Tuesday, January 16, 2007

America's Role in Somalia

In an opinion piece in today's Christian Science Monitor, Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democratic Senator concedes "Ethiopia may have won a tactical success in Somalia," but he contends that Ethiopia has "failed to deliver a strategic victory because no one – not the international community, or Ethiopia itself – was prepared for the consequences." He talks about his recent meeting with Meles Zenawi and suggests three concrete steps the US Government needs to take to bring stability to Somalia and the Horn of Africa region. I endorse his assessment and recommendations. Please find the article here.


Anonymous said...

All fine and well, but let's not forget that without that maligned "tactical victory" the question of strategy would never have arisen in the first place.

Nobody anywhere was hitherto interested in messing with the Somali situation or coming up with a comprehensive -- as well as costly, and this not only in treasure -- long-term reconstruction strategy. No surprise really, given the Somali history of the past decades. It's only once the US gets involved that people discover their compassion for the Somalis and begin to clamor about the need for "constructive measures" and military solutions not being the answer. But nobody cared when the Somali Islamists domestically imposed their military solution.

Does the world owe anything to Somalis? Hard to argue, in my view, given their record. If they become a problem, crush them. Live by the sword, die by the sword. If you want to do more, want to "help", fine. But that's not something the Somalis deserve, rather its an entirely volutary extra than can always be withdrawn. And both things should be made very clear to Somalis.

Really, I'm sick and tired of the therapeutic approach to each and every barbarian, especially those of the Islamofascist persuasion.

Find it a bit harsh? Well yes, but what's wrong with that? Are the a**holes the only ones entitled to paasionate views, while we, the good guys, always have to be aseptic to the point of self-denial?

On top of that, victory and the crushing of your barbarian enemy -- if needed repeatedly -- hasn't been tried as a strategy in a long time. Who knows, it might impart the necessary lessons much more effectively on some folks than phony, incessant "dialog".

Regards, Michael

enset said...

Thanks for the feedback, Michael. I see merit in your argument that people like Senator Feingold weren't as interested in helping the Somalis resolve their problems until the Bush Administration decided to get into action in Somalia, covertly last year and overtly this year. I do think that both Republican and Democratic Administrations since 1993 are equally to blame for neglecting Somalia in the aftermath of the incident that was immortalized by the Black Hawk Down movie. But I beg to differ with your premise that the world does not owe anything to Somalis, and that the Somalis Islamists are barbarians that need to be taught the "necessary lessons."

Of course, the Somalis themselves are the one to be blamed the most for their predicament, especially their heavy emphasis on their clan social structure. But the Somalis do not live in a vacuum. They were exploited by both super powers of the Cold War era, as was Ethiopia, to do their dirty proxy fights. The sad thing was that both Ethiopia and Somalia were also willing participants. The Somalis also live in a neighborhood that is dangerous and the poorest in the world. You have to concede that the outside world has certainly contributed its share to the Horn of Africa region being so dangerous. Therefore, the outside world has the responsibility to help bring peace and stability to that region. As to teaching those barbarians a lesson, all I will say to you is to watch your words. Does the phrase "Bring 'em on" ring a bell? To be sure, the Somali Islamist were a potential threat. But were they really such a threat that it was necessary to risk antagonizing a big portion of the Somali people? I did not think so. But, for the sake of peace in the region, I hope I will be proven wrong.

Anonymous said...


as usual you do a superb job in assessing the situation calmly, comprehensively and in a balanced way. I'm serious, no irony or anything of that sort. Admirable job.

Therefore your surprise will likely not be all that great when I say that in fact I largely agree with your views. In my first post I was going a little over the top and venting my pent-up anger and frustration. To tell the truth, the day after I even felt a bit embarrassed.

