From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Thu Dec 18 2008 - 07:47:37 EST
The U.S. and Ethiopia's blunder in Somalia
By <http://www.straight.com/archives/contributor/194> Gwynne Dyer
December 18, 2008
Statesmen ought to have a special prize just for themselves, like fools have
the Darwin Awards. The Darwin Awards commemorate very stupid people who did
a service to human evolution by accidentally removing themselves from the
gene pool. The statesman's equivalent could be called something like the
I mention this because the shining stupidity of the US Vice-President and
the Ethiopian Prime Minister are on special display this week, as the
Ethiopian army prepares to withdraw from Somalia two years after its
foredoomed invasion, leaving the country in the hands of precisely the
people whom they wanted to eliminate. We need negative role models too, and
you couldn't ask for worse than this pair.
I can't actually prove that getting Ethiopia to invade Somalia was Dick
Cheney's brainchild, but it smells exactly like a Dick Cheney idea: crude,
violent, and barking up entirely the wrong tree. Just like invading Iraq, in
As for Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, he had already distinguished
himself by becoming obsessed with the stupidest border war in modern African
history. It wasn't his fault to start with: Ethiopia was attacked out of the
blue in 1998 by the insanely aggressive regime in Eritrea, but Ethiopian
troops drove the Eritreans back. By the ceasefire in mid-2000, Ethiopia had
recovered all the ground it lost at the start.
An international commission found Eritrea guilty of aggression, and another
one arbitrated all the disputed stretches of border, granting Ethiopia most
of its claims. Both sides said they would accept the rulings-and then Zenawi
walked away from the deal. He has been getting ready for another war with
Eritrea ever since.
Going to war with Eritrea again would mean defying the United Nations
ruling, so Zenawi needed the backing of some great power that could protect
him from the UN's censure. Who better than the United States, which has
assiduously ignored and belittled the UN under the Bush administration? Now
what could Ethiopia do for the Bush administration in return?
Well, it could invade Somalia. Washington didn't want to put American troops
into Somalia again, having had its nose bloodied in 1993, but it did want to
overthrow the civilian regime that was restoring peace in southern Somalia
and put its favourite warlord in power instead. Ethiopian troops would do
the job just as well.
I think I can see the self-satisfied smirk on Cheney's face as he closed the
deal: another triumph for the subtle master of geopolitics. I can't make out
the look on Zenawi's face, but maybe he was smiling too. Too clever by half,
as the saying goes.
The job was to overthrow the Union of Islamic Courts, a mass movement funded
by local merchants in Mogadishu who wanted to end the constant robberies and
kidnaps that made life impossible in the Somali capital. The UIC mobilised
the desire of ordinary Somalis for an end to the violence that had ravaged
the country for fifteen years, and the peace they brought to Mogadishu soon
spread over most of southern Somalia.
Unfortunately the courts were "Islamic" and they wanted to enforce sharia
law, which in Washington's book made them practically terrorists. They did
have a few unsavoury allies, notably an extremist militia called al-Shebab,
but they gave people in Mogadishu their first real hope of security and
justice. They should not have been destroyed.
The Ethiopian army invaded Somalia in December 2006, drove the Islamic
Courts out of Mogadishu, and installed Abdullahi Yusuf, the president of the
"Transitional Federal Government" (TFG) of Somalia, in power. Well, not
exactly in power, since the citizens and militias of Mogadishu immediately
began attacking the hated Ethiopians, who only controlled whatever was in
their gunsights. As for Abdullahi Yusuf, he only controlled a suite of rooms
and some telephones.
He was originally chosen as president of the TFG, with ample US support, at
a conclave of Somali warlords dignified with the name of "parliament" in
Kenya in 2004. He would never have made it back to Mogadishu without the
help of the Ethiopian army, and accepting that help made him deeply suspect
in the eyes of most Somalis.
The resistance has driven the Ethiopian army out of most of southern Somalia
in the past two years, and now the Ethiopians are going home. Abdullahi
Yusuf will have to leave too, since he has no supporters except the
Ethiopians and the Americans. Which will leave Mogadishu in the hands not of
the Union of Islamic Courts, alas, but rather of the extremist militias that
have pushed the UIC aside during their struggle against the foreign troops.
It's almost as perverse as the Bush administration's decision to eliminate
Iran's two great enemies in the Gulf, Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the Taliban
in Afghanistan. Ethiopia and the United States have not only plunged Somalia
needlessly back into war. They have made it possible for the nastiest,
craziest extremists, people who think it is their duty to kill other Muslims
with "un-Islamic" haircuts, to take power in Mogadishu.
The world needs a Cheney-Zenawi Award for Gross Political Stupidity, and I
know who the first nominees should be.
Gwynne Dyer's new book, Climate Wars, has just been published in Canada by
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