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Us vs. Them
Posted on May 6, 2008
By James Harris
Woods: Well, I think, James, that’s at the core of it. U.S. foreign policy has absolutely neglected Africa for much too long. When they’ve paid attention, they’ve paid attention in the wrong way, you know? Often times there’s this assumption that Africa is this poor, desperate place, but really, when we think about Africa, what we should think about is the incredible resources of that continent. So, yes, it’s the diamonds of Sierra Leone, but throughout the continent the diamonds are plentiful. But in Somalia, in Ethiopia, it’s oil, the richness of the oil. It’s uranium. These vital resources, without which the U.S. economy would not function, flow from the African continent. So in spite of the neglect in terms of foreign policy historically, there is an increasing understanding of the strategic importance of Africa. Now, right now, the U.S. gets about 12 to 15 percent of its oil resources from Africa. That amount is meant to increase to 25 percent in the coming years, so by the end of this decade some say, even, 25 percent—a full quarter of U.S. oil—will be sourced from the African continent. That makes the region of strategic importance. That makes control, particularly of waterways, of shipping lines and shipping platforms strategically important for the U.S. And so we have to see the Somali attacks by the Bush administration as part of a larger vision of the U.S. to both control oil and other strategic resources. And we have to say, as well, to contain China, which is increasing as well in its interest in Africa.
Harris: About how many people are dying, before I continue. ... Are there any numbers attached to that?
Woods: It’s hard to say the numbers. The Somalis say it’s been hundreds that have been killed by these airstrikes, and we know there have been at least four airstrikes that have been made public so, you know, several hundred people killed as a result of these airstrikes. Now, some estimate the number as high as 300,000 of the Somalis that have been forced out of their homes. So those who are internally displaced and refugees—that’s a much higher figure.
Harris: Three hundred thousand.
Woods: Three hundred thousand is the number that’s estimated, of people that have been impacted by the political chaos in the past year.
Harris: And so, back to the United States, back to this election, back to the fact that Democrats and Republicans not only condoned it but probably profited from this over the years, should we really be as hopeful about Hillary or Obama or McCain? Will there really be a change in U.S. policy? Even though we know—you’ve set this up—even though we know that it’s inevitable that we’ll get more oil from this region of the world, we’ll want more control and we’ll have more interest in this area, is it likely that we’ll change any of this?
Woods: Well, James, that is the question of the era. I would have to say, you know, if you think about the control of multinational corporations, especially big oil, in U.S. foreign policy, it’s been exacerbated by the Bush administration, but it’s been a bipartisan phenomenon. So what we have to do is to figure out a way to get multinational corporations out of the decision-making process in U.S. foreign policy; that’s the first step.
But we have to also envision a different world than the Bush administration has envisioned, really, of us against them. We have to see ourselves as being one human community where what happens to one side of the community affects what happens to the other. And I think part of the energy of this election, regardless of who people vote for—right? Part of the excitement of bringing in new constituencies, new constituencies of young people, new constituencies of immigrants. ... I think the potential is ripe to say, “We need to really bring about the change that’s needed in this country.” A change that will first control the wanton abuse of multinational corporations in their quest for profits that have ignored people in search of profits. We have to recognize that there are democratic forces within countries around the world, and how do we, as the United States, reach out to those democratic forces in solidarity with those forces that are expanding free media, that are expanding voices, opposition, other political actors, and expanding the political space. How do we forge alliances with these democratic forces that are there, you know, but have been so ignored as we pursue a set agenda that’s about extracting resources at the expense of people?
So I think there is a new possibility for U.S. foreign policy; it is not just sort of a—I think it’s not just a Democratic/Republican thing. I think right now both parties are generating excitement and because of mavericks in those parties, people who are going in a different way. If we really want to go a different way when it comes to U.S. foreign policy, there really couldn’t be a better time because it’s been such a disastrous result. We see the Iraq war, we see the potential for a war in Iran, we see in so many regions of the world the flaws of this narrow-minded policy. And so I do think that the hope is in this open political space where new people, new actors, new voices, will be demanding a different way, will be demanding a more responsible, a more just, foreign policy. And whether it comes to Somalia or Africa, or Latin America, now is the opportunity to put forward a foreign policy that puts the needs of people first, that helps to build healthy societies around the world, that sustains this planet in light of climate change and global warming. I mean, these are the challenges of our time, that we can actually stand together as a global community and meet if we put forward a vision of foreign policy that leads to more responsible behavior than we’ve had to date.
Harris: And this sounds definitely like something you’re doing at the Foreign Policy in Focus group. Is that one of the principles of the organization?
Woods: Clearly. So, we are a think tank without walls. We have about 600 analysts and writers that write analyses of U.S. foreign policy. But what we do is, we critique, clearly, but we also put forward what we want. What is our vision of the world, you know? What are the values that can help sustain this planet? What does that look like when it comes to U.S. foreign engagement? And so that’s what we do. We publish, we do advocacy, we do media outreach to try to amplify the voices for a change and a more responsible foreign policy.
Harris: Well, it’s been a pleasure talking with you.
Woods: James, the pleasure is mine. Thanks so much for all you do. Keep digging for the truth.
Harris: We didn’t plan that. We didn’t plan that. With Emira Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus, this is James Harris, and this is Truthdig.
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