Bill Fletcher Jr. tells UCLA meeting that U.S. goals of regime change may be directed at countries in Africa.
[Bill Fletcher Jr., President of the TransAfrica Forum, a national nonprofit organization that acts as an advocate for countries of Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean, spoke March 4 on the topic "Global Injustice and the Threat of War" in UCLA's Haines Hall. His talk was cosponsored by the James S. Coleman African Studies Center, the Ralph Bunche Center for African American Studies, and USA for Africa. Following is an edited text of his remarks including a portion of the question period.]
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On February 5 when Colin Powell made his presentation to the United Nations I listened. I am from New York, and listened on the internet. When it was finished I sat at my computer for 30 minutes and I said, Damn, what a presentation! I had all these images based on his presentation. He made a very good argument. Then, almost like a spring morning affecting a frozen lake, there was one crack and then another and then another. So his presentation was brilliant. His tone and his audiovisuals were brilliant. But some questions jumped out. What happened this last summer that made Saddam Hussein a danger? They tried to say this immediately after September 11, but it fell flat. And they stopped. What happened this summer that led them to re-raise the question? Why was this not given to the United Nations earlier? Who are the sources? I began to think I was looking at a black Joseph McCarthy. He would cite an unnamed defector. By and large no names were mentioned. A prisoner, a source, a defector.
What about the pictures? During the Gulf of Tonkin debate, pictures of a U.S. destroyer reportedly attacked by the Vietnamese later proved to be a lie. At the beginning of the Gulf War there were photos of Iraqi troops massed on the Saudi border. A later photo by a news service showed there was nothing there. There should at least have been tank tracks, which can last for years in the desert. The photos were a fraud, they were faked.
So when Powell showed these pictures I just wasn't convinced. In fact Powell made a good case on why there is no immediate threat from Saddam Hussein. If you did take all of this to be true, he was saying that this scoundrel was positioning himself to try at some point in the future to become a Persian Gulf power, but no suggestion that this was imminent.
International law says there can only be a preemptive strike when a threat is imminent. If Canadian troops are massed on the border, that is an imminent threat. But that they might at some time in the future present a danger is not grounds to have a preemptive strike.
They chose Powell to do this because he is more popular than Bush. But internationally there were strong doubts about his presentation right away.
There are problems with the government's argument. One is that the U.S. helped Saddam develop weapons of mass destruction in the first place. The right wing now says, yes, we made a mistake. But if he is as crazy as they say, how did they ever do this?
Iraq is weaker today than it was in 1991. Why now? Many of their weapons have been destroyed because of a decade of UN inspections. The bulk of Iraq's proscribed weapons programs were destroyed according to an UNSCOM [United National Special Commission] report in 1999.
Powell dwelt on Saddam Hussein's son in law, Hussein Kamel, a defector. He left out that Kamel, the son in law, said that most of the weapons were eliminated in 1991. Their attempts to claim a link with Al Qaeda are almost laughable. A week later, Powell tried to use the new bin Laden tape to claim a connection, but bin Laden makes a big attack on Saddam Hussein in the tape.
We are looking at a politically preemptive assault, not just a military assault. It is more demonic and more complicated than just a military attack.
Bush's New National Security Doctrine
In the fall of 2002 the Bush administration released its new national security doctrine. The basic notion is: One, the world will be capitalist. Two, the form will be one we want. Three, there will never again be a military threat to the United States. And four, anyone who doesn't like this will be taken out.
This national security doctrine goes against international law. It is also a declaration of empire. It says we will do what we want to, we are heading up this global capitalist empire and we will take action when we want to.
Another document is the Patriot Act II amendment, which is absolutely frightening. These were released by someone who had obtained them secretly. They say that all restrictions on police surveillance will be removed. Also taht anyone collaborating with terrorists can have their citizenship removed. The list includes all kinds of groups, Philippine groups, Turkish groups. It is a very politically motivated list. Now I am not talking about naturalized individuals. I mean native-born Americans. I was born in New York. I can have my citizenship removed. If that happens and you are a native-born American, where do you go? Do you get put in a concentration camp?
It is in this context that we must look at this impending war with Iraq. The core is the ability of the U.S. to use its military might to crush its opponent. In a Richard Pryor comedy routine, he interviews a mass murderer in a penitentiary and asks him why he did it. The murderer answers, "Because they were home." There is some similarity to what Washington is preparing to do in Iraq. They have chosen Iraq because it has no friends, not because it is a threat.
There is an assumption that it will be quick war. There were only 350 deaths in the Persian Gulf war and only about 150 of those were in combat. But this leaves out that something between one third and one fourth of the veterans are suffering from Persian Gulf syndrome and are dying. Another outcome is Al Qaeda, a ramification of the first Gulf War. There is no reason to assume that even if the actual battles are quick that the aftermath will be quick. For one thing the antiwar sentiment is vastly larger than it was in 1991. The U.S. will not be able to walk away from this easily.
