Yes, probably too much excitement for one day – but it’s true! AFRICOM, for those of you who have never heard of such a thing, is one of nine Unified Combatant Commands of the US Armed Forces, spanning every square inch of the globe. If you breath air on earth, Lord Pentagon has a Combatant Command for you – this should make you feel very safe, but probably only if you are one of the good people. If you’re a bad person, well, rest assured there is a drone, joystick locked and loaded, with you in its sights. Sad!
Rumblings of the creation of an African command for the US military began at the turn of the century, but it wasn’t until late in Dubya’s second term that it was officially christened USAFRICOM. To be close to the pulse of all that happens on this vast continent it was decided that AFRICOM’s headquarters would be established in central… wait for it… Europe. In fairness, this could also have had to do with the fact that only one of the 53 countries in Africa, Liberia, offered to host AFRICOM, and 17 African nations explicitly opposed its creation.
The extent to which the mention of AFRICOM elicits a “so what?” is the extent to which blithe acceptance of what is in fact a global military empire has insinuated itself into the general notion of what the United States of America is and what its military is supposed to do.
AFRICOM’s rise coincides with the rise of “cooperative security locations,” or “lily pads” – small bases generally found in relatively impoverished countries with limited political stability. They are part and parcel of a new “light footprint” version of war which is politically palatable in the, uh, homeland (sorry, just threw up in my mouth), a version of war particularly favored under Obama. Lily pads, however, aren’t designed to necessarily remain “light footprints,” rather they are conceived as toeholds from which a larger, more permanent military presence can be established rapidly, if deemed necessary.
Though AFRICOM would love to have you think that its mission and its collection of 60 or so lily pads and other access points are essentially benign, merely facilitating support for partner nations and their security challenges, it doesn’t take a military genius to figure out that the proliferation of U.S. bases in Africa is a reflection of U.S. interests, as defined by Lord Pentagon, full stop.
Lily pads, of course, are not unique to AFRICOM. According to David Vine, a dogged chronicler of the true population of U.S. military bases around the world (no easy task, since Lord Pentagon would prefer that we taxpayers not know with any specificity the extent to which he girdles the globe), “Even though the U.S. military has fewer bases than it did at the end of the Cold War, it has increasingly inserted itself into new corners of the globe with the help of small, often secretive “lily pad” bases. Today, there are bases in about 80 countries and U.S. territories — roughly twice as many as in 1989.”
So if you’re Lord Pentagon and have never passed an audit, the idea of little base seedlings scattered hither and thither, just waiting to be sprinkled with money to grow up into big boy bases, like Diego Garcia or Camp Lemonnier, must be pleasantly reassuring. “God willing,” I imagine Lord Pentagon growling, whiskey in hand, lounging on the veranda, “there will always be open-ended opportunities for me to spend, spend, spend, spend, spend…,” as he rises from the couch and begins spinning slowly, a porcine dervish, whiskey spilling from his glass, still slurring “spend, spend, spend” until he collapses in a heap. A phalanx of dutiful warriors, led by Mike Mattis, rush to Lord Pentagon’s side and try to stir him as he snores heavily.
I digress. AFRICOM, like the rest of the burgeoning post-9/11 national security state and war machine, is a gift from the previous two administrations (and, to be fair, all administrations prior to them) to our new so-called President Trump. To characterize the words he uttered on the campaign trail as “rhetoric” may be a bridge too far, but in some less blustery moods he would articulate the notion that his America First approach to reality might mean a retreat from foreign adventures, a dial down of the war machine. Fascinating, though fleeting, thought, or half-thought. The next day, or later that day, or in the same speech he would go on to talk about building up our decimated military, on which we famously spend “more than the next 8 nations combined.” It’s tough being the greatest nation ever to be made great again.
So congratulations GWB and BHO, an idiot has grabbed the keys to the ca…, um… tricked out 32-wheeler, and you’ve given him a full tank of gas, a lifetime supply of finasteride and the nuclear codes. Watching him drive with those tiny hands will be terrifying.