A US-made F-16 fighter jet. Photo: AFP/Sam Yeh
A US-made F-16 fighter jet. Photo: AFP/Sam Yeh

On July 26, the US House of Representatives passed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which will then go on to the Senate and finally to the president. It is worth noting that 139 Democrats, including the entire Democratic Party leadership, voted for this bill.

This act provides the government with US$717 billion for a year’s military spending. This is $100 billion more than was spent last year (which is itself more than half of the annual Chinese military budget). No country spends money on its military like the United States. It will not be long now before the annual US military budget will cross the $1 trillion mark.

In fact, many suggest that if the covert parts of the budget – for the Central Intelligence Agency, for military intelligence, for the National Security Agency and for the ongoing wars – are added in, the $1 trillion threshold has already been crossed.

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma recently told US television channel CNBC that the United States had wasted $14 trillion over the past 30 years on its many wars. A modest estimate suggests that the US war in Afghanistan – which has been ongoing since 2001 – has itself cost more than $1 trillion. Yet after all this time and money, and after all the human suffering, it is now certain that the United States, Imran Khan’s incoming government in Pakistan and the Chinese will seek a compromise with the Taliban.

Ma’s statement about “waste” should be taken very seriously. A foreign policy that sows disorder and chaos, which increases human suffering, is a waste – regardless of the benefits it might produce for the arms dealers.

Power through the barrel of a gun

On July 30, the US military’s African Command (AFRICOM) admitted that it was flying armed drones out of a US base in Niamey, the capital of Niger. AFRICOM spokeswoman Samantha Reho said the government of Niger gave the US permission to do so last November, and that the US began to fly these armed drones early this year. There was no admission that the United States had launched any of these drones.

Very soon, these lethal drones will move from Air Base 101 in Niamey to the newly constructed Air Base 201 in Agadez, in central Niger. This new base is one of the largest drone bases in the world. The drones from here can travel from one end of West Africa to cover most of North Africa. Another US drone base in Djibouti is able to send its lethal machines across East Africa and deep into Central Africa. In sum, with these two bases, the US is able to strike targets across most of the African continent. All this with no debate in the US Congress and with little care for the sensibilities of the African people.

In late March, the government of Ghana signed a military agreement with the United States. Ghana’s military would get a paltry $20 million to train its troops, while the US would get access to Ghana’s airports and radio spectrum and would be able to bring in military hardware duty-free

The question of sensibility should not be sniffed at. In late March, the government of Ghana signed a military agreement with the United States. Ghana’s military would get a paltry $20 million to train its troops, while the US would get access to Ghana’s airports and radio spectrum and would be able to bring in military hardware duty-free.

Eager to set up a military base in Ghana, the US miscalculated the residue of anti-colonial sentiment in the country. This sentiment is the reason the US African Command is based in Stuttgart, Germany, rather than in any African country. No African leader can afford to be seen to allow the United States to encroach so brazenly on the sovereignty of an African country.

It is important to underline the fact that no US command headquarters is located outside Western Europe and the United States. The Southern Command, which oversees US military operations in Latin America, was based in Panama from 1963 to 1997. Now it is based in Doral, Florida, having been ejected by the governments that followed the ouster of the old CIA asset Manuel Noriega.

The Central Command headquarters, which monitors and directs US operations in the Middle East, is located 320 kilometers north of SOUTHCOM in Tampa, Florida.

The headquarters of the US Indo-Pacific Command, which oversees operations in Asia, is located in Hawaii.

The people of Africa, Asia and Latin America do not want the United States’ footprint to be placed so heavily on their soil. It is one thing to have to tolerate bases and joint exercises. It is another to allow the full weight of US imperialism on one’s soil.

Threats of one kind or another

There’s an old adage: If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The sheer scale of the US military arsenal gives its political leaders a rush. They feel that they can intimidate the rest of the planet to suit their needs.

Peace does not define US foreign policy. Everything is geared toward intimidation and war. Here’s a scanner of recent maneuvers by the Trump administration that are contrary to a policy of peacemaking.

