My good friend "Joseph Peter" had some important things to say about my recent post listing Ten Things I thought the U.S. should or should NOT do about Somalia (the list was contained in my post entitled, somewhat foolishly, "Speak for Yourself, John Alden"). "Joseph Peter" is in fact Joseph Peter Drennan, a distinguished lawyer, legal scholar, and specialist on international legal affairs. To make sure as many people have a chance to read it as possible, I'm reposting his fascinating and trenchant comments here.
To state the obvious, the increase in violence and chaos in Mogadishu and the ominous reports of attacks directed towards journalists covering the conflict there, that have accompanied the decampment of the putative Transitional Federal Government("TFG") from its redoubt in Baidoa to Mogadishu, augur poorly for the prospects of the TFG, and portend a protracted conflict there, with a further increase in the already alarming level of death and destruction for the long suffering Somali people. When we contrast this misery and bloodshed with the brief period of relative calm and order in Mogadishu and its environs, in 2006, during the interregnum following the ouster of the warlords from Mogadishu by the Islamic Courts Union ("ICU"), and before Ethiopia's military invasion of Somalia to overthrow the ICU and install the TFG, we are compelled to analyze the role of the United States Government in fomenting this shambolic state of affairs in Somalia, if we are to harbor any realistic hope that the United States can change its disastrous policies that have contributed to the unfolding catastrophe on the Horn of Africa.
Although it is true that the ICU imposed Sharia law, the ICU was remarkably successful in banishing from Mogadishu the murderous and thuggish militiamen of the warlords who had held the good people of Mogadishu in a veritable state of terror for well over a decade and a half. In this context, Sharia represented a considerable improvement over the earlier lawless enviroment of a patchwork of militias commiting crimes and running rackets in what was, essentially, a lawless metropolis of over three million people.
The initial question to be raised about the recent role played by the United States is this: what is the taproot of the Zeitgeist that has caused the United States to follow such a benighted course?
[Please continue reading Joseph Peter's comment by clicking on "Read more!" below.]
My efforts to answer this question lead me, ineluctably, to an article penned by Harvard University Professor Samuel P. Huntington entitled "The Clash of Civilizations?", that appeared in the Summer of 1993 issue of the scholarly journal Foreign Affairs, in which future conflicts were envisaged, essentially, as a long, ideological struggle between, as the late Professor Edward Said summed it up, in 2001, in the aftermath of the terrible events of 11 September, "[t]he basic paradigm of West versus the rest(the cold war opposition reformulated)."
In the popular construct of Professor Huntington's proverbial "Clash of Civilizations," Islam is seen as the enemy of the Christian West. Putting aside the utter ignorance displayed by such a simplistic view, it becomes a particularly dangerous mindset in the face of the security challenges posed by the attacks on the American homeland on the 11th of September 2001.
The embrace of Professor Huntington's "vision" by the so-called neoconservative policymakers, who, apparently, still rule the roost in the White House these days, has had disastrous implications for American foreign policy in the Middle East. We need look no further than the fiasco in Iraq to see that. In this context, it is not at all bold to state that the incipient American misadventure in abetting Christian Ethiopia's efforts to create a vassal state in neighboring Moslem Somalia, holds the potential to cause as much, if not more, damage to American interests and prestige over the long term as that caused by the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Just as the realpolitik of the Cold War caused the Reagan Administration, in the 1980s, to favor the authoritarian regime of Siad Barre, in Somalia over the then Marxist regime in Addas Ababa, led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, in order, as it were, to check Soviet influence in the Horn of Africa, and, concomitantly, to obtain port access to deal with the threat posed by the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the current involvement of the United States on the Horn of Africa appears to have arisen from the notion, dubious though it is, that Somalia is but the latest front in the amorphous "War on Terror." Just as the invasion of Iraq has been touted by its supporters with the specious and inane clarion call that we must take on and kill "the terrorists" there so that we don't have to fight them here, the same is said to be true with regard to Somalia.
It might be said that the tilt of the United States towards Somalia in the 1980s achieved its stated objectives, even if the armaments provided to the Barre regime fell into the hands of the Somali warlords and, hence, increased the lethality of the clan conflict that ensued following the collapse of the Barre regime and persists to the present. However, the same cannot be said about the current conflict in Somalia. Instead of remediating the anarchy and chaos that could be the incubator for future terrorists, the deteriorating security situation in Mogadishu actually appears to have made matters worse, setting the stage for a widening of the conflict, just as the invasion of Iraq has actually created a veritable cauldron of violence and hatred of the West in Mesopotamia that is breeding instability and terrorism there that could soon engulf the entire region.
However, what makes the situation in Somalia potentially worse than that in Iraq is that, whereas the involvement of the United States in Iraq has apparently unleashed a civil war among Arab Sunni Moslems, Kurdish Sunni Moslems and Shi'ite Moslems, the meddling in Somalia, especially the tacit U.S. backing of an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia could, conceivably, be a rallying cry for extremists throughout the Moslem world who seek, wrongly, to portray the United States as a Christian nation with a crusader-like penchant to attack and destroy Islam. This is certainly an incendiary issue, and it is striking how the press and policymakers in the United States appear to have been oblivious to the ominous implications of American interference in Somalia.
