By Fikru Helebo
There was an interesting article earlier this week on the Washington Post which quoted an unnamed Pentagon official who characterized the policy pursued by US Department of State towards Somalia as a failure. It was dispatched by a correspondent who was traveling with the US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, on his visit to Djibouti and the Middle East. What made the article interesting was that it leveled a categorical criticism of US policy and it was made just a day before a visit to Ethiopia by Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State. The unnamed Pentagon official not only criticized the State Department's policy but also went on to suggest an alternative policy that will shift US support from the Mogadishu based Transitional Federal Government of Somalia to the Hargesa based Republic of Somaliland by giving recognition to the former British colony of Somaliland.
There is nothing new about a tug of war between the Pentagon and the State Department in setting US foreign policy. In fact, a struggle between the two Departments has been a defining feature of American foreign policy making since the end of World War II, but disagreements between the two Departments are rarely aired in public. This public criticism of the official policy of the State Department on a high profile issue such as this one by the Pentagon indicates to me that there is a serious split among American foreign policy makers on what US policy should be towards Somalia in particular and the volatile Horn of Africa region in general and a change of policy may not be that far off.
Although the suggested alternative solution in the article does not address the fundamental problem with Somali politics, which is clanism, I think this recognition of the US policy towards Somalia as being a failed policy should be welcomed by all who have a stake in American foreign policy towards the Horn of Africa region. Even if H.R. 2003 gets through the US Senate, it is not realistic to expect any changes in American foreign towards the Horn of Africa region before 2009, since 2008 is an election year, a year that will be overshadowed by the US Presidential election, and since the lame duck Bush Administration has unwisely invested too much of its political capital on the dictatorial Ethiopian regime and it has very little incentive to change its policy with only 13 months left in the White House.
The good news is that 2009 is not that far away and I believe there will be a change in American foreign policy towards the Horn of Africa region within the next two years regardless of which party takes the White House in the 2008 election. So, now is the time for those of us who want the US to adopt a policy that serves both American long-term security interests as well as the interests of the citizens of the Horn of Africa nations to double our efforts in lobbying US government officials and influential Americans to effect the right kind of changes in American foreign policy towards the Horn of Africa. H.R. 2003 is certainly a tool that can be used towards this objective, but it should not be seen as an end in itself.