Korea. A great feat of humanity pushed the two Koreas to renew their dialogue toward a normal future. The United States has consistently attempted to spoil this process, with President Donald Trump being churlish about the good feeling between the North’s Kim Jong-un and the South’s Moon Jae-in.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on a march across Southeast Asia, pushing ASEAN countries to continue to sanction North Korea despite the consensus within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to lighten the burden on North Korea as a way to open the road to peace. The United States indicated that North Korea was continuing with its missile program, just when senior military leaders of the North and South met at the border on Tuesday.

These mischievous statements by the US did not deter the Koreans. Lieutenant-General An Ik-san of North Korea and Major-General Kim Do-gyun of the South continued with their dialogue. Artillery will be withdrawn from the shore of the West Sea (aka Yellow Sea) and military exercises will cease.

“The people of the North and South regard our talks as important,” An said. The military leaders are committed to peace and do not want Korea to be the battlefield for US aggression.


Threats of this kind are routine. The Iranian leadership shrugs them off. In the military spending bill that just passed the US House of Representatives, there is a sentence that bears notice: “Nothing in this act may be construed to authorize the use of force against Iran.” But in another part of the bill, there is license for the Trump administration to pursue cyberwar against Iran, North Korea, Russia and China. The bill gives Trump carte blanche to escalate against these four countries.

These are the dramatic threats. In the shadows linger worse atrocities that have become normal. The US drone base in Salak, in the north of Cameroon, houses a Rapid Intervention Battalion – a Cameroonian detachment, which has been filmed executing civilians. Last year, The Intercept reported that US operatives of one kind or another had tortured prisoners at this base. There is no human-rights agenda here.

Threats of the imagination

The United States claims that it requires such a massive military and deployment in places such as Niger because of the threats not only to the US, but to the world. In the belt of countries that make up the Sahel region of Africa – with Niger at their center – there is a claim made by the West of the threats of al-Qaeda and other assorted groups.

Many of these groups are indeed a threat to the people of the region, but many of them are also merely gangsters (al-Qaeda is largely a smuggler of cigarettes and weapons across the Sahara Desert). The real threats that have brought in the United States and France are elsewhere. It is worthwhile to make a list of these (based on my reporting from last year).

  1. China. The United States has made it clear that China’s presence in Africa is unacceptable. Unable to best China in a straightforward bid for resources and markets, the US has turned to the use of force and intimidation to threaten countries to provide advantages to less supple Western firms. The ring of bases along the Sahel and downward toward South Africa is plainly to throttle China’s interests in the continent.
  2. Resources. The countries of the Sahel are home to very important resources – gold in Burkina Faso and Mali, uranium in Niger and iron ore in Mauritania, as well as proven reserves of coal, cobalt, diamonds, fluorspar, manganese, platinum, rare-earth minerals and a host of others. European and American mining companies – with old colonial roots – are eager to protect their investments here and protect their future profits as the mining laws in this region are slowly being dissolved in favor of the large corporations.
  3. Drugs. It is now clear that South American drug smugglers, exhausted by the difficulties posed along the US-Mexican border and the US coasts, have now turned toward Africa as a pathway to the United States. Large quantities of cocaine are flown into the Sahel, where they are then carted at considerable risk across the Sahara into Europe. From Europe, these drugs are shipped across the Atlantic to the United States and Canada. Drug enforcement is the task of the phalanx of troops that are now in the region.
  4. Migration. Europe has been eager to move its border from the northern edge of the Mediterranean Sea to the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. French troops and European Union funds, alongside the US presence, are in operation to block the traffic of migrants who are fleeing economies destroyed by policies driven by the International Monetary Fund.

There is ugliness here. Tired liberal motives drift away into the shadows as the harder motivations flourish – to control and to appropriate. This is our world. But beneath this world are people who have better ideas, better dreams.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Vijay Prashad

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South, The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution,...

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