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U.S.–Made Mess in Somalia

The media often report overseas developments, but don’t always explore their underlying causes, which, in many cases, conveniently lets the U.S. government off the hook.
The media often report overseas developments, but don’t always explore their underlying causes, which, in many cases, conveniently lets the U.S. government off the hook. The recent internecine violence in Somalia provides a classic example.

The U.S. media have focused to date almost exclusively on the rising Islamist movement in Somalia and U.S. “covert” assistance to the Ethiopian invasion that supported Somalia’s transitional government against the stronger Islamists. The media should be focusing on one of the major causes of the Somali mess: U.S. government meddling.

After 9/11, the Bush administration feared that the absence of a strong government in the “failed state” of Somalia could turn the small east–African country—slightly smaller than Texas—into a haven for terrorists. The administration ignored the fact that other states with weak governments have not become sanctuaries for terrorists. Even if Somalia had become a terrorist enclave, the terrorists, absent some U.S. provocation, probably would not have attacked the faraway United States.

As a result of the administration’s unfounded fear, the United States began supporting unpopular warlords in the strife-torn nation. That’s when the real trouble began.

The radical Islamists in Somalia never had much following until the Somali people became aware that an outside power was supporting the corrupt and thuggish military chieftains. The popularity of the Islamist movement then surged, allowing the Islamists to take over much of the country. In sum, where no problem with radical Islamists previously existed, the U.S. government helped create one.

In many respects, the Somali episode is a replay of other horribly counterproductive past U.S. interventions. In the 1980s, for example, the U.S. government supported the radical Islamist Mujahadeen—then fighting the non–Muslim Soviet occupiers in Muslim Afghanistan—that metamorphosed into al Qaeda, which is now attacking the United States for its non–Muslim military presence in the Persian Gulf.

History followed a similar pattern in Iraq. The Bush administration justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq in part by al Qaeda’s alleged link to Saddam Hussein—a thug, to be sure, but one who had been wise enough, in reality, to support groups who didn’t focus their attacks on the United States. Now, in Iraq, where there were no anti–U.S. Islamic terrorists before, we have plenty to fight.

Somalia is the third example of the United States creating a potentially anti–U.S. Islamist threat where none previously existed. The U.S.–supported Ethiopian invasion weakened the Somali Islamists, but they are still fighting fiercely for control of Mogadishu, the capital. Like those in Iraq, all the Somali Islamists have to do is hang on until the foreign occupier gets exhausted and leaves. When that happens, the Islamists could very well become the dominant political force in the country, capitalizing on their “patriotic” resistance to the hated Ethiopian occupiers and their U.S. benefactors.

The U.S.–backed Ethiopians, already unpopular, have become even more despised as a result of their alleged indiscriminate shelling of Mogadishu’s civilian areas, which human rights groups are calling a war crime. Unlike the period when the Islamists controlled Mogadishu, the transitional government has been unable to keep order, undermining both its credibility and public support. As a result, many in Somalia see the period of Islamic rule as good days, and now long for its return.

And that’s probably what will happen. Like the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, whose recent good fortunes were brought about by continued foreign occupation of that country, we will likely see the Somali Islamists make a comeback.

U.S. experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia should teach foreign policy experts and the American public that U.S. meddling abroad is often counterproductive and dangerous. Yet the U.S. media help the U.S. government disguise these policy failures by failing to expose the underlying causes of violence, enabling the U.S. government to make the same mistakes over and over again.
--
Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
 
 

Comments

Re: U.S.–Made Mess in Somalia

i have a problem w/ eland's premises.

he writes [and i highlight]
The media should be focusing on one of the major causes of the Somali mess: U.S. government meddling

Somalia is the third example of the United States creating a potentially anti–U.S. Islamist threat where none previously existed. The U.S.–supported Ethiopian invasion weakened the Somali Islamists, but they are still fighting fiercely for control of Mogadishu, the capital. Like those in Iraq, all the Somali Islamists have to do is hang on until the foreign occupier gets exhausted and leaves. When that happens, the Islamists could very well become the dominant political force in the country, capitalizing on their “patriotic” resistance to the hated Ethiopian occupiers and their U.S. benefactors.

Yet the U.S. media help the U.S. government disguise these policy failures by failing to expose the underlying causes of violence, enabling the U.S. government to make the same mistakes over and over again


mr. eland is himself part of the problem. somalia's population is something like 99.9% muslim. tell me now, what political representation does he expect the somali constituency to have? and how does he see this as a potential threat to the u.s.? exactly whose eyes is he using to make this assessment?

the islamic courts union were NOT a radical islamic government authority. it was actually put into place thru the intervention of the business classes in somalia, as a solution to the then instable warlord state. and they brought stability & peace to the nation in the short six months they held power. those few elements who were deemed radical were not connected to "int'l terrorist organizations." specialists on terrorism in east africa generally agree on this. somalians & ethiopians have had a running animosity toward each other, largely residual from the unnatural boundaries drawn up in the colonization days.

