’s 2011 re-election vote during the Obama administration.

Lake Edward into Congo