Empire marches on

After West Asia and the Caspian Sea Basin, Horn of Africa is the next Great Game.

Published : Jan 26, 2007 00:00 IST

President George Bush.-LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS

President George Bush.-LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS

THE hastily confected judicial assassination of Saddam Hussein, the last President of independent Iraq, was part of an extraordinary three-month-long offensive that United States President George W. Bush has mounted on all fronts, domestic and international, since mid-October 2006. That offensive has now culminated in the invasion of Somalia by the Ethiopian proxy of the U.S., massive U.S. bombings of Somali territory by huge U.S. cargo planes that have been turned into gunships, and the "invitation" by the puppet regime, which the Ethiopian proxy has imposed on Somalia, to the U.S. to send its troops to this newly occupied country. A "new" Eastern Africa is now as much a U.S. objective as is a "new" West Asia. An integrated offensive from the Caspian Sea to the Mombasa Bay, so to speak.

In the process, Bush has signed into law the most far-reaching limitations on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He has dismissed key members of his own team at the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as well his principal military commanders in the West Asia and Iraq. He has ignored the electoral verdict of November 2006, in which the U.S. electorate had repudiated his Iraq policies and handed both Houses of Congress to the Democrats. He has ripped up much of the report compiled in the name of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group by James Baker, his own mentor and his father's chief confidant. He has widened dramatically the territorial breadth of the military conflict, committing more troops to the war in Iraq and daring his opponents in Congress to stop him.

Not just his father, not just Colin Powell but even Donald Rumsfeld has turned out to be much too circumspect, and not manly enough, in his reckoning. Only pliant courtiers who shall shield him from the bad news and go on doing his bidding to prop up his own delusions of manliness, such as Condoleezza Rice, are now good enough. Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, among key neocon architects of the Iraq invasion and now sceptical of further escalation, are out; an even coarser gang of neocons are now in. A former good-for-nothing alcoholic and now a born-again Christian, Bush seems to have cultivated both a gambler's compulsiveness (just one more shot of whisky, one more throw of the dice) and a messianic streak, in which each failure is viewed as yet another trial by fire in the journey toward Eternal Salvation.

In a delusion so grand, the hanging of Saddam Hussein must have appeared to him as just a detail in one morning's work, but also as yet another sign of his own manliness. As Governor of Texas, he signed more death sentences than any other Governor of a U.S. State in recent memory. Some of those who worked for him in Texas are rumoured to have said that he liked killing people. He does, in any case, keep in his presidential Oval Office Saddam's own, personal pistol which was taken from him when he was captured by U.S. soldiers. That may well be the modern, American equivalent of eating your enemy's liver as a tribute to that enemy's valour.

That Saddam would be killed had been a foregone conclusion ever since he was captured by U.S. troops in December 2003. The U.S. propaganda machinery as well as the global corporate media mesmerised by that propaganda tried to say that he had surrendered abjectly and that his followers had been discouraged greatly by the fact that he put up no resistance and made the "cowardly" decision to be captured alive instead of choosing a "heroic" suicide.

Most of the world was impressed, rather, by the fact that he decided to stay on Iraqi soil, instead of getting himself smuggled into safety in foreign lands, and that he managed to dodge the American forces, 140,000 of them on the ground with all sorts of gadgetry of surveillance probing for his hideouts, for a full nine months. He took the risk of getting tortured by the Americans, who had amply demonstrated their capacity for torturing captives not just in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib but also in dozens of prison complexes scattered, literally, around the globe ("extraordinary rendition" and all that). The remarkable courage he displayed at the time of actual execution was already there in the decision not to flee the country and, instead, take the risk of capture and torture and eventual execution.

The sort of court in which the show trial was staged has been described by some well-meaning people as a "kangaroo court". That is an insult to the essential decency of real-life kangaroos. Occupiers simply appointed their clients as prosecuting lawyers and judges. Lawyers who dared to defend Saddam in this court, which had no legitimate status in international law, were defamed, intimidated and, at times, simply murdered. The corporate media punctually ignored the fact that among the lawyers who sought to defend Saddam was also the former Attorney-General of the U.S., Ramsey Clarke, who had formerly worked so valiantly in documenting the hundreds of thousands of the Iraqi dead during the period of the U.N.-condoned Anglo-U.S. sanctions prior to the full-scale invasion. Any judge who showed the slightest respect for legal procedure in a way that favoured the defendant was removed. The case was adjourned time and again, and the show trial just dragged on.

