. . . Tuesday July 20, 2004

A Recipe for Terror

Aside from repeatedly identifying one set of evil doers and taking decisive military action, can anyone give me the details of our broader war on terror? What demands have been made of foreign leaders, U.S. global corporations, and regular Americans to stem the tide of anti-Americanism and slow the recruitment of new fighters by those who seek to destroy us?

As I’ve written here several times, I subscribe to a political philosophy I call Pragmatic Self-Preservationism. While it would be nice to live in a world where people did the right thing for humanitarian reasons, it’s tough to base a political philosophy on something so far from the human nature reality presents.

I think (especially when it comes to the lessons learned from the ongoing war on terror) political leaders should make the humanitarian choices because it’s the best way to keep us safe here at home.

This philosophy, even after 9-11, is not catching on.

For an example of what I’m getting at, let’s take a look at how things are going in Equatorial Guinea. You may not have heard of this small African country. But believe me, they’ve heard of you.

President Obiang Nguem Mbasogo and his gang of thugs have run Equatorial Guinea since he ousted his uncle from power and later had him executed. Mbasogo has earned a special level of contempt from human rights groups including Amnesty which released a recent statement that demanded (using language now familiar to any casual news observer in the U.S.): “The government of Equatorial Guinea must immediately bring an end to the extra judicial executions, torture and rape.”

Mbasogo and E. Guinea were also in the news recently because of the scandal involving Riggs Bank of Washington, DC. Among other things, it was found that Riggs helped Mbasogo to steal millions of dollars that ultimately lined his own pockets – paying for his mansions around the world (including one in DC), making members of his family and inner circle incredibly rich and funding his son’s lavish Paris lifestyle where he lives in the most expensive hotels, buys thirty or forty suits at a time and drives a fleet of the world’s most expensive cars.

Where did all this money come from?


In the mid-nineties, some American companies discovered oil beneath the waters off the coast of E. Guinea. The companies and the tiny nation struck it rich. Unfortunately (yet predictably), the riches destined for the citizens of E. Guinea have all ended up in the bank accounts of President Obiang Nguem Mbasogo.

And remember, we could have used the oil discovery and the promise of the associated dollars to demand reforms from the Mbasogo government. Instead, the oil made things worse.

As a spokesperson for Global Witness explains: “There is this whole issue of fungibility of what is the government’s money and what is Obiang’s money, because it is all really the same thing.”

While most of the money goes towards helping Mbasogo to live like a king (which he essentially is as he regularly takes “elections” with about 99% of the vote – another all-too-familiar refrain), he also uses some of it to pay off his thugs who crush any opposition group and keep a repressive thumb on all of the citizens ruled by this increasingly rich and powerful tyrant.

Following the Riggs scandal, Senator Carl Levin explained: “It is critical to fight corruption in a part of the world with so much abject poverty. Neither our companies doing business abroad, nor our banks here at home should be contributing to the corruption problem.”

Forget about doing the right thing. Again, I don’t think that line of reasoning compels many leaders of corporations or governments.

Let me just paint this picture. You’ve got a country filled with people (and E. Guinea is just one example) who are brutalized and impoverished thanks to a dictator who is propped up and empowered by the United States (and if you lived in E. Guinea, why would you see a difference between policies of the U.S. government, citizens and/or corporations?).

Think you’d be a little frustrated? Think if things got bad enough you might find yourself susceptible to a message from a group that wanted America to pay a price for their global policies?

I’ll believe we really have a strategy for fighting global terrorism just as soon as I hear that we have a policy for the cesspool we’ve helped to fund in Equatorial Guinea.

Concentration is important!