Another issue is this idea of regime change. They are flirting with regime change about Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. I am no friend of Mugabe, but the U.S. has no business intervening there. What about Venezuela, where there was a coup in April where the U.S. was the only country in the world to recognize the coup? Did the United States have involvement in the coup? What about Colombia? What about the Philippines? This has nothing to do with Abu Sayyaf. It is against a much larger insurgency by the Communist Party's New People's Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has no ties to Al Qaeda.
Another aim is the destruction of OPEC. The U.S. has been in negotiation with several oil producers to pressure them not to join OPEC.
Opposition to War around the World
Opposition is critical. The Bush administration clearly did not expect the level of opposition they are facing. They are contemplating withdrawing the second UN resolution they were planning to submit. This means they will go to war as criminals without ratification by the world body.
The fact that the Turks took that vote, a historic ally of the United States, could only happen because 94% of the Turkish people say they are not interested in a war in Iraq.
We have lot to be excited about in terms of what the antiwar movement has produced, but we should be aware that is very hard for an antiwar movement to prevent a ruling class from firing the first shot. After the war starts an antiwar movement can have an important influence. We should not lose heart if Bush goes ahead and starts his war. Every day that there is not a war is a day in which we are victorious, in providing even this short delay. But the antiwar movement will have its most important job after the war begins.
From the Question Period
Question: Where is Africa in all this?
Bill Fletcher: Where does Africa stand? Condoleezza Rice has said that Africa is not on the radar screen. They are interested in Africa in direct relationship to oil: Angola, Gabon, Sudan, Nigeria--the only exception is Zimbabwe. The U.S. is trying to secure oil agreements on the assumption that there may be a boycott or a cut in production as a result of the war. They also want to break OPEC.
A few weeks ago there was a story in the Washington Post about the illegal diamond trade in Liberia, Burkino Faso and a couple of other places. Al Qaeda was accused of using this to raise money. This may be held in abeyance right now but it is a possibility for the future.
In the Security Council are Cameroon, Guinea, and Angola. The U.S. has been counting on their votes for the war. At a conference recently they all said they are against war, but it is not clear if they will cave in and support Bush in the Security Council. The significance for Africa is for oil, and whether the U.S. will do additional regime changes after Iraq.
[French President] Chirac is very concerned, as are the Germans, Russians, and Chinese about the declaration of empire, about the unilateralism of the United States. If the U.S. was acting on behalf of the capitalist powers this is not what you would see. Africa becomes a battle ground between imperialists, between the French and the United States. What had once been a united front of all the major capitalist powers in the immediate post-cold war period has now unraveled, in part because of the stupidity of the Bush administration.
Question: What are the potential affects of the war for African Americans?
Bill Fletcher: Pre-1989 there were 10,000 missiles pointed at the United States. That was a threat. This is not a threat. When Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma I don't remember big conclusions being drawn about the demonic side of Christianity, or of white men being racially profiled. But since September 11 anyone who looks like they are from the Middle East or North Africa is treated with fear and suspicion. In part this is because the lives of people of color are regarded as of lesser worth.
There were 3,000 people killed in September 11. In Indonesia in 1965 some 500,000 to as many as 3 million people were killed in a coup. The coup by Suharto was supported by the United States and Britain. There was an article recently that 44 million people in Africa have AIDS. They will all die. This article appeared on page 22 of the paper. A few hundred people killed by floods in Europe was all over the front page. I am sorry for the people in Europe, but what kind of society relegates a historic catastrophe like this to page 22? I can't even conceive of the numbers. New York City has 8 million people. Los Angeles has about 8 million people. But 44 million? Africa doesn't count.
One reason people abroad become impatient with Americans is that they seem to be deliberately ignorant of what their government does abroad. People in the United States say, I didn't know about Indonesia. I didn't know about East Timor. I didn't know about Nicaragua. People overseas are asking, what are you, stupid? Why didn't you know?
I think Europe and Japan are scared to death of George Bush. The lights are on and nobody is home. They are prepared to break alliances that go back 50 years.
What happened this summer is that the strategy in Afghanistan was failing, and the administration was worried about the coming November elections. It was easy to take out the Taliban government: blast Kabul. But that was never going to be the way to destroy Al Qaeda. It is more like going after the Mafia. who would conclude that in order to destroy the Mafia you should bomb Sicily? It was a strategy doomed to fail. It is more akin to detective work than to conventional war.
They didn't catch bin Laden, but some 20-25 % of Afghanistan is off limits to American troops today. This could be a protracted guerrilla war.
Despite this failure, and the Enron scandals, Bush turned things around by focusing attention on Iraq. They did well in the November elections. The threat was invented. Iraq is blowing up missiles as we sit here, and the Bush administration keeps repeating they have to disarm. It is hard to prove a negative.