However, maybe losing one's control (and doing it in a controlled way; now is this all too self-referential?) every once in a while may not be an entirely bad thing. It can show "the other side" -- whoever that may be in a given situation -- that they are dealing with people capable of passion, and the resulting behavior, too. All too often the enemies of civilized conduct seem to take it for granted that "we" will act with the utmost restraint, up to and sometimes even beyond the point of self-impairment, while they are legitimately free to indulge themselves in raw passion. No. Be a little wild at times too. Keep them uncertain, don't be all too civilized and predictable all the time.

An important element in triggering my post was my surprise about, and increasing frustration with, the Ethiopian blogosphere. A mixture of appeasement mentality ("let's not stir up them crazy Muslims") plus the reluctance to crediti the hated Meles and his government with anything positive seemd to combine to, in my view, largely knee-jerk and unthinking wholesale denunciation of the Ethiopian intervention.

I wonder how representative the bloggers are of Ethiopian public opinion generally. I suspect not very much, particularly since many of them operate -- have to, sadly -- from outside the country.

It's only nuances where I am incline to question your assessments.

For instance, I wonder who exploited whom more skillfully during the Cold War period: the superpowers their regional clients, or the other way around? At least I would argue that it was far from unidirectional.

Moreover, you contend that the outside world has contributed to the Horn being so dangerous. Put this broadly, I certainly agree. However, it would be interesting to see whom you more specifically have in mind. I may be wrong, but I suspect you are mainly thinking of the Cold War superpowers again, plus perhaps Italy as the former (albeit comparatively short-lived) colonial power in much of the region.

If so, I would like to broaden the perspective to the Arab world, especially Saudi and, to a lesser extent, the Yemen. But can they be expected to play a constructive role in the Horn, to help pacify it? In my view, whereas the US, Russia as the SU successor and Italy have become very shy about massive political intervention in the region (the current US help is a partial reversal of this larger trend), the Arabs are actively stoking the flames.

The tacit, implicit demand toward the West: you contributed substantially to messing it up, thus you have an increased responsibility in fixing it in my view doesn't hold much water. First, the West's role in messing things up tends to be overestimated, secondly the presence and impact of non-western external actors and sponsors tends to be underestimated. And because there are those non-Western arsonists very active in the region, with their local apprentices very eager to learn, it's in my view misguided to place to mmuch hope in "soft" politics alone. It take two to tango, as the saying goes. For peace and peaceful solutions you need a peace partner on the other side. (The Israelis could tell long stories about learning this the hard way.) Hardenend ideologues, like the ICU, hardly qualify for this. Does the interim government of Abdullahi Yusuf? Don't know, but at least there's a chance -- which didn't exist with the ICU.

Has the Ethiopian intervention really antagonized such a big portion of the Somali people? I have no way of knowing, but I'm not sure that's the case either. Reporting is scant, but there doesn't seem to be widespread unrest or tough suppression going on to quell it (at least not by Somali standards). Moreover, the Ethiopian troops seem to behave wisely, by and large. Plus, I have read somewhere that the ICU folks where Hawiye-dominated. Therefore non-Hawiye Somalis may be relieved they have been ousted, even if they are skeptical and wary of Ethiopian intentions.

And why is there never talk of "us" being antagonized? Why do "we" always have to worry about not antagonizing "them", while they never have to fear the consequences of antagonizing "us"? That's a matrix of thinking that I would like to see, let's say: expanded.

Last point: If the ICU indeed were a threat, as you too concede (our discord seems to be only about the magnitude): Why wait with a response until they have grown bigger and less manageable?

I'm afraid I haven't always been able to be as coherent in my thinking and writing as I would like to be. Nonetheless I hope you get my basic lines of thought.

Lastly I feel I should disclose my nationality in order to avoid possible misunderstandings. Even though I have repeatedly spoken out in defense of the US, I am not American myself. Rather, I'm German. As to my affinity to, and interest in, Ethiopia, Eritrea and even the Horn more generally, that's pretty obvious from my lengthy posts.

Best wishes,

enset said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the compliment and kind words. I cannot claim to be comprehensive in my analysis but I try to be balanced.

