October 8, 2007

The Game of Nations

Here's an interesting story in Esquire from last summer about the big plans the Pentagon has for Africa. See, we're going to go to Africa and kill people and break things at the same time we paint their schools! Pretty innovative, huh? What could possibly go wrong?

The Americans Have Landed

A few years ago, with little fanfare, the United States opened a base in the horn of Africa to kill or capture Al Qaeda fighters. By 2012, the Pentagon will have two dozen such forts. The story of Africa Command, the American military's new frontier outpost.

By Thomas P.M. Barnett

The reality has been that not much happens in Africa that affects the outside world. Is that going to change? Maybe. Barnett has a complicated demographic theory about why Africa will soon transform from the rather lackadaisical place described by Modern Drunkard magazine as "a drinker's paradise" into a seething inferno of Al Qaeda-led suicide bombers out to destroy America. See, in Barnett's theory, all the countries that are "connected" to each other via trade and communications always get along, but the unconnected ones off on their own are trouble. (I guess that's why isolated Paraguay caused the world so much more trouble in the 20th Century than centrally-located Germany.)

Okay, maybe, although I suspect that even though we assume that Somalians are obsessed with America, the reality is that life in Somalia is full of interest, thank you very much, and they don't really think much about us except when we get in their faces. But, maybe I'm wrong.

Still, will painting their schools really make them like us more? If they care so much about having painted schools, wouldn't they paint them themselves? Didn't Ben Franklin explain that doing people favors just makes them resent that you can do them favors? (Instead, have them do you favors, which will make them like you more.)

Will having our soldiers roar around African locales in Black Hawks pointing .50 caliber machine guns at the locals -- in between the school painting -- really win the hearts and minds of the local youths? Aren't they instead going to resent the fact that we get to roar around their neighborhood but they don't get to roar around ours? Maybe that will plant the idea in their young men's heads that they should come to America and do some roaring here just to show us we're not so tough after all?

Wouldn't it be easier for all concerned just to not let them through Customs at JFK?

Sorry, I forgot. Since our leaders have invited the world, we have to invade the world. It's that simple.

One interesting point Barnett raises without quite making it is that when it comes to charity work, American soldiers tend to be better liked by the Third World locals than dweeby NGO volunteers (except when our soldiers kill their kin, which they remember unto the seventh generation):

Team leader of Team B/413th Civil Affairs Battalion, McKnight is an instantly likable fellow. He's a balding bear of a guy whose uniform is a Cubs cap and a bike-messenger bag, and he comes off like a good high school football coach. And he did coach at a school in an unglamorous part of Miami. "Suburban kids didn't need me because they've already got parents," he says. ...

Civil affairs promised him the most remote locations with the neediest clients. Now sitting across from me at a seedy Internet café located in the sweltering waterfront of Lamu, Kenya, an ancient seafaring port, McKnight downs a huge beer in a single gulp and leans back, flashing his gap-tooth grin like Vince Lombardi. He's been in country for almost six months now and has put in repeated requests to extend his tour of duty, to no avail. "I'll probably get me something deep in South America next," he says.

McKnight in his element is a superb intelligence gatherer (or what they call in spycraft "human intelligence"). We took a long tour of Lamu's labyrinthine back alleys, where the carved wooden doors mark the homes of some of the world's oldest slave traders, and the open sewers reek. I'm holding my nose while McKnight presses the flesh of every shopkeeper we pass, most of whom warmly yell out his name in greeting. He's like some muzungu running for office on Lamu's south side: exchanging gossip, asking how business has been lately, needling them for details about this or that local issue.

Most of the Third World, especially the Horn of Africa, is a man's world, and they like a man's man better than a more sensitive soul.

