The US has been at war in the Middle East for 28 years, starting with Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, then into Afghanistan, Syria, and now we are learning of military bases, operations, and troops in African nations
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Hi, I’m Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network.
The U.S. has been at war in the Middle East for 28 years, starting with Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, then into Afghanistan, Syria, and now we’re learning of military bases, operations, and troops in African nations. As we who call ourselves progressives or leftists grapple with a growing military industrial complex, where in this fight for peace does the black radical tradition of antiwar resistance fit?
Joining me today to talk about this and what global militarism means to black people domestically and abroad are my guests, Netfa Freeman; Netfa is on the Coordinating Committee for the Black Alliance for Peace, he is also an organizer for Pan-African Community Action (PACA), and Vanessa Beck. Vanessa is a member of the Black Alliance for Peace Research Committee and is on the Steering Committee for Health Over Profit for Everyone (HOPE). Thank you both for joining me here today.
NETFA FREEMAN: Thanks for having us.
VANESSA BECK: Thanks.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So let’s talk about what Black Alliance for Peace is. What is the organization and why is this organization important in the antiwar movement in this country?
VANESSA BECK: Sure. So Black Alliance for Peace launched about two years ago, and the purpose was to rebuild and to reinvigorate the historic antiwar, anti-imperialism tradition of black folks in the United States. Because we saw that though black folks have always been the most antiwar segment of the population in the United States, we saw this slip with the administration of Barack Obama. So we believe there is an urgent need to reinvigorate this position.
And within our first year, we co-founded the Coalition Against U.S. Foreign Bases, which is a coalition of many antiwar, anti-imperialism organizations, and want to see the closing of the 800 plus U.S. and NATO international bases. And we feel that BAP is extremely important because the way that black people are treated domestically and around the world is the same. It’s important for us to reconnect with this internationalism and Pan-Africanism, that we are treated the same way, we have the same enemy, and therefore we need to organize on this basis.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I want to go back to a point you made about the focus of antiwar sentiment kind of slipping under the Obama administration. Can you explain what you meant by that? What do you think caused that lack of focus on the antiwar sentiment among black communities in America?
VANESSA BECK: Well, I mean, I think on the one hand, most people, white folks too, bought into Obama’s rhetoric that he was going to end these wars, so that began to dampen the antiwar movement. But us in particular; my mom told me she never thought she would live to see a black president. And it’s kind of a negative side of identity politics, I think you could say, where whatever Barack Obama did, a lot of our people were going to go along with that.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Yeah, interesting. My grandmother had the same sentiment, she thought that she would never see a black president in her lifetime. So that’s an interesting perspective to have. So Black Alliance for Peace was formed as a response to that need to refocus the black community on antiwar efforts, right?
VANESSA BECK: Yes.
So tell us about the event last week that was a commemoration of sorts for Black Alliance for Peace, and why April 4 is important to the organization and why it should be important to the black community in particular.
NETFA FREEMAN: So last week–there’s a number of things that April 4 correlates with, and last week. So one, it was the second birthday of the Black Alliance for Peace. We were formed two years ago on that particular day. And it was also significant, and the reason why we chose that day to form is that that was the 50th anniversary–or it was the actually the 49th commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. So this was the 51st commemoration this time and it was the second birthday of that. Now, Dr. King, as we all know–should know, a lot of people don’t know–is that he was one of the icons of the antiwar, anti-imperialist, pro-peace movement.
And so, and–and this is also what makes April 4 significant, it is the 70th anniversary of the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO. And so, and that date this year, for some reason–not for some reason–NATO and the Western powers decided to commemorate and have a celebration about the formation of NATO, which we know now has transformed from its original stated purpose of being a response to the Soviet Union and the Cold War and trying to beat that back, into being able to maintain the hegemony of Western powers around the world. And so, we see that as a grotesque desecration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.
And so, we organized–along with a number of people, it wasn’t just Black Alliance for Peace–a number of people were organizing anti-NATO actions. One, because not only the desecration and what it means to Dr. King’s legacy, but also right now, we’re seeing the increased militarization of the world, period, and increased use of the military and militarism as a response to the fact that the United States and the West is waning in terms of its global power. And so, now in response to that–and people suffer when there’s militarism. We suffer because the resources that are devoted to it could be used for other things, we suffer because–and not just people in the U.S., but other people suffer because obviously they’re exposed to violence and those kind of things.
And so, we organized and we had a number of activities. There were a number of protests around the NATO celebration. One was on March 30, that was the first one to kick off, in front of the White House, and then a march. And then we also had a demonstration on April 4 itself, that morning, in front of the State Department, where the NATO forces were having their commemoration. And then we marched from there to the memorial of Dr. Martin Luther King and held a rally and spoke to the people out there, because a lot of people come and tourists come. It also happened to coincide with the–what did you call it?
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: The cherry blossom festival.
