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.

Orange Democracy, Exit Polls and Egypt

Kansas City Star–Commentary:  Egypt’s Democracy Falters (special to the McClatchy papers):

.  .  .  .

But it is no surprise that hard line authoritarian rulers have suspicion and disdain for U.S.-backed democratic movements.

The Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 might never have taken place if not for U.S. aid. First, the former communists in control of the Kiev government declared their candidate won an election. Then, a U.S.-funded think tank tallied up exit polls that showed the government had lied and it really lost the election.

Next, a Ukranian TV newsman trained by a U.S. aid program broadcast the exit polls and set up its cameras on the main square for an all night vigil. Up to one million people came to join the vigil. Then the Supreme Court — which had been brought to visit U.S. courts in action — ruled the election was invalid and the government had to step down.

Furthermore, U.S. legal, legislative, journalism and other trainers taught judges, prosecutors, legislators and journalists how to do their jobs in a democratic system.

Russia was panicked by the success of these democracy aid teams, operated by the Congressionally funded National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, the U.S. Bar Association and other groups. It began clamping down on them in Russia. Other autocrats expelled the democracy trainers as well, fearing they aimed to help the opposition overthrow their regimes.

In a bitter irony, although U.S. aid did help democratic forces hold elections and win power in Ukraine, Georgia, Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, and the Palestinian territories, these countries backslid into coups or else the old guard won back power.

Either the new democratic forces were incapable of managing their countries, or the old guard rapidly learned the techniques of advertising and marshalling political forces to win back control. In some cases, people turned from the chaos of democracy to the firm hand of strongmen like Vladimir Putin in Russia and Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine.

People don’t change. They may like the feeling of liberty but they also fear the lack of guidelines.

In Egypt and in many Middle East countries, there is a huge youth population lacking jobs, housing and opportunities. People fear the young will erupt into crime and violence — similar to the soccer riots in Port Said and Cairo, and the ongoing rock and tear gas fights at Tahrir Square. Because they fear the youth, people have long accepted the ruthless power of the secret police and the authority of the kings and strongmen from Rabat to Baghdad.

While I love my liberty and would like every other country to enjoy it as well, maybe it’s wise for us to accept that what other countries choose for their way of life is best for them to decide.

If someone comes into my house and tells me better ways to plant my yard and build my bookshelves and paint my walls and cook my meals, even if they are right I will resent it and probably ignore all they suggest. So what is happening in Egypt is no big surprise.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Ben Barber has written about the developing world since 1980 for Newsday, the London Observer, the Christian Science Monitor, Salon.com, Foreign Affairs, the Washington Times and USA TODAY. From 2003 to August, 2010, he was senior writer at the U.S. foreign aid agency. His photojournalism book — GROUNDTRUTH: The Third World at Work at play and at war — is to be published in 2012 by de-MO.org. He can be reached at benbarber2@hotmail.com.

Africa Bureau announces vision to revitalize AGOA

Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson at CSIS from African Press Organization (APO):

While AGOA has achieved a certain amount of success, it has not solved Africa’s challenges and the region has not experienced a genuine economic revolution. Africa also continues to struggle to compete in an increasingly competitive global economy. For these reasons I am fully committed to revitalizing AGOA.

AGOA remains the centerpiece of our trade and investment policy with Africa. In 2012 the third country multi-fiber provision which allows textile producers to source their raw materials from other countries is set to expire and in 2015 the AGOA legislation itself will end. I would like to outline the State Department Africa Bureau’s vision for the next steps on AGOA:

1. Renew AGOA through 2025. The uncertainty about renewing the legislation creates a disincentive for potential investors to source production in AGOA eligible countries.

2. Renew the Third Country Multi-Fiber provision through 2022. The rules of origin for fabric under AGOA are one of the most important incentives to invest in textile production in AGOA eligible countries. This component of AGOA allows textile producers in AGOA countries to source their raw materials from other countries and still maintain their preferred access to the U.S. market.

3. Add South Africa to the Third Country Multi-Fiber provision. South Africa is the only AGOA eligible country not eligible for this provision and also the country best suited to take advantage of it.

4. Continue USAID’s Trade Hub and capacity building programs. Without this type of strong trade capacity building program AGOA cannot succeed.

