Power lies on Main Street

Letter to Uncle Sam

Dear Uncle

At your news conference on Friday last, the US media seemed to suggest that the US should seriously envisage military intervention to help bring about regime change in Tripoli. Their questions carried this message very clearly.

It looks like these guys seem have learnt nothing from recent history; if they did, they only exposed their misunderstanding or poor understanding of the ground realities in Tripoli and in the wider Arab world now convulsed with popular uprisings and street protests.

These “ground realities” there have to do with internal power politics and its human and administrative structure, the geopolitical map of the region in the wider context of the world’s security and stability, the economic and cultural architecture of the region, the animosity that characterises relations between Tel Aviv and Arab capitals, the power of this animosity to ignite tensions that influence the balance of security and stability, and finally how “goundaas” use this and other issues to nurture, promote and export their culture of hatred and violence.

In fact, it is quite normal for the US media to use all their power and intelligence to permanently put pressure on organisations, institutions, the White House or Capitol Hill when pressing issues require the support or attention of those concerned. But for reasons best known to them, the US media keep entertaining the US and the world about atrocities against Jews, unacceptable for sure, registered in Israel or just outside its borders but they never ever pressure the American public and American law makers about the necessity to finish that job once and for all – doing justice to the Palestinian people!

This said, and in reality, it will take only a few hours for Western fire power to provoke regime change in Tripoli or elsewhere for that matter. But this option should be envisaged only when all the conditions are met.

And these have to do with the support of the international community, including the UN and the Arab League. Without a clear mandate, any unilateral decision for military intervention would entail disastrous consequences for the US and for the world. As at now, international diplomacy is working hard to achieve that mandate; perhaps not for outright military intervention but certainly for precise options and the establishment of a no-fly zone on some parts of the country. Doing the contrary would win your administration this achievement – “perdi dans bois dans la cour” as folks here will tell you in Creole.

Uncle, American diplomacy has been trying to rebuild trust and reconstruct failed alliances during the past two years and for sure in regions where US interests are at stake. So I suggest you listen to the US media and silently shun their suggestions. And you could not have been clearer than you had been in these words of diplomatic wisdom. You said:

“So the bottom line is that I have not taken any options off the table at this point… I do take very seriously making sure that any decisions I make that involve U.S. military power are well thought through and are done in close consultation with Secretary Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, and all relevant personnel. Any time I send the United States forces into a potentially hostile situation, there are risks involved and there are consequences. And it is my job as President to make sure that we have considered all those risks… It’s also important, from a political perspective, to, as much as possible, maintain the strong international coalition that we have right now.”

Now a second thing about the US media. At a recent press briefing at the White House, one gentleman referred to Djibouti as “the only place” in Africa that harbours a US military presence and it seemed as if he was afraid that any street protest or uprising there would jeopardise US interests.

Dear Uncle, and as you know, the biggest and most sophisticated US military base in Africa is located at Diego Garcia, off the coast of Mauritius. And this island, including the Chagos Archipelago, belongs to Mauritius; now illegally occupied by the US through a UK-US illegal arrangement reached at in mid-60s in open defiance and in contravention of UN resolutions. And you know what? The US pays no rental fee for land occupation.

For less than these, media personnel here have earned the strange epithet of “semi intellectuals” and “la tête fêlée”. If they travel with you to Mauritius, please advise them to observe restraint. Our leaders may call their bluff in no uncertain terms, specifically if any mention is made about Djibouti being “the only place” in Africa harbouring US military personnel.

In more general terms, the world has been changing fast over the decades since WW II. You will remember, Uncle, that in those days the general agreed principle among member nations within the UN was about the sacrosanct “principe d’auto détermination ”or “le principe de non ingérence. Both helped to build kingdoms and monarchies; both helped to promote dictatorships including the ruthless regimes of Burma and North Korea. The thing is that both principles were laid down and meant for use by pseudo leaders; and had nothing to do with Main Street. Both were legal shields used by many rulers across the globe to give meaning and substance to their personal dreams and ambitions. So much so and even if they had to have recourse to brutality, deprivation, bloodshed, mass killing or mass imprisonment just to seize power or to stay in power as long as they believed this to be a matter of personal right.

Things have evolved since. And now, since some time, the international community promotes the principle of “le droit d’ingérence”. This has served to put an end to human genocides in ex-Yugoslavia, four hours’ flight from Paris or London or Brussels; but not enough meaningful to avoid same in faraway Rwanda. And if Tripoli persists to use its military aviation armada to bomb its own people, “le droit d’ingérence” will acquire even stronger meaning and this principle would be applicable as per the terms and conditions agreed by the international community.

When one looks back on how history has unfolded and is unfolding, one comes to the safe conclusion that power lies on Main Street. At least if Main Street is kept well informed about political or economic abuses, and if it chooses to make its voice heard through peaceful uprisings or street protests, no autocracy can be safe anywhere.  

By Tex

* Published in print edition on 18 March 2011

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