It was quite clear that the Americans deluded themselves into believing that Saddam in their captivity was some bargaining chip they could use in getting what came to be known as "The Sunni Resistance" to negotiate with them in lieu of a sentence for Saddam milder than death - life imprisonment, some years of hard labour, even a contrived "escape". Zalmay Khalilzad, who served as the U.S. proconsul in Iraq, carried on back-channel negotiations with the "Sunni Resistance", failed to strike a bargain and pronounced the negotiations dead, and Saddam was duly hanged.

Saddam was never tried for the most spectacular of his crimes, and evidence incriminating him directly for ordering the killing of 148 people in the village of Dujail many years ago was simply not there; from the legal standpoint, his responsibility was at best indirect, for which the sentence of death was obviously excessive. His lawyers had been given less than two weeks to appeal against a judgment of 300 pages. Before the judgment, Saddam was not allowed to cross-examine the witnesses against him and his lawyers were not given access to much of the information that the Judges were privy too. After his lawyers filed the appeal, the appellate court confirmed the death sentence within three days. The judgment of the appellate court had given 30 days for the execution to be carried out; he was executed on the fourth day after that verdict.

The original sentence itself had been announced hurriedly the day before the Congressional elections in the U.S., in the hope that the electorate would somehow come to believe that the end of Saddam spelled some sort of "victory" for their President. The electorate did not take notice and voted against the Republicans anyway. Bush fell back on his hollow promise that Saddam would be hanged before the end of the year, and so it was done. One can only surmise that the decision to hang Saddam came together with the decision to escalate in the military sphere inside Iraq and right up to Somalia, all of which was to follow over the next two weeks.

Every single thing the U.S. has done in this dastardly process has been predictable all along. What is remarkable is the conduct of the other sovereign states of the world and the so-called "international community". Not a squeak of protest came out of any of the members of the European Union that prides itself on having abolished the death penalty, signing on to the International Criminal Court, and purportedly having far greater esteem for human rights, international law and judicial procedures. None pointed out that a trial court set up by an occupation authority predictably to convict the head of state of the occupied country - and a court, furthermore, that is vested with the power to award the death penalty - was contrary to the Geneva Conventions as well as to the existing European laws. None demanded that the trial be moved to the International Criminal Court.

Heads of Arab states piously `deplored' the timing, since Saddam had been hanged on the first day of the Eid al-Azha - the great feast of the sacrifice which symbolically re-enacts the myth of Abraham and Ishmael, and when the grand Muslim ritual of the Hajj in Mecca is concluded - but not much else about this victor's justice.

Even the judgment delivered by the court composed of clients had to say that there was no evidence that Saddam had actually ordered the actions which had led to the deaths for which he was accused, and that it was his description of those actions as "mistakes" which could be construed as his implicit responsibility for them - and therefore he had to be awarded the penalty of a death sentence. On such grounds, there is ample reason to sentence Bush, Rumsfeld & co. to death by execution for the documented tortures of Abu Ghraib alone, not to speak of much else. Neither the United Nations, supposedly the upholder of international law, nor any head of state anywhere in the world (with rare exceptions such as Hugo Chavez) who is assigned the task of protecting the very principle of national sovereignty, said anything of the kind. The worldwide democratic loathing of courts and sentencing of this kind was instead to be contained in virtually all the capitals of the world, from Beijing and New Delhi to Paris and even London, as some variant of the diplomatic nicety contained in the word "deplorable".

The victor's justice is a many-headed monster. Saddam was undoubtedly a ferocious dictator and should have been brought to justice in a court duly constituted in an independent and sovereign Iraq, under a government chosen by the Iraqi people free of the occupation and the consequent regimes of murder and sectarian strife imposed upon them by the occupiers. He had done immense wrongs to the peoples of the countries he invaded, notably Iran and Kuwait, for which too he should have been tried in accordance with strict procedures of international law, in a court free of external manipulation.