5. Ensure that the Department of Commerce’s Foreign Commercial Service maintains their presence in Dakar and Accra. This is crucial not only for AGOA but for all of our economic initiatives in Africa.

6. Increase USDA’s capacity to provide phytosanitary certification. Agriculture exports remain an important and underutilized component of AGOA.

7. Tax incentives for earnings from AGOA investment. AGOA already provides substantial tariff savings for U.S. companies importing eligible products from Africa, but there are no other types of tax incentives provided under the legislation. Recommend that the U.S. government support an effort to eliminate the U.S. tax on repatriated revenues from American companies that invest in factories in Africa that produce AGOA exports to the US.

There has been a great deal of impressive economic news coming out of Africa recently. I am very encouraged by these positive developments. However, it is not the time for us to become complacent. Africa still faces huge challenges and we need to continue and revitalize our economic partnership. This is not only in the interest of our African partners, but in our interest as well. We need to maintain and improve upon AGOA today in order to continue to play a role in the growing dynamism in Africa tomorrow.

In the meantime, Russia is also seeking to “up its game” in African trade and investment.  Here is a link to “Buziness Africa”, a Russian magazine covering the subject, including AGOA.

Another Ugandan Weapons Procurement Scandal?

The East African reports:  “$740M fighter jets scam sneaks under the radar.”

In a deal reminiscent of previous purchases of military hardware in which the army bypassed civilian oversight, the Ministry of Defence and Bank of Uganda are in the news again following revelations that on the express instructions of President Yoweri Museveni, the ministry withdrew money from the central bank without due parliamentary approval, to buy six fighter jets and other military equipment from Russia worth $740 million.

It also emerged that this money is from the supplementary budget and that part of it — over $400 million — has already been spent. Hence government only wants parliament to rubberstamp the acquisition.

The deal marks a return to the late 1990s, when under the cover of classified expenditure, the country lost $6 million after shadowy middlemen sold the Uganda People’s Defence Forces attack helicopters that could not fly.

.  .  .  .

As usual, the president is once again on hand to let Defence off the hook.

On the night of March 24, Museveni met the National Resistance Movement parliamentary caucus at State House Entebbe and told the legislators to support the $740 million supplementary expenditure.

Although he did not mention the country the jets were bought from, the Daily Monitor reported last week that Russian defence websites claimed that Uganda and Algeria had gone shopping in the Russian capital.

It further revealed that the two countries paid a joint price of $1.2 billion for 22 jets — Uganda’s being only six.

Hence each of Uganda’s jets should have cost $54.5 million, translating into a total of $327 million.

.  .  .  .

The army also bought some 90 tanks from Bulgaria, only 10 of which proved operational.

The purchase earlier of another set of MiG jet fighters also followed a similar pattern: They arrived with one wing, had no spare parts nor bomb loading capacity.

Public policy analysts argue that these dubious procurements are not just bad luck hounding Uganda’s military.

Rather, they say, defence spending is the conduit through which public finances are channelled to fund politics.

 

In the meantime, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation reports that the drought and increasing food prices leave 5 million people at risk of hunger in the greater Horn of Africa region:

The World Food Program – WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran has expressed fears that drought coupled by rising food prices could drive some 5 million people into hunger in the Horn of Africa sub-region.

Sheeran said the number of hungry people in the Horn of Africa was growing and WFP aims to assist 5.2 million people as drought, rising food and fuel prices and conflict take their toll.

“More and more people need help in the Horn and we’re now on high alert over the impact of the March to May long rains. The drought began with the failure of the October to December short rains last year in eastern parts of the Horn of Africa, pushing an additional 1.4 million people into hunger,” said Sheeran.

The World Food Program is also warning that the number of people in need of assistance may increase if the current long rains – from March to May – are poor.

Sheeran who is in Nairobi on a fact finding mission noted that farmers in producing areas that have abundant supplies are selling their produce to WFP so that it can be used to help the poorest in drought-stricken areas.

In 2010 WFP bought food worth a total of US$139 million in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.

Food prices have started rising in areas that relied on the failed short rains for food production, with increases for maize of 25 percent to 120 percent in some remote parts of the Horn.

Cereal prices in the region over the next six months are expected to increase by 40 to 50 percent.