The monument dedicated to the Congo’s colonizers bears an inscription with the words of Belgium’s Leopold II. The king, it suggests, took over that vast African land “in the interest of civilization.”
One historical fact that probably won’t be highlighted during Trump’s trip is that in 1884 the US became the first powerful nation to support the claim on the Congo made by Leopold.
An estimated 10 million lives were destroyed between then and 1920. Natural resources were plundered through the massive use of slave labor.
There is an eerie sense of continuity behind how Trump will be fed in the park where the Congo monument is located. The president is visiting Brussels for a summit of NATO, a modern-day imperial pitbull – to borrow a phrase from the deceased scholar Edward S. Herman.
As a candidate, Trump dismissed the military alliance as “obsolete.” As president, he has been trying to sharpen the pitbull’s teeth.
The US dominates NATO. And NATO helps preserve US domination around the globe. That explains why Trump has warmed to the alliance.
He and his entourage are pressing all of NATO’s members to spend more on weapons.
A Cold War club, NATO ought to have been wound up when the Soviet Union collapsed. Yet it has managed to reinvigorate itself – by bombing Serbia in 1999 and later by coordinating the wars against Afghanistan and Libya.
Stroking the pitbull
Israel’s elite seems eager to stroke the pitbull.
Last month, the Israeli military announced that – for the first time – it was participating simultaneously in two war game exercises run by NATO in Europe.
These exercises largely took place in former Eastern bloc countries that are now part of NATO, despite US promises in 1990 that the military alliance would not expand towards Russia. Today, NATO surrounds Russia; holding major drills in the Baltic region is aggressive and provocative.
The drills included a mock air assault operation in Lithuania. Israel has, of course, much experience of carrying out actual air assaults, particularly against civilians in Lebanon and Gaza.
Although it’s not formally a member of NATO, Israel has been liaising with the alliance since at least 1994. There are good reasons to suspect that strategic planners in the alliance have carefully studied the tactics Israel has deployed in oppressing Palestinians.
Senior NATO figures have even visited Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank, presumably to learn first-hand about such tactics.
Swapping notes on oppression
Almost 10 years ago, Gabi Ashkenazi, then head of Israel’s military, expressed a desire to work with NATO “in as many areas as possible.”
The relationship did not advance rapidly after that comment was made. Turkey, a longstanding NATO member, has stood in the way of some cooperation.
The Ankara authorities felt it was necessary to be seen as tough towards Israel around the time of Operation Cast Lead – an offensive against Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009 – and especially after Israel killed Turkish activists sailing towards Gaza in 2010.
Turkey has changed its tune more recently by agreeing to let Israel establish a full-time office at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Earlier this year, Israel signed a cooperation pact with NATO’s logistics division. That division is dedicated to a concept known as “smart defense” – a fancy term for acquiring increasingly lethal weapons.
That followed the finalizing of a deal in November 2017 to protect information shared between NATO and Israel.
A large proportion of Israel’s military information is obtained through subjugating the Palestinians. So it is a safe bet that one purpose of the NATO deal is to allow greater swapping of notes about how Israel can commit crimes against humanity – and get away with doing so.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s top administrator, received media coverage lately when he explained something that journalists should have already known. He had pointed out that because Israel is not a full member of NATO, the alliance would not be contractually obliged to respond if Israel faced an attack.
Yet what was arguably more significant about Stoltenberg’s comments was that he stressed how NATO regards Israel as a partner.
The underlying message was clear. The chief aggressor in the Middle East is welcome to play war games with the imperial pitbull.
Together, they can sharpen their teeth.