Congresswoman Karen Bass and the Will to Intervene

Karen Bass in kente cloth

What will it mean if the Vice Chair of the board of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) becomes the Mayor of Los Angeles? Meaning, of course, Karen Bass, the current Vice Chair of that soft power tool, who is also Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa. Come November, the Black Congresswoman representing parts of Los Angeles will most likely become its mayor, having pulled well ahead of Rick Caruso, the billionaire real estate developer who spent more than $41 million on his primary campaign. Bass spent a mere $3.28 million but still finished ahead of Caruso, with 43% of the vote compared to his 36%. Bass and Caruso were the two candidates left standing after LA’s top-two primary in June.

Some will no doubt say it doesn’t matter what Bass has done at NED or in Congress because she’s running against Rick Caruso, a billionaire developer and make-believe Democrat. (Caruso is a Republican who changed his registration to run in the blue coastal city.) But what kind of choice is that? I’m not here to tell Angelenos how to vote, but they might as well know what they’re likely to get.

Before considering what a Mayor Karen Bass might do, let’s consider what the National Endowment for Democracy, whose board she vice chairs, does. Founded by Ronald Reagan and his CIA Director William Casey in 1983—after the Church Committee hearings exposed the covert misdeeds of the CIA, FBI, IRS, and NSA—NED is a bipartisan organization that works to co-opt rather than coerce targets of US imperialism. “Each year,” they say on their website, “NED makes more than 2,000 grants to support the projects of non-governmental groups abroad who are working for democratic goals in more than 100 countries.” A map of “Where NED Works ” indicates that they manifest on all continents but North America and Australia, and not in Western Europe. Apparently, the assumption is that we and the rest of the West have such a surplus of democracy that we’re compelled to offload it on the world through 2000 or so NGOs a year.

NED does impose its ideals in Central and Eastern Europe, including of course Ukraine and Belarus .

In 2017, the late Robert Parry reviewed documents just then declassified by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Archives for MintPress News and wrote :

“In intelligence circles, ‘political action’ refers to a wide range of activities to influence the policies and behaviors of foreign nations, from slanting their media coverage, to organizing and training opposition activists, even to setting the stage for ‘regime change.’

“The newly declassified memos from the latter half of 1982 marked an ad hoc period of transition between the CIA scandals, which peaked in the 1970s, and the creation of more permanent institutions to carry out these semi-secretive functions, particularly the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which was created in 1983.”

In a document comically titled, “The Backlash Against Democracy Assistance ,” NED researchers wrote that “Foreign governments’ efforts to impede democracy assistance—from legal constraints on NGOs to extra-legal forms of harassment—have recently intensified and now seriously impede democracy assistance in a number of states. This backlash is particularly pronounced in the former Soviet states of Eurasia, as well as in China, Venezuela, Egypt, and Zimbabwe. Representatives of democracy assistance NGOs have been harassed, offices closed, and staff expelled.”


What happened?

I’ve spoken to several people who knew Karen Bass when she was young and still marvel that she’s come to this. In the 1970s she went to Cuba more than once with the Venceremos Brigade to work construction. That was enough to knock her off Biden’s short list for 2020 running mates in favor of Kamala Harris, after considerable press. “I’m not a socialist. I’m not a communist. I’ve belonged to one party my entire life and that’s the Democratic Party, and I’m a Christian,” she told NBC News , but it wasn’t enough.

Chair of the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights

House Foreign Relations Subcommittees are named for regions, and the Africa committee seems to mean primarily Sub-Saharan Africa. Their names also indicate what the government’s primary concerns in that region are, even if those concerns are also globalized, as in “Africa, Global Health, and Global Human Rights .” Hence the other subcommittees are “Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia, and Nonproliferation ,” “Europe, Energy, the Environment and Cyber ,” “Middle East, North Africa and Global Counterterrorism ,” “International Development, International Organizations and Global Corporate Social Impact ,” and “Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, Migration and International Economic Policy .”

What do Africans do in the Western mind? They get sick, they die, they suffer famines, they huddle in refugee camps, and of course they kill each other. These tragedies are commonly caused by unacknowledged Western manipulations for agendas having to do with resource control and strategic positioning, but only a small number of elite and deeply sinister minds know that. Hence “Africa, Global Health, and Global Human Rights.”

