Thursday, September 13, 2007

Our Proxy's Proxy

When reading last month of how the Somali/Ethiopian alliance was planning on building their own version of the "Green Zone" in Mogadishu, it reminded me - yet again - about the effusive praise that conservative pundits were heaping on Ethiopia's counterinsurgency prowess back when they began their US-assisted invasion of Somalia. Conservatives were delighted that the Ethiopians were going to teach the US how to defeat an insurgency (via unrestrained brutality, disregard for civilian casualties, and control of the dread media). Turns out, it is we the students who have become the teachers:
The Somali government is trying to create a Baghdad-style safe "Green Zone" in Mogadishu to protect senior officials and foreign visitors from insurgent attacks, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said on Tuesday.

"At the moment, the government security agencies are trying to create a Green Zone where international community workers, and those vulnerable, can stay for their security purposes," he said, without giving more details.

"I hope that we will achieve positive results very soon."
Well, it's been such a smashing success in Baghdad that there's little doubt that Green Zone 2.0 will do the trick in Somalia. Speaking of which, Rob Farley has a good piece on our continued fumbling in the region. Here is a brief sketch of some of the recent developments:
Somali Islamists and opposition leaders meeting in Eritrea have joined forces in a new alliance to overthrow Somalia's transitional government. More than 300 delegates, including Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, have approved a constitution and central committee.

A spokesman said the new movement will be called The Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia. It aims to remove the Ethiopian-backed government by negotiation - or war...
The right way to assess this nascent alliance between Eritrea and certain of Somalia's Islamist groups would be to recognize that Eritrea and Ethiopia are regional rivals, as are Ethiopia and Somalia. The tripartite have been in various states of war for many decades (and currently, our Ethiopian ally is in violation of a UN brokered border agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia). Thus, it would be a perfectly rational bit of regional politics for Eritrea to assist Ethiopia's enemies. Ethiopia, after all, assists Eritrea's enemies and has territorial ambitions that include the formerly colonized Eritrea. In fact, the entire Horn of Africa is a swirling mobile of cross-border interference, proxies and stoked rebellions with the various states vying for regional hegemony, or fighting off such bids from their adversaries.

Obviously, Ethiopia and its Somali allies will feel the need to counter Eritrea's gambit. As they have learned, however, there is a new and easy way to enlist the support of the great enforcer, the United States: By once again, invoking the specter of al-Qaeda and hinting at your enemy's (Eritrea in this instance) alliance therewith. Keep in mind, however, that Eritrea was a member of the Coalition of the Willing during the Iraq invasion (and thereafter), and is roughly 50% Christian. Granted, Eritrea wasn't exactly sacrificing immensely as a COW member, but still, it's hardly a natural fit for a state sponsor of al-Qaeda, and should not be viewed as a necessary enemy of the United States.

Surely the Bush administration recognizes, then, that there are other forces at play; that a former member of the COW wouldn't just flip 180 degrees and become a jihadist state relatively overnight. There is an attempted manipulation of the situation by interested parties that should be apparent given the underlying context and history. The objectives that Eritrea is pursuing have nothing to do with sponsoring al-Qaeda. So the Bush team will reject this ploy, right? That's not entirely clear, but the signs aren't overly encouraging:
The US has issued Eritrea with its strongest warning yet over its alleged support for terrorism. A senior US official said the presence of an exiled Somali Islamist leader in Asmara this week was further evidence Eritrea gave sanctuary to terrorists.

The gathering of further intelligence could lead to Eritrea being named as a state sponsor of terrorism - followed by sanctions, the official said....What had got her government's attention was Eritrea's actions to destabilise other countries in the Horn of Africa and, in particular, evidence that they were harbouring terrorists.
This is the wrong approach on many levels. First of all, al-Qaeda's actual presence in the Somali Islamist movement has been exaggerated from the beginning (for obvious reasons). Further, our foreign policy outlook has become so monomaniacal and myopic, that we are increasingly susceptible to view highly complex, deeply rooted conflicts in terms of al-Qaeda's presence - real and imagined.

Worse still is the fact that after we apply our simplistic binary framework to figure out which is the "good" and which the "bad," we then adopt tactics that actually exacerbate the situation by augmenting the power and influence of the applicable radicals. We barge in with heavy firepower and get bogged down on the side of one faction in multifaceted, long-standing tribal conflicts. In the Horn, for example, we aligned ourselves with Somalia's long time enemy, Ethiopia, in connection with Ethiopia's brutal invasion and occupation - a campaign that has led to a massive refugee exodus and a return to the lawlessness that plagued Somalia previously.

In turn, we have increased radicalization amongst the Somali population, stoked anti-Americanism by voluntarily becoming the face of the invasion/occupation and pushed many formerly unaligned warlords into the hardline Islamist camp. Our only Somali allies are a group of warlords that are only moderately popular, and lack the strength to hold Mogadishu without foreign assistance. Meanwhile, we have done nothing to actually kill or capture the negligible al-Qaeda presence that justified the intervention in the first place.

Simply put, we have made more enemies in Somalia than we have neutralized. For little in return. Sound familiar? Now we are on the verge of making an enemy out of our former COW ally, Eritrea, because Eritrea is secretly "destabilizing" its neighbors. As if that is a particularly unique behavior for the states in the region. It's also ironic. We continue to assist Ethiopia in its invasion and occupation of Somalia even though Ethiopia's long term stated goal is to destabilize and weaken Somalia. Only the al-Qaeda embellishment can paper over this glaring inconsistency.

There is a better way to conduct foreign policy.

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