Jim Lobe at Antiwar.com brings fresh news of what has become, proportionately, the most savage, brutal and ruinous front in the global campaign of military aggression known as the "War on Terror": Somalia.
We have been tracking the situation in Somalia here since American military and security forces and their Ethiopian proxies invaded the country in December 2006, in a "regime change" operation to overthrow the first quasi-stable government Somalia had seen in 15 years. As we noted earlier this year:
American forces have bombed fleeing refugees, slaughtered innocent herdsmen and destroyed villages in attempts to assassinate a handful of individual alleged, on shaky and specious evidence, to be "part of" or "associated with" or "linked to" al Qaeda. American agents have seized refugees from the Somali war, including U.S. citizens, and had them "renditioned" to the notorious prisons of the Ethiopian dictatorship. And as we have noted here many times, the Bush Administration has sent in death squads to "kill anyone left alive" after American strikes.
Not a word has been said in the presidential campaign about this ongoing atrocity, this open culpability in yet another vast war crime. Naturally one doesn't expect any comment or concern from John McCain, whose robotic neo-connism can only applaud this violent projection of American dominance in yet another Muslim land. (As neoconnist Michael Ledeen once famously proclaimed: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." This is about as perfect an encapsulation of the mindset of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment as can be imagined. For another example, see the "liberal" Thomas Friedman here.)
But neither has there been a single criticism or condemnation -- or even a mention -- of the murderous operation in Somalia by the Democratic candidate: a man whose own father was a black African Muslim like those being slaughtered with American backing today. Of course, Barack Obama has taken some pains to distance himself from the African side of his heritage -- perhaps understandable in a country where his own running mate brags about being from a "slave state" and not long ago expressed wonderment at the fact that an African-American politician (in fact, Obama himself!) could be so well-spoken and even "clean." And it goes without saying that an aspiring leader of the Terror War would want to renounce even more firmly any association with his Islamic background. Still, you would think that sheer partisan self-interest alone would entice the Democrats to bring up the subject of Somalia, pointing to it as yet enough botched and bloody catastrophe of Bush's foreign policy.
Then again, perhaps they know there is no political mileage in the issue. After all, who cares? No Americans have died in the operation (although some Americans were "rendered" to Ethiopia's notoriously draconian prisons). And after the initial barrage of refugee bombing and village destroying, America's direct involvement has been limited to the occasional lobbing of missiles into civilian homes -- and whatever secret missions are being carried out by U.S. covert operators and the death squads that clean up after them. And as the entire sordid enterprise has long been ignored by the mainstream media -- except for a rare story now and then, almost always shorn of any context or mention of America's instrumental role in the war -- it would require a great deal of background and explanation to make a denunciation of U.S. policy in Somalia comprehensible to a deliberately misinformed and blithely unconcerned American electorate. Who has time for that kind of boring stuff, when there are bumper stickers and sound bites to propagate?
There's also one other little point: the hearty he-man Terror Warriors at the top of the Democratic ticket obviously support America's actions in Somalia. If they did not, they would have condemned them long ago.
Lobe reports on a major new study that confirms what we have been saying here for months: the American-backed "regime change" in Somalia has created one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters -- and has radicalized much of the ruined country, incubating the very extremism and terrorism that the invasion was ostensibly -- ostensibly --designed to quash.
(The "War on Terror" has created so many vast new fertile fields for extremism and terrorism on all its fronts that a cynic might be forgiven for suspecting that the creation of more terrorism is, in fact, one of its principal aims. After all, who have been the chief beneficiaries of modern terrorism? Those who have reaped immeasurable riches and vastly augmented authoritarian power from "counter-terrorism." If the "War on Terrorism" had not arisen -- just in time to replace the Cold War -- something else would have had to been invented to keep the loot and power flowing to (and from) the war machine. Of course, if we are sliding into a new Cold War with resurgent Russia and ever-burgeoning China, then we may see the War on Terrorism start to diminish in importance. But for now, terror is still trumps in the loot-and-power game.)
