Brutal dictator, welcome to Washington.

I'm not naive enough to think that the administration rhetoric on freedom applies to all countries. But still, look who Secretary Rice hosted this week.   

Condi with Obiang 2SECRETARY RICE: Good morning. Welcome. I'm very pleased to welcome the President of Equatorial Guinea, President Obiang.[...]

PRESIDENT OBIANG: (Via interpreter) I thank you so much. We have extremely good relations with the United States. Our country has had good relations with the United States for a very long time and my visit here is simply in order to consolidate and also to establish further ties of cooperation with your country.[...]

Equatorial Guinea's country's state-run radio called Obiang "God" in 2003. The 2005 State Department report on the country says: "The government's human rights record remained poor, and the government continued to commit or condone serious abuses." Obiang came in at number 10 on this year's Parade list of the world's 10 worst dictators:

According to a United Nations inspector, torture “is the normal means of investigation” in Equatorial Guinea. There is no freedom of speech, and there are no bookstores or newsstands. The one private radio station is owned by Obiang’s son. Since major oil reserves were discovered in Equatorial Guinea in 1995, Obiang has deposited more than $700 million into special accounts in U.S. banks. 

But then again, the State Department's background note on Equatorial Guinea probably explains why we're not bothering to fuss about Obiang's human rights record:

Equatorial Guinea is now the third largest producer of crude oil in sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria and Angola. Equatorial Guinea's oil reserves are located mainly in the hydrocarbon-rich Gulf of Guinea, containing estimated probable reserves as high as 10% of the world total. As a result, large amounts of foreign investment primarily by U.S. companies have poured into the country's oil sector in recent years.

Hey, we've gotta fill our tanks with gas from somewhere.

My best news Googling effort has produced only one mention of this obvious dissonance this week -- by David Koehler of the Blogs. Mother Jones has two pieces to provide more background: this profile by Peter Maass and a piece by Dave Gilson on Obiang's role in the Riggs Bank scandal.

Update: I should note that, while the media ignored it, many blogs were on top of this. Examples here, here, here, here, and here.


A small victory for State

According to the WaPo today, the State Dept. appears to have won a battle with the DoD over the use of military personnel to protect Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in Iraq. PRTs are small teams of mixed civilian and military personal working outside the central area of command. In Afghanistan, PRTs have been one of the more effective ways to create interagency cooperation and to extend government control into the countryside. In Iraq, the PRT strategy has been slow to develop.

A recent report published in Parameters, a journal out of the Army War College, examined the role of PRT’s in Afghanistan, touting their potential in stabilization and reconstruction projects and calling for more to be put in place. It also detailed a number of areas in which a stronger military leadership would help to clarify missions and accomplish greater results. This is an operational approach that the military should be embracing, not denigrating.

So why has the Pentagon been so reluctant to get drawn into the project in Iraq? Maybe because it conflicts with artificial timelines for drawing down troop levels, or because it expands the scope of their responsibilities in the country. But most likely, it is because the DoD just doesn’t like putting troops under the control of the State Department. Bridging the gap between security and development is one of the most important ways to defuse low-intensity conflict. This would be a good area in which to set aside the detrimental turf wars within the administration