FRESNO, CA - I'm back, fat and happy, after the best holiday season I've had. Plenty of bowl games, history channel and junk food.
Better yet, just one phone call with the family on Christmas Day. Juked my way out of having to make the usual trip to Bakersfield, put the chain on my door and pigged out for weeks.
And I'm happy to say that 2006 looks like a great year for war fans, like a non-stop round of bowl games. Here's my sports-page preview of your best bets for war watching this year.
Naturally, Africa offers the best prospects. Africa is getting to be the only continent I can stand to write about. People care enough to kill over there, the whole slacker pacifist thing hasn't hit them yet.
Africans deal in reality, and that's why they're upfront about war. I came across a perfect example of African honesty when I was reading about the 1997 Presidential election in Liberia. The winning candidate, a warlord named Charles Taylor, and his campaign slogan-God, I love this-was "He killed my Pa, he killed my Ma, but I will vote for him." Keep in mind, that slogan won it for him. You want realism? That's realism. And right now, there are plenty of realists all over Africa getting ready to produce some kick-ass sequels to the great wars of the 90s.
Chad vs. Sudan: This could be a beautiful war in all kinds of ways. Anything that hurts Omar al-Bashir, the sleazy Islamist who runs Sudan, has to be a good thing. And the Chadians aren't the pushovers you might expect a landlocked, dirt-poor, ethnically divided hellhole to be. Col. Khadafy and his Libyan "army" found that out back in the 80s, when the big fool pulled off another of his famous flipflops-after all the other Arab states he tried to merge with told him to crawl back to his tent, he proclaimed himself a pan-African instead of a pan-Arab, and to prove it he started bullying Chad, trying to turn it into the southern half of Greater Libya.
Quick tip: any country that tries to put "Greater" in front of its name is a joke. "Greater Albania," "Greater Syria"-the "Greater," the "Lamer"-but "Greater Libya" is the most ridiculous of all.
Khadafi's fag troops proved that as soon as the Chadians attacked. The Libyan army had moved at least $30 billion worth of high-tech equipment south into Chad, whereas the Chadians had nothing but Toyota pickups, RPGs and Chinese-made Soviet heavy machine guns. But that was enough for them to chase the Libyans right out of Northern Chad, capturing billions of dollars worth of materiel (which they didn't have a clue how to use). It was the coolest upset-victory of the 80s, the nearest thing to the Fremen in Dune kicking Sardukar ass.
Once Khadafy was chased home, Chad went back to the traditional national game: Northern Muslims massacring Southern "blacks" and vice versa. That's where the trouble with Sudan starts. In Chad it's the "blacks" who dominate the Arabs; in Sudan the Arabs (so-called Arabs who are blacker than most black Americans) who slaughter the southern blacks. In other words, we're talking about the same war that flares up across the Sahel: north vs. south, Islam vs. Christian.
The Sudanese Islamic crazies can't get to sleep at night unless they're massacring infidels somewhere in their huge, messed-up domain. They were happy enough sending their rape cavalry, the Janjaweed, to slaughter blacks in Darfur, until the UN and world press started complaining. So they had to rein in the Janjaweed, which must've been real painful for those bloodthirsty fuckers.
Then some Akbar in Khartoum had a brilliant idea: just send the Janjaweed across the border into Chad! What sold al-Bashir on the idea was that he was already hosting a half dozen Islamist rebel "armies" from Chad, little gangs with typically big names like "Rally for Democracy and Liberty" (RDL) and "Platform for Change, Unity and Democracy," which in French comes out "SCUD."
Sudan naturally wants to use these suckers as proxy fighters, and save its own troops until the proxies have pissed the Chadians off enough to make them cross the border, justifying an invasion. It's an old strategy and a good one, but the Sudanese Islamists are one of the dumbest gangs in the world, no finesse, no patience. They greenlighted the Chadian rebels to attack across the border on Dec. 18, 2005. Except they forgot to teach these guys to fight. I guess these guys spent too much time coming up with cool acronyms like "SCUD" to bother with real military training, because the Chadian army blew away at least a hundred of them.
Mohammed Nour, the commander of the RDL, had one of the all-time lamest comebacks after the battle, bragging he'd only used "one-sixth" of his forces in the attack. Hate to tell you, Mo, but one-sixth is a huge percentage of any military force, especially when they all get slaughtered on Day One of the glorious campaign.
That farce showed the Sudanese they couldn't rely on the Chadian rebels to push Chad into war, so they did what came naturally, took the leash off their favorite dogs, the Janjaweed. On Jan. 6, 2006, Janjaweed squadrons galloped over the border just itching to spread the glory of Islam by raping black women, killing their menfolk and burning their huts. They did their job and headed home whistling a happy tune (or are they anti-music, like the Taleban? Not sure), with slaves to sell and saddlebags full of whatever junk the poor Chadians had.
So far the Chadians have stuck to threats. But Sudan is so big and dumb it just can't help shoving, and it's a good bet the Chadian Army will have to react sooner or later. The Sudanese aren't total pussies like the Libyans, so it'll be a tough war. But don't underestimate Chad. It may have the name of some gay lifeguard, but those dudes in their Toyotas can shoot on the fly, and in Africa it's real rare to find two sides both willing to fight at the same time. If the Chadians get desperate enough to attack, they may find themselves in the same position Rwanda's Tutsis did in Congo-advancing all the way to the enemy's capital, just because there's nobody to stop them.
Eritrea vs. Ethiopia: This is the one exception to that rule, that only one side in African wars wants to fight. If you've been reading my columns http:// www.exile.ru/2002-October-02/ war_nerd.html you know that the Ethiopia/Eritrea war is my all-time favorite, a classic nation-building war that left both countries stronger when it ended in a draw (but with Ethiopia ahead on points) in 2000.
Eritrea had been fighting Ethiopia since Haile Selassie annexed it in 1961, and got independence in 1993 after helping the Tigrayan rebels boot out Africa's biggest Lenin wannabe, the Ethiopian Commie Mengistu. That friendship lasted about as long as African alliances usually do-a year or two-after which the new Ethiopian leadership felt the need to show they weren't just Eritrea's bitches by blasting the Hell out of Eritrea.
For years, the Eritreans, fine soldiers with a tiny population, fought a brilliant defensive campaign, and the Ethiopians, with manpower to spare, went for the old French routine, "l'audace, toujours l'audace," which did what it always does: keeps the unemployment rate down by killing off hordes of men of military ages, born troublemakers. In short, everybody was happy.
Now both sides are hankering for another few rounds. The official reason is a border squabble over a triangle of worthless desert around the worthless town of Badme-name says it all. But that's just a good reason to pick a fight. It means about as much as the official reasons guys get in fights in junior high, as in zip.
The real reason is puberty, hormones making you prove yourself by bashing some other testosterone casualty. It happens to countries too. Eritrea is still flexing its muscles, like 18th-c. Prussia, wondering if it can really take down the big guys who make it feel small. And Ethiopia, the closest thing in the modern world to Ancient Persia, is the same shambling gaudy wreck of an Empire it's always been, dragging its multi-tribe army from one shaky border war to another, bleeding like a white boxer but winning most of the time by just leaning on its opponents, absorbing their punches in all that flab and wearing them down.
A classic fight, should be a great one to watch. Here's hoping both these sequels-even if Chad v. Sudan isn't technically a "sequel" the way E v. E is - get produced.