Lobe points us to a report issued this week by Enough, a human rights group created by a cooperative effort between the International Crisis Group and the Center for American Progress. Written by Ken Menkhaus, a leading American expert on the region, the report -- "Somalia: A Country in Peril, a Policy Crisis" -- presents the stark reality of this Terror War atrocity:
Over the past 18 months, Somalia has descended into terrible levels of displacement and humanitarian need, armed conflict and assassinations, political meltdown, radicalization, and virulent anti-Americanism. Whereas in the past the country’s endemic political violence—whether Islamist, clan-based, factional, or criminal in nature—was local and regional in scope, it is now taking on global significance....Indeed, the situation in Somalia today exceeds the worst-case scenarios conjured up by regional analysts when they first contemplated the possible impact of an Ethiopian military occupation.
The report makes clear that the Bush Administration's malign intervention in Somalia began well before the Ethiopian invasion in 2006. Indeed, it was an application of the age-old American policy of "divide and conquer" -- deliberately fomenting violent conflict in the society of a targeted country -- that helped radicalize and empower extremist factions in Somalia:
The coalition of clans, militia leaders, civic groups, and Islamists which formed the Mogadishu Group [which opposed the Ethiopian-backed 'Transitional Federal Government' set up in 2004] were themselves divided, however, and war erupted between two wings of the group in early 2006. This war was precipitated by a U.S.-backed effort to create an alliance of clan militia leaders to capture a small number of foreign al Qaeda operatives believed to be enjoying safe haven in Mogadishu as guests of the hard-line Somalia Islamists, especially the jihadi militia known as the shabaab. The cynically named Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, or ARPCT, as the U.S.-backed group was called, clashed with local Islamists and within months was decisively defeated. The clan militias’ defeat paved the way for the rise of the Islamic Courts Union, or ICU, which for seven months in 2006 came to control and govern all of Mogadishu and most of south-central Somalia.
The first American intervention failed to bring its hired warlords to power, but instead paved the way for a coalition of moderate and hardline Islamist factions to govern. And for a few months, this worked well:
The ICU quickly delivered impressive levels of street security and law and order to Mogadishu and south-central Somalia. It reopened the seaport and international airport and began providing basic government services. In the process, the ICU won widespread support from war-weary Somalis, even those who did not embrace the idea of Islamic rule.
Factional disputes between moderates and hardliners -- with the latter taking increasingly strident public positions -- gave Ethiopia the excuse for its long-planned, American-backed invasion. As an April 2008 report for Enough by John Prendergast notes:
...In this volatile region, the U.S.-led “Global War on Terror” has become intertwined with Ethiopia’s own response to regional and internal threats. When Islamists established a foothold in southern Somalia in mid-2006, Ethiopia began planning an invasion aimed at propping up a fragile and unpopular transitional government in Mogadishu. With encouragement from the Bush administration, Ethiopian forces attacked in December 2006, and 16 months later they are hunkered down with no end in sight. To make matters worse, neighboring Eritrea’s support for insurgents in Somalia and oppositionists in Ethiopia means that Somalia is further complicated by a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, one that could contribute to a disastrous resumption of war between those two states.
The United States is concentrating most of its energies on capturing or killing three foreign Al Qaeda fugitives and a dozen or so of their Somali associates. U.S. support includes a vast and sustained intelligence effort, support for self-interested Somali “counter-terrorism” agencies, and obstruction of international efforts to broker a ceasefire and power-sharing agreement with Islamists...
U.S. counter-terrorism policy has failed to differentiate organic resistance movements in Somalia and elsewhere from real terrorists. By branding all resistance “terrorism” and providing aid to factions of the Somali transitional government that are simply warlords with titles, the United States has contributed to further polarization and made a political settlement less likely.