Most of his crimes had been committed when he was a close ally of the Western powers, especially the U.S. and Britain, which supplied him with arms, chemical and biological weapons as well as technologies to produce them, aerial photographs and other intelligence materials regarding countries that he invaded; the whole world needed a trial of him in which crimes of such collusion could be documented and the relevant criminals, of whatever nationality, could be prosecuted; highest officials of the U.S. and Britain would have been exposed to prosecution in that case - and rightly so. All such possibilities ended with Saddam's execution by a gang of thugs in the Americans' pay.

Saddam was a bloody dictator but hardly the only one in his time, and probably not the worst either. General Augusto Pinochet, responsible for thousands of deaths and for siphoning off unaccounted millions upon millions of dollars out of the Chilean treasury, had been in British custody, and even a Spanish court could not get hold of him when it invoked the hallowed principle of universal jurisdiction against people charged with crimes against humanity; upon relinquishing office Pinochet lived happily enough in a supposedly democratised Chile and when he died, the newly elected socialist President who had herself been tortured under his dictatorship saw it fit to wear black, the colour of mourning, and send her Defence Minister to the torturer's funeral.

In a similar case, when human rights lawyers tried to bring cases against Ariel Sharon and other Israeli war criminals in courts of countries, such as Belgium, which had extensive laws based on the principles of universal jurisdiction, the U.S. forced them to change their laws; and when, in a similar instance, its Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was to attend a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) conclave in Brussels and it was surmised that he may be served with a warrant of arrest as a war criminal, the U.S. had no difficulty in persuading all its European allies to change the venue of the meeting. There is little to choose between Saddam and Pinochet, but one was on the wrong side in the ultimate `clash of civilisations' and the other was on the side of the victors.

All of that was foretold and predictable. Surprise was in the manner of the execution itself and the details that were quickly divulged. Like everything else that the Americans have done in Iraq, this masquerade, too, was a peculiar mix of monstrous caprice and utter bungling. That the dirty deed was done in the early hours of the day when Eid al-Azha commences, involving a couple of million Muslims in Makkah itself and untold millions around the world watching it on television, is macabre enough. Some, even leftist, commentators in the U.S. have described that day as of great ritual significance "on the Sunni calendar". Well, not so. This is a ritual that brings together Muslims of all sects, nationalities, racial or ethnic origins, in perhaps the biggest, trans-continental congregational event anywhere in the world. To hang a Muslim, any Muslim, on that morning is an affront to all those who subscribe to that religion; that the collaborators of the U.S. colluded in all that only shows their supine character, and that some Shia neighbourhoods in Iraq celebrated that hanging, forgetting the sanctity of the day on which it was performed, only shows how successful the occupation has been in fermenting sectarian war through all variety of means.

From the strictly religious point of view, though, the worst of it came at the precise moment when his neck was snapped and the plank drawn from underneath him - as he was in the midst of saying his last prayer. The video that sent that image around the world simply immortalised him as a Muslim being executed on the first day of the Eid, with none of the most basic respect for words of the prayer, by henchmen of an alien - not only nationally but also religiously and culturally - occupying force, while the hired executioners are shown to be mere brutish thugs. That image is likely to reverberate throughout the Muslim and especially the Arab world for an incalculable length of time. What has been said by many since then is actually true: a despised tyrant, whose tyranny the Americans claimed to be fighting against, has been rendered a martyr, by American fiat.

That image of a man calmly dignified and deep in prayer at the very moment of his death is rendered especially poignant by the videographed recording of the preceding few minutes. Saddam appears erect and defiant, answering the braying executioners with irony and conviction, stepping up to the gallows unflappably, and beginning to pray as the noose is tightened. Some of the printed stories in major newspapers of the world, including the key American ones, were to further confirm those images of exit with calm dignity.

He is said to have been woken up early, to have sensed what was coming, to have shaken hands with all his guards and to have thanked each one of them, individually, for the good care he had received from them. He walked gravely toward the helicopter that was to take him to the place of his execution. Formality required that the verdict be read to him. He responded in a high-pitched voice: "Long live the nation! Long live the people. Long live the Palestinians!" A little later, and equally in fulfilment of formalities, the National Security Adviser of the puppet regime enquired of him if he had any remorse, and he said, "I am a militant and I have no fear for myself... "

At some point, inexplicably, his U.S.-paid executioners raised slogans in praise of Moqtada al-Sadr, the young Shia cleric whom the Americans hate the most and have often fought, in Kufa and elsewhere. Saddam is said to have been surprised and shook his head. Soon after that he was led to the gallows, tied up, and hanged. That was on December 30. The next day, the very last day of 2006, The New York Times began its story on the execution with the sentence: "Saddam Hussein never bowed his head, until his neck snapped."