the united states, via proxy, invaded somalia in december to destroy the courts & force an unpopular transitional govt, selected by foreign parties & dominated by a narrow clan interest (seeking control over future oil rents), upon the people of somalia. the u.s. had been training & equipping ethiopian forces for this very act for some time prior to december. this is not some foreign policy mistake or blunder or naive meddling. these are not mistakes. it is deliberate. it is a continuation of the reagan doctrine of using proxy armies to bring about regime change in govts that are not in the western camp([search]). and it's ironic that during reagan's regime, ethiopia was one of the countries targeted on its short list. meles zenawi was used in the coup then, and now, as a particularly venal authoritarian ruler of ethiopia, he is loyal to his western puppetmasters & openly lies to the world w/ the best of them. this is not to say that he doesn't also string the u.s. along.

but what i get from reading elan's piece is yet more of that rhetoric which presents the u.s. as being threatened by islamist governments around the world. it's a popular "progressive" view, that if only the dunderheads in office didn't stir up those crazy muslims, we'd be a lot safer.

folks, the really dangerous religious fundamentalists are easy to find, and we don't have to look across any ocean or national borders to spot them. classical & neoliberal alike.
 

Re: U.S.–Made Mess in Somalia

from the 11 april 2007 wayne madsen report

[excerpt]

The Post also lashes out at Eritrea for supporting Islamist "terrorists" in Somalia and lauds the efforts of Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer in threatening Eritrea with sanctions. What the Post will not tell its readers is that Frazer is a known supporter of American dictator clients from Rwanda's Paul Kagame, to Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, and Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi. The Post will not report that Frazer's close colleague in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, is U.S. Army Col. Richard Orth, the U.S. Defense Attache, whose resume includes logistics support for Kagame in the shoot down of the Rwandan presidential aircraft in 1994 (which has now earned top Rwandan government officials a criminal indictment from France) and subsequent U.S. military aid for his multiple invasions of Zaire/Congo. Genocide resulted from these covert operations. Orth was the Defense Attache in Rwanda during the onset of the Kagame regime and then he moved to Kampala, Uganda where he provided similar services for Museveni, including the destabilization of Sudan through support for the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which is now part of the coalition government in Khartoum under attack by U.S.-supported guerrillas operating from Ethiopia and Chad. This is largely Orth's and Frazer's handiwork. Although Frazer was officially with the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard during most of the Clinton administration, she worked closely with Orth and the Pentagon's and Defense Intelligence Agency's Africa bureaus.

So too are the three U.S. secret concentration camps now in Ethiopia. According to our Ethiopian opposition sources, the main camp([search]) is located at the Ethiopian airbase at Debre Zeit, near Addis Ababa. The two others are in the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia and in Tigre Province, which borders Eritrea in the north. Tigre is the home of the Ethiopian dictator Meles. The camps are housing detainees from 19 countries, including Sweden, France, and Canada and a number of Ethiopian opposition members, including ethnic Oromos, Ogadenis, and other minority groups.

On November 17-19, 2006, WMR reported the following on U.S. arming of Somali Islamists and Ethiopia: "The arming by the U.S. of both the Ethiopians and Somalis in preparation for war is nothing new. In fact, WMR and this editor has reported extensively on the past and current covert intelligence activities of the U.S. Defense Attache in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, U.S. Army Colonel Richard Orth. Described as the 'Oliver North of Africa' by a high-ranking French military intelligence officer who has served in Africa, Orth has coddled a number of U.S. dictators in Africa. He was present in Rwanda the day after U.S.-supplied surface-to-air missiles struck the Rwandan presidential aircraft on April 6, 1994, assassinating the Hutu presidents of Rwanda and Burundi and triggering Rwandan and Zairian/Congolese civil wars that took the lives of over 5 million Africans. Orth, as Defense Attache in Kigali, Rwanda, lorded over the transformation of that country from a French-speaking nation to a U.S. client state with English-speaking refugees from Uganda put in charge. Orth then proceeded to take over as U.S. Defense Attache in Uganda where he cemented the U.S. military presence in that nation. He then moved on to Addis Ababa where, as Defense Attache, he coddled the Meles dictatorship and helped prepare Ethiopia's incursion into Somalia, bolstered the U.S. military positions in Djibouti and Somaliland, tilted U.S. policy to favor Ethiopia in its border war with Eritrea, coordinated Horn of Africa intelligence activities with his Israeli counterpart in Addis Ababa, and helped plan past Ugandan military forays into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, southern Sudan, and the Central African Republic.

[/excerpt]
waynemadsenreport.com/
 

more

salim lone is back writing his column in nairobi after his recent trip to NYC

There are very good reasons for the world to emphasise the folly of the current enterprise. One is the high-level turnout at the Somali Diaspora Conference last weekend. Two prime ministers from the 2000-2004 Transitional National Government, which preceded the TFG, and numerous ministers and MPs from that period, as well as Baidoa MPs, who resigned in the last year attended.