That's why some of the best anthropologists have been two-fisted brawlers, like Napoleon Chagnon and Carleton Coon. The latter's autobiography recounts a lot more fistfights, some of them quite brutal, than is common in the memoirs of Ivy League professors. Coon's specialty when wearing his cultural anthropologist hat was "the wilder whites" -- mountain tribes in Northwest Africa and the Balkans. They thought Coon was a helluva guy. In fact, in the OSS in WWII in the Mahgreb, Coon's highest priority was to be ready to become "Lawrence of Morocco." If Franco had let the Nazis came down through Spain and wipe out from the rear the Anglo-American army that was fighting Rommel, Coon's assignment was to disappear into the Rif Mountains and rally the tribes to fight the Germans.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

20 comments:

SFG said...

I guess. Just because this guy's charismatic doesn't mean all US soldiers are well-liked (when they're not shooting people, of course). Men's men also tend to sleep with the local women, which I can't imagine goes over well. But what do I know?

peewee said...

That talk about tough people going to Africa reminds me of this: The Hottest Place on Earth

and this guy too: One Year in Africa

Ibrahim Nur said...

As a Somali immigrant I can pretty damn sure guarantee that Somalis (proper term) rarely think about America. They are too clannish, too tribal to have ANY sort of genuine terrorist sympathies as a people. For instance, some time back there was the issue of Islamists taking over Mogadishu, but underlying the affair was the fact that these so called Islamists were all one major clan. The somali diaspora recognized the truth immediately: The Islamism was merely a disguise for the clanish behavior that has dominated the country's people for so long. Quite frankly the only reason I think America is still concerned with Somalia is because of the humiliating black hawk incident back in the 90s, apparently something from which Osama received inspiration from.

Kurt9 said...

Steve,

As usual, you bring up good points about our interventionist foreign policy.

Maybe plebs like you and I are too dumb to understand the intricacies of what our betters in Washington D.C. have in mind for the rest of the world. However, your analysis of the situation shows a horse-sense that seems to be lacking in Washington D.C. these days.

David said...

Where is The LWPN (long-winded paranoid neocon) on this?

I wants me some rant on how new American military bases are necessary in Africa because black al-Queda Muslim Nazis are plotting to use long boats to invade Italy, dammit!

SAVANT said...

Incredible that people still think like this. If the US withdrew all of its miltary from all of the Muslim lands, stopped all Muslim immigration to the US and made even an attempt at fairness in dealing with Israel, the Islamic terrorist threat woulod evaporate. I'm in Muslim countries the whole time and I KNOW this to be true. As Steve says, 99% of them just lead their own lives

Anonymous said...

Great point about manly anthropologists. Patrick Tierney's 2000 New Yorker hit piece against Chagnon (The Fierce Antrhopologist. A precursor to his discredited El Dorado book) says more about what threatens Western academics than it does about Chagnon's sins:

"During his years among the Yanomami, Good witnessed a single war, and the only time he felt endangered was on his first, nervous night in the field, in 1975, when Chagnon and another anthropologist, both drunk, burst into his hut, tore his mosquito netting, and pushed him out of his hammock in a mock raid... This depiction of Chagnon was supported by many of the Yanomami with whom I spoke. In 1996, in the village of Momaribowei-teri, a man named Pablo Mejía told me that when he was twelve he had witnessed Chagnon's arrival in his village: "He had his bird feathers adorning his arms. He had red-dye paint all over his body. He wore a loincloth like the Yanomami. He sang with the chant of his shamanism and took yopo"--a powerful hallucinogen used by Yanomami shamans to make contact with spirits. "He took a lot of yopo. I was terrified of him. He always fired off his pistol when he entered the village, to prove that he was fiercer than the Yanomami. Everybody was afraid of him because nobody had seen a nabah"--white man--"acting as a shaman."

- JM

Steve Sailer said...

Of course, the _real_ scandal of anthropologists and the Yanomamo was mostly covered up by the profession: a homosexual French anthropologist (Chagnon is American and not homosexual) introduced Yanomamo boys to sodomy, which the tribe had never heard of.

Steve Sailer said...

From Time Magazine:

"He describes Lizot as keeping a virtual harem of Yanomami boys and exchanging gifts for sexual favors. Reached in Paris, Lizot called the charges "disgusting." He added, "I am a homosexual, but my house is not a brothel. I gave gifts because it is part of the Yanomami culture. I was single. Is it forbidden to have sexual relations with consenting adults? People say 'boy,' and they mean anywhere from postpubescent to 25 years old.""

