“If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.”
Former U.S. Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki
For some reason, as I was leafing through email that purports to bring the news, it seemed as if more than the usual amount of change w is in the wind. That impression, of course, can be manipulated by the editors and other “gatekeepers” who decide what and to whom to send emails as much as by my own choice of what emails to open, which to trash, and which are relevant to what I do.
It is possible that I am a bit more sensitized to the phenomena of change given that Great Britain, where I lived and worked for six years, saw a change in political leadership after a decade in which Tony Blair was Prime Minister. Blair, who handed off to his Chancellor of the Exchequer (the second most powerful position in the British government), Gordon Brown, was within hours appointed as a special envoy of “The Quartet” (EU, Russia, United States, UN) that has for years been trying to push to completion the off-and-on Israeli-Palestine “negotiations” that are to arrive at a two-state“ final status” agreement.
For his part, the new Prime Minister moved to replace key cabinet members, appointing David Miliband, the current environment minister, as the new Foreign Minister (Secretary of State equivalent). Like Brown, Miliband is expected to look for the earliest opportunity to pull British troops from Iraq.
Another interesting early appointment by Prime Minister Brown is that of Lord Mark Malloch Brown as Minister for Africa, Asia, and the UN. Malloch Brown, who served in the UN Secretariat as deputy to then Secretary-General Kofi Annan, was critical of the ambivalent attitude of U.S. administrations toward the UN – except when a president wanted the imprimatur of the Security Council for some action.
Before taking over as prime minister, Gordon Brown expanded the Department for International Development (DFID) whose mission is to assist poverty stricken countries. Observers expect that under Brown and Malloch Brown DFID will focus on Africa an Asia.
What will be interesting to watch over the next 15 months is how the U.S. and UK interact in Africa as the Pentagon implements its plan to create a new African Command. Unlike other geographical commands, AFRICOM’s responsibilities will include not only military affairs (training, equipping, conducting joint exercises, keeping al-Qaeda from establishing terror enclaves) but also “nation building” activities that the military has gone to great lengths elsewhere to avoid.
Yet another change, this one announced by President Bush, is the appointment of the first U.S. envoy to the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) that has been in existence for 38 years. Yet even in making the announcement at the rededication of Washington’s Islamic Center, Bush went after Syria and Iran for repressing the freedom of their citizens. Moreover, at a meeting June 19 between Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Bush revealed he intended to increase military aid to Tel Aviv by at least $50 million each year for 10 years. This would run annual military aid to the Israeli Defense Forces from $2.4 billion to $3 billion. The question now is whether Egypt’s annual aid package will also be increased to re-establish the unwritten 3-to-2 ratio of aid for Israel and Egypt that began in 1979 with the signing of the Camp David Accords. This increase would complete the conversion of the $1.2 billion in aid from the State Department’s Economic Support Fund.
And what do the African nations think of all this? There’s no doubt that the reception accorded the creation of AFRICOM has been underwhelming. So far, North African countries that have been approached as the location of the new command’s headquarters have all said no – and this is exactly the areas where religion (Islam) and politics are most closely integrated. Considering that right now these North African countries have official links to NATO, they may see AFRICOM as a downgrading of U.S. and European interest in solving the many problems of this band of countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.