Saturday, 26 January 2013

Can’t make this stuff up Dept.

This is a picture of General Carter Ham of the United States African Command (Africom) measuring the depth of the shitpile formed in West Africa despite careful intervention by himself. The BBC cites Gen. Ham saying the U.S. had failed to train Malian troops on ‘values, ethics and a military ethos’.

This admission was spurred no doubt by the embarrassment of seeing U.S.-trained military officers overthrow the civilian government of Mali a few months ago, providing a huge opening to rebel movements in the desert north to seize half the country. Some of them are Islamist fundamentalists. Big mess.

I wonder, though, if General Ham’s thoughts about ethics and proper behavior are the same as ours or would fit any known dictionary definition. After all, this is the military that invaded and conquered Iraq based on lies that no one bothered to check, that proceeded to destroy that country through mismanagement and arrogance, that imprisoned tens of thousands of locals on flimsy suspicions, that sent hundreds of people to be tortured in the dungeons of the world when not beating the crap out of them itself, that seized and houses anyone who looked dubious in a permanent Caribbean prison without charges, and that continues to drop bombs from drones piloted from Nevada on suspected enemies and probably anyone who comes out to retrieve their bodies.

Quite an ethical standard to live up to if you’re a Malian junior officer. So General Ham & Co. have their work cut out for them.

We’ll be hearing a lot about Mali in coming weeks as Hillary, John, Barack, and Chuck try to figure out what-on-earth-are-we-to-do about these Africans who refuse to obey our guidelines, be they the ramshackle Malian army itself or the rump forces holding the Saharan portions of the country. Friday’s NY Times has a revealing piece about why the Malian army fell apart in the face of the assault by what must be relatively poorly armed guerrillas. Turns out that the guys defending the civilian regime didn’t have much fight in them—hardly surprising given the irregularity of their paychecks and the utter indifference of the local army bosses to anything but their own privileges.

Mali came across my radar recently when it was revealed that the country had to return some millions of dollars to the Global Fund on AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria after having been caught diverting it to the pockets of government officials. The Global Fund is admirably strict about such things and did not hesitate to expose the whole scam, despite the hit the GF itself took in the aftermath. (Many agencies prefer to cover up similar thefts because they don’t want to look bad—never mind that the impoverished beneficiaries are cheated.)

Articles about the 2012 coup noted that the ousted president didn’t resist and scurried off to a comfy exile. Despite the country’s relatively benign reputation, it was known to be deeply corrupt and incompetent, making the coup a cakewalk with hardly any shots exchanged.

So General Ham thinks that with just a tad more attention to things like respect for civilian authority and how not to kill innocent bystanders would have maybe kinda been more appropriate. Just accidentally let that stuff slip by, I guess! Maybe the big brass can get some volunteers from the Iraqi militias to airlift over to Bamako and provide a few tips—things turned out so much better there, due to careful oversight by right-thinking Americans.

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