But that got 1% off the publicity of the attacks on Chagnon and Neel, because, well, you know ...

Anonymous said...

Steve --

This is more of your guaranteed dumbness to the n-th degree whenever you write about anything military. You clearly don't understand what's going on, dislike the military intensely, and hold naive to childishly stupid ideas about how the world works.

Hmmm ... what happened in 1998 in Africa. I'm trying to remember something. About a ... bombing?

Destruction of our two embassies in Kenya and Tanzania shows that leaving (like Afghanistan) places like Somalia (where logistical work was done and many of the men involved were recruited) or Yemen unanswered with American power, influence, and most of all intelligence, is a disaster.

What is happening in Africa is the traditional role of Special Forces, which is the training of local military forces to enhance central government power, and not so coincidentally win friends among the military who are the best sources of local intelligence. [This is not "killing locals" which is lunatic leftist speak for military loathing Noam Chomskys. SF in this role do NOT participate in combat except as advisors or logistical support. ] If a bunch of Iranians and Yemeni/Saudi Arabs come to say, Chad and start spending money and recruiting locals, I'd want the military to know about it. Since a guy can literally step onto a plane in Africa and be at most a day away from NYC or DC.

More evidence that you don't know what you're talking about: the JFK plotters were Trinidad natives (and part of an Islamic group that attempted a coup in the 1990's) who were looking to hook up with AQ's serious organizer in Guyana. Alone and unorganized professionally they could have "at most" killed a dozen people. With serious organization they could have been the expendable shock troops to kill a lot more. It's believed that the *REAL* penetration of this ring occurred through liason between Trinidad and US military people.

In the modern post-Cold War world you don't need a huge economic infrastructure to kill lots of people as bin Laden proved. You can outsource almost anything including nukes (North Korea, Pakistan-AQ Khan network, perhaps Iran/Syria).

You're stuck in the past Steve. Hate to tell you this, it's not 1943 any more. If you want to know about what local lunatics plan to say, hijack a Fed-Ex plane and crash it into a football stadium, you need military guys on the ground making friends with the local military.

Savant -- you are delusional. Have you even READ what bin Laden and Khomeni and Qutb and the rest have said? They want to destroy America as it exists. Because the planet is too small and interconnected to house both America and Islam. One (individual freedom, limited government, freedom of and from religion) must destroy or be destroyed by the other (polygamy, religion dominates everything). As a practical matter turning America into the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea is not going to happen. Ever. Nor will throwing Czechoslovakia aka Israel over the side do much good either (what the hell do Somalis care about Israelis? They don't live anywhere near Israelis and have never had anything to do with them one way or another, same for Pakistanis, Afghanis, Algerians, Moroccans, etc. Only religious hatred and sense of conquer-or-die Islam accounts for otherwise incomprehensible hatred of Israel. After all Muslims kill each other all the time and no one cares.)

Anonymous said...

Kenneth Good, the anthropologist above stating that only Chagnon made him feel threatened is another winner. A critic of Chagnon's portrayal of the violent Yanomami way of life, he married a 9 year old Yanomami girl (don't worry, it wasn't "consummated" until her first menses when she was 14 and he was 40). Being a man's man, and an expert in the psychology of the Yanomami, and man in his primitive state, Good believed a stern reasoned lecture was all it should take to protect his native wife from other men. But for some reason, even with this savvy human nature expert and masculine protector,it didn't take long before she was being injured and gang raped by Yanomami men on numerous occasions.

Of course the New York Times was quick to call this negligent marriage of child abuse, a "cross-cultural romance" and "a true love story".

- JM

tggp said...

Tierney actually discussed Lizot in "Darkness in El Dorado" according to this.

An interesting alternative perspective from Thomas Barnett's is that of John Robb of Global Guerrillas. Both are overly fond of inventing buzz-words though.

Martin said...