Before addressing the fundamental questions of the efficacy and morality of the current American strategy on the Horn of Africa, if it can be assumed that the current efforts of the United States to influence, if not ordain, events in Somalia represents a coherent plan at all, as opposed to a succession of disparate blunders, we need to focus on the flawed premise of the thinking that appears to inform such strategy, namely, that any movement to impose Sharia, anywhere, is an effort to create a haven for al-Qaida extremists that, ultimately, would pose a gathering threat to the United States homeland, or so the thinking goes. Put another way, the ICU sought to impose Sharia; ergo, the ICU, somehow, represents a threat to the West, specifically, the United States, and, therefore, the ICU must be vanquished.
To be sure, in June of 2006, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazier, foreshadowed American efforts to topple the ICU by contending that the ICU was sheltering three suspects implicated in the 1998 East African embassy bombings and the 2002 Mombasa hotel bombing, and, since the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, in December of 2006, approving commentaries from the State Department have, typically, been accompanied by reference to the three terrorist suspects said to be sheltered by the ICU in Somalia. However, what has by and large gone unsaid is that none of the suspects is Somali (one is said to be from the Comoros Islands, another is said to be a Kenyan and the third is said to be Sudanese), much less how three foreigners said to be marauding in Somalia could ever, possibly, pose any credible threat to the United States, either in the near term or else over the long term. Moreover, there appears to have been precious little consideration of the dearth of evidence of significant Islamic extremism in the ICU, and even less of the incompatibility of Islamic extremism with Islam as practiced by Somalis.
Instead, for six months or so leading up to the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia the pronouncements from the Bush Administration about the ICU were suffused with a steady drumbeat about the three terrorist suspects supposedly harbored by the ICU, the clear implication being that the ICU is a terrorist organization that must be destroyed. It did not pass unnoticed in the region that, in the lead up to the invasion, virtually nothing was said by the Administration concerning the significant abuses of human rights by the Ethiopian regime.
Even more incongruous, and palpably absurd to boot, was the notion advanced by many inside the Administration, that the ICU was on the road to imposing an astringent, Taliban-like regime on Somalia.
That Wahhabisim (Salafism) has only appeared to have generated a negligible toehold in Somalia among a few fanatical followers in the Northern Somali city of Bosaso, and among far fewer souls on the radical fringe of the ICU in Mogadishu, has passed virtually unnoticed among those who have demonized wholesale the ICU. In a sense, calling Somalia under the ICU an "al-Qaida haven" is akin to branding France as racist merely because the execrable Jean-Marie Le Pen and his Front National political party enjoy some modest support at the margins of French politics.
Even if it could be said that there exists some sort of diffuse security threat in Somalia, arising from the fact that three dangerous fugitives are said to remain at large there, the known military operations of the United States military in the region seem to be grotesquely disproportionate, with operations conducted by the U.S.S. Eisenhower aircraft carrier conducting operations off the coast, in conjunction with C-130 gunship raids conducted out of a base in Djibouti.
Whereas American policy towards Somalia in the latter stages of the Cold War may have had some defensible basis in fact, the efforts of the neoconservatives to crush the ICU appear to be utterly indefensible. Indeed, the analogy of using an elephant to swat a flea seems like an understatement here. Worse still, such efforts, if not soon reversed, may well bring about exactly the opposite result to that intended, namely, an increase in support among Somalis, to say nothing of other Moslems across the globe, for the sort of quasi-religious extremism and terrorism that has, hitherto been antithetical to Somali sensibilities.
Whither the professed aims of recent American meddling in the strife that has so bedeviled the Somali people over the past twenty-five years, and the effectiveness, or, more aptly, ineffectiveness, of such hamhanded efforts, there remains an overriding series of profound legal and moral questions that come to mind, a few of which are set forth here, to-wit:
- As I queried in one of my earlier postings on this topic, where is the Congresssional authorization for the President to wage war in Somalia? (phrased differently: can the President simply use the putative justification of the "War on Terror" to conduct military operations anywhere, without Congressional authorization?);
- Is it justifiable to cause degradation and loss of life on a massive scale to a society and a culture in an effort to apprehend three fugitives who do not pose an imminent threat to the safety and well-being of the United States?
- And, as I also mentioned in one of my earlier postings: has any thought been given to the implications of casually equating Islam with extremism? (put another way: Isn't the wholesale demonization of Islam because of the poisonous perversion of Islam by Osama bin Laden and his followers akin to condemning Christianity because of the heresies of David Koresh and the Rev. Jim Jones?).
Moving beyond the issues of the misunderstanding of Somalia and Islam that has so hampered American judgment about what is at stake in Somalia, and has contributed to the flawed execution of our policy there, to say nothing of the legal and moral questions raised by our involvement there, we need to address the appropriate steps to be undertaken in order to restore American credibility and honor in the region, as well as to help the Somali people to find the peace and stability that has eluded them for far too long. Here,I am obliged to defer to the ten excellent suggestions about what to do, and what not to do, about Somalia, that were posted on 8 March 2007, by the Honorable Trusten Frank Crigler, former Ambassador of the United States to Somalia (1987-1990), as I find myself unable to improve on his erudition and wisdom as to the best pathway for the United States to follow. [The list is posted here for easy reference.] . . . .
The Somalis are a resilient people with a rich and vibrant culture, and they are deserving of our assistance and understanding as they struggle to resolve and reconcile their differences, our own past disagreements with them notwithstanding. They are also deserving of our respect. What they do not need is the sort of arrogance, callousness, dismissiveness and belligerency that has been meted out to them in an ill-begotten "War on Terror", as this brusque treatment of a proud, if troubled, people can only serve to exacerbate their troubles and insecurity, and our own as well.
Joseph Peter Drennan