I am in full agreement with you when you say: "All too often the enemies of civilized conduct seem to take it for granted that "we" will act with the utmost restraint, up to and sometimes even beyond the point of self-impairment, while they are legitimately free to indulge themselves in raw passion."

When I said the outside world has the responsibility to help stabilize the Horn of Africa, I meant the US, Russia, the colonial powers (the UK, France and Italy) and the Arab neighbors who have all come to the shores of the Horn uninvited and have contributed to the chaos that continues till today.

In regards to the Somali crisis, I have certain biases that guide my view. I am an Ethiopian by birth and an American by nationality. As such, I want Ethiopia to continue to be a united country within its borders but with unencumbered access to the sea that is mutually beneficial to her neighbors. I also want my country, the US, to play a constructive role in the Horn of Africa region by helping the countries develop their economies and encouraging good governance. If the US does these two things in a consistent way, it will be good for US interests in the region and it will deny the Al Queda type terrorists a base in the region. Meles' invasion of Somalia, which was done with the full backing of the US, seems to have helped with the latter objective in the short run. In the long term, however, whether or not the invasion has eliminated the threat posed by the Somali Islamists remains to be seen. As I said earlier, I hope the Islamists threat is eliminated and I hope Somalis will finally begin rebuilding their country.

When I said that the invasion has antagonized a big portion of Somalis, I believe I was stating a fact. The Ethiopian soldiers in Mogadishu are seen as an occupying force, not a liberating. Mind you, the guys whom the Ethiopians removed from power were the ones who were responsible for bringing about a semblance of order in Mogadishu in more than a decade. The Somalis were not clamoring for the ouster of the Islamists. Somalis are sick and tired of the perpetual fighting and they seem to be willing to give the benefit of the doubt to whomever provides them security. Now the TFG people have a chance to shine and the onus is on them and their backers: the Meles regime and his American boosters. If they achieve what Somalia lacked the last 15 years, I would be willing to give Meles credit. But the jury is still out on that.

With regard to the "appeasement mentality" you detected in the Ethiopian blogosphere, I believe that is incorrect and does not accurately reflect the prevailing view among Ethiopians. The prevailing view among Ethiopians in general and Ethiopian bloggers in particular about the Ethiopian adventure in Somalia is that Meles is doing this to divert attention from his domestic problems and to rebuild his image among his Western backers. This is not an appeasement but a legitimate and factually supported assessment. My criticism of the Ethiopian blogosphere lies mainly in their unwillingness to give the threat posed by the Somali Islamists its due attention. Yes, most of the bloggers are based outside of Ethiopia, but I do not think that disqualifies us from being representative of the Ethiopian public opinion. I believe the Ethiopian blogoshere as a whole represents Ethiopian public opinion fairly well. But, by nature, bloggers seem to me more opinionated than the general public and they are ahead of the public opinion often times and they seem to help shape public opinion. That is the reason why the Ethiopian government has decided to censor the internet as an attempt to silence us. I will assure them they will never succeed in silencing us.

Anonymous said...


it's late at night here, therefore just a few brief and belated remarks.

First, I would like to draw your attention to an article by the Canadian columnist David Warren on the current situation in Somalia. It can be found under http://davidwarrenonline.com/, where it is at the time of my writing the head.

By the way, most of Warren's articles make, in my view, for very worthwhile reading. Therefore I would like to more generally recommend him.

Second: Yes, you are right, the music is really good, as well as good for whoever cares to listen.

Third: Last night on al-Jazeera I watched a half-hour program on the Somalia situation ("What's behind the news"), featuring an Egyptian Somalia expert and someone in an intermediate position of authority in the new Somali Government.

The Somali guy (rather elderly -- a rare sight in Somali politics, it seems) was adamant in his enmity to the ousted Islamic Courts, and this came across as heartfelt. In moderate tones, but at the same time very firmly he rejected all urges to "reconcile" with them, urges brought forward not only by the al-Jazeera journalist, but also by, characteristically, the EU politicos. He described the ICU folks as brutal thugs who had to be defeated and who should not now be handed a partial victory by including them in some phony reconciliation.

