Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yahya Jammeh is Africa's biggest psychopath

By DeWayne Wickham

It would be easy to dismiss the recent presidential election in Gambia, a sliver of a nation on Africa's west coast, as a matter of little concern to the United States.

But if we've learned any lesson from ignoring megalomaniac leaders of corrupt states, it is that their mischief has a good chance of eventually affecting America's national interest.

And Yahya Jammeh, who just won a fourth term as Gambia's president, could well be Africa's biggest psychopath.

Like the late Idi Amin, the former Ugandan president who generously proclaimed himself "Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea," Jammeh has an otherworldly sense of self. Two years ago, he sent "witch doctors" and his security forces to round up about 1,000 people whom he believed to be witches responsible for the death of his aunt. They were taken to the president's farm and forced to drink a hallucinogenic liquid that left two people dead and many others with serious liver damage, according to a report in the British newspaper The Telegraph.

Claiming special powers of his own, Jammeh announced in 2007 that he had discovered an AIDS cure, which he said his ancestors gave him in a dream. Jammeh personally administered this cure to hopeful AIDS patients — but only on Thursdays. The Gambian president also says he has fixes for obesity and erectile dysfunction. Africa needs a fix for him.

More than the slapstick leader of the smallest country on the African mainland, Jammeh is a serious mischief maker. He is accused of condoning the shipment of Iranian weapons through Gambia to rebels in the Casamance region of neighboring Senegal. Crates of these weapons, marked as construction materials, were seized at a port in Nigeria last year.

Pressured to explain this discovery, the Iranian government has said that the weapons were products of a military assistance agreement it struck with Gambia — a deal that violated United Nations sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Jammeh denied any knowledge of the weapons shipment, but such talk rings hollow with a leading American advocate for Africa.

"The U.S. can't ignore what's going on in Gambia. It is a growing transshipment point for drugs to Europe and is on its way to becoming a destabilizing force for the western region of Africa," says Melvin Foote, president of the Washington-based Constituency for Africa. "A lot of people over there see him (Jammeh) as an instigator."

Foote, who was in Gambia last year on a State Department-sponsored trip to West Africa to help nurture democratic values among the area's emerging young leaders, told me that there's a lot of grumbling about Jammeh in the region — but so far, no action. That's too bad.

While the U.S. has an interest in seeing to it that Jammeh doesn't undermine Senegal or other neighboring states in West Africa and create a base of operation there for Iran's adventurism, the Gambian president is a problem Africans must be encouraged to solve themselves.

With drone bases in the African nations of Ethiopia and Djibouti — and military advisers on the ground in other parts of the continent — the U.S. doesn't need to enlarge its footprint in Africa. What it needs is for Africa's growing number of democratic governments to find a way to ensure that the leader of the area's smallest country isn't allowed to become one of its biggest headaches.

They have to police their continent or run the risk of it becoming, as Africa did during the Cold War, a bloody surrogate for the fights of others.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

GOP's Southern Strategy to blame for black legislators loss of political clout in South

By DeWayne Wickham

The lead to a recent Associated Press story about the declining influence of black lawmakers in the South reads like something written by the late Lee Atwater, the race-baiting former Republican Party chairman and GOP spin-doctor.

"(An) overwhelming allegiance to the Democratic Party has left them (black lawmakers in the South) without power in increasingly GOP-controlled state legislatures," the AP said, citing a report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

In the early 1980s, Atwater was a master manipulator of the news media and crafty manager of the GOP's Southern Strategy, which uses racial fear to herd white Democrats into the Republican Party. He - like Richard Nixon before him - understood that a subtle appeal to racism would, over time, change the political landscape of the South.

This is what he said during a 1981 interview about how the GOP could marginalize blacks:

"You start out in 1954 by saying 'nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now (that) you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic because obviously sitting around saying, 'We want to cut this,' is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than 'nigger, nigger."

The AP story, which was published by news media outlets across the country, left out this critical context. The constant is the allegiance of blacks to the Democratic Party. That isn't news. It's the impact on these black lawmakers of the mass migration of Southern whites to the GOP that is the news.

David Bositis, a political scientist and the author of the Joint Center report, seemed to make just this point: "In most Southern states, the 46-year transition from a multiracial Democratic (Party) political dominance to a white conservative Republican political dominance is almost complete."

But while this change has taken place over nearly half a century, it has moved at warp speed over the past two years. Before the 2010 election, 51% of black legislators in the South were a part of a state legislative majority. After elections that year and this year, the number dropped to just under 5%, according to Bositis.

These changes have come in a political climate in which Republicans have craftily used the abstractions of "states' rights" and calls for lower taxes to bring more white voters into the GOP fold.

An even bigger missed story in the analysis of Bositis' report might be the connection between the 2008 election of Barack Obama and the increased pace with which Southern Democrats lost control of state legislatures - and nearly all black legislators in the old Confederacy became members of the minority party.

Instead of ushering in the post-racial era, the election of this nation's first black president has seemingly widened racial fault lines, most noticeably in the South. The Joint Center report is just the most recent evidence of this.

But just as the unchanged voting habits of black Southerners aren't responsible for the loss of political influence for black legislators in that region, Obama's election didn't forestall the end of the Jim Crow era that Republicans made an integral part of this nation's politics with their Southern Strategy - and which they continue to use as a political abstraction.

