That won’t quell anyone’s hunger, especially in Niger
Condoleezza Rice keeps tripping over Niger. As George W. Bush‘s national security adviser, she stumbled by trying to force-feed us Niger’s yellowcake long after it was deemed impossible to swallow. Now secretary of state, she’s basically sending the world this message about the starving people of Niger: “Let them eat cake.”
I see the New York Times really jumped on the nightmarish crisis, posting an Associated Press story this morning from Niger saying that “the world has been slow to respond to the needs here.”
Last week, some determined questioning of Rice by the BBC’s Jonathan Beale brought the U.S.’s lackluster official response into focus: Our secretary of state went all Marie Antoinette on the beleaguered people of the former French colony.
It’s not the first time Rice has sounded foolish during a Beale interview.
But let’s first recall how she refused to eat her words two years ago regarding Niger’s yellowcake.
Rice basically sparked the whole Plamegate scandal. Here’s how the monumental May 2004 Vanity Fair story, “The Path to War,” by Bryan Burrough, Evgenia Peretz, David Rose, and David Wise, succinctly recalled those 2003 events, revolving around forged documents of an Iraq-Niger yellowcake connection and Joseph Wilson‘s trip the previous year to sniff around:
Wilson was shocked when Bush cited the Africa-uranium story in his [January 2003] State of the Union speech. He tried to get to the bottom of how the assertion had been included, but to no avail. He told journalist Seymour Hersh, “I gave them months to correct the record … but they kept on lying.” Finally, Wilson went public with his information. At a conference in Washington, Wilson revealed what he had discovered in Niger to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who got Wilson’s permission to print his findings in a May 6 column. In a June 8 appearance on Meet the Press, Condoleezza Rice finally responded, “Maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery.”
Wilson contacted people he knew in the government—he will not name them—and threatened to correct the record if Rice would not. She didn’t and he did, writing a July 6 op-ed piece in the New York Times called “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” and talking with Washington Post reporters Richard Leiby and Walter Pincus for a piece that appeared the same day. To discuss the two articles Wilson went on Meet the Press.
Then the Bush regime, using Bob Novak, retaliated by outing Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, effectively ending her career as an undercover CIA operative. The rest is hysteria.
Here we are two years later, and Plamegate is in full bloom. It’s been “Niger” this and “Niger” that—a feeding frenzy in the press tent that I recently pointed out seems like an eating disorder.
And it masks the biggest news regarding Niger these days: Hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants are starving to death, despite months of pleading for food.
On July 19, just as emergency help finally got on the way, Condi Rice took off for Africa, mostly for photo ops in Darfur and to talk about trade in Senegal. (Yeah, I would cotton to such a conversation with U.S. officials about how our corporate-welfare trade policies are strangling the public welfare in many African nations.)
Anyway, on July 22 in Dakar, Senegal, Rice sat down with the BBC’s Beale. He got right to it:
BEALE: Madame Secretary, you’ve been highlighting the importance of trade here with Africa; but in Niger, there’s a famine; 150,000 children are starving—what Niger needs is aid more than trade (inaudible).
RICE: Well, the United States is of course the largest granter of food aid in the world by a substantial margin. And we are aware of the situation in Niger, as well as several other situations, in terms of the seasonal drought and in some cases political difficulties, for instance, in Zimbabwe. And the President has a famine relief initiative, which allows us to get funding, very quickly, to these places.
We’re in discussions with the foreign ministry of Niger about what is needed there. USAID is ready and able to help. But famine relief has long been a very major effort of the United States. And as I said, we are by far the largest food assistance provider in the world.
Keep in mind that, as has been widely reported, Western nations have known since last November that there was a real danger of an actual famine in Niger and they did little about it.
Her words about “discussions with the foreign ministry of Niger” are foolish because it had been thoroughly reported around the world just last week that Niger’s own government was a big part of the problem and that aid organizations and governments were circumventing the Niger government to send food.
Desperate parents in Niger have been feeding their kids grass and leaves to keep them alive, according to the BBC.
The landlocked desert nation’s president, Mamadou Tanja, hasn’t helped. He had in fact stonewalled aid shipments until just last week, saying that free food would disrupt the nation’s market economy—as if it had one.
OK, back to Beale’s meal of Rice:
BEALE: Are you worried about the situation?
RICE: Oh, we’re quite concerned about Niger, but also several other situations here in Africa and we’ve been doing planning with nongovernmental organizations through USAID to try and address the situation.
Why no specific statement about Niger, Condi? Why not focus on that crisis? You’ve made time for photo-ops with Bono (see photo above) about hunger in Africa.
Back to Beale: He also brought up the issue of our ludicrous corporate-welfare approach of propping up U.S. agribusiness—not small farmers, mind you—at the expense of the world.
BEALE: On the issue of trade, a lot of African countries say what they want most is a level playing field. You’ve indicated that maybe the United States will get rid of its subsidies to farmers if the European Union does the same. Are you prepared to set a timetable on that?
RICE: Well, the place to address this is within the Doha framework and of course we have another important meeting coming up in Hong Kong for Doha; and we are great believers that agricultural subsidies ought to be abolished. In fact, we aren’t going to unilaterally decide, as the President has said, because—but we’ve always believed that American farmers can be competitive.
What was that? “We aren’t going to unilaterally decide”? Since when is that the Bush regime’s foreign policy?
If we had been on the plane with Rice on the way to Africa only three days earlier, we would have known that the Bush regime didn’t give a shit about Niger—except to advance the pre-war plot confirmed by the Downing Street Memo and other documents. Here’s how the secretary of state started her July 19 briefing with reporters on the plane:
RICE: Good afternoon. Something smells good back there. I’ll be quick.
QUESTION: It’ll be a record-setter.
RICE: Yeah, a record-quick briefing because I didn’t have lunch yet.
In the press conference that followed, she didn’t mention Niger or its food crisis at all. Neither did the reporters. Then they all broke for lunch.