I talked to a guy who works for a company that supplies IT and networking equipment to the DOD - he helped outfit the US Army's new AFRICOM headquarters in Europe. So the pentagon is serious about this.

This is an especially bad idea - getting mixed up in the Africa. We will caroom about in our usual ham-fisted manner - lighting up the dark-continent with with our winning smiles - lighting up all those dark people with our mini-guns and 50 cals. And what will we get out of it? An unending river of refugees bound for our shores - people who will seek a new home in our country, after we've shot up their homes in their countries.

And our playing of the "Great Game" is to be in the hands of high-school football coaches turned into some kind of a cross between a spy and a social worker. I never trust teachers who are looking to be surrogate parents. They are trying to turn a mere job into a calling. Men like that are dangerous.

I don't want to be involved in these idiotic adventures. We are sowing the seeds of our own destruction.

stencil said...

Al Qaeda strategists must be excited about American military targets in Africa. Because future US presidents will be forced to do exactly as Clinton did in Mogadishu. They will bail. Politically speaking, body bags coming home from Africa is a boil that must be lanced immediately.

Good luck to the World Police.

Martin said...

"David said...

Where is The LWPN (long-winded paranoid neocon) on this?"

"Anonymous said...

Steve --

This is more of your guaranteed dumbness to the n-th degree whenever you write about anything military.........

.....yada, yada, yada......"

David: No sooner asked for, than delivered. Right on queue, Mr. Anonymous, or LWPN as you call him, volunteers his vast experience in the shadowy world of "Spec-Ops" and "Intel" and all those other hip, punchy sounding terms that are routinely thrown around by the fan-boys who have declared themselves to be our foreign policy elite.

That they have often won their experience in armchairs, rather than in the wide world, by reading comic books (excuse me, "graphic novels") rather than histories, and by playing first-person-shooter video-games rather than by fighting wars, is something many of them are strangely proud of. As if that is supposed to vouchsafe their credibility to us.

Allow me to translate: "Spec-Ops" is what used to be called Guerilla warfare. "Intel" is what quaintly used to be known as "Syping".

None of it is new, and none of it is something that America has demonstrated much aptitude for. And most importantly, none of it is particularly consistent with the preservation of a free republic, free from the burdens of imperial vainglory.

Why am I unconcerned with the bombing of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Mr. Anon? Because I don't believe we should even maintain embassies in piss-pot little countries like that. And no one is "one day away from New York or Washington" if we don't let them into our country.

I, and many others, wish to be free from the burdens you would impose on our lives and on our home (i.e., our nation). Why don't you go start up your own country somewhere else. It could be perpetually embroiled in foreign wars, and would be as interesting as a six season collectors edition DVD of "24". You could use important sounding terms like "Intel" and "Force Projection" and all that other crap. You could even just imagine it - a fantasy empire in a fantasy world - just like those fantasy football leagues. Then perhaps WE could have our own country - free from the likes of you. Is that really too much to ask?

Steve: have you ever considered making a more thorough study of this interesting new pheonomenon? The war-nerd. The sort of thirty-something comic-book fan-boy who lives an "Office Space" like existence, and who vents his pent-up agression by becoming an amateur arm-chair general?

Mark said...

I'm all in favor of one or two excursions into Africa, those being invasions of Sudan and Zimbabwe to rid them of their oppressive governments, after which we turn them into refugee resettlement territories managed by the UN.

Then when people cry that "we must take in these refugees" we can point to the Sudan and say it's taken care of.

The Islamism was merely a disguise for the clanish behavior that has dominated the country's people for so long.

Well religion has long been used as a veil for other motives, which is why you have to give less credibility to all the claims of all the wars that have allegedly been done in its name.

Middle Easterners have been a violent people for a very long time. They would still be violent if Islam disappeared tomorrow.

Quite frankly the only reason I think America is still concerned with Somalia is because of the humiliating black hawk incident back in the 90s...

Humiliated? A hundred or so Rangers and Delta Force operators were ambushed by several thousand Somalis, and got out with only 19 deaths. Someone was humiliated, but it wasn't us.