In 2014, President Obama sent Karen Bass to Rwanda for the 20-year commemoration of the 1994 genocide in a delegation led by Africa’s Problem from Hell , arch interventionist Samantha Power. Power was there to confirm the historically inaccurate, decontextualized, and grossly oversimplified misinterpretation of the Rwandan Genocide that she built her career on, first in “Bystanders to Genocide ” and then in “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide .” The world “stood by” and let the Rwandan Genocide happen, she wails, so it must never stand by again. We must be “upstanders,” as in Libya and Syria, not bystanders, as in Rwanda, where we failed in our moral duty to stop the world’s dark-skinned, backward peoples from massacring one another over ethnic difference.

And Karen Bass, as Chair of the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, was along for the ride. Throughout her career on the committee, she has supported Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s totalitarian president and world class w ar criminal , who has justified 28 years of dictatorial, faux democratic rule on the false claim that he stopped the genocide, lifted Rwanda from the ashes, and must never let anything like the genocide happen again. Many well-researched books have now deconstructed this false narrative, including Robin Philpot’s Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa, from Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction , Judi Rever’s In Praise of Blood: Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front , Masako Yonekawa’s “Post-Genocide Rwandan Refugees: Why They Refuse to Return ‘Home’: Myths and Realities ,” and Anjan Sundaram’s “Bad News, Last Journalists in a Dictatorship 

David Himbara, development economics professor, author of Kagame’s Economic Mirage , and Kagame’s former economic advisor, is in the habit of lobbying Congress and the State Department for a change in US policy toward Rwanda, but he says Karen Bass has given him the cold shoulder every time, so he’s eager to see Republicans win the House, at which point Chris Smith, R-NJ, will become Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa. “Chris Smith is a star, my great friend, and a great champion of human rights. He is a true believer in human rights. His leadership was what enabled us to have two hearings on Rwanda, and he invited me to both. Karen Bass was the ranking member and she attempted but failed to block the hearings.”

In keeping with her support for Rwanda, Bass has supported the fundamentals of the paternalistic, interventionist agenda. On March 29, 2011, she issued A Humanitarian Crisis, An International Response , a press release expressing her wholehearted support for Obama’s war on Libya:

“Already NATO has taken full command of the Libyan campaign and scores of nations have contributed to the mission including France, Britain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. A Canadian Lieutenant General is taking control of all NATO military operations and with this hand off, additional nations have pledged to help enforce the No Fly Zone.

“Try as they might, President Obama’s detractors want to find every opportunity to attack the Commander in Chief. At first, the naysayers charged that the White House was too slow to respond, too deferential to other nations and world bodies. Then the complaints from the usual chorus morphed into an attack on the President for involving the United States in this international fight. This was pure criticism for the sake of criticism.”

In 2018, after popular uprisings forced the US-backed Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front from power, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in Ethiopia and, within a matter of months, signed a peace agreement with Eritrea to end a decades-long conflict between Eritrea and the TPLF-led government, which hoped to expand Ethiopia’s borders into Eritrea. Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize, and Karen Bass and Ilhan Omar, the Vice Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, traveled to Ethiopia and Eritrea to congratulate Abiy and see the new Ethiopia. Karen Bass, however, reported scolding the Eritrean government about human rights, freedom of the press and all the usual Western complaints against “the Cuba of Africa.”

After the TPLF attacked Ethiopia’s Northern Command Base, starting a civil war, Bass and Ilhan Omar both turned against Ethiopia in threatening, interventionist tones.

On April 27, both voted to pass H.R. 7311 – Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act , along with all the rest of the House Democrats and all but nine Republicans . H.R. 7311 directs the executive branch to bully African nations with sanctions and withdrawal of foreign aid if they get too close to Russia, and to “invest in, engage, or otherwise control strategic sectors in Africa, such as mining and other forms of natural resource exploitation.”

In a meeting with members of the Ethiopian diaspora, many of whom are concentrated in LA’s “Little Ethiopia ,” some queried her about 7311. She responded, “Is that the Russian one?” and said she didn’t know much about it. She is, however, one of the bill’s original co-sponsors , having signed on, along with Michael T. McCaul, R-TX, and Christopher Smith, R-NJ, on March 31st.

Mayor Karen Bass?

As I said at the beginning, there’s little doubt that Karen Bass will be LA’s next mayor, but what sort of mayor will she be? Both she and Caruso are running on homelessness—a crisis in Los Angeles—first and foremost. Bass has said she’s returning home because the house is on fire, and homelessness has become “a full-blown humanitarian emergency.”

How she might address this and other problems Angelenos are facing will be taken up next week in Part II of this profile.

Ann Garrison is a Black Agenda Report Contributing Editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at ann(at)

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