Shifting Policy or a Face-saving Gimmick, Somalia Cannot be Ignored

By all standards, the situation unfolding in Somalia is horrifically grim, and according to the UN, it is the worst crisis in Africa; worse than the crisis in Darfur that outraged the world’s conscience in an unprecedented way.

However, unlike Darfur, Washington has a role in the creation of this massive humanitarian crisis and therefore must have a role in rectifying it.

As Washington was claiming to care about winning the “hearts and minds of the Muslim world” in order to curb the ubiquitous Anti-Americanism around the world, it was stubbornly pursuing that same ill-tempered foreign policy that considers all
“Islamists”– euphemistically understood as all Muslims who believe that their religion is a comprehensive way of life– potential enemies; that same policy that has proven miserable failure everywhere it was implemented.

As a result, creepily emerging in the past few months was the nightmare scenario that many analysts warned against as John Bolton, the US Ambassador to the UN, in his last days, aggressively pushed for resolutions that would ultimately pave the way for Ethiopia to invade its neighboring Somalia under the pretext of a preemptive war to protect its national security and contain “the spread of terrorism”.

And as the mainstream media can no longer disregard the magnitude of the human suffering in that part of the world, graphic pictures of the grisly effects of a callously ignored preventable violence and starvation are making their way to the living rooms of millions of household- an ominous reminiscence of early 1990s.

Civilians fleeing Mogadishu’s brutal violence have reached one million in number- half of the city’s population. These civilians are mainly women and children. And because they cannot cross over to neighboring countries for safe haven since the boarders have been closed for almost a year, they became IDPs (Internally Displaced People). These separate IDPs are deprived of food as almost all aid agencies have pulled out when they found the continuous harassment by the Transition Federal Government (TFG) and the Ethiopian occupation forces unbearable. As a result, “malnutrition rates (is) now reaching 20% among the under 5, way over the UN emergency thresholds”.

Pope Benedict XVI urged global intervention to help end the violence and starvation.
"I am anxiously following developments and I call on those who have political responsibilities on the local and international levels to seek peaceful solutions that can bring relief to these people," said the Pontiff. A week earlier, the European Union passed a resolution that "strongly condemns the serious violations of human rights committed by all parties to the conflict” and called for "an independent panel to investigate war crimes and human rights violations”.

Accordingly, these turn of events have compelled Washington to dash for public relations damage control.

The State Department issued a written statement urging all parties in the Somali conflict to “ensure unfettered delivery of humanitarian aid to those affected,” and added that the United States will “remain committed to resolving the ongoing political and humanitarian crisis in Somalia,” something that Washington has given adequate lip-service in the past as it stayed on course, following the same foreign policy blueprint.

However, in an interview with Voice of America, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, stunned Washington’s critics by asserting that “the surge in violence in Mogadishu is shared by political extremists as well as forces of the country’s transitional government and the Ethiopian troops…”. She also added that
“…it is time for Somali moderates to come forward and work to end chronic violence”.

Is this a declaration of policy change? Or perhaps another preemptive strike aimed to create the impression of positive change that would in turn create media echo effect that would shape a favorable public opinion?

Unfortunately, the statement, while it may have raised curiosity in certain circles, rings a bit hollow to those who have been following closely Washington’s deadly enterprise in Somalia.

If the statement, especially the phrase “Somali moderates”, is a euphemism for those who would blindly embark on Washington’s haphazard engagement in Somalia (by proxy or otherwise), disenchantment will inevitably ensue. Why? You guessed it: Washington’s credibility-deficient foreign policy with its unenviable track record, especially in the Islamic world.

However, if Dr. Frazer’s statement, which was unique in tone and aspiration, was a genuine attempt to indicate Washington’s paradigm shift; that it finally came to the realization that the US long-term strategic interest in the region and that of Ethiopia are running in a collision course, then the State Department ought to recognize that it needs to do some plowing before it can harvest any thing.

Washington’s image has been steadily eroding since spring 2006 when ‘Operation Dung beetle,’ a CIA covert operation that financed some of the most brutal warlords to hound after the Islamic courts became public news. This subsequently led to the June 2006 popular uprising that firmly established the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and chased the despised warlords out of Mogadishu.

The courts ruled for 6 months that is described as the most peaceful period that war-torn Somalia has known since the civil war erupted in 1991. Washington viewed this as a threat and ill-advisedly opted to support the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia which, in due course, led to the humanitarian and political mayhem at hand.

There are various reports indicating that the courts had a radical element, but this element was at the fringes of the decision-making process. It was the much broader moderate base within the ICU that had the popular support. And it was clearly this latter group that made ‘reaching out to the international community with an olive branch’ its first priority, and agreed to hold face-to-face talks with the TFG until the provocatively expanding Ethiopian military presence has disrupted the process, causing the political rhetoric to heat up, thus setting the stage for the radical element to step to the front and aggressively make its first deadly move.

Despite that ill-starred backdrop, Washington still has a chance to rectify its wrongs and play a constructive role in helping stop the brutal bloodletting in Somalia by pulling the plug on the Ethiopian occupation and initiating through the UN Security Council a resolution that would replace them with UN forces instead of the mirage of the African Union forces. Similar points was argued by Sadia Ali Aden, president of the Somali Diaspora Network (a group that this author is associated with), in an on-line debate hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations a few months ago.

“By no means is Washington’s record immaculate. However, the two nations direly need each other to save one another” said Ms. Aden.