Osama may indeed have been inspired by the incident, but the real reason America got out is because Americans see no reason to give a shit about such people.

If the US withdrew all of its miltary from all of the Muslim lands, stopped all Muslim immigration to the US and made even an attempt at fairness in dealing with Israel, the Islamic terrorist threat would evaporate.

It would certainly evaporate if immigration ended, but the rest is nonsense. America is the BMOC. We may not spend much time thinking about certain other people, but they think often about us, and they resent us.

I'm in Muslim countries the whole time and I KNOW this to be true.

My grandfather was a merchant mariner back in the 30s. He hated making port in the Middle East because they hated us. That was before Israel, not after.

Anonymous said...

Nice one Martin!

"Why don't you go start up your own country somewhere else. It could be perpetually embroiled in foreign wars, and would be as interesting as a six season collectors edition DVD of "24". You could use important sounding terms like "Intel" and "Force Projection" and all that other crap. You could even just imagine it - a fantasy empire in a fantasy world - just like those fantasy football leagues. Then perhaps WE could have our own country - free from the likes of you. Is that really too much to ask?"

Quality as we say over here in Blighty. I think he has his own coutry already, its called Isr, Isl Is something or other. If he would just go and live there too...

none of the above said...

Mark:

Europeans are historically a pretty violent people, too. Arguably, a lot of the problems we face now come from our adjustment to that fact, in things like making patriotism something to be ashamed of, the elite ridiculing nationalism, multiculturalism, etc. This is all, IMO, adaptation to avoid another first half of the 20th century, when we Europeans, with some help from the Japanese and colonial troops, did our level best to murder one another as efficiently as possible.

So we learned to avoid that, maybe, but it came at a cost. It's like we started taking immunosuppressants so we wouldn't kill off our transplant kidney, and now we're dying of a nasty cold.

none of the above said...

Anon 1:31:

What evidence do we have that more US military involvement in Africa will prevent future attacks? It seems at least as likely to provoke more attacks, or just to pour out more blood and treasure in yet another set of godforsaken third-world shitholes.

The thing to note is, we have had an interventionist, active, "great game" style foreign policy for a long time now. That hasn't turned out to be all that good at preventing terrorist attacks. We had plenty of people on the ground, aid, advisors, CIA, etc., in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe. And yet, all the big attacks of the last few years happened. Attacks in the US, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Turkey, Thailand, Spain, the UK, India, the African embassy bombings, all those happened despite lots of people on the ground.

Your solution is to put more people on the ground. Maybe that is the solution, but I sure don't see it. I feel like we're knights facing guys with rifles, and the big argument is about how if we only had twice as many knights, with even bigger horses and thicker breastplates, we'd beat the enemy. But I think maybe we need a better set of tactics instead. Maybe it's not time for knights anymore, and massed attacks with even braver knights riding even fiercer warhorses will just mean more pieces of salvage armor with lots of messy holes in them.

Fred said...

The increased focus on using civil affairs troops to butter up the natives in Yemen and the Horn of Africa was a pet project of Gen. Abizaid when he was Centcom commander. As a practical matter of history, it's usually cheaper and more effective to influence events and control populations with the judicious use of bribes and assassinations. The good works stuff is like making water flow uphill: You dig a well, the bad guys throw feces in it; you build a health clinic, the bad guys blow it up; you train democracy advocates, the bad guys kill them, etc.

"The thing to note is, we have had an interventionist, active, "great game" style foreign policy for a long time now. That hasn't turned out to be all that good at preventing terrorist attacks."

A good point, especially when you consider that we are outspending the terrorists about a million to one. What if we fought back like irregulars instead? In our country, we could go after Saudi-financed Wahabbi mosques using legal means: sting operations like the one with the Stinger missiles in upstate New York, etc. In Europe and the Middle East, instead of providing material for eventual tell-all books for WASP women recruits, what if the CIA hired some swarthy men who looked the part and spoke the languages? We could send them to services at major mosques and let them identify which imams were the biggest supporters of terrorism. Let those imams start dying of tainted hummus.