Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What is the United States doing in Somalia?

The actions of the United States in Somalia during the past few weeks have seemed to catch most Americans off guard. Ethiopia invaded Somalia, which posed no threat to it, and toppled the government. Most Americans were not aware our government was giving full support to Ethiopia, the aggressor in this conflict, until reports came out regarding the involvement of U.S. military personnel in an attack against an Al Qaeda operative that resulted in the deaths of a large number of civilians.

Have the actions of the United States in Somalia made it a rogue state? John Judis addresses that question in the online edition of The New Republic:
What exactly are we doing in the Horn of Africa, where we have encouraged the Christian government of Ethiopia to invade Somalia and replace its Islamic government? As far as I can tell, we have violated international law, committed war crimes, helped Al Qaeda recruit new members, and involved ourselves in a guerrilla war that could last decades. It's Iraq writ small. And it can't be blamed on Donald Rumsfeld.

There's an old principle of international law, going back to the seventeenth century, against one nation violating the sovereignty of another. It was often breached, but, after two world wars, it was enshrined in the United Nations charter. We criticized the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia and justified the first Gulf war on these grounds. The purpose of this principle has been to prevent wars that could arise if more powerful countries simply took it into their hands to dominate smaller, less powerful ones.

Of course, when one nation attacks another, the other can respond. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and the overthrow of the Taliban regime, was justified on those grounds. The Taliban weren't simply sheltering Al Qaeda; they were in league with them and had become dependent upon them. To justify its invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration invented an imminent threat from Saddam Hussein's regime. It was pure artifice--remember the drones bearing nuclear weapons headed for our shores--but the very fact that the Bush administration felt it had to resort to deception meant that it understood that a certain principle of international relations was at stake.

But, last month, the Bush administration actively supported Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia. It provided money, advisers, and, finally, U.S. warplanes. And there was no justification for Ethiopia's invasion. It was a clear violation of the U.N. charter. The neighboring people have been feuding for centuries, but Ethiopia's Christian government could not cite a significant provocation for its attack on the Muslim country and its Islamic government. If anything, Ethiopia's invasion closely resembled Iraq's invasion in August 1990 of Kuwait. But, instead of criticizing the Ethiopians, the United States applauded and aided them.

The administration claimed that, in supporting Ethiopia, it was fighting the ubiquitous "war on terrorism." According to The New York Times, administration officials even held out the Ethiopia invasion as a model of how it would prosecute the war on terrorism by proxy. By this account, Somalia was Afghanistan, and its Islamic Courts Union government was the Taliban. But the analogy does not hold up. The United States claimed that the Islamic Courts government, which took power last summer, was harboring three Al Qaeda fugitives. But the Al Qaeda members had been in Somalia well before the Islamic Courts took power. They were not part of the government. And Al Qaeda itself did not have training camps in Somalia. Somalia was less like Afghanistan than Pakistan, which, according to outgoing National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, is also home to Al Qaeda members.

With the ouster of the Islamic Courts, the warlords are likely to return to power. Somalia will probably be plunged into another guerrilla war, as the Islamists try to retake power. And the United States will once again ally with these warlords and with a weak, corrupt regime. … And who will benefit from American intervention? Al Qaeda, which will be able to draw up another recruiting poster from the American-sponsored invasion of a Muslim country. Al Qaeda will be able to point, in particular, to U.S. airstrikes that claimed to target Al Qaeda but instead killed scores of innocent civilians.

That's what happened on January 7 and 8 in Somali border towns; the United States claimed its bombs were intended to kill an Al Qaeda operative supposedly connected to the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. But he was not among the victims; nor were other Al Qaeda members. Then reports began trickling in of civilian deaths from the AC-130 gunships that the United States supposedly sent to hunt down the single terrorist. According to Oxfam, the dead included 70 nomads who were searching for water sources. The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, estimated that 100 were wounded in an attack on Ras Kamboni, a fishing village near the Kenyan border. … It's a war crime to kill civilians indiscriminately.

In the 1990s, foreign policy experts, eager to identify a new enemy, hit upon the concept of a "rogue state." A rogue state operated outside the bounds of international norms and had to be restrained. The obvious candidates at the time were Libya, Iraq, and North Korea. But the Bush administration has turned the United States itself into a rogue state. Tough-minded conservatives, flexing their "muscular" inclinations from comfortable sinecures in Washington, may dismiss concerns about international law and war crimes as inventions of silly panty-waist liberals. But these inventions, which, in the modern era, were championed by Theodore Roosevelt, were meant to protect Americans as well as other peoples from the wars and the inhumanity that prevailed for thousands of years. We ignore them at their peril, whether in Haditha or Ras Kamboni.

1 comment:

Bill Baar said...

Oddly, this is the price of Democrats uncoupling IRAQ from the GWOT. CENTCOM has had a tab and extensive coverage on Combined Task Force Horn of Africa for a long long time.

No one pays attention to it because it doesn't fit the Iraq-is-a-quaqmire frame so it's ignored.

Just like people who ignored the Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998 and then argue the administration was plotting the overthrow of Iraq pre-911.... well of course we were, by act-of-congress; and probably would have had Clinton not goofed it all up.