This is standard practice on every Terror War front, of course. Prendergast goes on to say:
U.S. policy since 9/11 has been a central ingredient in the Horn of Africa’s descent into crisis and the growth of extremism. Concerned that Somalia might become a safe haven for Al Qaeda and a breeding ground for Islamist extremism, the United States has designated Somalia as a priority in the Global War on Terror. But not only have U.S. counter-terrorism efforts failed to mitigate the threat in any sustainable way, they threaten to blow it out of all control. By placing the desire to capture or kill three “high value” Al Qaeda targets above the welfare of millions of Somalis, the United States and its Ethiopian allies have engendered profound resentment, promoted radicalization, and created the conditions for thousands of young radicals to turn toward extremist groups.
Lobe has more from other experts who attended the most recent report's release:
"The (current) crisis is fundamentally different and fundamentally worse than the situation of the last decade and a half," said Chris Albin-Lackey, a Horn of Africa specialist at Human Rights Watch (HRW), who appeared with Menkhaus at the report's release at a conference sponsored by at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars here Wednesday.
Albin-Lackey, who has conducted some 80 interviews of Somali refugees in East Africa in the past month, said ongoing violence, including almost daily artillery bombardments by Ethiopian army and TFG forces on the one hand and opposition militias, including the Islamist Shabaab on the other, as well as assassinations carried out by both sides, have added to the insecurity.
"People have nowhere to turn for security," he said, adding that search operations by TFG forces, while nominally for the purpose of arresting suspected insurgents, had become "an excuse for murder, rape and looting on an incredibly large scale." As a result, he said, Mogadishu has become "largely depopulated" with about two-thirds of the population – or about 800,000 people – having left their homes there over the past 18 months.
The new report by Menkhaus details the humanitarian catastrophe:
The humanitarian nightmare in Somalia is the result of a lethal cocktail of factors. The large-scale displacement caused by the fighting in Mogadishu is the most important driver. The displaced have fled mainly into the interior of the country, where they lack access to food, clean water, basic health care, livelihoods, and support networks. Internally displaced persons, or IDPs, are among the most vulnerable populations in any humanitarian emergency. With 700,000 people out of a population of perhaps 6 million in south-central Somalia forced to flee their homes, the enormity of the emergency is obvious...
Second, food prices have skyrocketed, eroding the ability of both IDPs and other households to feed themselves. The rise in food prices is due to a global spike in the cost of grains and fuel; chronic insecurity and crime, which has badly disrupted the flow of commercial food into the country; and an epidemic of counterfeiting of the Somali shilling by politicians and businesspeople, creating hyperinflation and robbing poorer Somalis of purchasing power. Mother Nature is not cooperating either: a severe drought is gripping much of central Somalia, increasing displacement, killing off livestock, and reducing harvests in farming areas.
Third, humanitarian agencies in Somalia are facing daunting obstacles to delivery of food aid. There is now virtually no “humanitarian space” in which aid can safely be delivered. Until recently, the TFG and its uncontrolled security forces were mainly responsible for most obstacles to delivery of food aid. TFG hardliners view the provision of assistance to IDPs as support to an enemy population—terrorists and terrorist sympathizers in their view—and have sought to impede the flow of aid convoys through a combination of bureaucratic and security impediments. They also harass and detain staff of local and international non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, and U.N. agencies, accusing them of supporting the insurgency. Uncontrolled and predatory TFG security forces, along with opportunistic criminal gangs, have erected over 400 militia roadblocks (each of which demands as much as $500 per truck to pass) and have kidnapped local aid workers for ransom.
Since May 2008, however, jihadist cells in Mogadishu linked to the shabaab have become an additional threat to humanitarian actors. They are engaged in a campaign of threats and alleged assassinations against any and all Somalis working for western aid agencies or collaborating with the U.N. and Western NGOs. Not all shabaab members embrace this policy (the shabaab leader Sheikh Mukhtar Robow has condemned the assassinations and is known to be working to provide protection for aid operations in his clan’s home region), but jihadist cells in Mogadishu are now increasingly fragmented and answer to no one, and some of these cells are believed to have targeted national aid workers and civil society leaders.
As Lobe notes: "The UN recently estimated that, barring substantial improvement in the security situation, some 3.5 million Somalis will be dependent on humanitarian aid by the end of this year." That is more than half the population of the entire country reduced to the most absolute penury. An equivalent number would be 14 million people in Iraq -- or 150 million in the United States.
