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Eric Margolis Headshot

Bwana Uncle Sam

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Wasted $1 trillion in the futile Iraq war? Having your backsides kicked by medieval Afghan tribesmen?

Can't pay your bills at home or abroad? Government paralyzed? Drowning in debt?

Worried about China?

What's the answer? Simple.

Start a new conflict in Africa.

Having finished off former ally Muammar Gaddafi, the Pentagon, its new Africa Command, and CIA are now focusing on East Africa. In fact, Africa is hot.

In recent weeks, the long simmering conflict in the Horn of Africa burst into flames as the US and France intensified military operations against Somalia's rag-tag nationalist/Islamist militia, al-Shabaab.

Western politicians and media warn al-Shabaab is a dire international threat that must be stamped out, though most of them could not find Somalia on a world map. Not having figures out Afghanistan, the Pentagon and its political cheerleaders are about to plunge into the even deeper mysteries of Central Africa.

Though CIA chief Leon Panetta recently admitted only 25-50 al-Qaida members were active in Afghanistan, it seems new al-Qaida threats are popping up all over Africa and the Mideast.

Just in time for Halloween, the ghost of Osama bin Laden is haunting us.

The US will send 100 special hunter-killer troops to Uganda, an undemocratic US ally. This new US force will also reportedly operate in Congo (ex-Zaire), Central African Republic, Kenya, and South Sudan.

That latter new nation is interesting because its independence from Sudan was recently engineered by Washington. Coincidentally, South Sudan has substantial oil deposits. Washington is working on a plan to build a pipeline from South Sudan's oil fields through Uganda to the Kenyan coast, thus shutting down the current export route through Sudan.

The ostensible reason America's new involvement in darkest Africa is a deeply obscure bunch of Ugandan bush rebels, the Lord's Resistance Army, that has been kidnapping villagers and stealing chickens for decade.

At the same time, Washington is bankrolling the current Kenyan invasion of southern Somalia; France is providing Kenya with naval support and arms.

Kenya says it is reacting to attacks from Somalia by al-Shabaab. But the real attackers were likely traditional local Somali bandits known as "shiftas." Why Kenya chose to stick its head into the Somali hornet's nest is uncertain. It could have something to do with money.

CIA teams, US-financed mercenaries, Predator drones and Ethiopian forces are increasingly active in Somalia attacking al-Shabaab. A new, semi-secret US base in Djibouti, shared with France, has been mounting these operations.

All this should have been unnecessary. In 2005, a moderate Muslim movement, the Islamic Courts Union, had established control over most of chaotic southern and central Somalia. This was its first stable government since 1991.

But the Bush administration, still reeling from 9/11, went ballistic over the name "Islamic" and foolishly ordered the Courts Union overthrown.

In early 2006, Washington financed Ethiopia, a close US ally, to invade Somalia. The Courts Union government was duly ousted, but the Ethiopians, ancient blood foes of the Somalis, had to eventually withdraw, leaving more chaos in their wake.

Ethiopia's invasion gave birth to al-Shabaab, an Islamic youth organization dedicated to liberating Somalia from foreign control. Its fiery leaders took Somaliland's epic 19th Century resistance to British and Italian colonialism as their model, and imposed Sharia law.

Meanwhile, northern Somalia went its own way in the form of autonomous Puntland and Somaliland, from which piracy flourishes.

The US set up a figurehead regime in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, the grandly titled but powerless and derided "Transitional Federal Government," which was sustained by 9,000 US-financed Ugandan and Burundian mercenaries branded the "African Union Peace Force," backed by Ethiopian forces on the border.

US drones, fighter aircraft and special forces now routinely attack Somali targets as well as ones in Yemen. Israel is also discreetly involved in the melee in the Horn of Africa, Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya.

In the midst of this bloody confusion, famine and drought are ravaging the Horn of Africa, producing millions of desperate refugees. al-Shabaab is accused of blocking food aid. But al-Shabaab sees the UN and other aid groups as "soft power" tools of the western powers.

Doesn't Washington have enough on its hands without sending troops to Uganda and Somalia, or South Sudan?

The US is moving into southern Africa for two main reasons. First, to secure oil deposits in South Sudan and expected energy finds in Uganda. Second, to block the further spread of Chinese economic influence in the region. France's ruling neoconservatives are also greatly alarmed by China's involvement in France's formerly unchallenged African sphere of influence.

However, there are manifest dangers for the US. Washington may get sucked into a complex, turbulent region in which it has no real strategic interests other than the lust for energy and a knee-jerk reaction to anything Islamic.

The White House is supposed to be sharply cutting expenses at a time when budgets are out of control and 44 million Americans subsist on food stamps. Yet US forces are getting ever more deeply involved in North Africa, the Saharan region, and now Black Africa.

Let Washington's squabbling politicians deal with budget headaches, says the mighty US military-security complex. Onward to Kampala and Juba! Break out your pith helmets!

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2011