It wasn't long before Washington began waking up to the huge global impact of Saddam's dignified behaviour, as contrasted with the crassness of his execution - the choice of day, the menacing rowdiness of his executioners in the solemn moments before his death, the snapping of the neck as he prayed silently. Such things are hard to verify, but it does seem to me that it is only after the facts had had an impact exactly the opposite of what the Washingtonian spinmasters anticipated that they decided to pretend that the successive videos had been produced clandestinely and that they had actually tried to dissuade the "sovereign" Nouri al-Maliki government from executing Saddam on such a holy day.

It was now said that it was the "sovereign" Iraqi establishment - much too "sovereign" to listen to the United States - which had chosen that day, against strenuous U.S. efforts. It was also claimed that the slogans raised by the executioners in favour of Moqtada al-Sadr were entirely spontaneous; that they were praising someone the U.S. detests only goes to show, it was claimed, how "independent" those executioners really were. Supposedly liberal but in fact corrupt and pompous senior journalists like John F. Burns of The New York Times were to play a major role in this subsequent campaign of disinformation which sought to relieve the U.S. of its culpability in the whole sorry mess.

All that, I believe, is plain hogwash. Only a month earlier, that same "Prime Minister" had complained publicly that he is not allowed to move even a platoon of policemen without prior U.S. permission. Death by hanging of a famous dictator is serious business; it is very doubtful that sundry hangmen can just take out their cellphones and video cameras to make unauthorised tapes and then just put them on the Internet. Secrecy is the essence of all such events; it is very unlikely that microscopic details of such proceedings can appear in newspapers the very next day if the real masters of the ceremony, the big U.S. officials, do not want them divulged. Nor is it very likely that hired hangmen, always fearful of dire consequences for unruly behaviour at such times, would raise slogans in favour of America's designated enemy, Moqtada, unless they are sure of not suffering any reprisals. It seems very likely that they were instructed to raise those slogans, in praise of Moqtada, to be caught on videotape that would be widely disseminated throughout the Arab world, to indicate that it was Moqtada's men who actually executed Saddam Hussein, so as to concentrate Sunni ire on Moqtada, the one major Shia figure in Iraq who is deeply opposed to American occupation, and not on the core clients of the U.S. who actually did it.

The hanging as well as the spectacle staged and taped at the time were meant to exacerbate the Shia-Sunni divide and to have the Sunnis turn against Moqtada even as the U.S. concentrates its fire upon his forces. (As many as 14,000 U.S. troops were diverted to Moqtada's stronghold in the Sadr City zone of Baghdad in October 2006 and the majority of the 30,000 troops that Bush and his new commanders in Iraq are looking for are expected to be deployed there.)

It seems very likely, in short, that the Americans had carefully choreographed the whole staging of the execution and dissemination of the pictures, but they had not imagined that Saddam's dignified conduct would have such an electrifying impact across the world, especially the Arab-Muslim world. Nor had they understood that most people in the world, especially outside the U.S., do not condone the hanging of a man on a day deemed holy in his religion and while he has his last prayer on his lips, even though the man to be hanged was once a dictator.

Even Saddam, held in secluded captivity for three years, probably did not know the full extent of what his captors had done to his country. This is not the place to go into details but a few outstanding facts can be assembled.

Reliable estimates suggest that a million and a half Iraqis, most of them women and children, had died as a result of the sanctions against Iraq even before full-scale invasion. The most recent estimate of deaths since the invasion put the number at 665,000. That is quite aside from the probably much higher number of the maimed, the injured, the malnourished.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) says there are 1.6 million internal refugees in Iraq now, another 1.8 million have left the country, 100,000 leave the country every day and Syria alone - which requires no entry visas from others Arab states - receives a daily influx of 2,000 refugees. The last reliable Census in Iraq put the population at 23 million. Over two million dead and over three million rendered homeless thus constitute roughly 20 per cent of the population - and the process continues. The bulk of the country's intelligentsia has fled, and documented evidence exists to show that close to a thousand academic professionals, journalists, judges and doctors have been murdered.

