The Bush administration, undeterred by the horrors and setbacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, has opened another battlefront in this oil-rich quarter of the Muslim world.
By Salim Lone
The stability that emerged in southern Somalia after 16 years of utter lawlessness is gone, the defeat of the ruling Islamic Courts Union now ushering in looting, martial law and the prospect of another major anti-Western insurgency. Clan warlords, who terrorized Somalia until they were driven out by the Islamists, and who were put back in power by the U.S.-backed and -trained Ethiopian army, have begun carving up the country once again.
With these developments, the Bush administration, undeterred by the horrors and setbacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, has opened another battlefront in this volatile quarter of the Muslim world. As with Iraq, it casts this illegal war as a way to curtail terrorism, but its real goal appears to be to obtain a direct foothold in a highly strategic area of the world through a client regime. The results could destabilize the whole region.
The Horn of Africa, at whose core Somalia lies, is newly oil-rich. It is also just miles across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, overlooking the daily passage of large numbers of oil tankers and warships through that waterway. The United States has a huge military base in neighboring Djibouti that is being enlarged substantially and will become the headquarters of a new U.S. military command being created specifically for Africa. As evidence of the area's importance, Gen. John Abizaid, the military commander of the region, visited Ethiopia recently to discuss Somalia, while Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Horn countries a few months ago in search of oil and trade agreements.
The current series of events began with the rise of the Islamic Courts more than a year ago. The Islamists avoided large-scale violence in defeating the warlords, who had held sway in Somalia ever since they drove out U.N. peacekeepers by killing eighteen American soldiers in 1993, by rallying people to their side through establishing law and order. Washington was wary, fearing their possible support for terrorists. While they have denied any such intentions, some Islamists do have terrorist ties, but these have been vastly overstated in the West.
Washington, however, chose to view the situation only through the prism of its "war on terror." The Bush administration supported the warlords -- in violation of a U.N. arms embargo it helped impose on Somalia many years ago -- indirectly funneling them arms and suitcases filled with dollars.
Many of these warlords were part of the Western-supported transitional "government" that had been organized in Kenya in 2004. But the "government" was so devoid of internal support that even after two years it was unable to move beyond the small western town of Baidoa, where it had settled. In the end, it was forced to turn to Somalia's archenemy Ethiopia for assistance in holding on even to Baidoa. Again in violation of the U.N. arms embargo, Ethiopia sent 15,000 troops to Somalia. Their arrival eroded whatever domestic credibility the government might have had.