By Fikru Helebo
The next general elections in the United States will not take place until November of 2008, but the campaign for the Presidency of the United States has already began in earnest. This week, the contenders from the Republican Party had their debate in California. The Democrats duked it out in South Carolina last week.
I did not watch these primary debates and I do not plan on watching any of the upcoming primary debates of either party. The reason I won't is because the Commonwealth of Virginia, the state I reside in, holds its primary too late in the primary season to have an effect on the outcome of the nomination process. I will, however, watch the presidential debates in the months preceding the November 2008 elections. I will watch those debates not because I need to find out whom to vote for, but only because they are must-watch television events.
As an American, I have only two real choices when I vote -- Republican or Democrat. Of course, abstaining is an option, but I do not consider it an option that I will exercise in the next election. The reason I won't is because of the Bush Administration's blatant and shameful support to the tyrannical regime of Ethiopia. As a voter whose political disposition is positively to the right of center on most domestic issues, this leaves me with no other choice but to vote for the candidate nominated by the Democratic Party, whomever that person happens to be. Since I do not have much faith in the Democratic Party, however, my vote will be a protest vote rather than an affirmative one.
The awful record of the current Republican administration in promoting human rights and democracy in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region in general, contrary to its expressed objective, is one of the biggest shortcomings of American foreign policy in the post-9-11 world that we live in. The Bush Administration, which otherwise has done a very good job in the initial response to the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and protecting the Homeland since then, has adopted a seriously flawed strategy of using excessive military force as a solution to the threat posed by extremists from the Muslim world.
The unqualified support the Bush Administration has given to the tyrannical regime of Ethiopia in its invasion of Somalia is the latest manifestation of this deeply flawed policy. This simplistic policy, which assumes that the use of brute military force is the only way to deal with extremism inspired by political Islam, fails to appreciate the nuances of political activism in the Islamic world. Stubbornly pursuing this policy, as the Bush Administration has done, has so far failed to assuage the level of extremism in the Islamic world, and it is self-evident that this policy is doing more harm than good in Somalia and the greater Horn of Africa region.
To make matters worse, this simplistic policy is alienating many human rights and democracy advocates in the Horn of Africa region, thereby making many in the region cynical of United States policy towards the region. This is no way to win friends. The current US Administration's over-dependence on using military force to prosecute the war on terror leads me to believe that the Administration, and by extension the Republican Party, does not have a sound long term strategy to dealing with this most important issue of our time.
This issue, the war on terror, happens to be closely intertwined with an issue that I care about the most at this time, namely America's role in promoting human rights and democracy in Ethiopia, and that makes the next Presidential election in the US all the more important. I believe the only way the US will adopt a more pragmatic and constructive policy towards this region is if there are people in the executive branch of the US Government who are willing to take a fresh approach to addressing the challenges posed by political Islam in the region. Make no mistake, the United States is well within its right to pursue terrorists wherever they are hiding. The US must also continue to make a prudent use its military might to protect its interests around the world. However, the current one-size-fits-all solution adopted by the Bush Administration is a short-sighted one and it will only win the US more enemies in the long term. This, my friends, needs to change.
I have previously cautioned against unduly politicizing US foreign policy towards the Horn of Africa region. As we have clearly seen in the last two years, Ethiopia has friends from both major parties in the US, and it doesn't help to label one party pro-Ethiopian and the other anti-Ethiopian. So, we should still continue to make the cause of human rights and democracy in Ethiopia a bi-partisan issue that Americans from both parties can and will continue to champion. But events of the past year and a half have proved me wrong about my take on the wisdom of linking US interests in the region to the state of human rights and democracy in the region, and so I will have to eat my own words.
By abandoning the cause of human rights and democracy in the region in favor of achieving a simplistic objective in Somalia, the Bush Administration may have gotten the cooperation it sought from the Ethiopian regime, but I am afraid it has tarnished the image of the US among Ethiopians and most people of the Horn of Africa region. Realistically speaking then, the Bush Administration and a successor Republican Administration are unlikely to change this misguided policy, a policy which is not in the long-term interest of the US and, therefore, a regime change in Washington is in order.
The only realistic chance for a change in this misguided and simplistic policy of Washington is if the Democrats take control of the White House in the next Presidential election. For a chance to get this kind of policy change, I will gladly vote for a Democrat when the time comes to vote. Deep inside of me, however, I hope for the party of Lincoln to come through and prove me wrong, but the likelihood of that happening is slim to none.