Tens of billions of dollars have disappeared into the coffers of the new, U.S.-made ruling elite, but the vast majority of the surviving population has been pauperised in a country that was once the Arab world's most advanced welfare state. Before the U.S. invasion, Iraq was also a highly secular polity; it is now a murderous cesspool of sectarian militias and communal strife in which a hundred corpses may be picked up from the streets of Baghdad on any given day, the daily toll of death across the country runs at roughly 1,000, and members of the Shia-administered Ministries may abduct members of the Sunni-administered Ministries. In Saddam's secular Iraq, there was a high incidence of inter-sect marriages between Shias and Sunnis; today, families are forcing such couples to divorce their spouses. When large numbers of such couples tried to create an association for their self-defence, some of their prominent members were murdered and the association was forced to disband. These extremities are by no means limited to Baghdad but envelop the entire country with the exception of the more solidly Kurdish areas; even Mosul, relatively a more secure city, has witnessed the exodus of 75,000 Kurds toward the safer regions of Iraqi Kurdistan.

That a civil war of huge proportions, with all the characteristics of mutual ethnic cleansings, is fully in progress is beyond debate. Yet, most Iraqis hold the U.S. responsible for this descent of their country into hell; in the most recent polls, over 90 per cent of Sunnis and over 60 per cent of Shias said armed attacks on U.S. personnel are legitimate and necessary, and over 70 per cent of all Iraqis, including Kurds, want U.S. troops to leave their country. (Significantly, in the same poll, 50 per cent identified themselves simply as Muslim, not Shia or Sunni.) It is into this hellish mix that Bush wants to throw in more troops and the hard core of the neocons (Kagan, Kristol and Co.) argue in favour of unlimited escalation.

Iraq is not the only place where further escalation, more overt and covert military involvement, more civil wars are being sought. In December 2006, Bush signed a secret "finding" which authorises the CIA to pass covert funds to the Lebanese government as well as sundry Lebanese squads to fight Hizbollah on the ground, which will include armed engagement as well as assassinations, designed to provoke a civil war that will undermine Hizbollah internally and relieve Israel from its pressure. As for Palestine, a report that has landed on my table even as I draft this article says, in part, regarding the neocon Eliot Abram's plan for a civil war among Palestinians:

Over the past 12 months, the United States has supplied guns, ammunition and training to Palestinian Fatah activists to take on Hamas in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank... A large number of Fatah activists have been trained and "graduated" from two West Bank camps - one in Ramallah and one in Jericho. The supplies of rifles and ammunition, which started as a mere trickle, have now become a torrent (the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reports that the U.S. has designated an astounding $86.4 million for Abu Mazen's - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' - security detail). Thousands of rifles and bullets have been pouring into Gaza and the West Bank from Egypt and Jordan, the U.S. administration's designated allies... under the Abrams program (Egypt recently sent 1,900 rifles into Gaza and the West Bank, nearly matching the 3,000 rifles sent by the Jordanians)... . Rumsfeld was concerned that the anti-Hamas program would radicalise Muslim groups among U.S. allies and eventually endanger U.S. troops fighting Sunni extremists in Iraq. According to these authors' reports, Rumsfeld was told by Bush that he should keep his focus on Iraq, and that "the Palestinian brief" was in the hands of the Secretary of State. After this confrontation, Rumsfeld decided there was not much he could do.

The Abrams program was initially conceived last February by a group of White House officials who wanted to shape a coherent and tough response to the Hamas electoral victory of January. These officials, the authors were told, were led by Abrams, but included National Security Advisers working in the office of the Vice-President, including prominent neo-conservatives David Wurmser and John Hannah. The policy was approved by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice... . The President then signed off on the program in a Central Intelligence Agency "finding" and designated that its implementation be put under the control of the CIA... . The recipients of U.S. largesse have been Abbas and Mohammad Dahlan, a controversial and charismatic Palestinian political leader from Gaza. The U.S. has also relied on advice from Mohammad Rashid, a well-known Kurdish/Palestinian financier with offices in Cairo.