The decision of all these leaders to unite with the Diaspora and the Islamic Courts Union, along with the internal resistance, poses an insurmountable challenge to the occupiers. Somalis will not abide an occupation, and if it continues, the US and Kenya will be forced to become even more directly involved.

The other factor pushing for a negotiated settlement is the very pragmatic decision of the ICU to forego regaining control of the country, as indicated to me by Prof Ibrahim Addou.

Even though the Courts were primarily a moderate Muslim union, the offspring of businessmen, they nevertheless were vilified in the build up to war as extremists.

They were not all angels, but they performed some remarkable miracles in bringing peace to most of Somalia and in driving out the warlords. They did not commit a single terrorist act. They made some miscalculations, but they were slated for destruction whatever they did, since the US and Ethiopia needed a client regime in Somalia, which the Courts were never going to be.

So the world stood by as a truly lawless invasion was mounted, involving not only Guantamo-type kidnappings, but violating also the UN Charter and three specific Security Council resolutions, including one on North Korea, all barring arms as well as neighbouring country troops from being sent to the country.

It is distressing in the extreme that the UN is silent on these breaches, and, in New York, I saw the spineless contortions of UN officials and spokesmen this week as they struggled to avoid commenting on war crimes that have been committed.

allafrica.com/stories/200704121055.html
 

more context

Ethiopia’s Invasion of Somalia
www.garoweonline.com/artman2/publish/Opinion_20/Ethiopia_s_Invasion_of_Somalia.shtml
There are many causal strands in the present conflagration of violence in Mogadishu, but the most obvious and the most regrettable is the external recognition that Abdillahi has been given by people who clearly have closed their minds to his lack of support within Somalia. One could say that it is only ignorance, but I am afraid that it is worse than that, it is wilful ignorance on the part of those whose democratic values seem not to be applied to the Horn of Africa. There is certainly no lack of ignorance within Somalia on how Abdillahi was appointed transitional president with massive Ethiopian support and how, with Ethiopian prompting, he chose as prime minister their candidate, a connection of Prime Minister Meles himself. These links to Addis Ababa underlie the Ethiopian invasion. Another obvious link is,of course, the loosely organised Islamic Courts whose unwisely bellicose threats to Ethiopia, were provoked by Abdillahi’s reliance on the Ethiopians. Thus, in Somali ears the uninformed chorus of EU approval appeared to embrace the supporting role of the Ethiopians and to attack the Islamists. It only remained for the Americans (for whom the Ethiopians acted locally) to enter the fray, inevitably against the Islamic Courts a tiny minority of whose leaders were actually extremists.



The Americans, of course, are equally ignorant of the really amazing achievements of the Islamists’ brief months in power in southern Somalia.The Courts, with their mostly humble and poorly educated local leaders, did more to restore order and social progress there than the US has done in Iraq in four years.


i disagree w/ that last assumption. destabilization & fragmentation is the name of the game in this intervention. a unified somalia, unified by players outside of the western orbit, was the threat.

even the propaganda outfit VOA cannot hide the reality that the GWOT rhetoric is bunk
Allegations of Al Qaida in Somalia Still Not Proven, Says Analyst
www.garoweonline.com/artman2/publish/Somalia_27/Allegations_of_Al_Qaida_in_Somalia_Still_Not_Proven_Says_Analyst.shtml

for a look at where the divide-and-conquer seam is currently focused, see
Ich Bin Ein Hawiye (I am a Hawiye Citizen)
www.garoweonline.com/artman2/publish/Opinion_20/Ich_Bin_Ein_Hawiye_I_am_a_Hawiye_Citizen.shtml
The rhetoric of the war on terror has no explanatory power of what is happening in Mogadishu today. There are of course international and regional dimensions to this war. There is Bush's global war on terror, and there is Meles Zenawi's subcontracted armed intervention in Somalia. But that is not why 1000 civilians who are exclusively of one Somali tribe were murdered in the streets of Mogadishu.

There have been sporadic battles fought between the remnants of the defeated Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and the Ethiopian forces ever since the Union of Islamic Courts was overpowered and roundly defeated by the Ethiopian Army in January of 2007. These night attacks of masked men were small and inconsequential.

From the time of the defeat of the UIC there were active negotiations between the Hawiye tribes on the one hand and the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) and the occupying Ethiopian Army on the other. The crucial issue of disarming the city was on the table. Hawiye elders expressed fear that they will be left unarmed and at the mercy of another tribe who may have revenge on its mind. It did not help at all that the Ethiopian installed Somali president brought with him to Mogadishu his own militia- a fiercely loyal, battle hardened and exclusively from the president tribe, the Darood. The Hawiye were suspicious to say the least given the bitter history.
 

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An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war.
-- Mark Twain
Source: "Glances at History" (suppressed)
 

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