As you can easily imagine, I found all that very heartening, as I also tend to prefer defeating enemies -- at least of that kind -- to accomodating them.

My real point, though, rather is that this Somali official / gentleman exposed a trap in which oh-so-many in the West, the East and also the region (some Ethiopian bloggers, e.g.) tend to fall all too easily, namely: to assume that with some groups their most atavistic representatives also are their most authentic ones, and that on account of their alleged cultural "authenticity" it is somehow illegitimate to oppose their atavism.

Baloney. Stand for minimum standards of CIVILIZATION everywhere, regardless of "culture". Oftentimes you will then find allies even within that "culture" who are sick and tired of all that -- often murderous -- "authenticity". They may be few initially, but they are the wave of the future. And in any case they, and not some "authentic" barbarians, are worthy of our solidarity and support.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...


You will find the bloggers based in Ethiopia (seminawork and Urael), even more strident in their opposition to the invasion of Somalia. I encourage you to read their opinions in this regard.

You are correct when you say that the ICU is clan based (Hawiye), but that does not make them less "authentic" because the Hawiye are the largest clan in Somalia. In addition, the elderly gentleman's opposition to the ICU is probably based on his clan affiliation as well.

Your concern about Arab involvement in the Horn of Africa suggests that your interest in the recent developments in the region is grounded in your concern for Israel and not so much out of concern for Somalis and Ethiopians.

Like it or not, the Horn of Africa is culturally linked to the Arab world. As far as Muslim Ethiopians and Somalis are concerned, we will will not engage in Arab phobia and other types of bigotry against our co-religionists in the ME. Arabs as well as Westerners are more than welcome to play a positive role in the region, and both have done so in the past.

On the other hand, it is important that Ethiopians and Somalis not allow the conflict between Jews and Arabs play itself out in the Horn of Africa at our expense.

Anonymous said...


at an early stage of the Somalia developments I had also tried to post a comment on your blog, but for some unfathomable reason the system wouldn't let me.

Maybe my hunch that Ethiopian bloggers do not adequately represent Ethiopian public opinion because they are to a large extent based outside the country is wrong. I have no way of knowing.

But how, conversely, can you so confidently claim that Ethiopian bloggers are fully representative of local public opinion? How do you know? Have reliable polls been conducted in the country?

You may be getting personal feedback from friends and relatives inside the country. Fine, but likely those friends and/or relatives belong to the same social strata, relatively elite, and perhaps the same people, as you do. Both factors might easily account for a convergence of opinion that you perceive to be representative for wider strata of the population than is actually the case. There is such a thing as an echo chamber, and large silent (sometimes silenced) segments of a population on the other hand. With regard to the US for instance the media convey and image of near-universal revulsion at the President. Against this background one must wonder how he still is able to send 20k additional troops to Iraq without widespread mutinies and revolts occurring. The fact that those mutinies and revolts don't happen are a clear indicator that something is missing from MSM reporting. Mutatis mutandis this may -- must not, but may -- apply to Ethiopian blogging. It simply may not reflect the full picture. The assertiveness with which you claim it does makes me even more suspicious.

Yes, the Somali government official whom I watched on al-Jazeera may also have been motivated by clan loyalties. That thought, believe it or not, had also already occurred to me. However, what does that change? If clan structures for some time to come are an important factor in determining Somali political choices, let's by all means side with those clans that espouse the less totalitarian / fascist political outlook.

You partially misconstrue my argument about "authenticity". I'm not saying that the Hawiye are less authentic than anybody else, or more so. I'm arguing against the confusion of atavism with "authenticity", and the ensuing delegitimization of fighting atavism because it infringes on someone's alleged "authentic identity". But hell, even if it did: Would we be supposed to submit to atavistic thugs simply because they are so "authentic" in what they are doing?