These few extracts speak for themselves, and we need not comment, except to say that the designated errand boys in this plan (Mubarak of Egypt, the Jordanian and Saudi royals) are said to be highly nervous and uncertain of repercussions that might ensue for themselves as they get seen fanning the flames of a fratricide among the Palestinians so openly, in the service of Israel.

Just as the gallows were being readied in Baghdad for the hanging of Saddam Hussein, Ethiopia invaded Somalia, in a thinly veiled proxy war launched by the U.S., and drove out the ruling coalition of the Somali Council of Islamic Courts (SCIC), whose forces surrendered the capital, Mogadishu, quickly, some of them retreating into their strongholds in southern Somalia and others just shaving off their beards and disappearing into the city's burgeoning population. The orderliness of the quick retreat was reminiscent of the way the Taliban in Afghanistan and the bulk of Iraq's Baathist army had retreated into the interiors and among the general populace when their respective countries were attacked by the overwhelmingly superior forces of the U.S.

The Ethiopians re-installed a government of warlords that had been ousted some six months earlier, and when the U.S. AC130 warplanes - military cargo aircraft turned into huge gunships fitted with the most modern gadgetry - flew out of the U.S. airbase in Djibouti to start attacking Somali territory some two weeks later, the President of this puppet regime, Abdullahi Yusuf, was at hand to tell the journalists that the U.S. "has a right to bombard suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania". The US has been attacking from the air ever since and has moved the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower to join three other warships off the Somali coast, on the pretext that Somalia is studded with Al Qaeda base camps. Meanwhile, the internecine warfare among the warlord factions, which had plagued Mogadishu for 15 years before the SCIC captured the capital in 2006, is once again the order of the day. Even as I draft these lines, the news is that one such gang fight under the new occupation has cost six human lives. The making of another Baghdad, as it were!

Like the hanging of Saddam Hussein, the invasion of Somalia has also been awaited for some time. That the invasion plans were being given the final touches was indicated in November 2006 when Gen John Abizaid, the then commander of the U.S. Central Command that is responsible for the whole region, flew into Addis Ababa for talks with the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zanawi to draw up the detailed plans. Then, on December 6, the U.S. set aside the intensive Arab and European mediation efforts for an agreement between the contenders for power in Somalia and pushed through the U.N. Security Council its Resolution 1725, which recognised the makeshift government for Somalia that had been organised in Kenya by U.S. allies in the region and was essentially an alliance of warlords.

The resolution also called for the creation of an international peacekeeping force to ensure the return of that freshly minted "government" to power in the capital and, in an apparent insurance against Ethiopian invasion, explicitly called upon all neighbouring states to desist from interfering in Somalia's internal affairs. With the resolution in its pocket, the U.S. immediately launched preparations for the final push, and when the Ethiopian invasion actually came, Bush declared his support by saying that he fully understood Ethiopia's security concerns.

That is the immediate background. The invasion has been awaited for years, though, and as I dust up my old files I find that in the months following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S. and all through the invasion of Afghanistan, Somalia was the country that got described in the media as the next likely target, before all attention shifted to Iraq. Thus, on November 25, 2001, The Sunday Times blandly reported that "the United States and Britain are planning to extend the war on terrorism in Somalia, Sudan and Yemen as soon as the campaign in Afghanistan is over" and that "the British and their CIA counterparts have been assembling evidence to be used as the basis for attacks on bin Laden's associates and terrorist training camps". A report in Financial Times Online, on December 11, 2001, reads as if it was drafted exactly five years later, at the end of 2006:

Nine Americans reportedly met representatives of a clan-based group called the Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA) and a warlord known as General Morgan, in the central town of Baidoa. Both form part of a wider Ethiopian-backed anti-government alliance called the Somali Restoration and Reconciliation Council (SRRC). The SRRC and its Ethiopian backers have long accused Somalia's new transitional government (TNG) - established last year in Djibouti - of having Islamist sympathies. It talks of training camps linked to Al Qaeda. Ethiopia says it is reacting to evidence that the TNG is in the pocket of Islamic terrorists but others, including the government, suggest that is a smokescreen for a more imperialistic agenda.

