Friday, August 7, 2009

Peace through superior firepower--the new Clinton/Obama doctrine?

It is particulary bemusing (although not at all amusing) to watch the Obama administration extend and expand the Bushco program of military interventionism into new global fields.

Now we are admitting that we have been fueling the fighting in Somalia with shipments of weapons for a couple of months, and intend to increase our involvement:

Hillary Clinton pledged US military and other support for Somalia’s besieged transitional Government, and warned nearby Eritrea that it would take action if it does not stop supporting Islamist insurgents terrorising the war-torn nation.

Speaking after a meeting with Somalia’s President in Nairobi, the US Secretary of State said that the actions of Eritrea, which is widely accused of supporting the militant group al-Shabaab with arms and money, were “unacceptable”. Eritrea’s Government denies the accusations. “It is long past time for Eritrea to cease and desist its support for al-Shabaab,” she said....

In June the US admitted that it had sent a shipment of 40 tonnes of arms and ammunition to Mr Ahmed’s forces. Mrs Clinton said: “We will continue to provide equipment and training as well as humanitarian assistance to the Somali people.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a State Department official in Washington said that President Obama’s Administration planned to double its supply of arms and ammunition to Somalia to 80 tonnes.

The insanity here is that we're claiming to support Ahmed because he is fighting to secure Somalia against the al-Shabaab jihadist group [with links to Al Qaeda] that is being in turn supported by Eritrea [at least if you believe our assertions; Eritrea denies this].

In reality, however, as the Chairman of the United Islamic Courts of southern Somalia, Mr. Ahmed was once the military enemy of the United States--at least by extension:

Mr Ahmed and others then began campaigning to combat the crime and banditry rampant in the poor neighbourhoods of north Mogadishu.

The five branches of the Islamic courts united to form the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and Mr Ahmed, who comes from a long line of religious leaders, was chosen to become the chairman.

The UIC rose to take control of the capital and large parts of south and central Somalia, driving out a US-backed alliance of "anti-terrorism" warlords from Mogadishu.

During their six months in power, the Islamic courts were divided between moderates and hardliners, with Mr Ahmed viewed as the moderate leader.

The UIC was itself ousted in December 2006 by an Ethiopian-led force.

It is well worth reading this editorial in the Arab News, which minces no words about the gravity of the situation in Somali, to understand the perception that--Barack Obama's personal image aside--nothing much has changed in US conduct around the world:

There is no doubt that if Al-Shabab were to establish themselves in control of the country, it would be disastrous for Somalis. They detest its extremism and thuggery. As in Afghanistan when the Taleban ruled and hundreds of thousands of Afghans fled the brutality of its twisted version of Islam, even greater numbers of Somalis have fled their homeland, not just to escape the fighting and the chaos but also out of fear of the militants.

A triumphant Al-Shabab regime would be terrifying for the world. Its tentacles spread far, as shown by the arrest in Australia last week of five men linked to it and accused of planning a major terror attack there. The world would not sit quiet in such a situation. Somalia under Al-Shabab would be an Al-Qaeda client state, intent on spreading terror abroad, especially to other Muslim states, not least Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has been a principal target of Al-Qaeda. Why would it not be a target of Al-Qaeda’s Somali minions?

And yet....

Nonetheless, despite all this and despite Somalia’s desperate need for a stable government that truly reflects the views of Somalis, there has to be no small amount of concern at the way the US is responding to events.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after meeting with President Ahmed in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Thursday, said that the US will “take action” against Eritrea if it does not stop supporting the militants. Red warning lights start flashing with this sort of language. Is America threatening military action against Eritrea? Surely it has enough on its hands with Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if the action Clinton has in mind is merely diplomatic — adding it to its list of terror states and trying to blacklist it — this could backfire badly. It could easily be made to seem like a case of the US bullying a small, defenseless African state that is an easy target, unlike Iran or North Korea. In any event, will it work? With the president being a cult figure, its suspicion of the rest of the world, and its quasi-Stalinist one-party rigidly controlled system, Eritrea is increasingly seen as the North Korea of Africa; American threats will only increase its already evident paranoia. That will only destabilize the region even more.

In the meantime, Somalia is also infested with private security contractors who are playing an increasing if unspecified role in national governance, and even the resident African Union and UN peace-keeping forces are dependent upon private logistical companies to maintain themselves in country.

So here are the elements of the generally consistent Bush/Obama/Gates/Clinton foreign policy:

1) Unilateralism: NATO didn't decide to ship weapons to the Ahmed government, nor did the UN--just us--I mean US.

2) Expediency: Mr. Ahmed was our enemy until expediency required him to be our ally; likewise with the warlords in Mogadishu who used to enjoy our support.

3) Threats: in a regional squabble, without even really understanding the players or the motivations, we barge in and threaten Eritrea [that's really worked so well for us in Korea and Iran, eh?].

4) Deniablity: seeding the area with private security companies that are at once at the beck and call of the State Department while simultaneously able to be cut adrift when shit happens [cue the Mission Impossible theme].

5) Secrecy: when did the Obama administration plan to tell us that--while in the midst of deepening our fiscal, military, and diplomatic involvement in the Afghan-Pakistan theater of war, the decisi6on had been taken to escalate the confict in Somalia?

6) Insanity: we are supporting a transitional government that we like because it is slightly less radical than the alternative, despite the fact that al-Shabaab controls about half the country, including most of the capital city:

Mrs Clinton praised Sheikh Sharif Ahmed for his Government’s fight against al-Shabaab, which holds sway in much of south and central Somalia, including most of the capital, Mogadishu.

Here's a fairly recent map of the provinces held by al-Shabaab:

Yeah: we've certainly entered into a new foreign policy era. Robert McNamara would be so proud.

I know it makes some of our local fans proud: Hillary Clinton as the best Secretary of State ever?

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