Your speculating about me being motivated by my concern for Israel is as absurd as it is repellent. There are many reasons to be wary of Arab and expressly Islamic politics. Does Darfur ring a bell? Have you ever heard about the decades-long Arab atrocities being committed in the South Sudan? (This is a rhetorical question.) But to the Arabophile and Arab-appeaser the scandal are not those heinous deeds themselves, rather it's highlighting them. That then becomes "bigotry" and "Arab phobia". Laughable.

There is thus aabsolutely no need to hypothesize about any "Jewish connection", there are plenty of other reasons to be wary of the Arabs and political Islam. the fact that you nonetheless, and entirely gratuitously, come up with a Jewish / Israeli link betrays a, to put it politely, disturbing mindset.

There is no need to lecture me about Arab links to the Horn (though you may be excused as you cannot know my background). Still, linkage in itself is a neutral parameter and not necessarily something positive. To give you just one example: Yes, the Turks were "linked" with much of SE Europe for centuries -- as conquerors and colonialists.

By the same token identites in the Horn were, at least until very recently, more often than not forged in contradistinction against the Arabs. This is even true for the Somalis. The Horn is NOT just an extension of the Middle East and the Arab world. As to your alleged beneficial Arab influence on the Horn, and Ethiopia more specifically, I cannot help but be amazed.

Do yourself the favor and stop making excuses for Islamic fascism or downplaying its danger. Ultimately, you do so at your own peril. Even if you should happen to be a Muslim (I suspect so, given your ME nick), you would have to suffer should you ever fall under its sway. Appeasement solves nothing with some ideologies. The crocodile will ultimately not spare you only because you have spoken gently of it before.

Don't let your hatred for Meles -- which I don't doubt the gentleman has done a lot to earn -- blind you. It's not like he has invented terms like mujahideen or shabaab. It's how those folks speak about themselves, and they, too, are the ones who get delirious when speaking of "jihad" against Ethiopia.

The Arab Muslims of Sudan did not commit genocidal crimes against the Southern Sudanese (or do now against the Darfuris) because those folks had in any way wronged them, or because thereby they could harm Israel / the Jews or help the Palestinians. They did it because they were Arab and Islamic suprematicists inspired by a murderous totalitarian worldview. With minor variations, the same worldview that inspired the ICU in Somalia.

Regards, Michael

Anonymous said...

There are some Ethiopian bloggers and many Ethiopians that support this war-if that makes you feel better.

I have no idea what my family and friends back in Ethiopia feel about the war in Somalia as they are too scared to express their honest opinions over the phone or via email for fear of govt. monitors. This is the reality in Ethiopia.

At this point the issue of the ICU and support for or against the war is a moot point in my opinion. Meles will get the long term American support he needs to stay in power, and the Somalis will continue with their clan warfare in full force.

It would be nice for a change if Americans do not project their world view and inner fears related to the War on Terror (and the Arab-Israeli conflict) on the horn of Africa. I could only shake my head in dismay when reading your views about “Islamofascists” (ICU) were threatening our very existence (the crocodiles will not spare you!). I really think your fears and ideology has blinded you to the reality in Ethiopia in particular if not the world. Since we agree on the Sudan for the most part, perhaps the views expressed by a people who suffered both in the Sudan and Ethiopia will be helpful to you. Please visit the webpage of the Anuak Justice Council.

If they can not convince you of the importance of promoting human rights and democracy in Ethiopia now- no one else will.

Anonymous said...

Hello. This is the conversation I've been looking for. I've checked out several African blogs. Mostly of off Ethio. I think I got here from the Head Heeb. I don't have time now because I have a lot of work to do but I will come back for more and hope to visit with you too. I live in Atlanta Georgia. Back in the 80's I knew a lovely man named Khalid, a Muslim from Somalia.

I'm always trying to fit the little I remember about our conversations and what I'm seeing now in the news. And what I've read at ethio's blog. I hope to learn more soon. Thanks for the blog and the comments

enset said...

Thanks, tribalecho, for stopping by. Please add your perspective when you get a chance.