Meanwhile, as we have seen in Iraq, the violent extremism, government terror and sheer chaos unleashed by the U.S.-backed invasion is destroying Somali society itself. From Lobe:
The assassination campaign by TFG hardliners and fragments of the shabaab movement is the latest attack on Somalia’s once vibrant civil society and has the potential to morph into a violent purge of all professionals and civic figures. Somali civic figures are in shock at this latest threat, and are either fleeing the capital or keeping a very low profile. This is an enormous setback for hopes to consolidate peace in the country...
A peace agreement signed last month by moderate factions of the opposition and the TFG is already in great peril from hardliners in both camps -- and from U.S. policies which continue to exacerbate the conflict. Lobe reports:
But the implementation of the agreement faces "steep challenges," warned Menkhaus, not least because "the moderates [who negotiated the accord] don't control any of the armed groups." While the Shabaab have already denounced the [moderate] leaders as "apostates," he noted, hard-liners in the TFG know that they can stay in power "if and only if the Ethiopians stay."
Only by reinforcing the moderates can the international community, including the US, enhance the chances for the agreement's successful implementation and, with it, the chances for reconciliation, according to Menkhaus. But that will require major changes in US and western policies, which have "actually worked to strengthen and embolden hardliners" over the past two years.
In that respect, the US emphasis on counterterrorism has been particularly destructive, not only in supporting the Ethiopian offensive in December, 2006, but, more recently, in placing the Shabaab on its list of designated terrorist groups last March. That step not only isolated opposition moderates from their own coalition but also gave the Shabaab "even more reason to sabotage" ongoing peace talks.
At the same time, Washington has provided "robust financial and logistical support to armed paramilitaries resisting the command and control of the TGF, even though they technically wear a TFG hat" to both fight the Shabaab and track down suspected terrorists.
"To the extent that these security forces also deeply oppose...reconciliation efforts with the opposition, the US counterterrorism partnerships have also undermined peace-building efforts by emboldening spoilers in the government camp," according to the report...
The Tomahawk missile attack that killed Shabaab leader Aden Hashi Ayro [and at least two dozen civilians] in May – the latest in a series of similar strikes against armed Islamists in Somalia, allegedly tied to al-Qaeda – resulted in a sharp radicalization in the group, which announced at the time that it would strike against US and western targets, including aid workers, as well as Ethiopian and TFG forces, compounding an already dramatic humanitarian crisis.
Again, these are policies that seem designed to produce more terrorism, more conflict, more instability, more death and suffering. Certainly, no sentient observer could believe that the American actions in Somalia are in any way designed to alleviate these conditions.
But perhaps we are being too cynical in suspecting subtle Machiavellian ploys behind U.S. policy in Somalia. It could be as brutally simple as this: the bipartisan imperial elite want to have their way -- they want to crush anyone they have designated as an enemy, they want to have their own clients and puppets in power, they want to "project dominance" over strategic regions, they want to frighten other nations into compliance with Washington's wishes, etc., etc. -- and they don't care what it costs. In other words, perhaps they have not deliberately set out to destroy a nation and grind its helpless people into the dust....but if that's what it takes to get their way, then by God, that's what they'll do. It's not their fault if these darkie Muslims won't play ball.
This is of course a gangster mentality: "If you do what we want, nobody gets hurt. Hey, we might even send you a turkey at Christmas, or get your nephew a job or something. But if you cross us, then you'll get what's coming to you -- and it'll be your own damn fault."
This hideous mentality is not restricted to the Bush Administration. It is the long-standing philosophy of America's bipartisan ruling elite. As Major General Smedley Butler noted back in 1933:
War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses....
I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism....
I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.
The racket is immeasurably more vast and more powerful these days. Somalia is its latest -- and one of its most cruelly ravaged -- victims. Yet among the great and good of America, not a word is raised in protest or opposition to the nation's complicity in this work of evil.
This column is republished here with the permission of the author.
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This story was published on September 5, 2008.