Le Monde Diplomatique of the same month five years ago had this to say:

After 11 September, there are two potential winners in the new order, Sudan and Ethiopia, and two probable losers, Somalia and Eritrea. In Sudan, now an oil-producing country, President Omar al-Bashir seems set to emulate the success of his Pakistani counterpart. Over a year ago he agreed to the opening of an American anti-terrorist bureau in Khartoum... . The Ethiopian government immediately offered to mount its own campaign against al-Ittihaad... . A war against the Somalis would be popular and not entail any great military risks... . It would also reinforce Ethiopia's policy over the last 10 years of keeping Somalia broken up into four or five clan-based micro-states.

On 8 January 2002, Christian Science Monitor was to inform its readers:

British, French, and U.S. military reconnaissance flights have become more frequent in recent days, with U.S. Navy P-3 planes doubling their missions over the country to four or five a week. The Pentagon will soon have three Marine Expeditionary Units (with 1,200 troops each) patrolling the Somali coastline, ensuring Al Qaeda members escaping Afghanistan cannot find shelter on these lawless shores. Germany sent a fleet of six ships to the Horn of Africa Wednesday. The US is continuing discussions with the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC), a loose grouping of warlords backed by Ethiopia who oppose the government in Mogadishu and have pledged to fight terrorism. Ethiopia reportedly sent 70 officers to Baidoa last week to train members of SRRC for fighting, though Addis Ababa denies it.

This is just as a small sample. Heaps of such stuff got published five years ago, and the basic contours of the war to secure the Horn of Africa for long-term imperial dominance, which is unfolding now, are already there. Not just the U.S. and Britain but also Germany (which now has troops in Afghanistan) have been at it since then; which explains why the U.S. was able to secure the Security Council Resolution on Somalia last month so easily and why there was not even a whimper of protest in that same Security Council when the U.S. immediately proceeded to prepare Ethiopia to invade, in direct violation of a key clause in that very resolution. But the real significance of that more recent resolution was there for all to see. As the International Herald Tribune of December 26, 2006, four days before Saddam's execution, was to point out:

The U.N. Security Council, however, did take up the issue, and in another craven act which will further cement its reputation as an anti-Muslim body, bowed to American and British pressure to authorise a regional peacekeeping force to enter Somalia to protect the transitional government, which is fighting the Islamic Courts.

As we see in those old reports, the basic alliance between the U.S., Ethiopia and the warlords was being put in place, with active collusion from Sudan and Djibouti, five years before the Islamic Courts emerged victorious, for some months, in 2006 - which has now become the excuse for an invasion that has been in the making all this time. And that same talk of "Al Qaeda", an all-purpose spectral phantom that can be invoked at will, to occupy any country, commit any atrocity, violate any international law, back any grouping of thugs - all in the name of a "war on terror".

Ethiopia is a natural ally of the United States. Like Israel, Ethiopia is yet to declare its final borders - because it covets the territories of its principal neighbours, Somalia and Eritrea - just as Israel is hell-bent on capturing more and more territory, Syrian and Lebanese as well as much more of the historic Palestine as possible. Israel does have a long coastline but covets the water resources of the Palestinian Territories it occupies as well as those of Lebanon which it has invaded again and again; the landlocked Ethiopia does not even have a coastline and covets territory from both Eritrea and Somalia so as to gain its own sovereign access to the high seas. Israel must remain a "Jewish state" on the historic land of Palestine, even though if one were to take into account all the Palestinians - inside Israel, in the Occupied Territories, and driven into the rest of the world as refugees - the Jewish population in historic Palestine would still be a minority. Similarly, Ethiopia flaunts itself as an ancient "Christian country" even though even the CIA handbook on the country would tell you that Muslims are the most numerous religious community there: not a part of the ruling elite but the largest religious collectivity on the historic land of Ethiopia! And, thanks to its phantasmagoric claims to be only a "Christian country" it must be permanently at war with its Muslim neighbours because its own Muslim majority has much in common with those neighbours; indeed, some 6 per cent of its population is specifically Somali in its ethnic makeup. The Ethiopian elite has the same difficulty that Israel has in becoming a multi-religious and multi-cultural, truly secular society; those who do not belong to the politically and economically dominant religious group must forever be second-class citizens.

