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Friday | February 28, 2003

Out of Africa

Who would have guessed the fate of Iraq – and the United States, for that matter -- might come to rest in the hands of two obscure, impoverished African nations?

This isn’t so far fetched. As Bush tries to round up a majority on the UN Security Council for his second Iraq resolution, two African countries -- Guinea and Cameroon -- may hold the key.

Of course, defeat at the UN wouldn’t stop the invasion, but it will make it more costly, in political terms and probably in dollar terms as well. The American people don’t want a go-it-alone war, and the Europeans may not be willing to help pay for one. Bush doesn’t have to have the UN seal of approval to start his war, but he could clearly use it – and knows it.

Why are these two countries potentially so important? Let’s take a look at the Security Council math:

Definitely for: US, Britain, Spain, Bulgaria
Definitely against: France, Germany, Syria
Likely to abstain (counts as a "no" vote under UN rules): Russia, China, Pakistan

That leaves five swing votes: Mexico, Chile, Angola, Guinea and Cameroon. Assuming everybody else votes as above, the US has to have all five to win the “supermajority” needed to pass a resolution. While France, Russia or China could still veto it, that would put them in the position of defying the will of the majority.

Naturally, everybody is trying to figure out which way the swing countries will come down. And naturally, the Bushies are using leaks and spin to try to convince the press they ultimately will land on the winning side – of the war, if not the UN vote.

For various reasons -- which may or may not involve large wire transfers to numbered Swiss bank accounts -- I think Mexico, Chile and Angola probably will vote for the resolution. Let’s just say each country has compelling motives to want to stay on Don Bush’s good side.

That leaves Cameroon and Guinea. (I can hear Shrub now: “Guinea? What the hell do the Italians have to do with this?)

This is ironic. Very ironic. Beyond ironic. Because in any coalition for democracy, these two are really awkward fits. They’re both stereotypical African "big man" dictatorships, ruled by leaders with, um, extensive human rights records. Not to mention criminal records.

Guinea strangely enough, used to be one of Africa's few doctrinaire Communist states, complete with a party, a central committee and the obligatory statues of Marx and Lenin in every city square. But the current president -- a former member of that central committee – seized power in 1984 following the customary military coup. Since then, he’s been steering ever so slowly towards capitalism, while lining various pockets, no doubt including his own, along the way.

Still, according to the Washington Post, as late as the fall of 2000, visitors to government offices in Guinea were finding copies of the Pyongyang Times distributed in reception rooms for their reading pleasure. Kim Jong Il presumably would be pleased to hear that.

Meanwhile, the Post adds, "Camp Boiro, the military barracks and prison where opponents (of the former regime) were tortured and killed, remains guarded by armed troops who prohibit photographs and refuse to say what function the place now serves." The chief opposition leader has been a guest at Camp Boiro – or someplace like it -- since 1998. His crime: Having the temerity to run in that year's presidential "election." Bet he never makes THAT mistake again – or has the chance to.

Cameroon is a slightly less unsavory place, with a pseudo-parliament and more regular, if regularly rigged, "elections." But, as the CIA World Fact Book puts it: "Despite movement toward democratic reform, political power remains firmly in the hands of an ethnic oligarchy."

The head oligarch is now entering his 23rd year in power. (I'm not going to bother with names here, lest I sound too much like Will Ferrell's impression of Shrub in his second debate with Gore.)

Anyway, demonstrating Saddam-like political skills, President Oligarch won his last election with a solid 92.6% of the votes cast. If the guy ever does retire, maybe Jeb could get him a job in the Florida Elections Bureau.

So there you go: A pair of aging African kleptocrats may get to decide whether the UN puts its collective seal of approval on Bush’s crusade to bring the blessings of liberty to Iraq. Awfully damn inspiring, isn't it?

Oh, there's something else worth mentioning: Guinea and a big chunk of what later became Cameroon used to be French colonies, and still have strong economic, cultural and security ties to their former owner.

To be sure, they also have economic ties to the United States, and would very much like to have more, ideally in unmarked $100 bills. But Europe is their natural market -- as well as their largest source of foreign aid (loot) and investment (bribes). So for once, the French may be able to compete for influence on something like a level playing field.

If France is serious about depriving Bush of a majority on the Security Council, these could be the places to do it. I'm sure the distinguished leaders of both countries would be happy to consider any offers the French might care to make -- strictly in the interests of their people, of course.

I can picture it: "Oui, your excellency, ze Riviera is vurry nice zis tayme of year. And so close to Switzerland and ze Swiss banks. But of course ze French government would be 'appy to 'elp you finance your new villa. Zis is what friends are for, no?"

Just don’t tell Ari Fleischer: He’d be so disillusioned.


Posted February 28, 2003 03:52 PM | Comments (26)


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