Somewhere, Atwater - who offered a suspect apology for his bad acts before his death in 1991 - must be smiling.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Republicans couldn't find Obama foreign policy soft spot

By DeWayne Wickham

The most revealing moment of the Republican presidential debate in Spartanburg, S.C., came just after that political stage show lost a big chunk of its national television audience.

It was at the beginning of the final 30 minutes of the 90-minute debate (just the first 60 minutes was aired nationally) that the moderator, CBS News anchor Scott Pelley — in a pandering abdication of his role — gave Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a chance to lob a softball foreign policy question to his GOP brethren.

Graham wanted to know whether any of his party's presidential hopefuls would continue President Obama's policy of not using enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects; using civilian courts in some instances to try suspected enemy combatants; and not sending future captives from the war on terror to the Navy base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

That question was more of a GOP civics test than an attempt at serious journalism. Less than three weeks earlier, 45 of the 47 GOP senators voted to ban civilian trials for enemy combatants, an action that was narrowly defeated by the Democratic majority. Just as Senate Republicans had circled their wagons on this issue, Graham's question was intended to get all of the party's presidential contenders publicly inside that loop.

When it comes to the war on terror, the GOP has struggled to find an Obama soft spot. It was the president who ordered Navy SEALs to storm Osama bin Laden's Pakistan hideout — a raid that resulted in his death. And it has been on Obama's watch that the body count of al-Qaeda and other anti-American terrorists has grown dramatically.

Obama ended the war in Iraq and has ordered all U.S. troops out by the end of this year. Al-Qaeda has been defeated in Afghanistan, and the Taliban is on the ropes. The president has wisely decided that most of the nation-building work that largely remains in Afghanistan must be done by that country's political leaders, police and military. He has ordered a steady withdrawal of U.S. troops from that quagmire that will bring most of them home by 2014 — an action that sits well with most Americans.

So when it comes to the war on terror, Senate Republicans have massed to attack Obama over the question of what this nation should do with terrorism suspects — something on which they haven't always agreed.

Before Obama won the presidency in 2008, two prominent Republicans — President George W. Bush and the man who tried to succeed him, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — both backed closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center. And just last year, Graham expressed reservations about a bill that would ban civilian trials for enemy combatants. "I just don't feel comfortable with it.

There is a role for the civilian courts to play," Graham said about the bill introduced by McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. But now that Republicans are in presidential campaign mode, they're all getting in lockstep behind a foreign policy issue they think might resonate with voters. It probably won't, but it did with most of the GOP's presidential wannabes.

Only Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, the irascible libertarian legislator, balked at the idea, reminding the audience that more than 300 terrorism suspects have been tried in this country's civilian courts and most of them were convicted.
But, of course, truth and reason are no match for the GOP's determination to make Obama a one-term president.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

When it comes of GOP's outreach to Jews, it's bad acts speak louder than good words

By DeWayne Wickham

Just when it seemed that Republicans had a chance to break the Democratic Party's lopsided hold on the Jewish vote, Republicans started acting like, well, Republicans.

Democrats have been scrambling to shore up support for Barack Obama among Jewish voters whose backing for the president began to slip earlier this year when he said Israel's 1967 borders should be the starting point in peace talks between Palestinians and the Jewish state.

The depth of this slide became apparent in September when a politically unknown GOP businessman, Robert Turner, won a special election in New York's Ninth Congressional District - a seat that had been held by Democrats since 1923. That local contest was billed by Republicans as a referendum on Obama's support of Israel, not a voter backlash against the texting scandal that forced Democrat Anthony Weiner to resign that congressional seat.

Even a reasoned defense of the president in New York magazine, shortly after the special election, that called Obama "The First Jewish President" and Israel's best friend, didn't stop the bleeding. Obama's approval rating among Jewish Americans has slipped to 45%, a 12-point drop from 2010, according to a poll released in late September by the American Jewish Committee, which The New York Times branded "the dean of American Jewish organizations."

But instead of mining this advantage, Republicans trampled upon it. In a largely party-line vote, GOP House members blocked an effort by Democrats to scuttle a bill that would allow a company in Arizona to operate this nation's largest copper mine.

What's the connection between this mining company and the Jewish vote? The firm, Resolution Copper, is partnered with an Iranian government-owned firm that is mining uranium in Namibia. Connecting these dots, the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel - one fed by Tehran's access to enriched uranium - is of grave concern to American Jews. These strange bedfellows should at the very least give American Jews pause.

Republicans said their action is not just good for Resolution Copper; it's also good for this nation's ailing economy. They argue it will create 4,000 jobs and pump billions of dollars into Arizona's economy. They also say Rio Tinto, the London-based company that owns Resolution Copper, has assured them that its Iranian partner is banned from removing uranium from the African mine and says it is in full compliance with all sanctions and laws.

Most of the resistance to the deal, in fact, has been on the environmental front rather than over the Iranian connection.

But critics question why Congress should do anything that strengthens a firm in the uranium business with Iran, a sworn enemy of Israel and widely believed to be trying to obtain nuclear weapons in violation of United Nations sanctions.

Of course, none of this links the uranium mine in Namibia to such an effort. But if you believe Iran has a rogue weapons program, it's hard to imagine it wouldn't treat that uranium mine as low-hanging fruit.

By voting to pass this bill, which the Obama administration opposes and the president would likely veto, House Republicans are putting the economic interests of Arizona ahead of the defense of Israel.

That kind of shortsightedness not only puts Israel at risk, it almost certainly will cause a lot of Jews in this country to hew more closely to the Democratic Party - and to the Democrat who currently occupies the Oval Office.