NETFA FREEMAN: The cherry blossom festival. And so, we were able to talk to people about what Dr. King really meant for what’s happening right now, and how if you really honor him, then you have to stand opposed to this this militarization. And then it ended with, in the evening same day, we had a panel discussion at Plymouth Congregational Church with a number of people, and that was a Black Alliance for Peace event, that particular one, the rest were all of us along with a number of other forces. And of course, those forces also, the people attended, and then the community attended, and we had a panel discussion talking about our disposition against militarism, no compromise, no retreat. And then that was also–which is actually the name of the campaign, the other side of our campaign to end militarism.
So one side is the U.S. out of Africa, shut down AFRICOM, which you can talk about, and then the domestic side, because we have to realize that the militarism is not just affecting people outside of the country, but it’s directly targeting, through various programs, black and brown people and working class people in the United States.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And that’s the key, I think, that we want to get at with this discussion about the importance of Black Alliance for Peace and this discussion about militarism and NATO and other conflicts that have been a pretty high profile in the news. But first, I want to go back to something you said, Vanessa. You mentioned 800 military bases around the world. Is this something that you believe a lot of people are aware of? Do you think people are aware of just how far the reach of the United States military is around the world?
VANESSA BECK: Absolutely not. I don’t think that people are aware of this. And when people do hear about this, of course what they hear is the propaganda from the U.S. state that these are missions to fight terrorism in that nation. But that’s not what is happening at all. So we do think it’s important to educate around this, that these bases exist, 800 plus, and what the real purpose is, that they are not on some peace-bringing mission.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: The mission of AFRICOM–pivoting just a minute, because we’ve been told about AFRICOM, that its mission is to bring humanitarian aid and support to nations in Africa where the AFRICOM command bases exist. That’s the official narrative, but what’s the real story behind AFRICOM?
NETFA FREEMAN: Right. So AFRICOM stands for–it is the acronym for U.S. Africa Command, and there’s a number of these U.S. commands all over the world. And so, that means that the United States has its military footprint, or boot, on people in every continent, every major continent. And so, AFRICOM was started in 2008, first under the end of the Bush administration, and then it was taken over, obviously, by the next administration, the Obama administration. What it is is a network of bases, different bases of different sizes, military to military relationships, special operations forces on the ground in the continent. And so, this sum total of all these things make up AFRICOM. Right now, we’re seeing after–well, let me go back.
When George Bush, the Bush administration, the son Bush, came out with AFRICOM, the administration, it was widely rejected on the continent of Africa. Most people don’t even really know a lot about the U.S. military being in in Africa right now, but this was started in 2008. It wasn’t the first military base, but it was the first time that it proliferated to such an extent and became better coordinated and all those kind of things. After being rejected, in terms of where they were going to put the headquarters of it, they ended up having to put it in Stuttgart, Germany, which it still is–the headquarters for AFRICOM is in Germany.
After Obama came in office, then all of the African–not all of them, but most of the African, a lot of African heads of states and the governments were being more friendly and open to entertaining U.S. military presence in their country. So now we’ve seen since then a proliferation of 1900 percent of U.S. military presence on the continent of Africa. They profess to not only be trying to stand for dispensing aid and whatnot, but also fighting terrorism–supposedly fighting terrorism. So like Vanessa said, they always have to put a benevolent reason for trying to extend their reach. But this is not what’s happening. And we can see a lot of them–there’s a lot of misuse of terms like terrorism, how you’re designated as a terrorist, and enemy combatant, all those kind of things.
When we look at the drone warfare against our people in Somalia, what happened in terms of the decimation of the country of Libya and the cooperation or coordination with NATO, the U.S. and NATO just decimated that country in 2011, 2010. And then, now everyone’s hearing about slavery and the slave trades and those kind of things, but don’t really associate it necessarily with the destruction of that country and that infrastructure. There’s a number of things the U.S. is supporting with special operations forces, not necessarily U.S. boots on the ground, but the military advisors in countries like Uganda and Rwanda who are complicit in the destabilization of the Congo and responsible for the death of over 6 million Congolese. And so, this is what’s happening on the continent of Africa, and unbeknownst to our people. And so, we have to expose that kind of stuff, and it’s not about fighting terrorism or anything.
And then I’ll just end with this, the answer to your question. What is being termed or seen as the proliferation of terrorism and what they call Islamic extremists–I call them people just really trying to struggle for the limited resources that are taken up by multinational corporations. But that is a result of the United States and their operation in NATO, which allowed people, extreme elements, to raid the armory of Libya and spread their arms all across that region, even in the Middle East or across Africa. And these are the most reactionary elements that have gotten access to that because of the United States. And so, when you have countries asking if the United States can come in and help them with terrorism, they’re asking the people who are responsible, the forces that are responsible for the terrorism, to come and help them with the problem.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: That’s a lot of information that a lot of people in this country do not know or understand about not just what’s going on with NATO, the reach of American militarism, but also what’s going on in the continent of Africa. And this is the mission of Black Alliance for Peace. So this is the first of two conversations that we are going to have today about Black Alliance for Peace and its mission. This conversation we talked about the international focus of Black Alliance for Peace and the mission of the organization. Well, when we come back in the next segment, we’re going to talk about what this means domestically.
I’m Jacqueline Luqman for the The Real News. Thank you for joining me, stay tuned.