Oil is the great misfortune of Muslims in great many countries because they tend to have a great deal of it, while an addiction called oil - for consumption, as a strategic resource, as black gold worth trillions - is a disease with the dollar-driven Americans in particular and with capitalism in general. It now appears that not just Sudan but even Somalia has good quantities of it; the infamous "war on terror" goes where the oil is. After the West Asia and the Caspian Sea Basin, Horn of Africa is the next Great Game. But Americans are fishing in troubled waters. Ethiopian Muslims have never had much use for radical Islamism of the bin Laden kind. However, as Somalia gets invaded and occupied by the Ethiopians, and subjected to indiscriminate air raids by the Americans (rumour has it that U.S. ground troops may soon arrive, in addition to the ongoing covert operations), that kind of Islamism may spread like wild fire certainly in Somalia but also in Kenya and possibly Ethiopia itself. In country after country, the fury of U.S. aggression has succeeded in turning a cross-section of socially conservative but politically mild Muslims into radical, millenarian, gun-totting ones; Iraq is the supreme example of this sea-change in a matter of just over three years. Somalia itself, and possibly the whole region, now seems to be heading into the eye of that same storm. The will to conquest remains unrelenting, however.

Much more could be said on all the issues we have raised here. The question, nevertheless, remains: can Bush get away with it all? Well, there is much disturbance in the heavens. The U.S. electorate has already repudiated these policies and even some of the Republican Senators who are facing re-election have defected from the planned "surge" of more troops into Iraq, while Senator Edward M. Kennedy and his colleagues have introduced legislation in both Houses of the U.S. Congress that would forbid the Bush administration to either commit more troops abroad or to enhance any kind of military funding for such adventures without prior Congressional approval. Other aspects of the dictatorial presidency that Bush has been erecting are bound to come up for Congressional scrutiny. Even the client al-Maliki government in Iraq has expressed its displeasure at the idea of more U.S. troops, partly because it depends on Moqtada for its survival, partly because its Iranian friends do not wish to see the Americans becoming militarily stronger in Iraq, and partly because even clients want to enhance their own local power when they are given a country to rule, at least nominally.

The Bush Administration is poised to introduce a new set of laws that would throw Iraqi oil for privatisation and for foreign corporations to dominate and profit from. Iraqi capitalists who covet those same profits, as well the economic nationalists who wish to guard their national assets, are bound to resist. The kind of dramatic escalations that Bush is contemplating across a wide transcontinental territory, from the northern regions of Iraq to the Somalia-Kenya border, do appear to be an unsustainable imperial overstretch.

On top of it all, the fiscal wounds of empire are there for all to see. Expenditures on the Iraq war alone are now running at close to $8 billion a month and the accumulated expenditures incurred thus far are now close to $2 trillion; Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning former Chief Economist of the World Bank, whose detailed study of the likely cost of the Iraq War put it at $3 trillion, now says that the figure was much too low and accumulated costs, not just to the U.S. economy but to the economies of other participating countries, are likely to be considerably higher.

As regards the general economy, the U.S. national debt now hovers around $70 trillion if all future obligations are included. The real budgetary deficit in 2005 alone was closer to $750 billion, while the current accounts deficit exceeded $800 billion. In November 2006, Business Week pointed out that in a year or so the U.S. shall arrive at a point where it will import a dollar value of goods and services exceeding what the federal government collects in revenues that now amount to $2.4 trillion. There are any number of such indicators, and Stiglitz warns that unless truly fundamental changes are introduced into micro-management of the U.S. economy on an emergency basis, a crisis of very considerable proportions shall start looming in 12 to 24 months - just as the U.S. enters into its next presidential campaign.

So, the question may well be asked: can an economy so riddled with debts and deficits that boggle the mind, with such vast disparities between revenues and expenditures, sustain a war of such global proportions into the indefinite future?

And we haven't even begun to talk of Iran and Syria. All the documentary evidence seems to suggest that Bush is more keen to invade them now than he was before. He has only two more years in office; after that, he cannot run for the presidency again. By the same token, he must perpetrate in these two years all the evil he intends.

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