In the vast apparatus of the United States foreign policy, the most pervasive term, more than any other, is ‘national interest.’ By simply designating any and everything as national interest, the US government can get away with everything. As it is misleading, the term has less to do with national interest per se but more to do with expedience – of political, economic and military interests. It used to be the default term for the economic interests of the United States overseas, although political and military interests very much remained part of the term. In the last ten years, however, the term has become the expedient tool of truly gross mass murder and human rights violations abroad – wars, extraordinary renditions, torture, and so on. The erstwhile War on Global Terror campaign started by President Obama’s predecessor was initiated and executed entirely under this national interest concept. And of course brutally and ever more efficiently continued by Mr. Obama – see the tenfold increase in predator drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
In a little article hidden in the New York Times today, Mr. Obama recently wrote an executive order/memorandum to the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton directing her to grant exception to four countries listed as using Child Soldiers by the State Department for US military aid. President Bush signed the Child Soldiers Accountability Act in 2008 (note: the Times incorrectly identifies the law as the Child Soldier Prevention Act), a highly unusual bipartisan law that was specifically designed to stop US military aid from going to countries using children as soldiers. According to the Times article, the four countries granted an exception from this law are: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan, and Yemen. In his memorandum, Mr. Obama “said he had determined that the waiver was in “the national interest” of the United States and furthermore, the “memo offered no elaboration” on the decision by Mr. Obama. However, Somalia and Myanmar/Burma have not been granted this exception.
Among the reasons offered for granting exception (or should I say breaking US national law) for these countries include:
- The Congo was exempted because United States-backed programs were helping its military become more professional and fight rights abuses. (What an oxymoronic statement – continue the rights violation of children for a vague rights. Classic.)
- And continued assistance to Chad, where a branch of Al Qaeda is active, was also said to be a reward for hosting an estimated 280,000 refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan.
- Sudan faces the possible secession of its southern region after a January referendum, and support from the United States may prove critical to stability in the south.
- According to White House officials and memos, ending aid to Yemen would have undercut that country’s intense struggle against Al Qaeda. Despite Yemeni government assurances, the national army is still suspected of enlisting children as young as 15 (NY Times, “4 Nations With Child Soldiers Keep U.S. Aid,” 28 Oct 2010).
There you have it, folks. One of the very, very few good laws George Bush can claim to his legacy is undone by his successor – the Nobel Peace Prize winning son of Africa and “progressive liberal president”. Instead of continuing to fund these armies that use child soldiers, why didn’t Obama choose to reward the countries that are demobilizing child soldiers as a good behavior? The answer is that is “unwieldy.”
In other words, Chad and Yemen are providing help to the US for its anti-terror campaign. The DRC and South Sudan have lots of mineral and oil to extract from respectively. That’s national interest in a nutshell!